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When you think of the work of Greene & Greene, you usually think of Pasadena, Calif. Pasadena is home to the Gamble, Blacker and Robinson houses, and there is a fantastic collection of the Greene’s furniture at the Huntington Museum a few miles away. But one of the “ultimate bungalows,” the Thorsen house, is a few hundred miles north in Berkeley, Calif., near the University of California. Since 1942, Sigma Phi fraternity has owned the property and it has been in use as a fraternity house. The public is welcome to come and visit this historic structure, with advance notice. Saturday mornings at Sigma Phi are different than Saturday mornings at most fraternity houses. That time is devoted to caring for and tending to this historic structure. As it is with any old house, problems arise that demand attention – whether that attention is in the budget or not.

The Thorsen house happens to sit on the Hayward fault line, and is in need of a seismic retrofit that is beyond the budget of Sigma Phi. Darrell Peart, who has written for Popular Woodworking Magazine, pointed this out earlier this week on the Greene & Greene discussion group on Yahoo. There are several efforts underway to raise money, and a group called Friends of the Thorsen House has been formed. The group has entered this project in a contest called Rethinking Preservation sponsored by Dwell magazine. You can help by voting for this project at this link. You can also donate directly to Sigma Phi through a link on the Thorsen House web site.

In the coming months, look for more about the Thorsen house. When the house was constructed in 1909, the furniture was built in the basement “Jolly Room.” Darrell Peart will be working with the current residents, and the basement will once again become a temporary woodshop. The results of this will be seen in an upcoming issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine; it will be an interesting article you won’t want to miss. We will also be in Pasadena this October for our Woodworking in America conference, and there will be some special events focusing on Greene & Greene as part of that conference.

The images in this post are of the interior of the Thorsen house, and if that piques your interest, there are plenty more in the book “Greene & Greene Furniture: Poems of Wood and Light,” by David Mathias. David has also written several articles for Popular Woodworking Magazine, and there is a slide show of selected pictures available at this link.

Click here to visit the Thorsen house web site.

At the moment, Friends of the Thorsen House don’t have a web site. If you would like to get in touch with them for more information, send me an e-mail and I will pass the contact information on to you.

– Robert W. Lang


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Showing 4 comments
  • Johannes

    My son went to Cal twelve years ago and was a member of the fraternity . They have dining and living room sets left over from the Green Brothers build. The furniture, worth several fortunes, is stored in a locked room in the basement during kegger parties.
    If asked nicely, and perhaps bribed, you can take a close look at the tables and chairs.

  • robert

    Man – that looks nothing like the frat house I lived in for three years at West Virginia University. Where’s the tap?

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