J. Stitt Wilson, Berkeley’s Socialist Mayor’s Residence (demolished)


J. Stitt Wilson, Berkeley’s Socialist Mayor

Laura G. Hall House, Bernard Maybeck, Architect
Wilson Residence (demolished 1956): 1745 Highland Place

A half-century before its rise to the apotheosis of left coast politics, Berkeley elected as its mayor an ardent socialist, J. Stitt Wilson. Assuming office in 1911, Wilson sought reforms that he believed would both improve city administration and benefit the lives of individuals. He advocated, among other things, a single tax on land value and the municipal ownership of utilities.

Wilson’s views on taxation derived from the theories of the American economist Henry George, who, after failing to make his fortune in the California Gold Rush, one day gazed on some property in the Bay Area and experienced an epiphany about securing steady income from the ever-increasing value of land. Wilson shared this view and sought, unsuccessfully, as a first step to have local authority over taxation.

Wilson’s support of labor and cooperative groups was grounded in his early years as a Methodist minister, when he first became aware of the hardships faced by ordinary workers and the poor. Before entering politics, he helped found the Social Crusade, an idealistic mix of socialist and Christian values.

Wilson declined to run for a second consecutive term as mayor, but he later made two unsuccessful bids, the last as an independent following his breach with the Socialist Party over its opposition to U.S. entry into World War I.

Contributed by Carl Wikander, 2012

  • J. Stitt Wilson Residence, Laura G. Hall House, Bernard Maybeck Architect, demolished 1956, from Building with Nature Inspiration for the Arts & Crafts Home.

  • J. Stitt Wilson Campaigning, photo courtesy Snapman photo log.

  • J. Stitt Wilson (1910), from The Christian Socialist.

Photo credit abbreviations:
BAHA: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Assn.
BHS: Berkeley Historical Society