Edgar Mathews

Edgar Asahel Mathews[1] (September 8, 1866 – December 31, 1946) was an architect who worked in the Bay Area of California, particularly in San Francisco. He primarily designed houses but was also responsible for some Christian Science churches and commercial and government buildings.

Shingled apartments at 2100–06 Lyon Street, San Francisco, designed by Edgar Mathews in 1905

Early life and trainingEdit

Edgar Mathews was born in Oakland, the third son of Julius Case Mathews and his wife Pauline, née McCracken. His father was an architect and all three sons trained with him; the eldest, Walter, went into partnership with him, while the second, Arthur, became an artist. Edgar received further training at the Van Der Naillen School of Engineering, from which he graduated in 1888, and after working for his father and others, opened his own architectural office in 1895. He moved to San Francisco soon after, and most of his work was built there.[2]


2508 Green Street (1895)

Mathews designed a large number of houses, particularly in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, where in 1908 he built 2980 Vallejo Street for himself and his wife, Katherine née Dart.[2] He drew on English arts and crafts conventions:[3] his houses are often in a half-timbered style with high-pitched roofs suggesting English Tudor, and even more often squarish and clad in unpainted redwood shingles.[2][4] He also designed apartment houses, usually in the shingled style. Both his houses and his apartments usually have porches and a low wall around the lot; his apartment buildings characteristically have separate entrances for each unit.[2] His work is the primary reason for Pacific Heights' reputation for shingle-style buildings.[4]

In San Francisco, houses by Mathews include 2361 Washington Street (1898, for William Gerstle) and 2421 Pierce Street (1897[5] or c. 1903, for James Irvine), both in the Tudor style,[6] and 2505 Divisadero Street (1899), former home of rock musician Kirk Hammett, in Georgian style.[7] Two houses designed by Mathews in Berkeley are city landmarks: the Cornelious Beach Bradley House (1897) and the Benjamin Ide Wheeler House (1900; remodeled by Lewis Hobart).[8] Of his apartment houses, those at 1390–1392 Page Street and 200 Central Avenue are in a characteristic Shingle-Craftsman style;[9] the row of flats at 2100 Lyon Street is typical of his shingled apartment houses in Pacific Heights,[10] and the row at 100–114 Walnut Street (the Stein apartments) also has an unusually varied roofline.[11]

Third Church of Christ, Scientist, San Francisco (1917)
447 Sutter Street, San Francisco, designed by Mathews for PG&E in 1916

As a Christian Scientist, Mathews was commissioned to design the First Church of Christ, Scientist in San Francisco (1912); for this and again for the similar Third Church of Christ, Scientist (1917) he used a Byzantine-Romanesque style in variegated brick with polychrome terracotta decoration.[12] Writing in The Architectural Review, William Winthrop Kent singled the Third Church out for special praise.[13] It has now been converted into housing for seniors.[14][15][16][17]

Later in his career, Mathews was a proponent of Renaissance revival architecture; an example of his commercial designs in this style is the highly ornamented 447 Sutter Street (1916), for Pacific Gas and Electric.[2][18] He also designed government buildings in Sacramento;[2] in 1919 he won the $500 prize in the competition to design a new courthouse for Santa Barbara, but it remained unbuilt for lack of funds, and after the 1925 earthquake, a design by William Mooser, the second-place entrant, was built instead.[19] The base of Douglas Tilden's 1907 monument to Padre Junipero Serra in Golden Gate Park is also by Mathews.[20]

Mathews was vice-president of the San Francisco Chapter of the American Institute of Architects from 1913 to 1916 and president in 1917. He was president of the California Board of Architectural Examiners in 1915–18.[2]

Private life and deathEdit

Mathews and his wife had two daughters.[21] In 1935 they moved to 1956 Great Highway, which he had also designed; he died on New Year's Eve 1946.[2]


Mathews was involved in two lawsuits. In 1908 he was sued by a former client in San Rafael for twice designing a similar house to be built close to the client's, which the client had wanted to be unique. The judge ruled in favor of Mathews, saying: "If this injunction were granted it would have the practical effect of putting architect Mathews out of business, because his personality expresses itself in a certain type of house, and this injunction seeks to restrain him from constructing that type."[2][22][23] In 1914 Mathews sued the Board of Trustees of the San Francisco Public Library for $11,900, his fee and time in entering the competition to design the main library; he argued that the winning design by George W. Kelham (the building now the Asian Art Museum) plagiarized Cass Gilbert's Detroit Public Library. The judge threw out the lawsuit, pointing out that Gilbert had been on the competition jury.[2][24][25]


  1. ^ John S. Wurts, Pedigrees of the Barons (1942), Philadelphia: Brookfield, [1945], repr. 1964, OCLC 556341313, p. 2777.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j David Parry, "Mathews, Edgar A.: Architect" Archived 2016-03-15 at the Wayback Machine, Encyclopedia of San Francisco, republished from "Pacific Heights Architects #3 - Edgar Mathews", Classic SF Properties, May 2001 (pdf), retrieved May 14, 2016.
  3. ^ Richard Longstreth, On the Edge of the World: Four Architects in San Francisco at the Turn of the Century, American Monograph Series, The Architectural History Foundation, Cambridge, Massachusetts / London: MIT, 1983, ISBN 9780262121002, pp. 306–07.
  4. ^ a b John Beach, "The Bay Area Tradition, 1890–1918", in Bay Area Houses, ed. Sally Woodbridge, rev. ed. Salt Lake City, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 1988, ISBN 9780879053062, pp. 64, 68.
  5. ^ "2421 Pierce St., San Francisco", Business, San Francisco Chronicle, September 2, 2009.
  6. ^ Anne and Arthur Bloomfield, Gables and Fables: A Portrait of San Francisco's Pacific Heights, Berkeley, California: Heyday, 2007, ISBN 9781597140553, pp. 94, 148.
  7. ^ Anna Marie Erwert, "Pac Heights mansion, once home to Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, rocks the MLS", On the Block blog, San Francisco Chronicle, May 25, 2015.
  8. ^ Susan Dinkelspiel Cerny, Berkeley Landmarks: An Illustrated Guide to Berkeley, California's Architectural Heritage, rev. ed., Berkeley, California: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, 2001, ISBN 9780970667601, pp. 187, 252.
  9. ^ Susan Dinkelspiel Cerny, An Architectural Guidebook to San Francisco and the Bay Area, Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 2007, ISBN 9781586854324, p. 74.
  10. ^ Cerny, Guidebook, p. 66.
  11. ^ Cerny, Guidebook, pp. 64–65.
  12. ^ Paul Eli Ivey, Prayers in Stone: Christian Science Architecture in the United States, 1894–1930, Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois, 1999, ISBN 9780252024450, pp. 56–57.
  13. ^ William Winthrop Kent, "The New San Francisco: Part III: Churches and Clubs", The Architectural Review, 8 (1919) 127–28.
  14. ^ "Haight St. Church Converted to Housing", San Francisco Heritage Newsletter, 2007.
  15. ^ "Historic Haight church now senior housing", San Francisco Examiner, October 18, 2007.
  16. ^ "A neighborhood treasure in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district gets a second act as affordable senior housing", FHLBank, San Francisco, retrieved May 14, 2016.
  17. ^ "Buena Vista Terrace - 1250 Haight Street", Tenderloin Neighborhood Development, February 3, 2012.
  18. ^ Cerny, Guidebook, p. 28.
  19. ^ Neal Graffy, Historic Santa Barbara: An Illustrated History, San Antonio, Texas: Historical Publication Network, 2010, ISBN 9781935377146, p. 72.
  20. ^ United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California, National Register of Historic Places, Section 7, Page 22.
  21. ^ "Edgar A. Mathews (Architect)", Pacific Coast Architecture Database, University of Washington, retrieved May 14, 2016.
  22. ^ "Court Rules That an Architect May Duplicate His Plans to Different Clients", Current News Section, The American Architect and Building News 94, July 1, 1908, p. 19.
  23. ^ The Ohio Architect and Builder 12 (1908) 45–46.
  24. ^ "Architect Charges Plagiarism", The California Outlook, May 23, 1914, p. 9.
  25. ^ Peter Booth Wiley, A Free Library in this City: The Illustrated History of the San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco: Weldon Owen, 1996, ISBN 9781875137053, p. 129.

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