For Sale: Beautiful Enigma

NorCal's only Case Study House—Beverley Thorne's steel gem hits the market in Marin
Fridays On the Homefront
Architect Beverley Thorne's Harrison House (pictured here), a marvel of steel construction, just went on the Marin market for
the first time in 50-plus years. Several open houses are set.
Photo: Matt McCourtney
Fridays On the Homefront
Photo: Paige Elliott
Fridays On the Homefront
Beverley Thorne on his recent visit to the Harrison House.
Photo: Christine Girone
Fridays On the Homefront
Photo: courtesy Kathi Elliott

A gorgeous, historic enigma just made its debut on the real estate market in San Rafael.

The home, at 177 San Marino Drive, is an American icon to the extent that only two dozen built houses boast its pedigree, as house number 26 in Arts & Architecture magazine's landmark Case Study House Program, which spanned 1945 to 1964.

Commonly known as the Harrison House, the home's great views and innovative, mid-century modern architecture surely are attractions. But its place in the career arc of Beverley David Thorne, at 91 the last living Case Study architect, is also noteworthy subtext to this listing at $1.85 million.

"We thought it was time to get this out there. It's a piece of history!" says Christine Girone, designer and project coordinator of the listing.

"It's a great opportunity for people that aren't interested in buying it to see the house," said Kathi Elliott, of Decker Bullock Sotheby's International Realty, the realtor who put the four-bedroom, two-bath on the MLS this week, speaking of several planned open houses. The Harrison House will be open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 13 and 20, and 1 to 4 p.m. Aug. 15, 16, 22, and 23. "We are really looking for someone who appreciates the house."

The two women recently hosted Thorne, who now lives on Hawaii's big island, in his first visit to the house since its completion in 1963.

"He's always kind of hidden from the limelight," Elliott says of Thorne, who famously changed his name (to David) and took an unlisted phone number several years after his 1953 house design for Dave Brubeck in the Oakland hills drew national attention from the Ed Sullivan Show and others. "He's kind of enjoying this resurgence of interest."

Thorne was dubbed 'the Man of Steel' in a 2006 San Francisco Chronicle profile by Dave Weinstein, the Eichler Network features editor, because all Thorne's 150 built houses were steel-framed. That includes the Harrison House, the only Case Study home in the Northern California, so named for the landowner at the time of commission.

That commission occurred as a competition between Bethlehem Steel and U.S. Plywood Corp., also represented by a wood-framed house still standing next door that was not a Case Study home. The competition was to build a cliffside house, Thorne's specialty, as inexpensively as possible.

"It was really nice to see it in such good shape," Thorne said this week, back in Hawaii. "It seemed to be put together well enough that it might last another 30 or 40 years."

Thorne said his main reaction to his visit to the Harrison House in May was being "surprised about how well it has held up," he noted with typical humility and humor.