AKA: Reid, Alyn B., House, Mill Valley, CA

Structure Type: built works - dwellings - houses

Designers: Darrow, Lee Stuart, Architect (firm); Lee Stuart Darrow (architect)

Dates: constructed 1958-1959


This minimal, boxy house followed in a line of similar designs built in Marin County beginning in late 1930s. One of the first was the Mrs. L.D. Owens House (1939) in Sausalito, CA, by Gardner A. Dailey. Another well-known example was the Donn Emmons House (1949) in Mill Valley, CA. Both were widely publicized. This house by Lee S. Darrow followed in the spirit of these two houses, although with a longer, more rectangular shape.

Building History

The Brennen House followed the two-story box-with-a-lid formula begun at the Owens and Emmons Houses. Perched on dramatic, hillside lots, the houses were minimal to make them affordable and featured large glazed ends maximizing views into double-height living rooms. The Owens and Emmons Houses were minimal, wood-frame buildings, while architect Lee Stuart Darrow utilized tall, rubble-stone end walls at the Brennen House.

Alyn Boice Brennen (born 12/08/1928 in NV-d. 03/02/1983 in Berkeley, CA) was born and raised in Elko, NV, and went on to attend Stanford University in Stanford, CA, graduating in 1950. (See Stanford University Quad Yearbook, 1950, p. 41.) He studied history at Stanford. Just prior to building this Mill Valley residence, Brennen lived at 1511 Arch Street in Berkeley, CA in 1956. (See Telephone Directory for Oakland, California, May 1956, p. 67.)

He married Lois Jean Reid (born 12/03/1927 in Los Angeles, CA), a University of California, Berkeley, nursing student on 02/03/1957. (See Ancestry.com, Source Information California, U.S., Marriage Index, 1949-1959 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013, accessed 04/04/2022.) They divorced in 02/1967 in Marin County, CA, but had at least two sons, Reid Alyn Brennen (born 10/27/1958 in Marin County, CA) and Miles Chester Brennen (born c. 1962 in CA). (See Ancestry.com, Source Information: California, U.S., Divorce Index, 1966-1984 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007, accessed 04/04/2022.)

In 1960, Brennen worked as a public school teacher in San Rafael, CA and lived in Mill Valley. (See San Rafael, California, City Directory, 1960, p. 62.) When this residence was built, he had not married and had relatively simple requirements. By 1966, Brennen and his wife Lois resided at 19 Harcourt Street in San Rafael. He had moved on from teaching by this time, as his occupation was listed as "investor" in the San Rafael, California, City Directory, 1966. (See San Rafael, California, City Directory, 1966, p. 43.)

Building Notes

The Brennen House was a rectangular box, measuring 52 x 20 feet, laid out on a four-foot grid. Two flanking stone walls on the east and west supported some of the building's wooden framing elements. Much of the first-floor space was occupied by a double-height living room, measuring 20 x 28 feet. A conversation pit sunken into the living room floor, accentuated the room's apparent height. A copper fire hood heated the conversation pit and lofty living room space. Sixteen-foot-high window walls on two sides opened the view to the northeast. While the living room rose two-stories, an open mezzanine lining the southwestern wall contained a study/bedroom and bath upstairs. Under this mezzanine, stood a small dining room, kitchen, guest bedroom and closet.

Additions c. 1960 enlarged it, to accommodate at least one son born in 1958.

Like the Owens and Emmons Houses, the Brennen House received a great deal of press. It was published under a pseudonym, the "Alyn Reid House," to confuse would-be visitors. The owner's son reid Brennen said in 2012: “Actually, my father had that house built. Since he did not want a bunch of contacts, he used a pseudonym for all the articles where the house was mentioned. His real name was Alyn Brennen. The house was shown in photos in Sunset Magazine (first prize in their ‘contest’) and graced the cover (October 1959). It was also shown in a photo in Life Magazine (May 12, 1961). There was also a photo or two in some local newspaper Sunday mags. The original house was pretty minimalist and a couple of bedrooms and I believe a bathroom were added around 1960. I you have seen some photos, you can see that the sliding glass doors were 16 feet high. Eventually, the house was sold because of the cost of heating it.”(See Reid Brennen, Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.org, "Info on Reid Residence by Lee Stuart Darrow in Mill Valley," published 08/27/2012, accessed 04/04/2022.)

The Brennen House was also published in the Architectural Record's Record Houses of 1960 (Mid-May 1960, pp. 84-87). It won an Award of Merit given by the American Institute of Architects in 1960. (See "Architecture Honors: Award to Ice Arena," San Francisco Examiner, 02/15/1960, Section I, p. 18.)

PCAD id: 24329