H. H. Brix Mansion (1911)
2844 Fresno Street
Edward T. Foulkes, Architect
The H. H. Brix Mansion is prominently sited on a large urban lot at Fresno and S Streets in downtown Fresno. The three-story, twelve-room mansion contains over 4500 square feet of formal living space. It adheres to the principal features of the Villa Style, including an L-shaped plan, an asymmetrically placed observation tower, smooth stucco finishes, and baroque ornamentation.
At first glance, the Brix Mansion has an almost austere quality. This effect results from the use of smooth plaster as the primary finish on all exterior walls. Ornamentation is almost totally restricted to structural openings, including windows, doors and larger passageways. Such decorative treatments vary widely in composition, but generally follow the precepts of the Villa model. Among these characteristic patterns are windows grouped in units of three, Corinthian mullions, and a simple foliated cornice windowhead. The basic windowform on the second floor is a double sash casement with a single-light transom. Clustered in couples and groups of three, or used alone, this basic window is surmounted by a shallow-relief spandrel panel in a foliated "bull's-eye" motif. A broad arcade composed of Tuscan columns runs between the tower and a porte-cochere. Such a loggia is typical of the Villa Style, althought the balustrade atop the Brix loggia has an inventive variation: clay tiles are used as screened inserts rather than turned balusters. Equally unusual are the free-standing iron railings, which are mounted between the columns along this veranda. These are necessary since the first floor is nearly forty-four feet above ground level.
The tower structure has a simple arched passageway that opens onto the loggia directly in front of the formal entrance. The front entry consists of a single-light natural oak door flanked by thirty-light sidelights. A flat-iron window grating is mounted on the door to protect the single glazed panel. Compared to this relatively simple entry treatment, the upper levels of the tower are dripping with ornament. The bedroom windows on the second floor are bordered by a running decoration of architectural paterae, fronted by a balconet, and topped by a cornice windowhead enriched with carved foliage, twin volutes, a heraldic escutcheon, split finials, and cabled pendants. Each of the three observation openings on the third deck of the tower have pairs of scrolled iron brackets. The tower is capped by a clay tile roof with a simple fascia, exposed scalloped rafter tails and dentils.
The main structure of the Brix Mansion has the heaviest cornice of any residence in Fresno. A simple striated fascia rests on exposed scalloped rafter tails, which in turn rest on a secondary fascia supported by enriched modillion brackets. A modified frieze is embellished with foliated "bull's-eye" ornaments and a band of continous cable molding. Rosette panels are inserted between each bracket along the soffit. A third, though much simplified, variation on this cornice is repeated on seven dormer-style attic windows. Even the chimney stacks are embellished with bull's-eyes and triglyphs, attesting to the architect's intricate understanding of classical detailing, and his ability to manipulate that vocabulary for dramatic effect.
The most elaborate rooms in the mansion are the reception hall, the dining room, and the living room. The latter has been divided into two office spaces. A gold-leafed cast plaster frieze, embellished with a low-relief Rinceau pattern, borders the cornice molding in the living room. A similar frieze composed of swags runs below the cornice molding in the reception hall. A transparent stain has been applied to darken these plaster details to a bronze tone, and the natural oak millwork in these two rooms also appears to have been stained to give it a darker finish. Two sets of French pocket doors in the reception hall have been replaced by solid-core oak doors for privacy, and the hardwood floors have been carpeted wall-to-wall throughout the home. Acoustic tile also has been installed on the ceilings, although with minor effect on the appearance of individual rooms. Exquisitely detailed fireplaces remain in both the living and dining rooms, which now serve as professional offices.
Other changes to the Brix Mansion have been minimal. Two upstairs sleeping porches were closed in with permanent windows, the upstairs master bath was converted into office space, commercial boxed fluorescent lighting was installed throughout, a forced-air refrigeration system was added, and an early solar hot water system was abandoned, although a rusted storage tank survives in the attic.
The Brix Mansion was constructed for Herman H. and Helena S. Brix in 1910-1911. Herman H. Brix made a pioneering contribution to the development of Coalinga and was influential in the commercial expansion of Fresno.
Born in Namslau, Silesia, Germany in 1862, Brix lost his parents and seven brothers and sisters in a cholera epidemic. After military service in Germany, he immigrated in the early 1880s to Eldora, Iowa. He left for California a year later. Brix and his wife were among the pioneering settlers of the Coalinga area, on the western edge of the San Joaquin Valley. After an unsuccessful attempt at grain farming, Brix left to seek his fortune in the Alaskan gold rush. Meanwhile, Coalinga underwent an oil boom. Returning with a modest stake from his Yukon endeavors, Brix formed a water company on his homestead and made a fortune investing in oil properties. By 1915, Brix and his associates owned 1400 acres of west-side oil lands. He was associated with the Confidence Oil Company, was President of the B & B Oil Company, President of the San Francisco Oil Company, a director of the St. Paul & Fresno Oil Company, and a one-sixth investor in the Coalinga Syndicate.
Having relocated to Fresno by 1903, Brix invested heavily in properties in that city after 1909. Not only did he commission his magnificent mansion on Fresno Street, but he was an important stockholder in the Hotel Fresno development. He also was responsible for the construction of the attractive four-story Brix Apartments in 1912. Though Brix died in 1915, his dream of a multi-story office building was accomplished by the Brix Estate in 1922 with the construction of the imposing Brix Building on Fulton Street.
In addition to its historical associations, the Brix Mansion possesses considerable architectural significance. Designed by architect Edward T. Foulkes, it represents a brilliant example of a period-inspired Italian Villa, the only residence in Fresno built in this lavishly-embellished style.
Adapted from the National Register of Historic Places nomination, originally prepared by Ephraim Smith and John Edward Powell.