For sale: Berkeley home of Walter Steilberg, architect and Julia Morgan’s engineer

1 Orchard Lane: One of three properties on a compound designed by Walter Steilberg which is up for sale. Photo: MLS/Open Homes Photography

The Panoramic Hill home Walter Steilberg designed for himself and his family in 1922 is up for sale. Steilberg, a famed architect in his own right, was also the structural engineer for renowned architect Julia Morgan.

In fact, rather than one home, it’s a compound of three homes, all designed by Steilberg: the main home, at 1 Orchard Lane, with 12 rooms; a brown-shingle one-bedroom, one-bath cottage on Panoramic Way that is currently rented out; and a Mediterranean-style one-bedroom, one-bath cottage on Mosswood. It’s the first time the properties have been on sale, and the listing price is $1,900,000.

Steilberg, who also designed the Bancroft Hotel, was one of a group of master architects who built a collection of homes on Panoramic Hill inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, which emphasized beauty and fine craftsmanship.

One-bedroom cottage on Panoramic Way: for sale as part of the Steilberg compound. Photo: MLS/Open Homes Photography

The architect retrofitted UC Berkeley’s Campanile and designed some of the buildings at Hearst Castle. In response to the Berkeley fire of 1923, he designed an innovative fire-resistant product called Fabricrete. The Mosswood cottage is a Fabricrete structure. Steilberg continued to practice until his death at the age of 88, in 1974.


The front door of the master house is reached via a path and through an archway. Though only a half block from UC Berkeley, the surrounding flora, visible through the numerous windows in almost every room, impart a sense of peace and privacy.

The biggest standout is the octagonal dining room, with a fireplace and a beautifully patterned wood floor, ringed by windows. Almost every room is flooded with light, thanks to the many windows, and the house has views of the bay, the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco.

A Mediterranean-style one-bedroom, one-bath cottage on Mosswood, also part of the Steilberg compound. Photo: MLS/Open Homes Photography

The kitchen boasts what Charity Ankrum of Red Oak Realty, the listing agent, describes as a model of one of the first dishwashers, a metal structure in which dishes can be rinsed.

The wooden floors of rooms throughout the house bear the marks of long use, with stains and scratches. On the third floor, the carpet in a stunning octagonal viewing room is dirty and stained. There’s a hint of mustiness in the air.

Asked about the staging, Ankrum said: “It stands on its own, it’s really a work of art and a piece of architecture that embraces everything about the time period. I wanted to keep it simple and show it as it is because the bare bones are so elegant.”

The architect rose above a shattering personal tragedy to create the compound. The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed Steilberg’s mother, his wife Rowena and his baby daughter in the same month, Ankrum said.

He coped by devoting himself to his craft, and eventually found a new wife, Elizabeth. He built the brown-shingle cottage at the compound in 1922 to live in while the main house was being constructed, Ankrum said. He went on to live in the main house with Elizabeth and their children, Helena and Rosalie.

Now, Steilberg’s grandchildren and heirs, many of whom have lived in the various houses over the years, are selling the family estate.

“Their wish is that the future owners will respect the integrity of their grandfather’s vision and be loving stewards of the property,” said Ankrum.

Another architecturally distinctive home on the market

6 Nogales St. in Berkeley: on the market, listed for $1.9 million. Photo: MLS/Zephyr

Another Arts & Crafts home of note to have come on the market in the past few days is the Laura Chamberlain House at 6 Nogales St. in the Claremont neighborhood of Berkeley, not far from Orchard Lane, and also priced at $1.9 million.

Designed by Walter H. Ratcliff, Jr., in 1909, and built in 1910, it is distinctive for its river-rock porch columns and parapet, and was Ratcliff’s only true Craftsman bungalow. In 2006, the Chamberlain House was featured on the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association’s annual Spring House Tour. Since then, according to BAHA who invited its members to view the house earlier this week, “the redwood-paneled public rooms have been beautifully restored, and the compromised rear half of the house has been renovated with a perfect Arts & Crafts sensibility.”