Thorsen House

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William R. Thorsen House
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Location2307 Piedmont Ave, Berkeley, California
Coordinates 37°52′8.34″N122°15′7.09″W / 37.8689833°N 122.2519694°W / 37.8689833; -122.2519694 Coordinates: 37°52′8.34″N122°15′7.09″W / 37.8689833°N 122.2519694°W / 37.8689833; -122.2519694
Area0.4 acres (0.16 ha)
Architect Greene & Greene [1]
Architectural style Ultimate bungalow, American Arts and Crafts Movement
NRHP reference # 78000646 [2]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPNovember 20, 1978 [2]
Designated BERKLDecember 15, 1975 [3]

The William R. Thorsen House, often referred to as the Thorsen House, is a historic residence in Berkeley, California. Built in 1909 for William and Caroline Thorsen, it is one of the last of four standing ultimate bungalows designed by Henry and Charles Greene of the renowned architectural firm Greene & Greene and the only one located in Northern California. [4] [5] [6]

Berkeley, California City in California, United States

Berkeley is a city on the east shore of San Francisco Bay in northern Alameda County, California. It is named after the 18th-century Irish bishop and philosopher George Berkeley. It borders the cities of Oakland and Emeryville to the south and the city of Albany and the unincorporated community of Kensington to the north. Its eastern border with Contra Costa County generally follows the ridge of the Berkeley Hills. The 2010 census recorded a population of 112,580.

Ultimate bungalow Style of house

An ultimate bungalow is a large and detailed Craftsman style home, based on the bungalow style. The style is associated with such California architects as Greene and Greene, Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan. Some of the hallmarks of Greene and Greene's ultimate bungalows include the use of tropical woods such as mahogany, ebony and teak, and use of inlays of wood, metal and mother-of-pearl. As in their other major projects, Charles and Henry Greene—and to a lesser extent Bernard Maybeck and a few other Craftsman-era architects who built such homes—sometimes designed the majority of furniture, textiles, fixtures and other interior details of these homes specifically for their location both in the house and in the larger landscape.

Northern California Place in California, United States

Northern California is the northern portion of the U.S. state of California. Spanning the state's northernmost 48 counties, its main population centers include the San Francisco Bay Area, the Greater Sacramento area, and the Metropolitan Fresno area. Northern California also contains redwood forests, along with the Sierra Nevada, including Yosemite Valley and part of Lake Tahoe, Mount Shasta, and most of the Central Valley, one of the world's most productive agricultural regions.


Since 1942, it has been home to the Sigma Phi Society of the Thorsen House (alternatively Thorsen or the Sigma Phi Society of California), which hosts communal dinners, organizes small concerts, and offers tours for other students and members of the public, welcoming thousands of visitors a year. [7]

Thorsen can be toured throughout the week on an informal basis; one can simply knock on the door to visit. [8]


Detail of Leaded Art Glass window in the Thorsen House. Thorsen House Window.JPG
Detail of Leaded Art Glass window in the Thorsen House.


The Thorsen House is named after William Randolph Thorsen (1860-1942), a lumber baron from Michigan who retired to and purchased a lot in Berkeley, California. His wife, Caroline Canfield Thorsen (1858-1942), was the younger sister of Nellie Canfield Blacker, owner of the Robert R. Blacker House in Pasadena, California. The couple resided in the house following its construction and until their deaths in 1942. [4] [6]

Michigan U.S. state in the United States

Michigan is a state in the Great Lakes and Midwestern regions of the United States. The state's name, Michigan, originates from the Ojibwe word mishigamaa, meaning "large water" or "large lake". With a population of about 10 million, Michigan is the tenth most populous of the 50 United States, with the 11th most extensive total area, and is the largest state by total area east of the Mississippi River. Its capital is Lansing, and its largest city is Detroit. Metro Detroit is among the nation's most populous and largest metropolitan economies.

Robert R. Blacker House United States historic place

The Robert Roe Blacker House, often referred to as the Blacker House or Robert R. Blacker House, is a residence in Pasadena, California, which is now on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1907 for Robert Roe Blacker and Nellie Canfield Blacker. It was designed by Henry and Charles Greene of the renowned Pasadena firm of Greene and Greene. This house was a lavish project for the Greene brothers, costing in excess of US$100,000.00. Everything for the house was custom designed, down to the teak escutcheon plates of the upstairs mahogany panel doors to the linen closets with their ebony cloud adorned keys.

Pasadena, California City in California, United States

Pasadena is a city in Los Angeles County, California, United States, located 11 miles (18 km) northeast of Downtown Los Angeles.


The house embodies the American Craftsman style of the Arts and Crafts Movement, a style Greene & Greene is known for incorporating in their projects (as is the case with Gamble House and Blacker House, both in Pasadena).

American Craftsman American domestic architectural, interior design, landscape design, applied arts, and decorative arts style and lifestyle

The American Craftsman style, or the American Arts and Crafts movement, is an American domestic architectural, interior design, landscape design, applied arts, and decorative arts style and lifestyle philosophy that began in the last years of the 19th century. As a comprehensive design and art movement, it remained popular into the 1930s. However, in decorative arts and architectural design, it has continued with numerous revivals and restoration projects through present times.

Greene and Greene was an architectural firm established by brothers Charles Sumner Greene (1868–1957) and Henry Mather Greene (1870–1954), influential early 20th Century American architects. Active primarily in California, their houses and larger-scale ultimate bungalows are prime exemplars of the American Arts and Crafts Movement.

Gamble House (Pasadena, California) Historic landmark in Pasadena, California

The Gamble House, also known as the David B. Gamble House, is an iconic American Craftsman home in Pasadena, California, designed by the architectural firm Greene and Greene. Constructed in 1908–09 as a home for David B. Gamble of the Procter & Gamble company, it is today a National Historic Landmark, a California Historical Landmark, and open to the public for tours and events.

The entry hall is paneled in Burmese Teak while the living and dining rooms are paneled in Honduras Mahogany with ebony pegs covering the screws. The fireplace in the living room is encased in mauve tile from the Grueby Faience Company. The front door contains leaded art glass in the pattern of a gnarled grape vine, executed by Emil Lange, who also worked on the Gamble House. The Greenes were originally commissioned to make furniture for the dining room, but were later called back to make additional pieces.

Teak in Myanmar

Teak, tectona grandis, is a hardwood tree native to much of South and Southeast Asia, including Myanmar. Due to its natural water resistance, teak is sought out for a variety of uses including furniture-making and shipbuilding. Teak grows throughout much of Burma, but was first exploited in the Tenasserim region in the southeast of Burma on the Malay Peninsula Though it has long been used by locals, teak has been important to the economy of Myanmar since British Colonization and remains a political issue today.

Ebony wood

Ebony is a dense black/brown hardwood, most commonly yielded by several different species in the genus Diospyros, which also contains the persimmons. Ebony is dense enough to sink in water. It is finely-textured and has a very smooth finish when polished, making it valuable as an ornamental wood. The word ebony comes from the Ancient Egyptian hbny, through the Ancient Greek ἔβενος (ébenos), into Latin and Middle English.

Grueby Faience Company

The Grueby Faience Company, founded in 1894, was an American ceramics company that produced distinctive vases and tiles during America's Arts and Crafts Movement.

See Also

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  1. "The Thorsen House". California Sigma Phi Society. Retrieved April 20, 2016.
  2. 1 2 "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places . National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  3. "Berkeley Landmarks::Landmarks #1-100". Berkeley Landmarks. Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. 2010-06-06.
  4. 1 2 {{ Thorsen|pub=isher= California Death Index, 1940-1997 |accessd|te= A=ril 20, 2016}}
  5. |{cite web={{!}}url= |title }}
  6. 1 2 {{field Tho|sen=publisher = California Death Index, 1940-1997 |ac|essdat== April 20, 2016}}
  7. Whiting, Sam (2003-11-09). "The Ultimate Bungalow / Dropping by Berkeley's Thorsen House". SFGate. Retrieved 2019-07-02.
  8. Official Thorsen House Website (Sigma Phi Society) access date: 1/4/2010