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Guide to the Mason-McDuffie Co. Records, 1904-1983
BANC MSS 89/12 c  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Corporate History
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Mason-McDuffie Co. Records,
    Date (inclusive): 1904-1983
    Collection Number: BANC MSS 89/12 c
    Collector: Mason-McDuffie Co.
    Extent: Containers: 27 cartons, 105 volumes [some housed in Cartons 28-33], and 56 oversize folders Linear feet: ca. 59.25
    Repository: The Bancroft Library.
    Berkeley, California 94720-6000
    Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
    Abstract: Correspondence, promotional literature, ledgers, deeds, job files, architectural records, real estate journals, company newsletters, and other materials.
    Languages Represented: English

    Information for Researchers


    Access to correspondence, minutes, financial records, and legal records less than 20 years old requires the written permission of a Partner or former Partner of Mason-McDuffie Co.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has been retained by Mason-McDuffie Co., and by Mason-McDuffie Co. successor entities. Single reference photocopies may be made.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Mason-McDuffie Co. Records, BANC MSS 89/12 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Material Cataloged Separately

    • Photographic materials have been transferred to the Bancroft Pictorial Collections.
    • Two Sanborn Fire Insurance atlases for Oakland (1911, indexed to 1931) and Berkeley (1911, indexed to 1917 and 1928) have been transferred to the Bancroft Map Collection.

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The records of Mason-McDuffie Co., 1904-1983, were given to The Bancroft Library on July 8, 1988 by Mason-McDuffie Real Estate Inc.

    Corporate History

    Joseph J. Mason, the founder of what was to become Mason-McDuffie Co., was born in London in 1844. In 1869, he emigrated to California in search of better financial opportunities, as did many of his contemporaries. In 1887, he moved his family from their home in San Francisco to Berkeley in order to open his real estate and insurance business. He also assisted in the growth of the city of Berkeley; among other activities, he helped to found the community's water department.
    After a slow start, his business began to prosper, and Mason began to think about taking on an additional salesman. The man he had in mind was Duncan McDuffie, an 1899 graduate of the University of California at Berkeley. Iowa-born McDuffie worked in the credit department of one of Oakland's largest stores, Taft & Pennoyer. As the store's insurer, Mason came to know McDuffie well; he also sold the young man a piece of property which he then re-sold for him at a handsome profit. Sometime around 1905 Mason invited McDuffie to join his firm and in March of that year the business changed its name from Joseph J. Mason Real Estate to Mason-McDuffie Company.
    Early in 1906, McDuffie persuaded two of his University friends, who were now teachers at San Francisco's Lowell High School, to come to Berkeley and try their hand at selling real estate. April 18th of that year brought the great San Francisco earthquake and fire; the ensuing months saw frightened residents turning their eyes eastward, and so began the housing explosion in the Berkeley area. McDuffie's friends, Perry Tompkins and C. C. Young, left teaching forever and joined Mason-McDuffie permanently. C. C. Young further distinguished himself by becoming a Governor of California. In 1906, the company headquarters were moved from Center Street and Shattuck Avenue to the northeast corner of Shattuck and Addison Street, into what is known today as the Studio Building.
    Between 1905 and 1917, the company built three of the Bay Area's most beautiful residential developments: Claremont (Oakland), Northbrae (Berkeley) and St. Francis Wood (San Francisco). Duncan McDuffie insisted that only the best architects and landscape designers work on the residence parks, which became noted for their harmonious blending of man-made and natural environments. This reflected McDuffie's insistence that the natural contours of the land be maintained, and that gardens be planted in each of the company's developments.
    Locally and nationally recognized architects were retained to work on Mason-McDuffie developments. Olmsted Brothers of Massachusetts designed the street plans for St. Francis Wood and for Park Hills, a 1930s development in the Berkeley hills; John Galen Howard designed the fountains in Northbrae and Walter Ratcliff was responsible for the design of some of the homes in that development; Henry Gutterson was supervising architect at St. Francis Wood, where the designs of Albert Farr and Julius Krafft were used for many of the beautiful homes; and William Wilson Wurster was supervising architect for the Park Hills development.
    Joseph Mason died in 1928, having been retired from the business for over 10 years. In 1929, the company moved its headquarters again, this time just across the street to the southeast corner of Shattuck and Addison. During the 1930s, Duncan McDuffie worked tirelessly with other individuals and groups to establish the East Bay Regional Park District and the California State Park System. During this time and until his death, he served terms as President of both the Sierra Club and the Save-the-Redwoods League.
    In 1940, Maurice G. Read became Chief Executive Officer. Born in Maine, Read was also a University of California graduate. Under his leadership, the company made an easy transition from the lean years of World War II to the post-war housing boom. Read's support of state and national real estate organizations brought greater recognition to Mason-McDuffie, as did the company's growing involvement in the field of mortgage lending. Under Read's guidance, Mason-McDuffie developed the Maravilla and Laurenita tracts in Concord.
    April of 1951 saw the death of Duncan McDuffie at age 73, mourned by his colleagues and friends in the business and conservation worlds. In 1966, Maurice Read died and Kenneth J. Warren was chosen the fourth head of the company. He had joined the firm in 1949, and had risen quickly in the real estate division. Warren spearheaded Mason-McDuffie's tremendous growth in residential and commercial loans, and in 1969, he oversaw the construction of the new headquarters building on Telegraph Avenue and Oregon Street in Berkeley.
    By 1981, the company had outgrown even this large facility, and began to formulate plans for the construction of the Pine Grove complex in Orinda. At the same time, the younger partners took the separate divisions of the company --real estate, insurance, loans --and formed separate corporations, selling the loan portfolio to the Weyerhaeuser Company.
    Robert S. Brickell was named President and Chairman of the Board of the newly-formed Mason-McDuffie Real Estate Inc. He had joined Mason-McDuffie upon graduation from the University of California in 1950. He was President of the Residential Sales Division at the time of the company change-over and was one of the partners who purchased the real estate division.
    Mason-McDuffie Real Estate Inc. was assigned responsibility for the records of Mason-McDuffie Company in 1982.

    Scope and Content

    The records of Mason-McDuffie Co. (1887-1982) pertain to the real estate, development, insurance, and loan activities of the company from 1904 through 1983, and include correspondence, promotional literature, ledgers, deeds, job files, journals, newsletters, and architectural records.
    Of particular note is the promotional literature for the Claremont, Northbrae, and St. Francis Wood developments; among these items are display ads, brochures, and specialty items. The company was also involved in the promotion of the city of Berkeley to home buyers, and this material is also of interest.
    The architectural records include site plans, working drawings, elevations, and specifications. Architects represented include John Galen Howard, William Wilson Wurster, Julius Krafft, Albert Farr, Miller & Warnecke, John Hudson Thomas, Henry Gutterson, John Hudspeth, Walter Ratcliff, and the landscape architecture firm of Olmsted Brothers.
    The life of Duncan McDuffie is represented by a collection of personal papers, which includes correspondence with a variety of conservation groups. Papers relating to the establishment of the East Bay Regional Park District are also found here, and include an extensive amount of correspondence with the firm of Olmsted Brothers, hired to survey the proposed park lands.