www.sfgate.com Return to regular view
Northern California History Found in Oakland Oasis
- Abby Cohn, Special to The Chronicle
Friday, November 24, 2000
Sitting barely a picket fence away from the rush of Interstate 980 in downtown Oakland, the Pardee Home is passed by both time and traffic.
Built in 1868 and 1869, the cupola-capped villa was home to Gov. George Pardee and three generations of his family. It was turned into a nonprofit museum in 1991, a decade after the death of Pardee's last daughter.
Tours of the house and gardens offer a glimpse into more than 100 years of the life of a prominent California family. Pardee was elected mayor of Oakland in 1893, served as governor during the 1906 earthquake and lived in the home until his death in 1941.
"All the furnishings are original," says David Nicolai, the museum's director. "Almost all the drawers and closets are filled with the family's possessions."
Throughout the three-story home are displays of such objects as candlesticks, scrimshaw and shells collected from around the world by Pardee's wife, Helen.
"She was a renowned hostess who started a tradition of formal house tours," Nicolai said.
Off the living room -- its marble mantelpiece still bears a crack from the 1906 earthquake -- is the "candlestick parlor," so named because it houses dozens of candlesticks owned by Helen Pardee. Many were gifts picked up by friends on their travels, said Nicolai.
The house is filled with curiosities. Hanging from the 15-foot-tall ceiling of the house's hallway is a six-sided lighting fixture with illuminated pictures of Yosemite taken by renowned photographer Carleton Watkins.
Draping the governor's bed is a crazy quilt of gold, copper and black fabrics stitched by his wife in the 1880s. One tan swatch of fabric is embroidered "Lincoln" and is a scrap from a dress worn by Mary Todd Lincoln, according to Nicolai.
On display in another upstairs bedroom is a hard-covered volume called a "Chap Record," in which, starting in 1910, daughter Carol Pardee recorded the visits of her gentleman callers. Alongside the names and dates are such penetrating comments as "Pest, tiresome, mutt" and "Too dirty -- teeth are green."
Carol, one of four daughters, died of the flu in 1920 at the age of 28. Her oldest sister, Florence, was killed in a car accident a decade earlier.
Pardee's two remaining daughters, Madeline and Helen, lived in the house together until their deaths in 1980 and 1981 at the ages of 90 and 86, respectively.
The home was built by the sisters' grandfather, Enoch Pardee, an eye doctor from New York who came to California during the Gold Rush. "The historical record is not clear, but we think he made a great deal of money mining gold," says Nicolai.
He apparently made enough to build the home -- it covers half a city block - - for $12,000. Designed in an Italianate style by local architects, it was built from redwoods cut from the Oakland hills.
Enoch Pardee was elected mayor of Oakland in 1875 and became a state assemblyman and senator. George Pardee acquired the home in 1897 after his father's death. An eye doctor like his father, George Pardee also entered politics.
The Pardees were "very unpretentious people," Nicolai believes, noting that they chose rag rugs to cover the floors of the upstairs bedrooms. In their later years, Madeline and Helen Pardee would sit in a downstairs parlor watching the game show "Dialing for Dollars" on TV, he said.
On the tour, Nicolai makes no apologies for the 1950s wallpaper and other decorating touches.
With the exception of a seismic retrofit and exterior paint job, "We show it pretty much as it was in 1981," he says. "We're not going to get rid of the '50s overlay."
Realizing, however, that the garden was starting to show its age, the museum's trustees are preparing to restore the lot to its turn-of-the-century splendor.
Using enlargements of historic photographs, along with other documents and transcribed interviews with daughter Helen Pardee, an Oakland landscape architecture firm has come up with a master plan for restoring the garden. Work on the $300,000 project is expected to start in the fall.
"There were a lot of family activities and family photographs in the garden, " said Cathy Garrett, who is developing the plans. "The garden was used a great deal."
Shaded by redwood and oak trees, the home's 11th Street entrance will be restored with a walkway lined by vintage roses. Showy flower beds will be planted on both sides of the front porch, she said. The backyard will have a vegetable garden and lawn. Many original plantings will be retained. "There are some camellias that I think date to the 1870s," Garrett said.
The East Bay Municipal Utility District will donate a $13,000 sprinkler system for the lot, which stretches along Castro Street between 11th and 12th streets. In exchange, the garden will serve as a demonstration site for water- efficient irrigation methods, said EBMUD spokesman Charles Hardy.
The ties between EBMUD and the governor were close. A progressive Republican and conservationist, Pardee was an opponent of privately operated water supplies. He served as president of the new, publicly run EBMUD from 1924 to 1941. In 1929, EBMUD's Pardee Dam in the Sierra foothills was named in his honor.
Ironically, until the late 1930s, Pardee supplied water to his own house from a 20-foot-deep well on his property. "He finally took the storage tanks down and got EBMUD water," Nicolai said. But well water was used to irrigate his yard until just a few years ago.
Directions Cross the Bay Bridge and take the Interstate 580 ramp heading toward downtown Oakland, Hayward and Stockton. After about a mile, take Interstate 980 toward downtown Oakland. Get off at the 12th Street exit. Turn left on 11th Street and go over the freeway to the Pardee Home. .
Hours and Admission
Guided tours are offered at noon Fridays and Saturdays. Group tours may be arranged at other dates and times by reservation. $5 adults; free for children under 12, friends of the home and school groups. (510) 444-2187 or www. pardeehome.org. .
No parking on 11th Street, but free, two-hour parking is available on Castro Street, Martin Luther King Jr. Way and 12th Street. .
A guided tour of the 131-year-old home and gardens of George Pardee, who served as governor of California at the time of the 1906 earthquake. The mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a California state landmark. .
The home will host a holiday reception from 1-4 p.m. Sunday, featuring holiday refreshments, decorations and caroling. $8 adults, $4 children.
Candlelight tours will be offered from 6:30-8 p.m. Dec. 13 and 14. $8 adults; $4 children. For reservations to either event, call (510) 444-2187. .
The museum encourages tours by local school groups. Teachers' kits for classroom use before and after the visit are available. Teachers should call in advance for an appointment. .
Not wheelchair-accessible. Strollers can be left at the front door.
Bay Tripping is an occasional feature on destinations within a few hours' drive. Send suggestions for trips by mail to The Chronicle Friday section, 901 Mission St., S.F., CA 94103; by fax at (800) 340-5940 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©2005 San Francisco Chronicle