Alfred William ("A. W.") Smith (1864 – January 17, 1933) was an extremely prolific architect in the East Bay during the early 20th Century. "In a career of over 40 years he designed several hundred buildings (400 listed in the Oakland building permit ledger books alone), mostly houses and small to medium sized commercial, industrial, and apartment buildings." 1

Smith was born in 1864 in Louisiana; his family moved to Oakland when his father came to work at the transcontinental railroad terminus. He attended Oakland High School, and worked with his father as a carpenter. 1 In 1900, Smith and his widowed mother were living at 180 Perry Place.

Alfred married Lilias Louisa McBeth (Smith) (March 26, 1875 – September 20, 1955) on August 10, 1902, and they had three children, Lilias McBeth Smith (1903 – 1904), Georgia A. Smith (1905 – ?) and Grace H. Smith (1907 – ?). A 1934 travel document lists Georgia's birthplace as Oakland, but by 1910, the family had moved to Berkeley.

Professional

Smith worked as a carpenter with his father. The 1888 voter registration lists his profession as "carpenter" and his home as being in Oakland's Third Ward; 1890 lists 767 - 21st Street in the 3rd Precinct of the Third Ward.

Blessed with the discreetest possible surname, A.W. Smith may have been the most prolific architect in the East Bay in the early 20th century yet he rarely advertised or networked, and understatedly signed his plans “Smith – Architect – Oakland.” 1

Smith's works in Oakland include Enterprise Hall at what is now 645 West Grand, designed in 1892.

A. W. Smith was particularly noted for designing high-peaked Colonial Revival style homes.  4

Smith’s success with high-peaked Colonial Revival was documented in an Oakland Enquirer article published in June 1899: “One of the most distinctive features of recent local building operations is the wonderful popularity suddenly achieved by the style of house known as the Dutch Colonial, whose principal characteristic is a high-peaked roof. The idea in this city originated with J. H. Simpson, who since he first began building such structures, has put up 10. However, the style has been adapted and enlarged upon by architect A. W. Smith who since the 10th of January of last year [1898] has put up no less than 27 houses, all on this peculiar line of architecture. [...] Mr. Smith ascribes the popularity to the growth of the artistic in the building public, which has caused a departure from the strict rules of architecture and given rise to the development of the picturesque style.” 2, 4

Other works:

  • 1899 - Residence for Mr. J. H. Simpson 3
  • 1899 - One-story brick building at Broadway and 10th for Lillian M. McPike, Nellie R. Lutz, and Mary H. Hiller 3
  • 1912 - 1346 El Centro Avenue. Shingled Craftsman-style residence

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Links and References

  1. "A.W. Smith...Architect Extraordinaire," Betty Marvin, Alameda Architectural Preservation Society newsletter, January 2006
  2. East Bay Then and Now Berkeley Daily Planet March 24, 2006
  3. The California Architect and Building News January, 1899
  4. High-Peaked Colonial Revival Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA)