What Rotates 320 Degrees?

Must be Marin's circle-shaped Harkleroad Round House—now up for grabs to rent
rotating house
Photo: Heather David
rotating house
Photos: Westgate Real Estate
rotating house

Marin County of the mid-century was not the terminally mellow, hot tub-dwelling caricature of later century humor.

In the 1950s and '60s, a designer with little or no college training but great ideas could build two dozen innovative, modernist homes, the most iconic of which is currently available to rent in Novato. That designer was Sam Harkleroad, and that home is the Harkleroad Round House.

Or Harkle Road Round House, if you prefer.

"There's so many who just want to look at it," says Carolyn Gavriloff. "It can get crazy."

Gavriloff, property manager for the house with Petaluma-based Westgate Real Estate, tried to explain why a $3,000-a-month rental, fresh on the market and widely known to Bay Area commuters, has no open house or visiting hours scheduled.

She even shied away from being interviewed in depth pending permission of the owner, a fairly unusual position, and expressed concern for the listing possibly inconveniencing neighbors.

The house is the one you can see with a careful eye toward Novato's ridgeline west of Highway 101. Many of the millions who pass it daily can see that it is circular, but few know that it can rotate mechanically 320 degrees and occupies a strange and unique place in Novato folklore.

"The problem has been that there is such limited parking up there," Gavriloff says of 19 Harkle Road, on a street so named by the city to avoid the unfortunate prospect of a 'Harkleroad Road.'

Sam Harkleroad grew up a poor Fresno farm kid in the '20s, learned to be a cobbler, and came to the Bay Area with big dreams. According to a Los Angeles Times profile in 1986 that dubbed him "the Frank Lloyd Wright of Novato," on the way he panned for gold, drove a truck, picked fruit, and worked as a tree surgeon and a ship rigger.

Then he got around to designing houses, including three on that hill overlooking the attractive small town, but none more celebrated than the Round House.

It's certainly a tribute to Harkleroad and the high profile of this...