Visit A Temple In The Sky

Visit A Temple In The Sky

Bay Area architect Warren Callister was an heir to  Bernard Maybeck in that he was wonderfully eclectic.  But where Maybeck could be a little rough, Callister was refined.  Every detail, every turn, every joint, all exquisitely detailed.  Like A. Quincy Jones in Southern California he loved a powerful roof form. But Callister’s tended to be curved, not angled.  On Friday morning my architecture buddy author Pierluigi Serraino took me on a tour with the real estate agents who are selling Callister’s exquisite Duncan house in San Francisco’s Clarendon Heights. They are hosting an open house at 176 Palo Alto Avenue the next two Sundays and Tuesdays. The dense, small hillside site has one view out, towards the Golden Gate Bridge.  The neighboring houses are zero lot line, yet Callister uses a third or more of the lot for an ornamental garden.  A stunning view can be too much.  To paraphrase Theodore Bernardi talking about a similar challenge at the Unitarian Church in Kensington, “Who wants the entire symphony playing all the time?” Human beings need variety, even when the vista is spectacular.

Instead of the usual bland garage the architect used the arc form to give something to the street. Inside the main entry the ceiling rises and light spills in around curved slats of redwood.  Beyond is the garden and, the day we visited, fog.  The design of the entry foyer suggests you wait until your host guides you either up or down. You move from a spacious entry down a few steps into a compressed walkway/gallery that borders the mature garden.  What Callister does here is create a Japanese screen view, a partial slice of the garden.  The light at the end draws you past this three dimensional screen.  And then, like Frank Lloyd Wright, or Esherick, the ceiling plane rises up to a sanctuary, and the powerful view gives you pause.  Right away the host can move to a small sunken bar that separates the dining area and living room and prepare you a cocktail.  Interestingly, the French doors on the side have no windows.  Your access to the often damp weather is controlled by your host.

View from the house

Long before lofts became the rage Callister designed a bedroom on the second level overlooking the high living room with a window to a small covered garden to balance the light.  A small guest room and the path also have views of this patch of tranquility. This isn’t a free form inside/outside house.  This is a home that expresses a reverence for nature, but it is more temple than tent.

The bad news is that this Bay Region Modernist landmark is selling for $2,280,000.  The good news is the open house, where you can take a look. You can see more pictures at or