Arthur Brown, Jr. Revisited

The Cal campus is jolting back to life this week as the students return in full force for the fall semester. No better time to remember one of UC Berkeley’s most illustrious graduates, architect and Oakland native Arthur Brown, Jr.

Arthur Brown, Jr. No date. Photographer: P. Nadarz[?]/Paris

BANC PIC 2006.029–PIC, Carton: P071, Folder: Brown, Arthur and Mrs.

Born in 1874, raised in Oakland, son of a Southern Pacific Railroad chief superintendent, Beta Theta Pi and graduate of UC Berkeley class of 1896, Arthur Brown Jr. received a B.S. in civil engineering, but his passion was for architecture.

Along with UC classmates Julia Morgan and John Bakewell, Brown was fortunate enough to fall under the tutelage of Bernard Maybeck. Following in Maybeck’s footsteps, Brown went to Paris to study architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts immediately after graduating from Cal. (Julia Morgan was the first woman admitted to the Architecture Department at the École des Beaux-Arts a few years later, in 1898.) After many years of study and travel abroad, Brown returned to the Bay Area to establish a partnership with his old schoolmate, John Bakewell, Jr.

The devastation wreaked by the 1906 earthquake created many opportunities for a budding architecture firm, and the classical Beaux-Arts style was much in vogue at that time. The list of commissions undertaken by Bakewell & Brown, and by Brown alone after the partnership was dissolved, is long and noteworthy. To name a few San Francisco landmarks we’re all familiar with: the War Memorial Opera House and Veteran’s Building, the old City of Paris department store, the PG&E building, San Francisco City Hall, Coit Tower (more modernist than Beaux-Arts), the San Francisco Art Institute – in fact, Arthur Brown appears in the 1931 Diego Rivera mural housed at the Art Institute, titled “The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City.”

Even closer to home, Arthur Brown gave us Berkeley City Hall and many UC campus buildings including Minor Hall, the Valley Life Sciences building, Sproul Hall and our very own Bancroft Library! Brown served as the UCB campus planner and chief architect from 1936 to 1950, and the Bancroft was the last building he designed.

The photo below captures an assortment of luminaries receiving honorary Doctorate of Law degrees on Charter Day, 1931. Arthur Brown appears on the far left, Dr. Robert G. Sproul, then-president of UCB, appears at right.

Left to right: Arthur Brown, Jr., Nicholas Murray Butler, Willa Cather, Robert G. Sproul, 1931. No photographer attributed.

BANC PIC 2006.029–PIC, Carton: P071, Folder: Brown, Arthur and Mrs.

Appropriately enough, the Bancroft Library houses the Arthur Brown Jr. papers, a special collection described in detail at the Online Archive of California:

Arthur Brown Jr.’s architectural aesthetic is a living presence in the Bay Area – thank you, Arthur Brown Jr.!

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One Response to Arthur Brown, Jr. Revisited

  1. Tom Leonard says:

    When we looked at the “bones” of Brown’s last building, Doe Annex, for the renewal of Bancroft Library, we found a level of construction that professionals could still admire, six decades later. The job had been done right (excusing seismic vulnerabilities than no one appreciated in 1950).
    Few architects can have left this earth, providing a better afterlife for their papers.
    Tom Leonard
    University Librarian

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