Berkeley home with personality, built for famed geologist

The distinctive home at 1555 La Vereda Rd has recently come on the market for the first time in more than 50 years. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Idiosyncratic and lovely. Both words describe the recently listed home at 1555 La Vereda Road in North Berkeley.

The three-bedroom house with separate cottage, which is priced at $1,095,000, was built for — and in part by — the renowned geologist Andrew Cowper Lawson in the 1930s.

Lawson was a traveler, art collector and enthusiastic builder. He had already had one distinctive home designed for him when he decided to have his next one built right behind it. Bernard Maybeck created the now landmarked “Pompeian villa” on La Loma Avenue for Lawson in 1907.

The great room which Lawson, who was an art collector, used as a gallery. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The geologist engaged his neighbor, the architect John Knox Ballantine Jr., to design for him a new place behind the Maybeck villa, according to the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, which held an open house of the La Vereda home for its members on Wednesday, March 19.


Although he was 85 years old at the time, Lawson himself acted as the builder.

Ballantine’s specialty was masonry design and it shows in this home which blends exposed reinforced concrete and large terra cotta-hued tile block. After the devastating 1923 hills fire, Ballentine was sensitive to the need to create as blaze-proof a house as possible.

A charming tower, the top of which is reached by ladder-like steps, offers vistas that take in the North Berkeley hills to the east and the full sweep of the bay to the west.

The hallway which shows the home’s extensive use of tile blocks, as well as decorative floor tile. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The “picture room,” with its dome-like, curved plywood ceilings, giant skylight, and commanding fireplace, was originally an art gallery where Lawson displayed his extensive collection of paintings.

A cottage, which has charm of its own, is reached through a pretty garden that includes a lawn, a large pond and plenty of seating areas — ideal for those arty, salon-type parties one imagines Lawson indulged in.

The home, which has been in the hands of the current owners for more than 50 years, is being offered for sale by Bebe McRae at The Grubb Company.

The landscaped garden includes a seating area next to a fish pond. Photo: Tracey Taylor
A climb up to the top of the tower is worth it for the sweeping views. Photo: Tracey Taylor
The bedroom in the detached cottage that is being sold with the home. Photo: Tracey Taylor

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