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The Kiler House—1935

1184 Palo Alto Avenue, Palo Alto

1184 Palo Alto

Chrysella Ducker and E. Leslie Kiler married in 1926, five years after graduating from Stanford University. Leslie was a talented landscape architect with many designs throughout Palo Alto and Stanford during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Among his best known projects are Frost Amphitheater, the Lucie Stern Community Center and the residential gardens at 190 Island, 1928, 1950 and 1990 Cowper Street and at 420 Maple Street. The last–named was the home of Chrysella’s parents and the beginning of Kiler’s landscaping career. The multi–talented Leslie and Chrysella were also employed by Stanford’s Drama Department. As assistant to the drama coach, Leslie taught stage design, color and costuming. Kiler was also technical director for set design, while Chrysella was the costume and chorus director for operatic productions.

During these years, many artisans and their patrons became fascinated by the gardens and buildings of Spain. Like their peers, the Kilers embarked on a four month tour of Spain in the early ‘30’s. The influence of that adventure is evident in Kiler’s professional landscaping and in the house that he and his wife asked Charles Sumner to build for them in two stages. In 1931, Sumner built an Andalusian style landscape studio, and, a few years later, he designed their house adjacent to the studio.

Charles Kaiser Sumner (1874–1948) was born in Wilkes–Barre, Pennsylvania and graduated from Columbia University School of Architecture. After visiting Europe and the Middle East on a Perkins traveling fellowship, he worked under Charles Follen McKim at the prestigious New York City firm of McKim, Mead and White. A visit to the West Coast in 1906, inspired him to set up practice in Berkeley. Another move in 1916 brought him to Palo Alto where, between 1916 and 1941, he built over fifty Palo Alto homes plus 20 at Stanford. The Los Altos Golf and Country Club and the College Terrace Library are also his designs. Sumner was a master of the Eclectic movement, perfecting the details of many styles. Although he preferred the English Cottage, Tudor and Colonial Revival styles, he quickly excelled at the Spanish Colonial Revival style which swept through California in the mid–1920s. Sumner's houses, built for entertaining, were imbued with a feeling of permanence, restraint and composure, which he deemed elements of beauty.

chimney detail

The 3,800 square foot Kiler residence is L–shaped, with a two–story section rising at the west end of the front wing. A shallow pitched clay tile roof has an unusual decorative band of brick work at the eaves and is pierced by a delicately carved chimney. Because the house design follows the Spanish tradition of a private shelter from the public, the front façade turns its back to the street, presenting only two small, widely spaced and ornately grilled windows and an arched door.

entry lamp

The entry door, with its carved star pattern is a clue to an interior filled with richly hued mahogany floors and doors, glazed plaster walls and ceiling height windows. The studio has a vaulted, beamed ceiling while the living room ceiling has hand carved beams. In the living room, the fireplace is plaster with rounded pillars supporting a mantel piece which gently curves inward toward the ceiling. The feeling of an Andalusian villa is furthered by all the public rooms opening onto a pillared portico with a beamed eucalyptus ceiling.

arcade ceiling walk
detail window

Sumner believed that the garden bore an especially important relationship to the house. He was fortunate then to have a client like Leslie Kiler, who transformed the courtyard and gardens into one of the most beautiful retreats in Palo Alto. When the house was refurbished in 2007, many of Kiler’s plants, vines and paths and wooden gates remained. Three original olive trees surrounded by hedged-in jasmine exist in the courtyard. Kiler personally installed the intricate stonework, pebbles and pathways of the 18,000 square foot property.

Charles Sumner’s belief that the job of the architect was to “constantly take the trouble” to achieve beauty and Leslie Kiler’s knowledge of landscaping combined to create a little bit of Spain in Palo Alto. ©

© Margaret Feuer

PAST, May 8, 2015


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