Smyth House

BERKELEY e-PLAQUE

Smyth House

Original structure remodel, Julia Morgan, Architect, 1911 Fernwald Dormitories, Walter Ratcliff, Architect, 1945–46
Hillside Avenue north of Dwight Way, on south side of Hamilton Creek

Built around 1868 by early California photographer Perez Mann Batchelder, the core of the existing house is the oldest surviving building of the Berkeley Property Tract. The original house was enlarged and substantially remodeled in 1911 by Julia Morgan for William Henry Smyth—English-born inventor, patent expert, and eccentric social and economic philosopher—who resided there from 1895 until his death in 1940. Other significant residents included Batchelder’s brother, Benjamin Pierce Batchelder, photographer and artist; the Rev. Laurentine Hamilton, noted clergyman for whom Mt. Hamilton was named and who married P.M. Batchelder’s widow; and Smyth’s cousin, William Alfred McKowen, notorious UC, Berkeley embezzler.

Morgan’s design transformed the original two-story wood house with rustic siding, cross-gabled roof, and wrap-around porch into a picturesque suburban villa with Tudor Revival features: half-timbered walls, Tudor-arched windows, a tower room, and massive ornamental chimneys. Smyth converted the ten-acre semi-rural site into a terraced suburban garden, and led neighborhood efforts to construct masonry features—a stone-faced bridge, walls, and stepped paths on Hillside Avenue and Hillside Court and along the creek—that replicated the stonework at the Smyth site.

Smyth bequeathed the house and site, which he named Fernwald, to the University of California, Berkeley. In 1945–46 the University constructed the first University-funded dormitories (the Fernwald Dormitories) on the property. The seven dormitories and central dining commons (later called Smyth-Fernwald) were designed by the firm of Walter Ratcliff.

Contributed by Mary Hardy, 2012


  • Smyth House (1885), Louis Stein Collection, BHS.

  • Batchelder House (ca.1875), Online Archive of California.

  • Smyth House entry stairs (ca. 1906) BAHA Archives

  • Hillside Ave. Bridge (ca.1906) BAHA Archives

  • Batchelder Studios, Carte de visite (1860's)

  • Embezzler McKowen (1903), The SF Call.

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