Historic Norris house in Palo Alto, CA.
Kathleen Norris, lauded author during the first half of the 20th Century
Backstory and Context
The Norris House (1927) enjoys historical significance mainly due to its inhabitants: Kathleen and Charles Norris, both of whom enjoyed fame for their literary works. Kathleen Norris once stood as the United States' highest-paid female author. Architect Birge Clark designed the home and remains one of the region's best-known masters of the Spanish Colonial Revival design.
Kathleen Norris published her first novelette, Mothers, in 1911 to instant acclaim and in the 45 years that followed, she wrote 90 novels, romantic stories, and mysteries. A common theme in her books involved a strong female character who embodied her ideal image of a fulfilled woman. In addition to novels, Kathleen also contributed articles and short stories to many magazines. She wrote a weekly column and answered 700 letters a week for Bell Syndicate, fulfilling a role later made famous by "Dear Abby" and Ann Landers.
Charles Norris served as his wife's agent and editor, but he was also a literary figure in his own right. While he did not produce the volume of literary work that his wife Kathleen did, he did compose numerous noteworthy novels. The literary community recognized Charles Norris as an author with a talent for writing dramatic works that included a message concerning social values. His works included the Amateur (1915), Salt, (1917) Brass (1921) Bread (1921) Pig Iron (1925), and Zelda Marsh (1927)
Before Charles wrote novels, he worked as an editor of several magazines such as Country Life, Sunset, and American. He was also very involved in social activities in San Francisco, belonging to several clubs, including The Bohemian Club, where he served as president.
In 1927, the couple lived in Saratoga, but they wanted to live closer to San Francisco. The Norrises sought a large house suitable for living, entertaining, and working (writing). Birge Clark, the architect, designed for them a Spanish Revival home that included enough bedrooms to provide for seven family members and five staff members, a four-car garage -- a huge garage in the 1920s, a secretary's office, an expansive, outdoor "Spanish kitchen," a croquet lawn and many fireplaces.
The final cost of $81,000 was a considerable amount of money in 1927, demonstrating the success and wealth of the writing couple, especially Kathleen. Indeed, when completed, the home stood as the largest and most expensive work executed by Clark in Palo Alto up to that time. Furthermore, the large house serves as one of Palo Alto's best examples of the Spanish Colonial Revival form, and it inspired numerous other architectural projects in the city for years to come.
Boghosian, Paula and John Beach. "Nomination Form: The Norris Home." National Register of Historic Places. nps.gov. https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/b43702d3-6c05-42e6-a4b4-1ff37588057e/
Palo Alto Historic Buildings Inventory: Notes of the Norris House by Birge Clark, Palo Alto Stanford Heritage. Accessed January 28th 2020. https://www.pastheritage.org/inv/invC/NorrisNotes.html.
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