Tuesday, October 09, 2012
Chuck Williams and His Earthquake Shack
A week ago today, Williams-Sonoma founder Chuck Williams celebrated his 97th birthday. Could an enthusiasm for good food and hard work be the secret to his longevity?
You might remember that I posted a few 1970s-era photos of Williams' San Francisco kitchen a few months ago. (Click here to read that post.) After that post was published, a reader, Robert Ruiz, very kindly emailed me a 1989 Architectural Digest article which featured this very same home. I am showing the AD article photos here.
According to the article, Mr. Williams bought his "earthquake shack" in the early 1960s. In the wake of the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the city built and situated small clapboard dwellings in Golden Gate Park for those left homeless by the disaster (twenty thousand people, in fact.) A year later, with the city's residential district mostly rebuilt, the city offered to give those cabins to those who were living in them on the condition that they move them to permanent, residential sites. Williams' shack was moved by horse and buggy to its current location on Nob Hill, near the intersection of Sacramento and Leavenworth.
When Williams bought the shack, it was little more than four rooms with an outside bath. No surprise that he embarked on a renovation, one that appears to have modernized his home without losing any of its historical charm. Part of the renovation entailed going down into the ground into a primitive storage cellar, a space that eventually became Williams' small but efficient kitchen and dining room.
What you'll see in these photos is an abundance of country antiques, many of which Williams picked up during his European travels. There are oak gate-leg tables, Luneville plates, faience, cooking accoutrements, and books. What a delectable combination! The article also mentions Williams' preferred style of entertaining. Just as he exclaimed in the 1972 article about which I previously wrote, Williams kept the size of his dinners and lunches to around four to six guests. In good weather, cocktails, after dinner coffee, and weekend lunches were (and perhaps still are?) held on the terrace just off of his kitchen and dining room.
On another note, Robert also mentioned that the recently published biography on Williams, Merchant of Sonoma: Pioneer of the American Kitchen, is an interesting read. The book not only includes some of Williams' favorite recipes, but it also features pages devoted to some of the now-essential cooking equipment that Williams helped to popularize, including the Kitchen Aid mixer, Le Creuset cookware, and the Apilco cow creamer.
Sounds like hearty belated birthday greetings are in order. A happy belated birthday, Mr. Williams!
The dining room that is located on the ground floor.
A sitting area on the ground floor where guests relaxed.
An oak dresser holds Luneville ceramics.
Two views of the kitchen. When this article was written (1989), the range was over thirty years old. Williams said that he was devoted to it and knew its quirks quite well.
An exterior view of the clapboard earthquake shack.
All photos from Architectural Digest, 1989, John Vaughan photographer.