House Music 

Tract homes among the East Bay's architectural marvels.

Say the words "East Bay" and then "architecture," and Julia Morgan and Bernard Maybeck don't just come to mind — they crowd everyone else out. Yet they weren't the only ones whose dreams and visions and blueprints turned this region into a shingled, columned, porched, and porticoed architectural portfolio. In his book Signature Architects of the San Francisco Bay Area, Dave Weinstein introduces other remarkable figures such as Ernest Coxhead, whose blending of the rugged, fanciful, classical, and abstract evoke mad fairytale castles and cottages. "The East Bay has always had the clientele for good architecture," Weinstein points out, "people who care about the landscape in which they live and want homes and neighborhoods that blend well with it." An El Cerrito journalist who led the push to rescue the Cerrito Theatre, Weinstein will present a slide show at the El Cerrito Library (6510 Stockton Ave., El Cerrito) at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, December 11, highlighting local structures.

As for properly assessing architectural marvels in our own midst, he urges: "The first thing is to think of the home or building as a work of art." Nor should we dismiss the ostensibly ordinary: "I'm talking about modern works, often called 'mid-century.' These were, after all, designed not to be showpieces, but to be simple, livable, unpretentious. Ergo, they are often ignored." And yet: "See how beautiful they are, how chaste: how they depend on proportion and form more than on grandeur or pretense." For example, he cites the Orientation Center for the Blind on Adams Street in Albany: "a beautiful modern campus." On any given stroll, "take time to appreciate the proportions — in older homes, how the gables relate to the walls and the windows, for example. The detailing of windows and doors. The humor of storybook homes, how they suggest the 'olde world' while remaining modern. Notice also the neighborhood as a whole." The East Bay, he notes, "has many neighborhoods of 1920s-to-1950s tract homes in which no individual home is a masterpiece but the ensemble works together very well."


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