Oscar Gerson and his brothers Hans and Ernst had a very successful architectural practice in Hamburg in the 1920s. Their firm was one of the leading proponents of a regional modernist variant called brick expressionism which was all the rage in Northern Germany at the time. Unfortunately, after Hans passed away in 1931, and the two remaining brothers were barred from practicing architecture in 1933 due to the rise of the Nazi party, they were forced to leave the country. Ernst made his way to New Zealand and Oscar came to Berkeley via London with his wife and Hans’s wife and son. Here they would make their new home. Oscar continued to design primarily domestic structures, and his nephew Hans would eventually found his own local architecture firm, Gerson Overstreet.
The home we feature today is one of Oscar’s residential commissions from the early 50s. Much of the original color and texture has unfortunately been cloaked in paint, but it remains clear that Gerson’s point of view was a bit different than most of the other Bay Region modernists practicing at the time. He was in his mid-sixties when the home was built and he had already been designing modern structures for decades at a time when modernism was still relatively novel in the Bay Area. It is not surprising therefore that the home feels influenced a bit more by his contemporaries and countrymen Gropius and Mies and a bit less by Wright than seems often to be the case here. This is not to say that his work did not change at all to meet the requirements of the local environ, but Gerson’s unusual background and personal history do clearly make for a particularly unique take on the Bay Region style.