Walter H. Ratcliff. Jr., Architect [1881-1973]
Walter H. Ratcliff, Jr. was born in London in 1881. The family immigrated to America in 1893, finally settling in Berkeley, California. Ratcliff attended the University of California, where he majored in chemistry and graduated with honors in 1903. During his undergraduate years Ratcliff developed an interest in architecture and designed his first speculative house in Berkeley in 1902. Over the next few years he designed and built a number of brown-shingle speculative houses in Oakland and Berkeley.
In 1904, Ratcliff attended the British School in Rome. Two years later, he returned to Berkeley and worked in the offices of John Galen Howard. By 1908, he had started his own practice, first in San Francisco, then in Berkeley (where it is now the oldest East Bay firm), and continued to design both great and small, mostly English-influenced homes. In 1913, the city of Berkeley appointed Ratcliff City Architect, in which position he developed a reputation for both design and economy. Mills College, the women's college in Oakland, appointed him campus architect in 1923; the school's desire for buildings in the increasingly popular Spanish Colonial Revival style sent Ratcliff traveling to Mexico to sketch buildings of the early Spanish colonial period. From that point forward, he alternated regularly between English and Spanish styles. Walter Ratcliff died in Berkeley in 1973.
† Janice Thomas and Fredrica Drotos, Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, Panoramic Hill, Alameda California, nomination document, 2004, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.