Robert Berger House, 1950
In the late 1940s, Marin College mechanical engineering professor Robert Berger and his wife Gloria planned to build a new home. They became entranced by the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright, and Berger asked the famous architect to design a home he could construct by himself, with a modular plan that allowed expansion from one bedroom to three.
Wright took his commission and created a two-bedroom, two bath, 1,760 square foot house. It sits on almost an acre of land.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation lists 1950 as the design year, but other sources say Wright delivered the plans in 1951. Construction began in 1953. When the core living area was finished in 1957, the young family moved into it. They camped there in sleeping bags until the bedrooms were finished, which took another two years.
Berger did the construction himself, building the walls one stone and one wheelbarrow full of concrete at a time. The only tasks he outsourced were the radiant heat installation and the concrete floor. When Berger fell ill in 1969, his wife hired a professional carpenter to complete the remaining finish work.
The Berger House was built in Usonian style, using a "desert masonry" technique —setting rough stones in rebar and filling the voids with concrete. It has 14-inch-thick walls, similar to Taliesin West in Phoenix and the Pilgrim Congregational Church in Redding (which was constructed by the congregation's members).
The basic geometry is a diamond shape, with corners of 120 or 60 degrees. You can see a few interior views of it here. The layout is typical Usonian, with the living, dining and "workspace" areas in the center. A built-in seating area faces a large fireplace, also made of "desert masonry." The floors are polished concrete, stained reddish-brown and inscribed in diamond patterns. The wrap-around windows look out onto views of the surrounding hills. On the street side, clerestory windows provide privacy while letting light in.
Gloria Berger died in 2011 and left the house in trust for her four children. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the four siblings are all established in their own homes and no one wanted to live in the house.” It was sold in 2013 for $1.6 million. You can see its current value and some photos from that listing at Zillow.com.
If you want to know more about Usonian architecture, try this article that explains it - or read Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian Houses by Carla Lind.
More About the Berger House - and More of California's Wright Sites
The Only Dog House Frank Lloyd Wright Ever Designed
The Berger house story comes with a charming side story.
The Bergers' 12-year-old son Jim felt that his beloved black Lab Eddie was missing out in the new design and decided to do something about it. He wrote a letter to Wrights, saying “I would appreciate it if you would design me a doghouse, which would be easy to build, but would go with our house ... (My dog) is two and a half feet high and three feet long. The reasons I would like this doghouse is for the winters mainly.”
The boy offered to pay the architect from money he earned on his paper route, but Wright indulged him and sent along plans for a triangular kennel, free of charge.
What You Need to Know About the Berger House
The Berger House is at
259 Redwood Road
San Anselmo, CA
The Berger House is a private residence, with no public tours. You can get unobstructed views of it from the street.
More of the Wright Sites
The Berger House is one of eight Wright designs in the San Francisco area, including two of his most important works. Use the guide to Frank Lloyd Wright in the San Francisco area to find all of them.
The Berger House is one of a few California properties that Wright designed using desert rubble construction, a style he first used in Arizona at Taliesin West. These are the other California examples: Arch Oboler Gatehouse and Eleanor's Retreat and the Pilgrim Congregational Church.
Wright's work isn't all in the San Francisco area. He also designed nine structures in the Los Angeles area. Use the guide to Wright Sites in Los Angeles to find out where they are. You'll also find several houses, a church, and a medical clinic in some of the most unexpected places. Here's where to find Wright sites in the rest of California.