“CA Modernist” columnist Dave Weinstein reports that the Berkeley house once occupied by Pauline Kael will soon be up for sale. Kael, who became one of the country’s most influential critics during her tenure at the New Yorker, began her career with an essay on Charlie Chaplin’s “Limelight” for San Francisco’s City LIghts magazine, and spent the latter half of the 1950s managing the Berkeley Cinema Guild.
“In the 1950s,” he writes, Kael “turned her house at 2419 Oregon Street into a Bohemian hangout, attracting writers, artists, Marxists, a pretender to the throne of Russia, the filmmaker Jean Renoir, poet Robert Duncan, and Duncan’s partner Jess.”
Those murals, including one depicting Kael’s daughter, Gina Broughton, may be worth well more than the 2,700-sq. ft. house itself (and if you know Bay Area real estate, that’s really saying something).
More from Weinstein:
Besides the presence of the murals, the Kael house has historic importance because of Kael’s place in cinematic and literary history, and because it was an important center for intellectual and artistic activity in the 1950s.
It also played a role in gay history as one of the haunts of Jess and Robert Duncan, mainstays of the still largely underground gay culture of the time in the Bay Area. Duncan, who was educated at UC Berkeley, as was Kael, wrote an early gay rights manifesto in 1944, ‘The Homosexual in Society,’ defining homosexuals as a repressed minority, like blacks. It was not a common idea at the time.
Writer David Pollock recalled first coming upon the scene at Oregon Street in the 1950s, in a California Monthly article from 2003:
“Pauline was in the position she occupied permanently in the house at all hours – hovering over a heap of manuscripts, scribbling loudly with pencil in one hand while alternating sips of Scotch and puffs of Camels with the other, and emitting little sounds of concern.”