Artists and Patrons: The Fleishhacker Commissions
“Art applied to buildings is structural necessity made beautiful.”
Charles Sumner Greene, from his unpublished novel Thais Thayer, ca. 1914
In 1911 Greene and Greene designed a country house in Woodside, Calif., for the San Francisco businessman Mortimer Fleishhacker Sr. This began a nearly twenty-five-year artist-patron relationship between the Greenes and the Fleishhackers, and in particular between Charles Greene and Bella Fleishhacker, a talented painter. In 1916 Charles left Pasadena with his family to move to Carmel-by-the-Sea, an artist’s colony within easy train access of San Francisco and Woodside. Following the construction of the main house, Charles was called upon several times to design and supervise alterations and additions at Woodside, as well as alterations to the Fleishhackers’ home in San Francisco’s fashionable Pacific Heights.
Included among the Woodside projects was the conversion of the west porch to an enclosed game room (1923–25), ornately paneled in walnut, which Charles carved by hand. For it he also designed a suite of furniture, also with carved decorative details. In 1927 Charles completed designs for a small dairy house that could function simultaneously as a place to serve tea to guests in the afternoon. While the charming stone structure did become a functioning dairy, it was apparently too distant from the Fleishhacker’s house to be convenient for entertaining.
The last major project Charles Greene designed and supervised for the Fleishhackers was an ambitious water garden that stretched some sixty-five feet below, and 400 feet beyond, the formal garden behind the house. Charles submitted numerous sketches to Mrs. Fleishhacker, each of which drew nominally from Italian garden precedent, though using materials and detailing from his own creative repertoire. A stone stairway descends through planting beds to a broad landing before continuing to a long reflecting pool and ending at an elliptical arcade that suggests the ruin of an ancient Roman aqueduct.
Next: A Tale of Two Clients