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Joachim Heinrich Senger

was born on 11 September 1848 in Köslin, Prussia (now Koszalin, Poland). His immigration record hasn’t been found, but in a 1909 passport application, Senger attested that on 23 January 1870, he sailed from Hamburg to the United States on board the Westphalia.

 

After spending several years tutoring in New York City, Senger moved to San Francisco, where he was naturalized on 8 August 1877.

 

In his naturalization record index card, Senger’s first and middle name were noted as Joachim Heinrich. The name Heinrich was also present on the Life Diploma issued to him by the State of California in December 1879. The U.S. Census of 1880, however, enumerated him simply as Henry.

 

Senger found work as a teacher at the Girls’ High School, which stood on Bush Street between Hyde and Larkin streets in San Francisco. The 25th Annual Report of the Superintendent of Public Schools for the year ending 30 June 1878 listed Henry Senger as a teacher of Latin and German, residing at 1621 Washington Street. 

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Senger at U.C. Berkeley 

When the University of California was founded on March 23, 1868, it was taken for granted that instruction in Greek and Latin would be an essential part of the curriculum.

From 1887 to 1891 Joachim Henry Senger was Instructor in German and Greek.

 

The first doctorate in Greek at U.C. Berkeley was awarded to J. H. Senger in 1888.

View of campus in 1888 from corner of Dana Street and Allston Way

Classic Musicale For U. C. German Club

A large gathering of the artistic and literary set of Berkeley is looked for by the German club of the University of California, which will present Ernst Wilhelmy of Berlin in songs and recitations at the home of Professor J. Henry Senger in North Berkeley tonight.

With Wilhelmy, who is a pupil of Dr. Ludwig Wullner, will be Miss Suzanne Pasmore of San Francisco, who will preside at the piano. Among other numbers on the evening’s program will be “Das Hexenlied,” music by Schillings, and Schubert’s “The Wanderer.”

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Image courtesy Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association

Retirement and death

Henry Senger retired from the University of California on 1 July 1913 with the title of Professor Emeritus in German. His ties to the university continued strong, as exemplified by the following item, published in the San Francisco Call of 4 November 1913.

Joachim Henry Senger died at home on 13 April 1926. A year and a half later, his widow donated his private library, numbering more than 2,400 volumes, to the university, along with a cash gift.

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Lucy Senger was now 67 years old. The library donation marked the end of her residence at 1321 Bay View Place. Thereafter, she changed her residence several times but refrained from moving in with any of her three married children. In 1928, Lucy Senger lived at 912 Indian Rock Avenue, which had been the home of Prof. Samuel C. May and his wife Eleanor. The Mays, in turn, moved into the Senger house.

 

For Lucy Senger, however, the sojourn in the large May house was temporary. By 1930, she had moved to an apartment in a new building at 1831 Arch Street. In the mid- 1930s, she lived at the Hotel Carlton on the northwest corner of Telegraph and Durant avenues. Her final voter registration was recorded when she resided at 611 Lexington Street, El Cerrito.

Excerpts from “The Senger House and Its Environment” by Daniella Thompson

Lucy Alice Helen Pownall

was born in Columbia, Tuolumne County. Her father, Joseph Pownall, M.D., was a native of New Jersey and received his medical training in New York, graduating in 1842. For the next six years, he shifted his residence a number of times, living for short periods in Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, and Mexico. In March 1849, he joined the party of Captain Isaac Green Messec, formerly of the Texas Rangers, on the trek from East Texas to California. Dr. Pownall apparently did not practice medicine in California. After engaging in mining for several years, he settled in Columbia and became associated with the Tuolumne County Water Company as secretary, treasurer, and superintendent.

Lucy Pownall attended the Girls’ High School in San Francisco,

graduating in May 1878. In May 1879, she graduated from the

Normal Training Class for teachers, held at the same school. But

Lucy wasn’t destined to be a teacher. That very same year, she

married Henry Senger. He was 30 at the time, she was 19. 

Excerpts from “The Senger House and Its Environment” by Daniella Thompson  

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The Senger Family in San Francscio

The year following their marriage, the Sengers welcomed their first child, George, into the world. The U.S. Census of 1880 enumerated the couple at 1635 Polk Street, along with their baby and a 13-year-old Swedish girl servant.

Senger continued to teach at the Girls’ High School for several more years. Simultaneously, he was enrolled at the University of California, where he obtained his B.A. in 1882 and wrote three papers in as many years. In 1882, his paper “Chamisso in San Francisco in 1816” appeared in the Pacific School Journal. The following year, he wrote “The Data of a Science of Comparative Literature” (University of California Library). In 1884, his article “Chinese Immigration” was published in The Nation.

 

By 1882, Senger was teaching not only languages but also mathematics. In 1884, he taught history as well. It was following a history lesson in the summer of 1884 that Senger was accused of advocating sectarianism. The school’s principal at the time, John Swett, summarized the affair years later in his book Public Education in California, Its Origin and Development, With Personal Reminiscences of Half a Century (1911).

 

Furthermore, the teacher of a class in general history and Latin, Henry E. Senger, made some remarks on a topic in medieval history which offended some Catholic parents; whereupon he was disciplined by the board and the school superintendent with a suspension for one month. I endeavored to save him from this sentence, but without avail. He resigned, and secured a position in the University of California as assistant professor in German.

The Senger affair was covered in far greater detail on the pages of the Daily Alta California, a San Francisco newspaper. Several of the paper’s issues in August 1884 devoted considerable column space to the unfolding drama. Senger was initially suspended for one month by the Board of Education for allegedly teaching anti-Catholic doctrine. The suspension came with the loss of one month’s salary, to the tune of $160. Senger complained that the investigation of the special committee was illegal and unfair. In response, the Board of Education appointed a new committee from its own body. During the new investigation, Deputy Superintendent O’Connor testified:

 

From the statements of some of the girls, it appears that one of them disputed what she understood the teacher to have said — that Luther made the first translation of the Bible. He answered that it was the first German translation. The girls were examined as to Professor Senger’s alleged statement that at one time there were three Popes, who cursed one another. There was conflict of testimony on this point, only one girl saying she was sure he said so. I think there was only one, but I am not sure. The question was asked whether Professor Senger’s manner was such as to lead the girls to believe that he was opposed to, or in favor of, any particular creed. Some answered yes, that it could be seen that he was anti-Catholic, while the Protestant girls agreed that his manner showed no sectarian preference.

 

After much discussion, both pro and con, Senger’s 30-day suspension continued in force, but he did not resign at that time. The resignation came in July 1885, after the Board of Education revised the history curriculum, beginning the course at the year 1603. Following Senger’s resignation, the board’s president announced that the revision was a mistake, and that instructions had since been given to school principals to begin the history studies at the year 1500 and not at 1603.

It was during this period that the Sengers’ two daughters were born—Florence Mary in 1884, and Alice Louise in 1886.

Senger began his career at U.C. as an instructor of German in 1886 and obtained his Ph.D. from the same institution two years later. The degree of Doctor of Philosophy was instituted at the University of California in 1885, and Senger’s doctorate was the first awarded in Greek.

In 1888, the Daily Alta California reported, “Henry Senger, instructor in Greek and German at the University, has commenced the erection of a pretty cottage on Blake street, near Fulton.” This cottage was never mentioned again, and the Sengers continued to live in San Francisco until 1893 or so.

Excerpts from “The Senger House and Its Environment” by Daniella Thompson

The Sengers Move to Berkeley

Senger was first listed in the Berkeley city directory in 1894. He was renting a house at 2115 College Way (later Hearst Avenue), between Shattuck Avenue and Walnut Street. His landlord, the realtor Noah L. Freese, lived next door. The block on which their residences stood fell victim to the 1923 Berkeley Fire, and none of the houses that stood on it survived.

 

In September 1897, the Sengers entered into contract with the well-known architect and contractor A.W. Pattiani of Alameda to construct a three-story house at 2144 University Avenue for the very substantial consideration of $6,372. The owners were listed as J.H. & Lucy Senger & Mary Pownall. Lucy’s widowed mother, who remained in Columbia after Dr. Pownall’s death in 1890, evidently helped with the financing of this house.

 

Alfred Washington Pattiani built his reputation on highly ornamented Queen Anne structures,9 but toward the end of the 19th century, he began designing in the newly fashionable Colonial Revival style. An example of Pattiani’s new design style can be found in a shingled 1898 house he built at 1421 San Antonio Avenue, Alameda.

 

No photograph of the Senger house on University Avenue has been found, but the outline of the house in the 1903 Sanborn fire insurance map shows a rectangular structure with a side entrance, an off-center bay window on the street façade, and another bay window on the east wall close to the street façade — no turrets, no cross gables. It must have looked much like 1421 San Antonio Avenue in Alameda.


The Sengers owned 2144 University Avenue until 1906. A 1904 newspaper account described this house as “palatial” and containing 22 rooms. When the Sengers lived here, the block was entirely residential, with the exception of a large array of greenhouses at the southwestern corner. To the east, directly across Oxford Street, was the university campus. To the west was Shattuck Avenue and the Southern Pacific train station.

 

The university president’s biennial report of 1902 announced that for the year 1902– 1903, Associate Professor Senger will be absent on leave. The Sengers leased their house to Albert Kleinschmidt, a mining entrepreneur from Helena, Montana, who brought his college-age children to Berkeley to be educated.

 

During Senger’s leave of absence, he and Lucy took their two teenaged daughters to Europe. Much of their time was apparently spent in Germany, although the press reports on their exact whereabouts were inconsistent. The San Francisco Call announced on 21 July 1903 that the Sengers were returning from a year’s tour of Europe, and that the “Misses Senger have devoted some of their time to studying music in Munich.” When Florence Senger’s engagement was announced in November 1904, the Oakland Tribune reported that “she spent a year in Dresden in studying music and languages.”

Having returned to Berkeley, the Sengers soon moved to a new home at 1429 Spruce Street. Recently built, that house stood in a row of rental properties belonging to Charles E. Boudrow, a ship chandler and real estate investor who was the nephew of Captain Charles C. Boudrow11 and who, like his uncle, lived in the neighborhood.

 

Why did the Sengers move away from their grand home? My speculation is that they wished to get away from a fast-developing downtown, which was transforming their residential neighborhood into a commercial hub. The introduction of the Key System’s streetcar service in 1903 hastened the process of urbanization, and there was money to be made from a property so advantageously located.

 

On 31 October 1904, the Oakland Tribune announced the Senger residence had been leased to a hotelier and would be transformed into a 22-room hotel.

 

There was a measure of bravado in the announcement. Arno H. Wilson ran a rustic cabin resort on Atlas Peak, 12 miles from the town of Napa, advertising “pure air, water; own milk, cream, fruit, vegetables; $8 to $11 per week.” Toward the end of November 1904, he began advertising his Berkeley-based Wilson’s Inn in classified ads under the Rooms and Board category.  

 

The ads were brief: “WILSON’S Inn, 2144 University ave.—A fine, modern house; central location. A. H. WILSON.”

 

This enterprise did not last long enough to be listed in any Berkeley city directory. In April 1906, the Sengers sold their University Avenue property to Martha E. Sell, a wealthy widow who invested in real estate. The house continued to be rented by the room until 1911, when Martha Sell erected a commercial building on the site. This building, 2154–2160 University Avenue, was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark in 2004.

About this time, Henry and Lucy Senger found themselves empty nesters. Their son George graduated in 1902 with a degree in civil engineering and joined the engineering department of PG&E’s precursor, the California Gas and Electrical Company of San Francisco. In 1904, he was stationed in Yuba County, where dams and hydraulic works were being constructed. Both his sisters married fellow U.C. students and moved away from Berkeley.

Florence Senger married Dudley V. Saeltzer, whose father was a founding partner in the McCromick-Saeltzer department store in Redding. In 1907, Maybeck designed for the newlyweds an opulent house at 2100 West Street in Redding, but little remains of his original design.

Alice Senger married Thomas Boyd Hutchins, a gentleman farmer from Gridley, Butte County. It’s unlikely that Maybeck designed a house for them.                              

                                                                                                                            Excerpts from “The Senger House and Its Environment” by Daniella Thompson

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Senger and Bernard Maybeck

Senger and Maybeck interacted on several plains. Both were of German origin, taught at the University of California, and were early members of the First Unitarian Church of Berkeley. In the small town that was Berkeley in the 1890s, they would have had ample opportunities to meet.

 

The First Unitarian Church of Berkeley was founded in 1891. The Maybecks joined as soon as they moved to Berkeley in 1892. Before moving to Berkeley, Senger was a prominent member of the Unitarian Club of San Francisco. In February 1893, he participated in a Unitarian Club banquet at the Palace Hotel, addressing the assembled with the following speech,

 

The Unitarian church is a church of the laymen, for the laymen and by the laymen. It is the democracy of God.

The layman’s comprehensive duty is to uphold through all adversity the truth of his own convictions. It seems to me that a great part of the responsibility devolving upon the laity in our church is involved in the proper education of the children. Let the children be brought up to study intelligently the truths of the Bible. Let them be taught the literary and the true value of that great book. Do not confine the teaching to an account of the facts related therein, but let them be instructed into the spirit of the whole.

 

In 1894, shortly after his move to Berkeley, Senger was already a trustee of the First Unitarian Church of Berkeley. On 29 January of that year, the San Francisco Morning Call reported that the trustees of the First Unitarian Church were about to “raise funds for the erection of a new church edifice by the issue of bonds at a low rate of interest.” The trustees named were J.L. Scotchler, D.L. Bishop, W.F. Trowbridge, Professors William Carey Jones and H. Senger, J.G. Wright, and C.W.P. Thayer. The Call’s article elaborated further:

 

A short time ago a fine lot, 150 by 170 feet on the corner of Bancroft way and Dana street was purchased. It is on this site that the new church edifice will be erected. It will be of stone and as fine in its way as the Unitarian Church of Oakland. The cost will not be less than $20,000. Architect Maybeck is now at work on plans and designs for the new church, and they will be considered by the trustees in the immediate future.

 

The $20,000 was never raised, and Maybeck’s plans were not executed. When the new church, designed by Albert Cicero Schweinfurth, was finally built in 1898, the estimated cost was reported to be a modest $3,695.

 

The year 1898 also marked the founding of the Hillside Club by Madge Robinson and May Gray, who were Unitarians. Their home was Weltevreden (1896), the first building designed by A.C. Schweinfurth in Berkeley. May’s husband, Edmund S. Gray, was a member of the church’s building committee and recommended Schweinfurth for the project.

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   Original Maybeck designed Hillside Club building, from “Who’s Who in Berkeley” (1917) George Sutcliffe, BAHA archives

Madge Robinson eventually married the photographer Oscar Maurer, for whom Maybeck would design a studio the same year that the Senger House was built.

As a Faculty Club member, Senger would have come into contact with Maybeck’s work on an almost daily basis. What he saw in the 1902 club building evidently appealed to his taste and likely inspired him in planning his own house.

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Contract record in the Daily Pacific Builder

25 February 1907

South side of BAY VIEW PLACE near Spring 2-story dwelling; $8,000

Owner: Prof. Joachim H. Senger, 1429 Spruce St. Architect: Maybeck & White, 1615 Arch St.

Contractor: William L. Boldt, 2610 Grove St.

Maybeck’s complex design for the Senger house is eclectic, blending disparate motifs to create a highly picturesque whole, but as Kenneth H. Cardwell noted, the architect “emphasized Germanic forms ranging from the medieval to the baroque to reflect his client’s interests.”

   

Several of Senger’s interests combined in the permanent installation of a painting by the German American artist Meyer Straus (1831–1905) on the north wall of the dining alcove. Straus, who established himself in San Francisco in 1875, specialized in landscapes, made sketching trips to Yosemite, and was, like Maybeck, a member of the Bohemian Club. Depicting a clump of redwood trees, the painting faces a glazed door looking out to a pair of towering redwoods in the south garden.

   

Senger’s interaction with Maybeck extended to the development of Unity Hall, the parish meeting house behind the First Unitarian Church auditorium building. Senger was one of the directors who founded the Unity Hall Association, whose incorporation was reported in the San Francisco Call on 8 February 1906.

 

UNITY HALL ASSOCIATION.—Oakland Feb 7. —Articles of incorporation of the Unity Hall Association of Berkeley were filed with the County Clerk to- day: The directors are Professors William Carey Jones and Henry Senger, and John H. Lathrop, W. H. Payson, J. Conklin Brown and Daniel Rowen. The association is a literary one and starts with a capital stock of $20,000 of which each of the directors has subscribed $100.

 

This time, Maybeck got the design job, and Unity Hall was erected in 1909.

The Christian Register, 28 October 1909

Berkeley, Cal.—First Unitarian Church, Rev. John Howland Lathrop: The beautiful parish house, to be known as Unity Hall, is just finished, and was first used September 10, when the regular monthly social took the form of a house- warming. It was an occasion of much significance to the parish, because of the long-felt need of such a building in which to house the various activities of the church, and the great efforts that had been made to secure it. […] Special recognition should be made of the services of Mr. B. R. Maybeck, the well-known architect and a valued member of the church.

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Although the Sengers attended various functions at the Hillside Club, the surprising fact is that they were never members.

Excerpts from “The Senger House and Its Environment” by Daniella Thompson

The Founding of the Sierra Club

 

Senger was one of the leading architects of the early movement to recognize the incredible

beauty and value of California’s natural wonders.                          

 

As early as 1886 he conceived the idea of establishing a library of mountaineering literature in the Yosemite Valley, and using this as a headquarters of mountain exploration. Later the idea expanded, and in 1890 the formation of a Sierra Club was pretty generally demanded by those who were actively engaged in pushing more deeply each year into the then practically undescribed regions of the High Sierra. Professor Senger discussed the matter with many of his friends, notably with Professor William D. Armes, of the state university, with Mr. Warren Olney, of San Francisco, and with John Muir.

 

On Saturday, January 16, Professor Senger called at Mr. Olney's office and the matter was discussed, this being the first of several such informal discussions. Finally, it was decided to call a meeting of interested persons for purposes of organization.

The following letter from John Muir, dated May 10, 1892, is the earliest document from him bearing on this subject.

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Shortly afterward, on May 22, 1982, came a second letter from Mr. Muir.

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And a final letter on May 25, 1982, from Mr. Muir.

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On Saturday, June 4, 1892, and at this the agreement of association, the articles of incorporation, and the by-laws were signed. The first board of directors was elected and consisted of: John Muir, President; Warren Olney, First Vice-President; J. C. Branner, Second Vice-President, William D. Armes, Secretary; J. H. Senger, Corresponding Secretary;  Mark B. Kerr, Treasurer; D. S. Jordan; W. D. Johnson and R. M. Price. It will be noticed that John Muir was the first president, and he held that office for twenty-two years, until the time of his death.

 

J.H. Senger presided, as acting chair, over the first general meeting of the Sierra Club on Friday September 16, 1892 at the hall of the California Academy of Sciences, 809 Market Street, San Francisco.

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Henry Senger's copy of John Muir's The Mountains of California. Courtesy Sierra Club Archives

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John Muir, Sierra Club members, and PresidentTheodore Roosevelt, 1903, Yosemite National Park

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