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The Curious Case Of the Anomalous 11 Mendosa Avenue

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Curious house, 11 Mendosa. It's entirely built of masonry tile, also known as structural terra-cotta tile, except that instead of being covered in stucco the tile has been left bare, inside and out. We don't know who the architect was but the 4-bed, 3-bath house in Forest Hill came on the market yesterday asking $1.599,000, with high ceilings, big windows, and some lovely details. Remarkably, the tile walls and beamed ceilings have been maintained in close to original condition. But left bare? The only other house we've seen like this is the Julia Morgan 1938 Captain's House, which to much amazement was never originally covered in stucco. At least until 2006.

Structural tile had been around for a while when the house was built and was a huge industry until the '30s. Fireproof, lightweight and inexpensive, the hollow tiles were ideal for walls that would later be sheathed in stucco or stone, plus electrical and plumbing services could be run through the open channels inside. Easily cut, trimmed or patched, they were widely used in everything from office buildings and apartment houses, just usually covered in a coat of stucco or plaster.

Like the Captain's House, 11 Mendosa combines historical detailing (beamed ceilings, arches, beautiful wrought iron) along with the exposed terra-cotta and steel casement windows. Whoever the architect was (Angus McSweeney's a likely suspect) laying out this raw material is tougher than it looks, requiring both highly skilled masons and a lot of supervision. It also predicts modern but mass-produced details we see in Eichler's tract houses forty years later: the use of highly finished concrete blocks and tongue-and-groove planking over beams for the ceilings. So yes, we love it. Forest Hill is a lovely neighborhood with an HOA (annual dues $455) which includes the right to throw parties at the brilliant Maybeck-designed clubhouse.
[Update: As per the realtor's dedicated site, the architect was Willis Huson (1863-1950) and it seems this was not his only terra-cotta block building— he did a cottage in 1922 behind Henry Gutterson's Norman Style Brooks family compound in the 1700 block of Vallejo Street and also worked for the California Pottery Company, a producer of terra-cotta tiles in Merced.]
· 11 Mendosa Avenue [Redfin]
· Update on 300 Seacliff [Curbed SF]
· Forest Hill Clubhouse [Outside Lands]