'International' Idol for Sale

Heralded Donald Olsen House in Berkeley hits market for first time ever at $1.8 million
Fridays on the Homefront
In direct contrast to the woodsy treatment of the Bay Tradition architects, architect Donald Olsen’s style, typified by his own Berkeley Hills home above, is a purer sense of modern than that used in Eichlers and most other mid-century modern homes.
The Olsen House is now for sale. Photos courtesy Grubb Co.
Fridays on the Homefront
Fridays on the Homefront
Fridays on the Homefront
Architect Donald Olsen. Photo courtesy Environmental Design Archives - University of California, Berkeley (the collection of Donald Olsen)

Just as Joe Eichler brought modern to the masses, Bay Area architect Donald Olsen devoted his career in that same era to practicing its roots. This month Olsen's Berkeley Hills home, one of the most admired in the region, is on the market—for now.

"It was kind of an experiment in living," Alan Olsen recalled recently of the house at 771 San Diego Road, just listed for the first time ever, at $1,795,000. "My father often said he wanted a place where he could let his mind roam. That place gave that to him."

The three-bedroom, 2.5-bath house is one of three that Olsen designed in the mid-'50s on adjacent lots in the hilly Thousand Oaks neighborhood.

Having studied with Walter Gropius at Harvard, Olsen stayed true his entire career to the International Style of modernism that Gropius and others brought to America from the Bauhaus. In direct contrast to the woodsy treatment of the Bay Tradition architects, Olsen's is a purer sense of modern than that used in Eichlers and most other mid-century modern homes.

"He was kind of revolutionary about that. He just tended to follow through on his original inspiration," said the son, a craftsman on the Humboldt coast and beneficiary of the trust selling his childhood home.

The two-story house is listed on both the National Register of Historic Places and a City of Berkeley Historic Landmark.

"I think of him as a very, very important architect," says Bebe McRae of the Grubb Co., co-listing the property with Beverly Hills-based Crosby Doe and Associates. "It has a very strong presence, surrounded by wonderful trees and across from a very important park."

An open house was held October 15, but no others are planned as yet.

Doe has long specialized in 'architectural' properties in Los Angeles County, and he said having the Olsen House as one of his first in the Bay Area is "very, very exciting."

"It's hugely important, to the point where most people don't even understand," gushed the excited Doe about the property. "Few houses in the Bay Area really exemplify the historic International Style, and this is one of them."

Alan Olsen described numerous additions he personally made to the now 2,205-square-foot house under his father's oversight, including cabinetry, a parapet, and his mother's first-floor art studio. Aside from that, Doe said, "It's really great that all the historic fabric is still completely intact."