Real Estate Report: Reinventing the Suburbs in the 1950’s




In the early 1950’s Bay Area architect William Wurster and landscape architect Lawrence Halprin put together Greenwood Common, an alternative plan to the suburbs that were spreading across the country. One of the ten houses there just came on the market.

The Basics: A 5-bedroom, 3-bath house built in 1954, with a pool, in Berkeley, asking $950K.

Not So Basic: It’s referred to as the Birge House for its original owners, and was designed by architect Don Olsen, whose own International Style house in Berkeley is on the Berkeley Register of Historic Places– this one’s considered its redwood predecessor. Plus it’s one of only ten houses on the Greenwood Common, an open space with limited auto access overlooking San Francisco Bay with houses by Richard Neutra, Rudoph Schindler and Joe Esherick, among others. Olsen’s house still has a lot of original design details intact, even looking untouched in places.

The kitchen’s still seems to have its original stove:

The exterior from the street:

Fenced off on the Greenwood Common side is a swimming pool. It can get hot in Berkeley:

Below, the living/dining area overlooks the pool and the Common. The lower level (behind the hedge) has a family room with a wet bar/kitchenette plus a bedroom and bath.

It was the heydey of built-ins:

 Greenwood Common even has its own biography. Below, Halprin’s Prunus allée along the south edge (Photo Credit: Daniella Thompson)

The Birge house is open on Sunday from 2 to 4pm. If you’re near or in Berkeley, the house and its setting are worth a visit. Wurster and Halprin would go on to be among the most important Bay Area designers and collaborate on such major projects as Ghiradelli Square (the first adaptive re-use project on the West Coast) and Halprin would go on to lay out The Sea Ranch.

The realtor’s put together an outstanding designated site for the property with more images and an interactive floor plan.

Listing: 1 Greenwood Common, Berkeley [Redfin]