The Plymouth Church Towne House is located at 412 Monte Vista Avenue, Oakland. Designed by prominent Oakland architect Walter J. Mathews, the house was built in 1908 for Florence L. Johnson.
When the house was built, its street address was 146 Monte Vista Avenue. Although the house has always been within Oakland's city limits (its northern property line is also the city boundary), early directories implied it was within Piedmont.& It was the home of William Pierce Johnson and his wife, Florence Lindsay Johnson (they married in Sept. 1860) and their two daughters, Arline (1886–1925) and Josephine (c.1888–19??). In 1917 Mrs. Wm. Pierce Johnson and Josephine Johnson, both residing at 146 Monta Vista Ave., Piedmont, were Charter Members of the Woman’s Athletic Club in San Francisco. And in the 1919 San Francisco Blue Book and Club Directory, the Social Reference Book Mrs. Wm. Pierce Johnson is again listed as living at 146 Monte Vista Avenue, in Piedmont.
On December 8, 1909 George Stark Towne (May 17, 1885–April 7, 1963) married Arline Johnson (June 20, 1886–February 12, 1925), in Oakland, California. They had five children: Arline Towne (October 2, 1910–August 9, 1982), Lyndsay Towne (February 5, 1912–August 22, 1992), William Stark Towne (November 8, 1914–July 4, 1991), Josephine Towne (October 19, 1916–April 20, 1962), and Helen Towne (October 16, 1920–June 26, 1997).
So the Plymouth Church Towne House seems to have gotten its name from the Townes, though Florence L. Johnson and Josephine were living there several years after the Townes married in 1909. Were they all living in the home together? It’s certainly large enough for several family members.
- 1908-10-19, 4/3: “Among the new homes planned is one for Florence L. Johnson, to be erected in Monte Vista avenue, west of Oakland avenue, at a cost of $20,000. It will contain 17 rooms.” – yield: an original cost + a room count.
- Gifted to Plymouth United Church of Christ [In what year was the house gifted?By whom?] [The house was gifted? Did it go to a special school? … JK]
- Sunday school was conducted there, as well as youth programs.
- From 1966- 1977, October, the church's youth group put on a neighborhood haunted house in the mansion.
- The beginning home for Towne House, a day program for adults with psychiatric impairments; program was later relocated to Oakland Avenue.
- ”The Mansion” housed community classes, Jewish Community Services, Ark of Refuge services and more.
- House became a financial drain on the church.
- Announcement in July/August 2007 that there was a “proposal to construct 42 market-rate condos at 412 Monte Vista was unveiled at a neighborhood meeting on June 27.Nearly fifty neighbors squeezed into the central hall of the historic mansion for the presentation, and many expressed serious concerns about the scale of the project and its impact on the grand Walter J. Mathews designed house.” “According to the plans presented, the historic house would be lifted with a new story below, moved to the front corner of the lot and divided into eight condos. The remainder of the lot would be filled with 34 condos of varying sizes in six and seven stories of new construction.A courtyard would separate the two structures and parking would be underground. The existing oak at the back of the lot by the church’s driveway would be saved; other existing trees would be removed and replacement landscaping would be much smaller scale. Architects Kirk Peterson & Associates are known for designs that reference historic architecture.Concerns raised included density, height, traffic and parking impacts, loss of light and air to nearby residences, loss of existing trees, and impacts on the historic and architectural value of the existing mansion.” [The plot thickens … at least this never happened!] [Sounds like a neighborhood-destroying nightmare … insert profuse thanks to deity of your choice here]
- According to title records, the church sold the Towne House to the Pacific Boychoir Academy on January 6, 2009, for $1 million, generating proceeds of about $800,000, which was used to pay off the church’s mortgage and various debts.
- PBA's plan was to renovate the house, preserve it as an historical treasure, and transform it into a middle school. The plan required approval from the City of Piedmont, since it included use of a church-owned parking lot on Olive Street in Piedmont. The Piedmont City Council granted the required approval on February 17, 2009.
- However, for some as-yet-unknown reason, the PBA abandoned its plan. According to Realtor.com , the property was listed for sale at a price or $1.8 million on October 12, 2010, and the price was gradually dropped over a series of months (see below) until the property was taken off the Multiple Listing Service in January 2012.
- On September 12, 2012, PBA finally sold the property to an entity known as 412 Monte Vista LLC, at a price of $1.1 million. The LLC is affiliated with Terra Linda Development, and its registered agent is one of company's principals.
- The City of Oakland's December 21, 2012 list of Applications on File stated that another entity affiliated with Terra Linda Development was seeking design review approval to convert the home into 14 separate dwelling units.
- BuildZig did this conversion, and won a Partners in Preservation award for their work in 2016. 1
Found some more tantalizing bits on the Johnson/Towne family connection in the San Francisco Call:
- 1908-10-19, 4/3: “Among the new homes planned is one for Florence L. Johnson, to be erected in Monte Vista avenue, west of Oakland avenue, at a cost of $20,000. It will contain 17 rooms.” – yield: an original cost + a room count. Will keep probing … more bits:
- 1909-12-18, 18/4: “PARENTS OF BRIDE ENTERTAIN COUPLE - Mr. and Mrs. George Stark Towne Return From Wedding Journey - OAKLAND Dec. 17.—Mr. and Mrs. George Stark Towne have returned from their wedding journey and are the house guests of the bride’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Pierce Johnson, at the family residence in Monte Vista avenue. Towne has purchased a home for his wife in Los Angeles, where they will reside. Mrs. Towne was Miss Arline Johnson before her marriage a week ago.”
- 1910-09-06, 9/5: “One of the notable events of last week was the silver anniversary of the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. William Pierce Johnson. A dozen friends were entertained at dinner at the handsome residence of the Johnson family in Monte Vista avenue, the appointments of the table being in keeping with the occasion. Miss Josephine Johnson, who spent the summer on the Atlantic coast, returned to California a fortnight ago, joining her mother at Del Monte over the golf tournament. Mrs. Johnson and Miss Johnson have been at their Oakland home more than a week.”
- 1911-07-25: “Mrs. George Stark Towne, formerly Miss Arline Johnson, is remaining in Oakland, the house guest of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Pierce Johnson, in Monte Vista avenue, and is being entertained in an informal way. Her friends among the smart set will regret her return to her southern home. Since her marriage Mrs. Towne has resided near Los Angeles.”
- 1912-08-01, 12/3: “AUTO LICENSES ARE ISSUED FOR STATE - SACRAMENTO, July 31.—The following are the automobile registrations to August 1, 1912: 79223—Miss Josephine Johnson, 146 Monte Vista avenue, Oakland. Stoddard-Dayton.” [Talking about autos and licenses – she was the only person in Oakland to get a license that month, and Stoddard-Dayton was an upscale marque.]
- 1913-07-17, 8/4: “Mr. and Mrs. George Stark Towne and their family will be welcomed to Oakland, where they plan to live. Since the marriage of Miss Arline Johnson and the young business man their home has been in Los Angeles, but a change in business arrangements has brought them to the north, and Mrs. Towne will be welcomed by the smart set, with which she is popular. For the present Mr. and Mrs. Towne will be with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Pierce Johnson, in Monte Vista avenue. Later they will establish their own home here.”
BTW, for those who would tag this section of Monte Vista Avenue as part of the Grand Avenue neighborhood, it’s always been part of Piedmont Avenue and the Piedmont Avenue Neighborhood Improvement League’s area, not Grand Avenue.
The Towne House Creative Living Center (CLC), now located nearby at 629 Oakland Avenue, began operations in the Towne House in 1969, but moved to its current location in 1992.
Links and References
- Plymouth United Church of Christ Newsletter (February 2009)
- PANIL Notes (July/August 2007)
- Plymouth UCC Strategic Plan - 2013 to 2018
Property Profile from FASTWeb (First American Title): 412 Monte Vista records.pdf
Towne House CLC Review, 40th Anniversary Edition
412 Monte Vista Avenue Oakland Heritage Alliance