How Quirky is Berkeley? Olivia Hunter’s Butterfly House

1144 Bancroft Way. Photo: John Storey
The Butterfly House at 1140 Bancroft Way. Photo: John Storey

Olivia Hunter is a retired hairstylist who grew up at 1140 Bancroft Way, at the corner of Curtis Street. She remembers a happy childhood filled with family (her grandparents lived next door on Bancroft), the overflowing hippie scene of Berkeley, and the excitement and fun of Black Panther Party community-based programs.

When her mother died, Olivia inherited her childhood home. She had told her mother of her dream of a purple house on the corner, an idea which did not sit well with her mother. After her mother’s death, neighbors would remind Hunter that her mother had not wanted the house painted purple. The compromise? Violet trim, pink accents and a swarm of butterflies, dragonflies, owls and peacocks on the house exterior.

Olivia Hunter. Photo: Colleen Neff
Olivia Hunter. Photo: Colleen Neff
1140 Bancroft Way. Photo: John Storey
1140 Bancroft Way. Photo: John Storey
1140 Bancroft Way. Photo: John Storey
1140 Bancroft Way. Photo: John Storey
1140 Bancroft Way. Photo: John Storey
1140 Bancroft Way. Photo: John Storey
1140 Bancroft Way. Photo: Colleen Neff
1140 Bancroft Way. Photo: Colleen Neff

The overall impact is stunning. Neighbors and passersby stop and chat with Hunter. She is an extrovert and greets strangers and people she’s known her whole life with the same warmth. There are a dozen wind chimes, adding to the effect.

At the foot of the stairs leading up to the front door is a pot of gold.


Pot of gold at 1140 Bancroft Way.. Photo: Colleen Neff
Pot of gold at 1140 Bancroft Way. Photo: Colleen Neff

Hunter’s grandparents worked their way across the United States, hoping to find the promised land in California. They carried with them a wash tub, and earned a scant living washing clothes in the tub. Hunter’s sister came across the tub in her basement, and Hunter knew what to do with it — fill it with gold-painted stones to honor the vision and courage of her grandparents.

A fence painted purple encloses the backyard along Curtis Street. A large sign proclaims the presence of Dutchess.

1140 Bancroft Way. Photo: John Storey
1140 Bancroft Way. Photo: John Storey

Today’s Dutchess is in fact Dutchess III.

Dutchess III. Photo: Colleen Neff
Dutchess III. Photo: Colleen Neff

Hunter’s compromise with her mother’s wishes has produced a whimsical and cheerful gift to the street in her quickly changing West Berkeley neighborhood. She smiles a lot and her house makes others smile too.

Tom Dalzell, a labor lawyer, created a website, Quirky Berkeley, to share all the whimsical objects he has captured with his iPhone. The site now has more than 8,000 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means.


For a fuller version of this post, see Quirky Berkeley.

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