Who answers the door when Hollywood comes knocking in Rockridge? That would be local art dealer and raconteur Foster Goldstrom, the proud owner of an iconic Bernard Maybeck designed home on upper Chabot Road.
When actor Jeff Bridges and his wife, Susan, sought out a home base for a recent holiday visit to the Bay Area, they were directed to Goldstrom, who has lived in and maintained the "Guy Hyde Chick House" as it is known, since purchasing it in 1979. Of course, all of this is supposed to be on the down low, but Foster loves nothing more than sharing his home and recalling the great stories that have accumulated with it over the years.
And he has stories galore. Past visitors have included such luminaries as Eduoard Moueix from the famed Bordeaux wine estate of Petrus; Ragnar Bohlin, the director of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus; and none other than Julia Child in the company of Roland Passot of the famed French restaurant La Folie in San Francisco's Russian Hill. For most visitors, it's love at first sight and so it isn't hard to see why such a wide range of personalities are attracted to this home and why its prideful owner is so willing to share in its delights.
The narrow driveway that winds its way through a stand of live oak trees and soft landscaping, is peppered with abstract sculpture created locally by artists Gale Wagner and Feng Jin. The surroundings hint at something special, but it's the house that ultimately grabs your attention and steals the show. From the stained dark brown shingles to its Moorish arches and a small gate embellished with two maroon gothic quatrefoils, a Maybeck perennial, the house screams unique. Much has been written about it and to see it first hand is to understand why.
It possesses a quixotic quality that's both stately and intimate, foreboding yet welcoming. Maybeck was a turn of the century master architect and practitioner of what is now referred to as the First Bay Tradition style. He and Julia Morgan, among others, helped to refine a design aesthetic that merged the built structure into its natural surroundings making each design unique. It is argued that their work presaged the current green design movement by more than 100 years. Many of these homes still remain, but few have fared better than the Chick House.
It's one of the finest examples of the style and is ironically perched beneath, but a world away from a busy freeway that hums in the distance. Remarkably, seven families have occupied the residence since it was built in 1913 and according to Foster, 22 children were raised in it over the years. Goldstrom relates, "The Chicks come back on a regular pilgrimage and they always are so grateful to see what their grandfather and now great grandfather built, and I always tell them, 'mi casa, es su casa.'"
That statement sums up the current owner's passion for his home as well as anything. It's apparent that most have taken their roles as stewards of this perfectly preserved chalet influenced structure very seriously but I suspect that Goldstrom ranks among the most devoted of them. The house wasn't without its flaws when he first took ownership because of several subpar alterations that were made to it over the years, which he has mindfully addressed and restored.
The kitchen, in particular, resonates by combining both old world and new world sensibilities. The dark gray granite countertops merge soothingly with reclaimed redwood trim and built-ins and its open floor plan is anchored in the middle by a nearly 2,000-pound cast iron AGA stove from England.
Conveniently, Goldstrom has spent a lifetime dealing in and collecting fine art and the home is adorned with pieces spanning 5,000 years of artistic expression from a Chinese Longshan culture vase to a contemporary multimedia sculpture by local Down syndrome artist, Carlos Perez. The artwork is generously distributed throughout, and of course, there's a compelling story behind the acquisition and significance of each and every piece.
Curiously, the second floor's largest room, the woodsy "boy's room" as it was called, is dominated by a single piece of sculpture. It's a self-portrait by the hyperrealist artist John DeAndrea, which involves him sitting on a stool, brushes in hand, while contemplating a reclining female nude inches away. Both figures are in human scale and unnervingly lifelike which gives the observer a sense of voyeuristic discomfort, a common theme in much of DeAndrea's art. It's not likely that Bernard Maybeck, much less the staid turn of the century family that commissioned him, had such décor in mind for this room, but somehow it feels perfectly at home here, more Parisian atelier then suburban outpost.
The architect was also something of a bon vivant in his day who enjoyed merging culture and artistic expression in his life and architecture. Surely Foster must be channeling this energy in some way and personally I think Maybeck would relish it. He might also relish or perhaps think it vain that several of his colorful hand drawn schematic presentations for San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts grace the walls of the upper floor's hallway gallery. Either way, Goldstrom has found a perfect home for these elegant renderings that more resemble fine art than drafting.
My first visit to the Guy Hyde Chick House occurred when the East Bay AIA (American Institute of Architects) held a symposium and lunch there for their members and guests. It really amounted to more of a friendly gathering and fireside chat given by the esteemed host. The living room held 50 people comfortably and still retained a sense of warmth and intimacy. The crackling fire nested in the behemoth fireplace was dazzling and Goldstrom held his audience in the palm of his hand. On subsequent visits, I've had a sense of longing for more events. The house just seems to beg for a crowd and Goldstrom doesn't disappoint. Hosting fundraisers is another one of the ways he gets to share his bounty. One time, I noticed the dining table in the lime-plastered burgundy room was set for 12 and it appeared there was still room for more. It isn't hard to imagine the thrill of a fine dining experience in this hallowed hall.
Miraculously spared during the Oakland hills firestorm of 1991, the house stands as a testament to a vision that hasn't lost its luster. If anything, it has only improved with age. The feeling one leaves with is always a sense of wonder and a desire to learn more about the man and his home. The connection with history, with a great architect and his mastery, with the families who've come and gone, with artists and the art collector is nearly overwhelming. Each emotion warrants its own exploration that never seems to satisfy.
The house has such a large story to tell and its current occupant is more than willing to share it. Somehow you can't help thinking that perhaps old Bernard Maybeck is smiling down on his creation in its centennial year and enjoying Foster Goldstrom's company as much as anyone. He could not have found a better muse.
Blake Gilmore, of Montclair, has been involved in residential construction for more than 40 years and a general contractor for 30 years. His specialty is recycling (renovating and remodeling) the existing housing stock of single-family homes in the greater Bay Area. He has twice been awarded Preservation Awards for his work by the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.