Like a Rock: The Hellbaum House in Berkeley is built into and around enormous boulders

midcentury-house-built-on-bedrock house-built-around-bedrockMany midcentury homes were built by skilled craftsmen, using quality materials — yup, “built like a rock.” But this 1950 time capsule house — known locally as the Hellbaum House, after its original owners actually is built on and around rock — massive boulders — inside and out!   The home also boasts an original elevator that has operated without issue since the day it was installed… steel kitchen cabinets painted in an auto body shop… and other beautiful midcentury modern interior features. Oh yeah: It’s for sale!

The house — which is in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood of Berkley, California — is listed for sale by realtor Ira Serkes. Note, the listing says there is already an offer pending with four backup offers. Here are the detail from the listing:

  • Price: $1,100,000
  • Year built: 1950
  • Square footage: 2,610
  • Bedrooms: 3
  • Bathrooms: 2 plus 2 partial

The Hellbaum House in Berkeley’s wonderful Thousand Oaks neighborhood!

custom-slate-floorAt a massive street side boulder, rising tiers of Arizona flagstone walls, steps and handmade bronze railings lead you up to the front entry (note the stone inset of the builder/owners’ initial!); the same flagstone is repeated inside at the fireplace, its raised hearth and floor to ceiling detail, and outside at walls and chimney. Three bedrooms, two and a half baths at main living level; half bath in garage; elevator from garage to kitchen.

midcentury-steel-kitchen-cabinetsHuge kitchen [Editor’s note: Those look like vintage Geneva kitchen cabinets — maybe St. Charles — to us) has terrific storage (auto shop painted cabinetry with chromed hardware!); an island counter; breakfast area space; Large room off kitchen includes laundry and a built in desk across one wall; ideal study/art/office space. Filtered Golden Gate, Bay Bridge, San Francisco, Mt. Tam and westward views are seen through large windows; half bath off kitchen.

vintage-pink-bathroomTwo full bathrooms have the original Naugahyde wall covering, enclosed bath tub/shower combos and vanities with chromed tube lights and mirrors. Through a wide central hallway, access three good sized bedrooms: master suite has one large closet with built in drawers, a second smaller closet and opens through sliding glass doors to a mahogany deck and back garden with plantings amid more rock; another bedroom has a built in desk, shelving and glass paned display cases.

midcentury-modern-deckmidcentury-porchDetached garden studio built of clear heart redwood: originally used as a BBQ shed with a fireplace, sink, built-in cabinetry and windows all around, it’s now the perfect art/meditation/separate office space. Recessed lighting in main rooms; soffit lighting in the dining area.

house-built-around-bedrockAt the garage level (more of the street side rock … and another behemoth rock!) there’s a half bath, utility closets housing elevator machinery and radiant/water heating equipment, and many storage spaces; think installation of a translucent garage door to brighten this area for multiple uses; art; kid playspace; workshop….or park two cars and maybe a third!

619 Vincente was designed, built and lived in by its original owner for many years, and one of its current owners grew up across the street and played among the area rocks as a child.

It is noted in BAHA* and “Berkeley Rocks: Building With Nature by Jonathan Chester (Ten Speed Press)” for its innovative systems: an elevator fairly uncommon in Berkeley homes at the time, and a radiant heat system through ceiling pipes; each room has its own thermostat, and there is radiant heat under the garage floor as well

Per BAHA; “For the structure, Hellbaum purchased a Southern Pacific bridge and anchored the structure on several of the I-beams from the bridge” Look up when you’re in the garage … the beams are overhead.”

Above: The home’s current owner used to live across the street when she was growing up and has fond memories of playing in the garage near the massive boulder. Apparently there was a swing attached to one of the home’s girders that the neighborhood kids used to swing on while also wearing roller-skates and then fly off and skate out of the garage and down the driveway. Sounds like a lot of fun if you ask me!

Above: We even get a video tour of the elevator — still workin’ after all these years — very cool!

Link love:

Tips to view slide show: Click on first image… it will enlarge and you can also read my captions… move forward or back via arrows below the photo… you can start or stop at any image:

  1. Kelly Wittenauer says:

    Cool house! Surprised no one has yet mentioned the possibility that the idea to build on & incorporate the natural boulders into the house, could have been inspired by FLLW having done so at Fallingwater just over a decade before.

    To all those here reminiscing about childhood adventures from the days before “suing as an income stream came about” – thanks for providing some smiles with my lunch:) I remember talking with one of my brothers a few years ago. About all the things we did as kids, that we would in no way allow our kids to do. And the fact that our parents, and others of the time, never gave it a second thought.

  2. ChrisH says:

    “Many midcentury homes were built by skilled craftsmen, using quality materials —”

    OK, if you want to believe that ….

  3. Carolyn says:

    Going up to Berkeley in two weeks. Does anyone know the address of this house? Also, there is a wonderful exhibit of mid century modern architects at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. Looking forward to seeing that, too.

  4. Joe Felice says:

    Do they play, or do they just spend their time on their devices? Put me on the side of those who feel sorry for kids born after 1970. And my mom NEVER let me go into the street. However, I did one evening, and got run over by a car. Ruined mom’s bridge game, and she was not a happy camper. Neither was the car’s driver. His hair turned from brown to gray almost overnight. We kept trying to convince him we weren’t going to sue him, but. . . Around the same time, I split my upper lip sliding into “home base,” which was the living-room coffee table. That was another ruined bridge date for mom. We weren’t supposed to be running in the house. Yikes! Then I nearly cut off my big toe making stakes for a tent before the cub-scout camp-out. Ut oh! Now that I think about it, I guess I was lucky to have survived 1957 in Montgomery, Alabama! But I did, in spite of eating dirt, earthworms, and all. Even survived a tongue stuck to a fence post in the winter. Ah yes, the memories.

  5. Joe Felice says:

    Woah and damn! That is one nice house! When I saw all those rocks, I could just envision the kitties happily climbing all over them, and thinking how-many more I could adopt to join in the fun!

  6. Neil says:

    I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for 40 years, and seen many, many wonderful buildings in the same marvelous genre as this one because: In the many decades since the wild-west days of the gold rush countless people have migrated here because they didn’t fit in (and weren’t properly appreciated) where they’d been raised because….they were eccentrics or geniuses or artists or all three! So they came here and built some incredible one-of-a-kind, beautiful houses and all manner of other remarkable, busting-with-character things.
    On a similar but different note, when I lived in a 100-year-old clapboard house, among the second-growth redwoods, up on the Russian River, below my bedroom floor was still the stump of a 3,000-year-old redwood tree; the stump had decades ago lost it’s bark and much of it’s outer layers but was still eight feet across and ten feet tall. Living in a house that contains a grandfather-tree or a grandfather-boulder is a feeling like no other.

  7. Tracey C says:

    Reminds me a little of House on The Rock in Wisconsin built by Alex Jordan, Jr. opened in 1959. Some coolness stayed in the Midwest!

  8. Carol Belding says:

    First thing I thought of, as an East Coaster, was “Test that house for radon!”

    It’s not as big of a problem on the West Coast, but I’d surely want this house tested.


    Love the house, love the space, love the kitchen, and love Berkeley. Thanks for this post.

  9. Kelly M says:

    That boulder even looks like the one in the Dick Van Dyke show . . . I wonder if they filmed at that house?

  10. Laurel says:

    What I wouldn’t give for that front door, sidelights and knob. Ours has been replaced with a standard cheap replacement door that looks late 90’s cheap.

  11. Laurie Louise says:

    What a treasure! And it seems like this is one we don’t have to worry about being appreciated.

    In the I-survived-my-childhood department, we’d buy a ton of fireworks before the Fourth of July, the play with them for days. Unsupervised. My fave was blowing up stuff in the sandbox with firecrackers. It’s amazing that we all have faces, but boy was it fun!

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