THE NEW SPRING MANSION
The owner of the historic, 3-plus acre Spring Estate in Thousand Oaks commissioned a tasteful update of several key elements of the 12,000 sq. ft. main house that successfully demonstrates how the majestic Beaux-Arts Mansion can be brought back to glorious life.
Over the past year, Spring Mansion was given a fresh new look. Bay Sotheby’s International Realty’s Top Producer Herman Chan enlisted HGTV host & Berkeley native Cora Sue Anthony to revamp the landmark estate. Originally completed in 1914, the Mansion’s exterior was repaired and given a coat of gleaming white paint. The result returns the exterior close to the original state and it is easy to see why, in the days before the hillside was forested, the mansion resembled a glittering jewel visible from San Francisco across the bay. Wide terraces with balustrades wrap around three sides of the 80X84 ft. exterior, presenting a variety of potential outdoor living and entertaining spaces.
Inside, under the direction of celebrity designer Cora Sue Anthony, many rooms in the Mansion have undergone an elegant metamorphosis. Anthony’s efforts are inspirational, illustrating how, in the right hands, the home’s oversized grandeur can be modernized to achieve an intimacy more in keeping with today’s aesthetics and lifestyles.
Of particular note is the updated palette of the grand entry hall. There, understated classic muted colors have replaced the copper and red accents installed previously. The gleaming whiteness of four huge, stucco-covered Tuscan columns now helps disperse light from the original stained-glass ceiling that tops the 30-feet atrium. Atop the stained glass is a colossal glass pyramid skylight. Three large windows at the landing of the 15-foot wide central staircase flood the entry hall and second floor gallery with brightness and life.
But nowhere is the makeover more effective than in the massive 42 ft. X 26 ft. formal living room. Elegant furnishings and soft carpeting nicely complement the room’s remaining original elements that include two plaster chandeliers, a massive carved oak fireplace, built in oak bookcases, and an ornately carved box beam ceiling. Original tapestries of hunting scenes still cover the room’s walls. The total effect brings to mind a modern, livable version of San Simeon’s Hearst Castle. A large dining room, billiards room, the kitchen, butler’s pantry, breakfast room and servant’s quarters complete the first floor.
Upstairs the 26-foot long master bedroom, with en suite bath, a separate dressing room with skylight, inglenook, and carved fireplace has also been dramatically staged to highlight the room’s panoramic views of San Francisco Bay from Marin County to the South Bay.
DETAILS & FEATURES
The Spring Estate in Berkeley’s hillside Thousand Oaks neighborhood sits on a 3-acre street-to- street lot that requires three addresses.
The two-story main house is a 12,000 square-foot masterpiece. Construction started in 1912 and ended 18 months later in 1914 at a cost of $152,9000. The two-story 80 X 83 foot structure holds 7 bedrooms and 6.5 baths. There are 7 ornately carved fireplaces throughout.
The mostly Beaux-Arts style mansion is built of steel reinforced concrete. Though innovative in its day, the durability of the building materials is evident as the structure remains rock solid today. Surrounding the house are broad terraces patterned after those at the Corfu palace of Empress Elizabeth of Austria.
Six half-moon concrete steps lead up to a grand entry portico. The original Arts & Crafts style front door opens to a magnificent vaulted entrance hall where a 30-foot tall atrium rises to the original stained glass skylight. Four massive Tuscan columns support the wraparound second floor gallery. An Italian marble fountain sits in the center of the hall. Impressive as this is, the real show stopper lies beyond: A 15-foot wide grand staircase leading up to the second floor gallery.
Oak is used lavishly throughout the house—in moldings, bookcases, and doors. The doorways are over a foot thick, and the doorway openings are appropriate for huge rooms.
The Mansion’s interiors display the architect’s eclectic influences, including Vienna Secessionist, Arts & Crafts, Egyptian, and even Gothic elements and his signature motif of four little squares placed on walls, at corners, and by doorways both inside and out. Off the impressive foyer, numerous sets of carved oak French doors lead to the mansion’s public rooms. The 42 ft. X 26 ft. formal living room retains many original elements including two plaster chandeliers, a massive carved oak fireplace, wall tapestries, built-in bookcases, and a box beam ceiling featuring ornate carved woodwork.
The first floor also contains a generously sized dining room with box-beam ceiling and billiard room (both feature large, carved fireplaces), the kitchen, butler’s pantry, breakfast room, and modest servant’s quarters are located at the rear of the building. There a smaller, but no less impressive, portico leads to the porte-cochere and circular driveway. Upstairs, seven large bedrooms, most with en suite baths, open off of the gallery overlooking the entry hall. From the first floor, the extra wide gallery shields the bedroom doors from view and provides an extra layer of privacy to the private living space above. The 26-foot long master has views of San Francisco, a carved fireplace, inglenook, en suite bathroom, and a dressing room with skylight.
The six remaining bedrooms, though smaller, are generously proportioned by today’s standards. One of the largest was converted into a library during the days when the Mansion operated as a private school for girls. Bookshelves still hold hundreds of books dating from the 1920s and ‘30s. The central bedroom on the western wall has double French doors leading out to a balcony built atop the front portico. Breathtaking views of San Francisco bay from Marin County to the South Bay lie beyond the balcony balustrades.
The 3 west facing bedrooms have panoramic views of San Francisco bay. South facing bedrooms have impressive views of Oakland’s expanding skyline. The front façade overlooks one of two reflecting pools and what was once a terraced landscape designed by renowned turn-of- the century civil engineer and architect, Mark Daniels. The original terraces were planted with elaborate flower gardens, shrubbery, and redwood, eucalyptus, pine, and palm trees, many of which remain.
In addition to the main house, the 3-acre property includes a detached gymnasium/dance studio, a tennis court, a cottage, and two reflecting pools, and a smaller house, all in need of restoration.
HISTORY & HERITAGE
JOHN HOPKINS SPRING
The mansion was built by John Hopkins Spring, an entrepreneur who developed much of North Berkeley and Albany, and was instrumental in the building of Berkeley’s Claremont Hotel. Spring began buying land in the East Bay prior to the San Francisco earthquake. He made millions after 1906 selling to San Franciscans who fled the city for safer locations across the bay. In 1912, he commissioned John Hudson Thomas to design a grand residence designed to promote his development of the Thousand Oaks area. The result was an imposing structure on the nearly bare hillside that was visible for miles even, reportedly, from San Francisco.
John Hudson Thomas graduated from Yale in 1902 and completed graduate work in the Department of Architecture at U.C. Berkeley in 1904. He is considered one of the most innovative California architects of the first quarter of the 20 th century. Thomas’ homes span, and sometimes combine, California bungalow, Prairie, mission, even gothic and Vienna Secession styles. He was also a master at combining materials in his exteriors. Thomas is noted for his deliberate over-scaling, and the Spring mansion is built on a grand Roman scale. Spring Mansion features many of Thomas’ signature elements: bays, multi-shaped windows, and the eclectic and romantic mixture of visual influences. These combine with the more formal and classical elements of the Mansion’s design to illustrate Thomas’s skill and ability to borrow from many modes and fuse them into a unique and powerful overall design.
Spring had hired civil engineer Mark Daniels to layout his Thousand Oaks development. Daniels had gained a reputation for developing a site’s scenic beauty to enhance its use as a commercial and marketing tool. It was no surprise then that he won the job of landscaping the Thousand Oak’s main promotional tool: The Spring Estate. Daniels developed 20 acres of undulating terraces that followed the contours of the hillside, even retaining several large rock formations. The terraces were planted with elaborate flower gardens, shrubbery, and redwood, eucalyptus, pine, and palm trees, many of which remain.
In April 1914, as work finished on the Spring estate, Daniels was appointed landscape engineer for Yosemite National Park. Barely two months later, he rose to the position of superintendent and landscape engineer of national parks. He was instrumental in laying out Pebble Beach near Monterey and Bel-Air in southern California, and designed many homes there and in the Bay Area.
The Springs moved into the mansion in 1914 but Spring himself lived there barely a year before abandoning it and his family to run off with a nurse 25 years his junior. He sold the mansion after his divorce in 1918. Sixteen acres of the original garden were subdivided and sold, and the house and remaining acreage became the Cora L.Williams Institute of Creative Development. For the next five decades the estate operated as a private girls school. Many prominent people taught or lectured at the Institute including dancer Isadora Duncan and psychiatrist Alfred Adler.
In 1975 the estate once again became a private residence.