MCM Gem by Any Name

Revered Bay modernist Henry Hill may be tied to Marin estate—a beauty regardless
Fridays on the Homefront
Architect Henry Hill is considered to be the ‘mystery designer' behind this magnificent five-bed, 7.5-bath San Rafael home (above) built in 1945 and now on the market. The home also features two en-suite bedrooms with great views of the North Bay, and out back is one of the largest residential swimming pools in Marin County. Photos courtesy Colm Glass (Golden Gate Sotheby's International Realty)

What price provenance? If a house is as beautiful as the one at 44 Bret Harte Lane in San Rafael, what difference does it make who designed it?

"It doesn't seem to be written anywhere," said realtor Colm Glass, whose research of the topic indicates that the architect may have been esteemed Bay modernist Henry Hill. Colm listed the house last month at $2,995,000 for the Golden Gate office of Sotheby's International Realty.

"You know you've got a good listing when all the [real estate] agents that visit want to buy it," quipped Glass about presenting the house, which he termed "a great deal of fun."

Fridays on the Homefront

The magnificent five-bed, 7.5-bath home was built in 1945 and has 5,373 interior square feet on a 1.6-acre lot, siting that the British-American realtor said is nothing short of "stupendous." As for how the house got here, Glass consulted various sources suggesting that the architect may have been Hill.

"We found the builder, and the builder had worked with Henry Hill," he said of records culled from the City of San Rafael, the Environmental Design Archives at UC Berkeley, and USModernist.org.

Hill and the builder named for this property in city records, Henry Arian, worked together building another mid-century modern home in 1950s Orinda.

Fridays on the Homefront

After graduating UC Berkeley and doing his post-graduate work under Walter Gropius at Harvard, Hill started in the San Francisco office of John Ekin Didwiddle. He and his boss were two prominent creators of the woodsy yet International-style Second Bay Tradition of modernism.

If this San Rafael house was Hill's, it would have been right about the time Hill left Didwiddle to open his own office. He went on to design about 500 homes and other buildings over four decades, mostly in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas, practicing what he called "flamboyant modernism."

"It's unlike anything I've seen," said Glass of 44 Bret Harte Lane. "I've done this for 15 years, and I've not seen a home that was as evocative of another period in time."

Fridays on the Homefront

The house achieves this effect largely through the use of Heath tile throughout the kitchen and dining area and, of course, the indoor-outdoor illusion of glass walls, doors, and windows.