Charles Keeler

Charles Keeler


Charles Keeler home by Bernard Maybeck
Sketch by Kenneth Cardwell

Hillside Club sketch by Bernard Maybeck

Keeler shared Maybeck's vision of transforming the rolling, grass-covered hills of Berkeley into an arcardian garden landscape spreckled with rustic wooden homes. He founded and served as president of the Hillside Club in 1903-05, of which Maybeck was also a life-long member. Louise Keeler, Maybeck's wife Annie, Almeric Coxhead, and Mrs. John Galen Howard were also active members. In 1904, Keeler wrote a short book called "A Simple Home", a vision of idyllic suburban setting. He intended this book to serve as a guide for the proper development of the hills by his insistence on natural materials and placement of homes and roads along natural, flowing contours.

"Let the work be simple and genuine,
let it be a genuine expression of the life which it is to environ."

This small publication established Keeler, the self-appointed arbiter of good taste in local architecture as the prominent oracle for the Arts & Crafts ideals, not only in Berkeley, but in many communities throughout the Bay Area in what was to be known as the First Bay Tradition. Keeler and his wife also started the Ruskin Club and established a home-based Arts and Crafts guild where they produced their own furniture for sale.

Louise Keeler died in 1907, a loss from which Charles never fully recovered. In 1910-11 Keeler embarked on a world tour in Europe and the Orient to give poetic and dramatic recitations. In 1912, he returned to the United States and settled in New York City, where he further honed his literary craft with such works as his book of poems "The Victory" in 1916. When he returned to Berkeley in 1917, he and his three children settled down in a studio which he had built on El Camino Real in the Claremont Hills. In constructing this studio of open beams and tainted stucco, Keeler employed the Craftsman ideals he espoused and his own craftmanship. In 1921 he married Ormeida Harrison Curtis, an educator and poet. Both were active in the California Writers' Club and other community organizations. From 1920 to 1927, Keeler accepted a position as managing directorship of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. In 1925 he organized the First Berkeley Cosmic Society, a club dedicated to a Baha'i-like faith of a broad-based universal religion that he espoused in his own spirituality in the book "An Epitome of Cosmic Religion". This civic arts association attracted a variety of Berkeley's spiritual seekers. Members were asked to study the researches of modern sciences, along side of engaging in the fine arts to the extent of cultivating a taste for good music, poetry, drama, painting and sculpture, and of course, for good architecture. It was Keeler's last effort at realizing his utopian dream of an artist's enclave in Berkeley. Enthusiasm for this faith lasted until 1930 with the onset of The Great Depression.

Charles Keeler passed away in his Berkeley studio in 1937. The local press gave his passing hardly a mention other than his service to the Chamber of Commerce. Keeler's papers, consisting of letters, manuscripts of his writings, diaries, notes, and clippings, were given to The Bancroft Library in 1958 by his daughters, Merodine McIntyre, and Eloise Keeler, with additions in 1968. His wife Ormeida continued to live in the studio. In 1940, she took in Mrs. Linnie Marsh Wolfe, a descendant of Contra Costa pioneer John Marsh. Mrs Wolfe had spent several decades admiring and studying the work of John Muir and she wrote his biography,"Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir". She won a Pulitzer Prize just one day before her death on September 15, 1945. Her work was a fitting tribute to Charles friendship with his fellow naturalist friend.

Last updated 11-07-2005