VLN: Willis Polk: 1 2 3 4 5 (1910-1913) 6 7

Willis Polk slide show

Chronological listing of 10 selected extant architectural works in the Bay Area by Willis Polk (1910-1913).

1910, Sonol, Sonol Water Temple
About ½ mile s. west of intersection of Niles Canyon, Pleasanton-Sonol, and Paloma Rds., Sonol
Willis Polk.

Designed after the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli, outside Rome, the 60-foot high structure enjoys a fine setting in a 200-acre public park and walnut orchard, where it marks the confluence of three water sources that flow into the Sunol Valley of southern Alameda County. The temple had undergone repairs over the years, but few alterations (Heritage News, Mar/Apr 2001, Vol xxix, No. 2, p.5).

Most of us, when we turn on a faucet or a light switch, never bother to think of what happens at the end of the pipeline. We don't think of the responsibility which the city has for the countryside. I think that Willis Polk and William Bourn did... Both Polk and Bourn were classically educated, Bourn at Cambridge. He took over the Spring Valley Water Company after the San Francisco earthquake and instituted a policy of public service in a company which had been notorious for its greed. Under his direction, Spring Valley published a literate little magazine called 'San Francisco Water' that had numerous articles on historic aqueduct systems, especially the great systems that fed Rome.

So it's not surprising that he and Polk would have used the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli as inspiration for the Sunol Temple. Tivoli is where much of the waters that fed Rome came together in the foothills of the Appenines, much as the waters from a 700 square mile watershed come together here at Sunol to provide 15% of SF's water. Tivoli was recognized as a special spot by the Ancients, and you can still feel that sacredness just below the Temple of Vesta where water crashes down into a wooded grove in a series of limestone cascades before it heads off for the city. It's a very unusual place beyond the marketplace, beyond money, just as Sunol is. That's why Polk and Bourn built the Temple here and landscaped it the way they did, and why when Maynard Dixon painted a mural for the old Spring Valley offices on Mason Street, he placed the Temple at the center, between the rain falling on the hills, and the city in the foreground. It reminds us to have respect for the land that makes the city possible; it reminds us that we have responsibilities to that land and its people. We cannot simply take from them, but must give something back (Sunol Water Temple Restoration Celebration, September 27, 1997, Excerpted from Dr. Gray Brechin's Remarks, reprinted from the Sunol Community News, p. 6).

Located approximately 40 miles southeast of San Francisco, California, the Sunol Water Temple is currently owned by the San Francisco Water District, and is located near to the proposed quarry project. It has long been one of California's most beloved architectural monuments. The Water Temple was designed in 1910 by famed San Francisco architect Willis Polk, who always considered it his masterpiece. It was built for the Spring Valley Water Company as a beautiful design intended to enhance the dignity of the water company as a public utility service provider. In it, all the waters from the Alameda source of the Spring Valley Water Company -- sources that represent control of six hundred square miles of watershed -- meet and mingle before their long journey to San Francisco. The waters from artesian wells at Pleasanton, from the Calaveras Reservoir and from the natural filter-beds of gravel that underlie Sunol Valley form a magnificent cascade, dropping some forty feet into the conduit that routes them along Niles Canyon and under the bay to San Francisco. At one time, half of San Francisco's water supply flowed through the water temple every day and it was a favored tourist destination (Save our Sonol).

Crafting Wood Conservation Methods

One of the awards for craftsmanship/preservation technology went to the Sunol Water Temple, designed in 1910 by architect Willis Polk. The 60-foot (18-meter) high classical pavilion was sited to mark the confluence of three water sources that flow into the Sunol Valley.

Owned by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission since 1930, the structure is made up of twelve circular concrete columns and a concrete ring girder that supports the conical wood and tile roof. The structure's design was inspired by the Temple of Vesta outside Rome, built to honor the source of ancient Rome's water supply.

The water temple was unstable as a result of years of neglect and the Loma Prieta Earthquake. It was rescued in a project that took three years to complete and used methods of wood restoration developed in England for restoring medieval heavy timber buildings.

The restoration project involved repairing the roof, columns, and finishes; conservation of the art murals; and improving accessibility. The goal was to strengthen all elements while restoring them to their original appearance.

A unique system was created by the architect and wood conservator embedding a U-shaped steel channel in the beams with epoxy. The finished product appears to be wood. Eight of the twelve columns were strengthened with steel cores for seismic stability, and their cracks were filled with epoxy.

Carey and Co., the San Francisco-based historic preservation architecture firm that served preservation consultants on the project shares the award with: the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission; SOHA Engineers; LTM Construction Company, Inc.; Anne Rosenthal, art conservator; wood specialists from the University of California Forest Products, Service to Industry Program; the Oakland Museum Conservation Laboratory; Molly Lambert, architectural conservator; Allied Wood Products and Oakland Pattern Works; and Biocare.

Save the Sunol, a local neighborhood organization was instrumental in saving the structure from demolition. (California Historic Preservation Awards, Architecture Week, 28 March 2001, Page N3.2)(http://www.architectureweek.com/2001/0328/news_3-2.html)

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c.1910, Presidio Heights, House
3255 Pacific Ave., San Francisco
Ernest Coxhead; rem. Willis Polk.

Evidently designed by Ernest Coxhead around 1910 and subsequently remodeled by Willis Polk (Woodbridge and Woodbridge 1992: 97).

The facade interest of this substantial stucco house is concentrated on the expansive living room window with its Corinthian pilasters, iron railing, and dentil molding. (Olmsted and Watkins 1969: 285).

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1912, Presidio Heights, Alice Griffith house
2820 Pacific Ave., San Francisco
Willis Polk.

(Woodbridge and Woodbridge 1992: 99).

Miss Alice Griffith, founder of the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Association, had Willis Polk design this grand house following the plan of an Italian palazzo. The materials used (stucco and tile), the arches, and the formal garden give a Mediterranean look to the house (Olmsted and Watkins 1969: 285).

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1912, East Bay, James Kennedy Moffitt house,
86 Sea View, Piedmont.
Willis Polk.

The house on Sea View was built for James Kennedy Moffitt by Willis Polk in 1912 and the gardens, I believe, were designed by [William Hammond] Hall, who laid out the gardens for Golden Gate Park. Moffit choose the address '86' because it was the year he graduated from Cal Berkeley (Mario Palestini, personal communication). For many years J. K. Moffitt was president of Crocker Bank and served as a U.C. Berkeley regent. A great book collector, he left the first large bequest to the bancroft library ($100,000).

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c.1912, Peninsula, Coryell carriage house
48 Lloyden Dr., Atherton
Willis Polk and Co.

Handsome, rambling Mission Revival design set in authentically planted grounds. Again in this house Polk demonstrates his amazing versatility and mastery of the Styles, and at the same time a delicacy that civilizes the awkward Mission motifs. Actually this structure was but the first phase of an ambitious estate plan; the rest was never completed (Gebhard, Winter and Sandweiss 1985: 153-54).

The Coryell carriage house was designed by Willis Polk after studying Mediterranean architecture in Spain at Coryell's expense.

Another unusually attractive carriage house is the establishment at 45 Lloyden Drive, built for Mr. Joseph R. Coryell who sent the architect, Willis Polk, to Spain to study Mediterranean architecture in detail before starting his design. Constructed shortly after the turn of the century, this Mediterranean-Mission-style structure of concrete, with its fixtures and tiles imported from Spain and Italy, was intended as a test run of Polk's services by Mr. Coryell.

If satisfied with the results of Polk's labors, Coryell, who then was occupying an older frame house on the property, intended to build a new main house in the style of the carriage house. However, before the subsidiary building was finished the old main house burned and the Coryells took up residence in the carriage house. Not long after, Coryell died. The carriage house was completed as a residence after his death and rooms intended for use as a family chapel and a private chapel for Mrs. Coryell were put to other uses by subsequent owners (Olmsted and Watkins 1969: 162-63, 166).

There has been a persistent local legend that before designing the gatehouse for the Coryell estate, Polk was sent, at his client's expense, to study the architectural monuments of Spain. There is no evidence, however, that Polk was in Europe during this period, and the finished building, with its stocky proportions and star-shaped window, hints that if Coryell sent Polk anywhere, it was to Carmel for a quick once-over of San Carlos Borromeo, the obvious design source for the building (Woodbridge 1988: 80-81).

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Insurance Exchange Building
1913, Financial District, Insurance Exchange Building
433 California St., San Francisco
Willis Polk.

Two buildings [Merchants Exchange Building, Insurance Exchange Building] with similar wall compositions and surface treatment (Woodbridge and Woodbridge 1992: 28).

A very fine street building with a facade designed to relate to the Merchant's Exchange Building (F32) across Leidesdorff, also by Polk. A two part vertical composition with a giant order over a remodeled base, and a shaft consisting of courses of variously detailed terra cotta panels. Ornamentation is derived from Renaissance/Baroque sources. The giant order picks up the rhythm of the columns on the Merchant's Exchange and the Bank of California (F28), and the shaft improves on the textured wall of the Merchant's Exchange. The building exemplifies the aims of the City Beautiful Movement in its simultaneous success as urban architecture, achieved through form and composition, and as an individual building, achieved in the quality of its details. The handsome 2-story interior exchange space has been subdivided and remodeled. Steel frame construction. A (Corbett 1979: 197).

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Napthaly house
1913, Presidio Heights, S. L. Napthaly house
2960 Broadway, San Francisco
Willis Polk.

A delightful pink Mediterranean villa (Woodbridge and Woodbridge 1992: 96).

Designed by Willis Polk for S. L. Naphtaly, this is a stucco adaptation of Spanish city architecture. It is build around the traditional central courtyard (Olmsted and Watkins 1969: 253).

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1913, Presidio Heights, Catherine Hooker house
3277 Pacific Ave., San Francisco
Willis Polk.

(Gebhard, Winter and Sandweiss 1985: 43).

Willis Polk was commissioned by Mrs. Catherine Hooker to build this grand residence, patterned on palazzos she had seen in Italy. The tile roof, high arched windows, and tall chimney of the stucco house all combine to give the effect of an Italian loggia (Olmsted and Watkins 1969: 285-86).

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Tobin house Tobin house
1913, Pacific Heights, Tobin house
1969 California St., San Francisco
Willis Polk.

Half of a Gothic double house Polk designed for the de Young sisters, one of whom moved away from the city and never built her half (Woodbridge and Woodbridge 1992: 89).

Many passersby have wondered about this odd structure in the 1900 block of California Street, built by Michael De Young as a wedding gift to one of his daughters. Its grey façade and Gothic Revival design are unique in the city, but the mysterious half of a Gothic arch makes people wonder whether part of the building was demolished. Actually, the second half was never built: Mike De Young's second daughter simply changed her mind. (Courtesy James Heig) (Alexander and Heig 2002: 299).

Across the street is a modified English Tudor Gothic residence, 1969 California Street, built in 1915 to the designs of Willis Polk. This house was built for Mrs. Joseph O. Tobin (Constance de Young) next door to the former de Young mansion, now demolished. The design also contemplated a twin to this house for Mrs. George T. Cameron (Helen de Young), but it was never built, as Mrs. Cameron moved to the Peninsula shortly after 1969 California was completed. The former Tobin residence still includes half the Tudor arch which was to span the driveway between the two houses (Olmsted and Watkins 1969: 38).

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1913, Peninsula, Crystal Springs and Uplands Schools (former Charles Templeton Crocker Mansion "The Uplands")
400 Uplands Dr., Hillsborough
Willis Polk.

Boldly sited on a knoll at a bend in San Mateo Creek, this is one of Hillsborough's better [known] landmarks. The grounds once included most of the land between El Cererito and Crystal Springs Roads plus the hill to the west where the little F. L. Wright house is hidden. Look back from there for a nice view of the Uplands. Polk's design, in the Roman-Renaissance Revival style, has Ionic first story with a ballustraded attic surmounted by a second, set back attic (Gebhard, Winter and Sandweiss 1985: 131).

Similar in scope and in many of its features to La Dolphine is Uplands, 400 Uplands Drive. The land for this estate was purchased from the heirs of William D. M. Howard by Charles Templeton Crocker, son of the California railroad pioneer. After moving the four-story home that was on the property when he bought it, Crocker commissioned Willis Polk to build him something more to his taste.

The Polk design of 1913 is along neo-Classic, Renaissance palace lines and, being constructed of steel, concrete, and brick, is one of the most solidly built grand mansions of the Peninsula. Although not quite so huge as some of its contemporaries, Uplands was specifically designed to give the impression of great size. In 1956, the massive structure was acquired from the Crocker family for the Crystal Springs School for Girls (Olmsted and Watkins 1969: 180, 184-85).

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add = Additions; nm = No Mention; rem = Remodelled; rest = Restoration