270 Castenada (Image Source: Vernacular Language North)

While the listing for 270 Castenada (a.k.a. the 1916 Erlanger house) touts “Too beautiful to describe!” (and as of this morning, apparently “too beautiful to photograph”), that didn’t stop architect Bernard Maybeck (think Palace of Fine Arts) from offering these words:

The house is our attempt to suggest the idea of an English character in California. Although this house would never happen in England, it yet has an English feeling. The lower wing is a chapel form living room greatly used in an early period, the ceiling of this room is very similar to one in Sainesbury Hill Lancashire. The second story windows are of iron like their English prototypes. The building and its setting among the trees loudly proclaims the good taste of Mrs. and Mr. Erlanger from whom the suggestions came.

Or a few others from offering these:

“The owners had selected as a prototype an English medieval manor, Samlesbury Hall, in Lancashire, but Maybeck’s creative interpretation of English Gothic dissolved into details and proportions peculiar to him. In his design, Maybeck piles room on room in casual abandon to form three stories burgeoning with polygonal bays, protruding dormers, and open decks. It is a large, shingled house with steep, gabled roofs. While its overall form discourages classification, its articulated living room pavilion, tall, trussed and raftered, echoes Maybeck’s Gothic designs.”

“Maybeck complied with the Erlangers’ wishes for an English effect by giving their house a Tudorish exterior and a “chapel form living room” that occupies a wing by itself on the north side (plate 147). The low eaves of the living-room roof create a horizontal emphasis along the street side of the house. The rest of the rooms pile up on the south side in a gable-roofed block set perpendicular to the living-room wing. A bank of dormer windows across the northern slope of the roof lights the third-floor bedroom, which has a view over the living-room roof.

On the southeastern corner is a polygonal sleeping porch (plate 146) that has the best exposure and a panoramic view. Where the porch projects over the brick walls of the entrance below, Maybeck has given it a tiered base of boldly scaled moldings that cuts into the walls and swells out above. The fanfare of the base suggests that a weighty element like a tower is bearing down on this important corner of the house, yet the transparency of the porch above contradicts this suggestion. The resulting composition is a trope on the whole idea of a castle keep.”

“In the Erlanger house a heavy beam on ornate consoles forms a secondary entrance arch over a short flight of steps that mount from the front door to the stair hall (plate 148). On the right side of the hall the stairway continues to the second floor; on the left is the living room, a step lower than the hall. The changing levels of this warm redwood entry contribute to the drama of the entrance sequence. So does the window behind a balustrade on the left wall just inside the door, which offers a preview of the grand hall that will come into full view around the corner.

The Erlangers’ living room is as theatrical as the Rooses’ but composed in a different key. A great medieval barn is suggested by the exposed structural system of curved laminated arches set against horizontal, vertical, and diagonal boards woven together in a wooden brocade. Its effect recalls the sentiment Ruskin expressed in his 1853 “Lectures on Architecture” that the expression “beneath my roof” was more descriptive of the idea of hospitable shelter than its counterpart “within my walls.” At the northern end of the room is a loft occupied by the master bedroom, from which casement windows open to permit a close view of the ceiling, as well as the room below (plate 149). Underneath it is the dining room in a low-ceilinged alcove. At the other end of the living room is a twelve-foot-tall bay into which sunlight streams through three tiers of windows on its three sides (plate 150). The space within the bay, large enough for two chairs and an occasional table, provides a place for intimate conversation or for contemplation of the garden. Like the Rooses’ living room, the Erlangers’ balances intimacy with grandeur by incorporating the elements–the monumental hearth, the high-peaked ceiling, and the bay–that Ruskin and his followers, particularly Richard Norman Shaw, considered sacred to the house.”

Asking $3.89 million, the four-bedroom home will be open this Sunday (2/24) from 2-4 PM. Don’t forget your camera.

19 thoughts on “Too Beautiful To Describe (Except By The Architect): 270 Castenada”
  1. Forget the photos. Go check out some of Maybeck’s godly drawings from local archives. They are one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life.

  2. I can’t wait to see this house. I drive by it all the time. There’s no picture of the lot, but it is also amazing – huge (listing says 9,000 sq ft., although I would have guessed bigger). Some might consider it overgrown, but it is like having a personal park.
    This is one of those rare houses where I wish I wasn’t as settled in my own home as I am! I just hope that whoever buys it will respect and cherish the home and the setting….

  3. I live on this street, and same as the earlier poster, drive by it every day. I wonder if it has been vacant all these years? Maybe someone can enlighten us further with ownership history of this iconic abode.

  4. To all of the buyers at a certain tower who claim that Socketsite readers are only negative, how do you explain this thread?
    As for the house, owning a Maybeck is like buying a piece of art. If I had the money, this would be the place to call home. Maybeck is a fascinating read by the way, and his concrete homes in the East Bay are brilliant attractive solutions to the wildfire problems. Looking forward to more pictures.

  5. Jules,
    The house is magnificent and everyone seems to recognise it. It must be said however, that this is the first property, at any price, I have ever seen featured on SS that did not attract at least some negative comments…!

  6. We went to the open house on Sunday-it is a beautiful home that needs some tender loving care inside and out-the place was mobbed with other Maybeck fans-some even taking pictures!

  7. They should have charged admission. I’d bet they would have gotten more than a few people to ante up $$$ to see a Maybeck.

  8. Looking at the photos on the listing, I’d say it is really too beautiful to describe.
    If I could afford it, I’d buy it in a heartbeat. I only hope that whoever does buy it actually lives in it and loves it and cherishes it.

  9. I guess it’s nice enough. Looking at the photos, it’s a bit dark and a but rustic for my taste. Is this really the kind of place that San Franciscans love?

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