Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Sun House – A HALS Adventure

On October 16, 2009 I visited the Sun House in Ukiah which is in Mendocino County off Highway 101. Ukiah is the county seat and has a nicely-scaled historic downtown. We drove from the coast over Mountain View Road enjoying the fall color – vibrant red poison oak and intensely yellow Big Leaf Maples – through Boonville to Highway 253. When we arrived in Ukiah it was well past lunchtime so I inquired of the first person we passed, “where should we have lunch?” Without hesitation she suggested Schat’s Bakery which was just around the corner at 113 W. Perkins Avenue – across from the courthouse.

What luck – they not only offered an assortment of appealing pastries which we bought two of, but great sandwiches. I ordered a half sandwich and ceasar salad and the sandwich was so large I could not eat it all – much more food than one usually gets with a whole sandwich and it was delicious. Sated we headed off to the Sun House and Grace Hudson Museum that I’d learned about from the Northern California HALS database of potential HALS sites.

The Sun House, so named because John and Grace Hudson incorporated a Hopi Indian sun sign over the front door of their new home.

Grace Hudson was an uncommonly successful and recognized artist of her time. She gained national recognition for her paintings and received an honor award at the 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition in Chicago. She was a prolific artist working primarily in oils creating over 600 paintings of local Pomo Indians.

My purpose was to study the landscape associated with the house. What I found was that much of the original garden that had been designed and installed by the Hudsons was still present.

The Sun House is located on a 4 acre parcel. In addition to the single-family craftsman-style home the property includes the original garage, Hudson-Carpenter Park, the Grace Hudson Museum and a shaded parking lot. A timber fence defines the front property line along Main Street. Brick columns mark a simple wooden gate with a hand-hewn iron latch and a straight, brick path aligns with the heavy timber front door. To the left of the front door there is a 25 foot totem acquired by John Hudson from Northwest Native Americans. To the right of the front door is a stone bench and further right is a mature Pistache Tree – one of six originally planted by the Hudsons.

The front garden is mostly lawn with a bronze sundial mounted on a brick pedestal and a curved brick path leading to the ornament. A mosaic and metal birdbath depicted in historic photos was not visible at the time of my visit having been temporarily removed for repairs. The front garden currently has fewer shrubs than depicted in historic photos that also show vines covering much of the front of the house.

The south property line is defined by a drive that accesses the parking lot that serves the Grace Hudson Museum. Between this drive and the Sun House is a garden that includes features installed shortly after the house was built including a rectangular brick patio surrounded by four rough-hewn stone benches and a raised brick planter that originally was an 8 foot square fish pond.

The south garden is lushly planted under the shade of mature Sycamore and Poplar trees. The understory plants appear to be relatively new additions. Towards the rear of the property there are two other garden structures designed and built by the Hudsons. A heavy-timbered trellis consisting of six 8x8 redwood posts support 6x6 beams that are topped by eight 4x6 crossbeams. A knarled Wisteria remains on this now deteriorated structure. The area under the trellis is paved with brick and there is another stone bench and a stone millstone.

The second structure on the southeast side of the house is a wishing well. A spring was known to be here as early as 1817, long before the Hudson’s purchased the property. Grace Hudson had a rusticated stone wishing well with a filigreed ornamented bucket holder built as a present for her husband.

A driveway runs perpendicular to Main Street on the north side of the property and passes under a heavy-timbered and simply-designed porte corchere to a small, one-car garage. Integrated into the timbers of the porte corchere is one of three bells collected by the Hudsons. The largest had been the Ukiah Fire Bell; the smallest was the bell from Redwood School and the third came from the Methodist Church.

Several mature camellia trees are planted along the foundation on the north side of the house and appear to be original. The park to the north of the house includes several mature trees that also appear to be original including a very large oak. Several large Redwoods were added later. Authors Lanson and Tetzlaff in their book “Grace Hudson Artist of the Pomo Indians – A Biography” include a reference to a rose garden as “an early addition” to the grounds but no rose garden remains as of 2009.

The House is a craftsman-style redwood structure designed by the Hudsons and their architect George L. Wilcox. Construction started in 1911 and took six months complete. The house is California Historical Landmark No. 926 and the property is on the National Register of Historic Places. The City of Ukiah acquired the property in 1975 after the deaths of Mark and Melissa Carpenter. Mark Carpenter was Grace Hudson’s nephew.

If you visit the Sun House be sure to allow time to see the garden, the interior of the house and the museum including the permanent and changing exhibits – oh, and be sure to eat at Schats.

1 comment:

  1. I've only been to Ukiah once and had no idea something like this place even existed up there in that sleepy town. Your article makes this a destination I would certainly strive to visit!