George H. Howard, Agnes’s son and Architect

Portrait of George H. Howard, The Architect

George H. Howard, The Architect (1864-1935)

While the star of his older half-brother William H. Howard was apparently falling, young George’s was rising.  In April of 1888, when George was 24 years old, he wed Antoinette (“Nettie”) Schmiedell, the only daughter of wealthy San Francisco businessman Henry Schmiedell and his wife Fronie Warren Schmiedell.  Henry Schmiedell was a charter member of the San Francisco Stock and Exchange Board and its treasurer for over twenty years.

One thousand guests were invited to witness what the Daily Alta called “the most prominent wedding” in months on a Wednesday evening at 8:30 p.m. at Trinity (Episcopal) Church in San Francisco.  The flower arrangements were so grand that they “seemed to suggest that every hothouse and garden in the city and environs had been despoiled of their treasures.”  George’s mother, Agnes—still a beauty at 55—wore a low-cut cream-colored satin gown, covered with lace, with a court train.  In her hair she wore a reseda of egret feathers and carried a large fan of cream-colored ostrich feathers.  Her “ornaments were diamonds.”   The young couple went to Europe for over a year on their honeymoon.  By October of 1890, George and Nettie had returned to San Francisco and settled into their home at 1812 Gough Street—not far from Trinity Church where they were married.  The Howards “received guests” at their home on Wednesdays and began to build their life together.  Young George also began to build his career as an architect.

Burlingame Train Station with Carriages Waiting, 1903

Burlingame’s train station is a California State Historic Landmark due to its architectural significance.

One of George’s earliest architectural projects was the Burlingame train station (California Historical Landmark No. 836).   Unfortunately, both his father-in-law and his mother died before he completed the train station in 1894, the architectural project for which he is probably best known.  Accordingly, they did not share in the pride of 30-year-old George’s accomplishment.  On the other hand, George and his wife Nettie benefited greatly from her father’s accomplishments.  When Nettie’s father Henry Schmiedell died in August of 1894, he left the young couple a third of his estimated one-million-dollar fortune.  George never had to work again.  He devoted his life to architecture, travel and public service.

Howard House

Howard House,” George and Antoinette’s country home, featured many classical design elements.  Image courtesy: Howard Family Collection

George made numerous architectural contributions to the mid-Peninsula in addition to the train station, most of which were residential projects for wealthy friends or family members.  Before his mother died in 1893, George helped Agnes and her third husband Henry P. Bowie with the design of their new Peninsula home, Severn Lodge.1  Around the turn of the century, George and Nettie built a “country home” of their own, dubbed Howard House, in what is now Hillsborough. The home had classic design elements and a large formal garden, reflecting the deep impression that the family’s Grand Tour of Europe made upon the then-teenaged George.  In fact, Howard called the gardens surrounding his home Versailles Park.

In total, George designed approximately 75 homes on the Peninsula, including the Kohl Mansion.2  He also designed a few public buildings, such as the third clubhouse for the Burlingame Country Club.  Built in 1899, it was located near El Camino Real just south of today’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.  In 1907, he designed a clubhouse for the new San Mateo Polo Club, which is still in use today as the Hillsborough Racquet Club.  He also designed the building that currently serves as headquarters for the Hillsborough police department.

George Howard's police commissioner badge

The quail and oak leaves on George H. Howard’s police commissioner badge reinforced Hillsborough’s image as a place for gracious country living.  Image courtesy: Howard Family Collection

George’s civic contributions were also numerous. When George’s cousin, attorney Arthur H. Redington, led the charge in 1910 to incorporate the Town of Hillsborough—rather than allowing Hillsborough to be annexed by neighboring cities San Mateo or Burlingame—George stepped forward to serve as a police commissioner.

Keeping up with their social commitments and travel schedule was nearly a full-time job for George and Nettie Howard.  The social columns in the 1890s newspapers have frequent accounts of social luncheons and trips made by George and Nettie and Nettie’s mother Fronie to the Del Monte Hotel in Monterey and other destinations.  Frequently, George’s architectural commissions overlapped with his social commitments: When Jennie Crocker (daughter of Jennie M. Easton and Charles Frederick Crocker) married Malcolm Douglas Whitman in 1912, George was called upon to design a reception pavilion for the lawn of Jennie’s estate, Home Place.3  Typical of the social columns around the turn of the century is this glowing report from the July 18, 1892, San Francisco Call:  “No more charming hostess can be found in San Mateo than Mrs. George H. Howard who last Tuesday gave one of her characteristically delightful luncheons at her summer residence.”4

By the mid-1920s, George and Nettie had moved to France, where both of their grown sons, George Howard, Jr. (sometimes referred to as George III) and Henry S.P. Howard, were also living.

In 1932, George and Nettie’s son, George Jr., died at the age of 41.  George accompanied George, Jr.’s ashes back to San Mateo for burial.  In a tender letter to Nettie—still in France with Henry—George describes bringing his firstborn son’s ashes back to his childhood room at Howard House where outside the room the “mimosa is in full bloom now, being a riot of golden yellow.  I wish you could see it.  The place is quiet, peaceful and surely beautiful.  I would not exchange it for the principality of Monaco, or change places with the prince either.”  On the same trip, George, who had been living for a number of years in Paris, described his impressions of America in 1933, shortly after Roosevelt’s election.  Traveling across the heartland by train from New York City, George wrote:  “I did not realize what America was really like until I commenced my trip from ocean to ocean.  I feel as if I am in a strange country, amongst a strange people.”

In 1935, George died in Paris.  He was 71.  Antoinette (“Nettie”) lived another six years, until 1942.  Their sole surviving son, Henry Schmiedell Poett Howard died in 1968.  George, the architect of Burlingame’s train station and Kohl Mansion, is buried at St. Matthew’s Episcopal church together with his father, also named George H. and his son, George H., Jr.5

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1 The Bowies’ Hillsborough estate Severn Lodge was demolished in 1985; it formerly occupied the tract bordered by Severn Lane, Santa Inez and Roblar Avenues.  After Agnes died in 1893, her third husband Henry P. Bowie began spending a large portion of his time in Japan.  He became a Japanese language scholar, as well as an artist.  His book On The Laws of Japanese Painting is still held in high regard.  Bowie remarried while living in Japan and fathered two children there.  He died in 1921.
2 In 2012, eight Howard-designed homes were still standing in Hillsborough.  They are:  the home at 245 El Cerrito built for the Shreve jewelry family circa 1890; 120 W. Santa Inez circa 1903; 1 Homs Court circa 1905; 124 Stonehedge circa 1906; 108 Stonehedge circa 1910;  2155 Parkside circa 1913;  the home at 355 Hillsborough Boulevard built for Steward E. White circa 1919; Treehaven at 816 Hayne Road circa 1927.   “Historic Building Survey,” Town of Hillsborough, California, 1990.
3 Svanevik and Burgett, No Sidewalks Here, 45.
4 After praising details such as her table decorations, the reporter listed the friends entertained:  “Mrs. William H. Crocker, Mrs. Ansel Easton, Miss Babette Howard, Mrs. Beverly MacMonagle, Mrs. Frederick L. Moody, Miss Jessie Bowie and Miss Beth Sperry.”
5 Confusing as it may be, the family did not refer to George the architect as George, Jr. despite the fact that his father was also named George H. Howard. When his father George H. Howard died in 1878, his son George the architect was simply referred to by the same name.  Thus, there are two George H. Howards:  the husband of Agnes and the architect son of Agnes.  The third George H. Howard, the son of the architect, is referred to as “Jr.” Thus, his tombstone at St. Matthew’s Episcopal states “George H. Howard, Jr.”, not “George H. Howard III.”