"...an elegant temple of high-art craft among the charming and quirky shingled cottages for which [Berkeley] is better known"

Edward Bosley, Director of the Gamble House

The William Randolph Thorsen House was designed by the architects Henry Mather Greene and Charles Sumner Greene in style of the American Arts & Crafts in 1909. The house is considered one of the Greenes' "Ultimate Bungalows," and represents the peak of their unparalleled architectural style. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is a California State Historic Landmark.

Located along Piedmont Way, one of Frederick Law Olmsted's first residential streetscapes and itself a historic landmark, the wooden house is uniquely distinguished amongst its neighbors. The main entry is set apart from the street by a dramatic brick wall and double stairway, flanked on each side by elaborate iron lanterns and carefully-designed landscaping. Inside, the illusion is maintained by a rich attention to detail, including hand-painted friezes, iridescent art-glass, and exotic woods. The Thorsen House truly is a masterpiece of architecture, art, and interior design.

Since 1942, the Sigma Phi Society of California has owned the Thorsen House and has been entrusted with its care and preservation. For generations, the brothers have made historically-sensitive improvements to the house. Saturday mornings in their entirety are devoted to cleaning and restoration projects. A short list of our accomplishments includes:

  • Restoring the timber balcony of the guest room
  • Installing structural shoring for the lower sun deck
  • Installing new wood flooring
  • Installing new shingles on the southern facade
  • Restoring original finishes to the wood paneling
  • Painting window exteriors to the original color
  • For the last 40 years, we have been grateful for the support of numerous architects, architectual historians, interior designers, artists, and Arts & Crafts enthusiasts. Restoring the Thorsen House has always been a collaboration between the Society and the experts among the community. The end result is a priceless architectural and artistic treasure in Berkeley.

    We welcome you to join us in our restoration efforts, and become a part of the history of the Thorsen House. Currently, we are raising funds for several necessary projects, some of which include:

  • An urgent seismic retrofit
  • Restoration of the timber bridge between the house and garage
  • Reproduction of the perimeter fence and timber gate in the backyard
  • Preserving and restoring portions of the Belgian linen on the ceiling
  • To donate directly online, please click here.

    We always welcome curious individuals to tour the house; indeed, sometimes a lasting relationship begins with our reaching out to a bystander looking up in awe at the art-glass windows adorning the main door.

    Every brother in the house is well-versed in the history of the Thorsen House and its magnificent design secrets. We have conducted tours for architecture and art classes from UC Berkeley, the Califoria College of the Arts, and even for visiting scholars from international institutions.

    Please schedule an appointment to see the house by writing to president@calsigmaphi.org.