Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - March 13, 2009

Pleasanton's 'master craftsman'

Charles Bruce leaves his legacy on many of downtown's most prominent houses, buildings

by Janet Pelletier

Charles Bruce's client list reads like a who's who of Pleasanton yore. Considered the city's most prolific builder, Bruce built between 30 and 40 homes in the downtown region, schools, bridges and some of the most recognizable and historic buildings. Take a drive down Second, St. Mary, Division and even Main streets and you'll see the indelible mark he's left.

Try "Googling" Bruce, who died in 1955, and you won't find much if anything at all, but ask another well-known Pleasanton architect who shares the same first name, and he has a wealth of information.

Charles Huff, Pleasanton's go-to guy for renovations to historic homes, is a regular at the Livermore Public Library because that's where the architect, who also wears the hat of historian, digs up old articles from now-defunct publications such as the Livermore Herald. On a recent weekday, Huff, whose office is in an old train station at Neal and First streets, managed to produce 40 pages of materials on Bruce--the homes he's built, his family life, obituary and even some of his old advertisements for C.A. Bruce and Sons. He's performed renovation and restoration work on some of Bruce's original homes.

Charles A. Bruce had been a builder and contractor for over 40 years in the Tri-Valley in the late 19th century and early part of the 20th century. He began building Victorians, and there are some Queen Anne homes that are sprinkled through downtown that have Bruce's stamp on them.

One such home is at 443 St. Mary St., a Queen Anne. The one-story house was built in 1880. In 1898, Herman Detjens, who was a Pleasanton grocer and builder of the first Pleasanton Hotel, bought it. In 1900, the home changed hands to Charles S. Graham, a mortician and businessman (Graham Mortuary). A home with the same exact design resides at 462 St. Mary.

Moving farther along St. Mary Street, Bruce built a home at 530 St. Mary for Randolph Apperson in 1923 as a wedding present for his new wife, Ann. Apperson was the nephew of Phoebe Hearst and the manager of the Hearst San Simeon Properties, according to Huff. The front door to the home, now occupied by William and Anne Apperson was brought in by Bill Apperson from Hearst Castle. It was a former prototype of doors installed at the popular tourist site in San Simeon, Calif.

Bruce, who operated C.A. Bruce and Sons, worked with his sons, Allan, Robin and Charles Bruce Jr., and architect J.L. Weilbye.

In 1895, Bruce built a home at 733 Division St. for Frank Lewis, who owned Lewis Bros. Hardware and Candy Store. The one-story home was distinctive then and remains so today with a turret, or cone-like tower. It was said that the neighborhood children thought a witch lived there because it looked like a witch's hat. Bats, who were attracted to it, would fly into it. The home was also unusual because it had a basement.

Later, Bruce moved into Craftsman-style homes. He was also known to combine architectural elements of different styles to put his own unique signature on them. To show his versatility, Bruce built a Mediterranean-style home in the early 1920s at 517 St. Mary St.

One of the most recognizable houses he built was at 4397 Second St. A colonial revival, the two-story home is striking. Palm trees surround the 1893 structure, which was built for the Arendt family (there is an Arendt Street nearby named for Joseph Arendt).

Bruce himself didn't live far away from the Second Street home. He built a one-story redwood home in 1894 using square nails at 4636 Second St. It was one of the first he built. The Queen Anne-style cottage has been restored a handful of times, including after a eucalyptus tree fell on it and a runaway Model T Ford crashed through a room. The home has been inhabited by some prominent Pleasanton families, including the Bruces, who lived there for 45 years. More recent owners, Lori Scott-Venter and Ardith Urban, said in an old newspaper clipping that it was haunted by a friendly, female ghost.

Bruce and his family lived there while he was building a home next door, 4672 Second St., a western stick-style.

Vintner C.L. Crellin, who operated the original Ruby Hill Winery, hired Bruce to build him a new home in Ruby Hill after his home was burned to the ground in a fire. The new home was two stories and had 11 rooms.

One of the most well-known developers in Alameda County during his heyday, Bruce was also credited with building Amador Valley High School, Livermore High School and many area bridges, including the Niles Canyon roadway and bridges. He also built the old Fire Station No. 1 at 4444 Railroad Ave., which is currently being transformed into the Firehouse Arts Center.

Stroll down Main Street and you'll see what was known before the turn of the 20th century as the "White Corner"--the Kolln Hardware Building. Built in Italianate and Colonial Revival styles in 1890, the building was operated as a hardware store by the Lewis brothers. The building underwent an extensive restoration recently by Bud Cornett. A yogurt shop will open in the back portion of the building this weekend and Comerica Bank will open in the front of the building facing Main Street in June.

Comments

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Mar 14, 2009 at 9:49 pm

Cool. I'm a sucker for this kind of history stuff. Please, try to clarify for me and the other readers how much of an architect Charles Bruce was or not. In the Pleasanton history material I've read which is available from the Museum on Main, Charles Bruce is considered an "architect" in quotes or as an architect-builder. As I understand, most of the historic homes in Pleasanton were built from patterns found in architecture magazines published on the East Coast. So it isn't clear what Charles Bruce actually designed himself. Additionally, the "White Corner" is only supposedly built by Bruce. Is there some other documentation?

I have to also thank Ms. Pelletier for writing an original article. SFgate.com had an article about Pleasanton that included information about the local culture and architecture. The author copied a whole sentence word-for-word from what I wrote in the Wikipedia article and it was quite clear that the architecture section was a summary of the same Wikipedia article. Journalistic laziness? Web Link


Posted by No name, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Mar 16, 2009 at 10:47 am

Sounds like you are "nit pik'n" Stacy.... don't you have anything better to do. I'm happy to read an article that is not full of doom and gloom. It looks like you are looking for doom, shame on you.


Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Mar 16, 2009 at 10:53 am

How is asking for clarification on what Charles Bruce actually designed versus built from other plans looking for "doom and gloom"? Sine when is additional information said to be "doom and gloom"?


Posted by Janet Pelletier, editor of the Pleasanton Weekly, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2009 at 4:30 pm

Stacey,

You are correct. In many old documents/articles, it mentions Charles Bruce as an architect, but he appears to be a builder, not an architect, at least according to local historian and architect Charles Huff. Bruce worked with an architect, Weilbye, as I mention in the article.


Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Mar 16, 2009 at 5:54 pm

Ms. Pelletier,

Thank you for the response!


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