Hidden East Bay Wonders: Berkeley’s Thornburg Village
Hidden East Bay Wonders brings you everything weird, whimsical, and wonderful in the East Bay. Featured this week: Berkeley’s Storybook-style Thornburg Village.
In 1927, 25-year-old Californian Jack Thornburg completed his masterpiece: developing and building Berkeley’s Thornburg Village, at Spruce St. and Hearst Ave., using designs by Oakland architect and WWI Veteran William Raymond Yelland.
The Village was intended to be a self-contained community of shops, cafés, and apartments, but city zoning restrictions made that dream impossible. It remains a transfixing homage to French-Norman, Scandinavian, and Mediterranean architecture.
Established as a Berkeley Historical Landmark in December 1983, Thornburg Village is today inhabited by a loose coalition of owners and renters. Signs hang outside the various apartments advertising rooms for rent, but good luck getting one–the property owners are notoriously reticent and picky.
Whimsical Storybook-style touches are what make the Village an architectural marvel, from its jutting wooden gargoyles to high-pitched gable rooftops. Mixed color stone and brick, unevenly cobbled, recreate the sensation of walking through a rural hamlet.
Winding staircases warp and melt into smoothed walls; goose-necked lamps loom over potted succulents; latticed windows offer glimpses into hand-hewn timber rooms.
Thornburg Village serves as a reminder that architecture can be inventive, organic, and needlessly beautiful. It stands as a testament to the Californian imagination, and the will to create structures that still speak to the human soul.