Hidden East Bay Wonders: Berkeley’s Thornburg Village

Updated: Jan 12, 2018 13:05
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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.

Photograpy by James Gage

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James Gage

James Gage

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1 Comment

  1. […] and wooden gargoyles make it an altogether baffling site within walking distance of the Cal Campus. It was developed by a 25-year-old Californian named John Thornburg, based on designs by William Raymond Yelland, an […]