Once upon a time, on a tree-lined street overlooking a sparkling bay, a very special home was built in the Storybook Style. Drawn from Hollywood in the 1920’s, Storybook Style was a manifestation of America’s love affair with the fantastical version of medieval Europe seen in the movies of that era. Having come full circle across the ages, 679 Cragmont Avenue still casts a magical allure, and has been dubbed the “Harry Potter House” by local children.
Simple materials, lovingly detailed, are a hallmark of Storybook design. True to form, this home exhibits many artistic uses of everyday building components, with little discoveries to be made at every turn. Playful and whimsical, designed to inspire joy as does a child’s happy drawing, the spirit of this house is inseparable from its style.
Undulating rows of brick adorn the front façade, while above, gracefully swooping gables are edged with fanciful scrollwork. A cat carved into a front rafter tail seems to be only waiting for twilight, to spring to life and chase the mouse carved into a rear rafter. As you make your way through this home, continue to keep a lookout for unexpected details, such the artisan’s finger marks on the clay floor tiles, or the irregular, hand-carved mullion at the midlevel bedroom balcony door.
A walk through the fairyland-like rear yard yields its own trove of delights. There, you will even find the intentional ruins of an English “folly,” a type of garden feature popular in 18th century Europe whose sole purpose was to please the eye and spark conversation. If you’re lucky, a fawn or a fox may say hello.
Some of the many special features of this architecturally significant home include:
679 Cragmont Avenue is located on a quiet, tree-lined street in the Berkeley hills. The area is criss-crossed with many lovely walking paths, leading both down to world-class shopping and dining hubs, and up to the exceptional Tilden Regional Park with miles of hiking trails, a Little Farm, Merry-Go-Round, Lake Anza, Botanic Gardens, Steam Train, and so much more.
A morning BART commute to the City is easy and fast. If you leave the house at 6:20 AM you can catch the 6:38 Millbrae train from the North Berkeley station and be in the City just after 7:00.
The owners have enjoyed volunteering along with their neighbors down at the Marin Circle and Fountain, where they donated the first string of garland lights that surround the fountain during the holidays now.
This neighborhood is a caring community, where folks know each other, look out for each other, and enjoy saying hello while out walking with children and pets. Your new friends are waiting to meet you!
Porch Guide to Storybooks
Storybookers: Information and Resources
Storybook Style feature from Antique Homes
Storybook Style on Wikipedia
Stars and Storybooks
Dear Prospective Buyers,
The neighborhood kids call it the “Harry Potter House.” For more than 21 years, we’ve just called it “home”. This was our first house. We saw it on a Sunday. We submitted an offer on Monday. By Tuesday, our offer had been accepted. Things moved quickly back then. It happened so fast that we remember asking ourselves, “Did we just buy a house in Berkeley?” We said, “We don’t want to live in Berkeley! What have we done?!” What we thought might have been a mistake at one point, turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.
We grew up in the Silicon Valley - before it was the Silicon Valley. Our family homes had low, “cottage cheese” ceilings, uninspired standard construction and materials of that era. The Cragmont house was different. High ceilings, unique storybook details and breathtaking views. It was special, mysterious and memorable. It was a house with a history and, if you can say such a thing, a house with a soul.
The home was constructed in 1929 beside other notable examples of storybook style architecture on the street. Many years ago, we found a wonderful book about houses of this type by a local architect, researcher and enthusiast, Arrol Gellner. Years later, we were happy to welcome Arrol and his family to the neighborhood. They bought a storybook home just a few doors down.
The neighbors with the longest history on the street talk about Dr. and Mrs. William Ivie as early owners of this house. They had two daughters Barbara and Jean. The neighbors talk about Mrs. Ivie, a woman with vocal musical talent, spending much of her time in the front bedroom with the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge. They will also tell you about the year that Mrs. Ivie decided to paint the house an unfortunate “Pepto Bismol pink”. We were told that in desperation, Rich Wilbanks, who lived across the street, offered to pay to have it painted another color. Apparently it stayed pink for a number of years. Fortunately, subsequent owners had a more subtle color sense. The house was white with brown trim when we bought it. Tucked between the exposed floor joists in the basement we found Dr. Ivie’s 1899 undergraduate diploma in Pedagogy and 1903 and 1910 graduate diploma and certificates in Osteopathy, a pioneering form of general medicine. With the family now gone, we feel that the papers now belong to the history of the house. They are still tucked away in the basement if you look for them.
Over the years, we added our own chapter to the history of this storybook house. Early improvements included landscape and irrigation. Those drove the need for a complete re-pipe to improve water pressure which inevitably led to the bathroom remodel on the second level. We learned quickly that everything in life and at home is connected. When you shake a piece of the web in one place, the next thing you know, you’re buying new light fixtures in a bathroom. Other significant improvements occurred in the laundry room and half bath, the kitchen (twice remodeled) and the transformation of the backyard garden. Floors have been refinished. Over the years, some of the windows were replaced. A laundry sink and security system were installed. We added the pendant lights in all of the rooms including the large custom fixture in the living room. We replaced the furnace, upgraded to tankless hot water and added air conditioning just a few years ago.
Perhaps the greatest intervention during our long stewardship of the house, was in 2005 with the addition of the upper level master suite, bath and walk-in closet. The roof was replaced at that time as well. It was very important to us that the addition was indistinguishable from the original architecture. The confines of the former attic space and the configuration of the original hallway seemed somehow to anticipate and lend themselves perfectly to the improvement. The round window in the walk-in closet was inspired by the movie Christmas Vacation. At one point in the movie, Chevy Chase’s character is trapped in the attic and he looks out to his departing family through a similarly sized and shaped attic vent. A small detail that connects the new construction with the old is the silhouette of a mouse, cut into the master bedroom barge rafter which is visible from the back of the house. The silhouette of a cat is visible in an original rafter at the front of the house. Adding a mouse in the new construction just seemed like the right, storybook thing to do. If you look closely, the whimsical weathervane on top of the white folly “ruin” in the backyard also plays on the cat and mouse theme.
This is a house that celebrates every season with beauty and distinction. In the Spring, the Wisteria in the backyard bursts with fragrant, dramatic, hanging white blooms. The patio fireplace is perfect for Summer entertaining even if the late afternoon fog arrives through the Golden Gate. We always kept outdoor blankets to use beside the fireplace. Fall brings the most incredible brilliant red and orange color to the maple trees in the front of the house. They come alive through the living room window when they are flooded with afternoon sun. A 12-foot Christmas tree looks best to the left of the fireplace so that it can be seen from both the living and dining rooms and is visible to people on the street who inevitably stop and stare. We always used warm white tree lights.
The North Berkeley hills are a special, desirable part of the city. Access is everything. Hiking trails and hidden walking paths are integral to the neighborhood. Within minutes, there is close proximity to shopping, renowned restaurants and public transit. A morning BART commute to the City is relatively hassle free. If you leave the house at 6:20 AM you can catch the 6:38 Millbrae train from the North Berkeley station and be in the City just after 7:00. We would encourage you to join your neighbors and volunteer down at the Marin Circle and Fountain. We donated the first string of garland lights that surround the fountain during the holidays now.
In some way, we always thought we were living in this house and improving it for the two of us but also for others who would eventually follow. We didn’t have kids, but always thought that the house would be magical for children to grow up in or for grandchildren to visit. From the curious brickwork in front to the bubbling fountain in back, it is an extraordinary home that inspires wonder, exploration and imagination for every generation.
Like most things with nearly 90-years of life experience, the house comes with imperfections and eccentricities. But if you are looking for a home that is authentic, with depth and warmth and its own special story… If you are looking for a home to love and that you are willing to love in return with respectful improvements, maintenance and care… If you are looking for a very special home that will provide comfort and security and happiness as it has for us all these years…then this may be just the place for you.
Scott Dunlap and Judi Wellens
RealtorcalDRE# 01010254 [email protected]