Ida McCain

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Ida McCain
Born(1884-08-27)August 27, 1884
Fort Collins, Colorado, US
Diedafter 1937
Other namesIda Florence McCain
Alma materColorado State Agricultural College
Years activeca. 1903–ca. 1930

Ida McCain (1884–after 1937) was an early 20th-century American architect active on the West Coast at a time when there were few women in the profession.

Early life and education[edit]

Ida Florence McCain was born in Fort Collins, Colorado, on August 27, 1884, to James Milton and Hannah H. Oelrich McCain. She was one of six children, with brothers Robert, Walter, and William Arthur (who later changed his name to Arthur William), and sisters Emma and Edda (who later changed her name to Eda).[citation needed] Her father died when she was 12 and her mother remarried, becoming Hannah King. She attended public school and then at the age of 15 entered Colorado State Agricultural College. After her first year in college, while still undecided as to her future career, she discovered that an architectural course had been introduced and decided to take it.[1] Despite her high marks, she was initially turned down for the course, but she persevered and eventually got in, the only woman to register for the course.[2] Although she never got much more formal training than this and never obtained an architect's license at all, she went on to become an extremely successful San Francisco Bay Area architect and builder.[3][4]

Architectural career[edit]

McCain moved in 1903 to Los Angeles, where she worked for church architect Lawrence B. Valk for a year. She then took a job as architect in the Lambert & Bartin building company and after a year was made partner. In 1909, she moved to Portland, Oregon, with her mother, her brother Arthur, and her sister Eda. McCain went into business with Arthur and her sister Eda's husband Charles Spencer, both of whom set themselves up as contractors. They founded the firm Spencer-McCain and built houses in the environs of Portland for about five years, of which at least ten still survive, some in the Laurelhurst area.[5] One of McCain's finest buildings, called an East Side landmark in contemporary newspaper stories, was the C.K. Henry House, a large granite-and-wood building designed in a loose Arts and Crafts style, with such features as internal French doors, mahogany paneling, and a covered sleeping porch with flooring of local tile.

In 1914, McCain returned briefly to Los Angeles and then transferred permanently to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1915. She became an architect for the real estate developers and builders Stephen A. Born (whose architectural department she ran) and Baldwin & Howell, often designing one-of-a-kind homes for their clients. Baldwin & Howell ran advertisements for their Westwood Park development in the area west of Twin Peaks in San Francisco featuring a photograph of McCain, with the ad copy written in the first person, as if by the "expert bungalow designer" herself.[1] Local architect Charles F. Strothoff designed some 70% of Westwood Park's 650 bungalows, and McCain designed almost all the rest.[6] By the mid-1920s, she had struck out on her own, buying property and designing large houses in the St. Francis Wood and Monterey Heights areas of the city. She took out ads in city newspapers playing up her expertise in bungalow design and her ability, as a woman, to anticipate the design needs of "her who spends more time than anyone else within the home."[2]

Altogether, McCain designed several hundred Arts-and-Crafts-inflected and Romantic revival Edwardian bungalows and villas in the Bay Area in the 1910s and 1920s, especially in the middle-class enclaves listed above, plus Lincoln Manor (near Lincoln Park in the Richmond District of San Francisco) and San Mateo Park in San Mateo. At a time when very few women were practicing architects in America, she could be hailed as "San Francisco's Woman Builder" by one leading developer.[2] The best known of her professional rivals in the Bay Area would have been Julia Morgan and Emily Williams, while over in the East Bay Leola Hall was just getting out of building houses around the time that McCain hit her stride.[7]

McCain's bungalows were often somewhat offbeat versions of that staple of informal West Coast living, typified by such features as exposed beams, fireplace inglenooks, pocket doors, big closets, wooden wainscoting, and clinker brick porches. Her two-story villas, for instance in Lincoln Manor, tended to be more formal, elegantly mixing Arts and Crafts details with classical elements and often featuring large dining rooms and open floor plans ideal for entertaining.[2][3][8]

In 1930, McCain was living with her mother and older sister in a San Francisco apartment building that she owned. After 1937, nothing further of her life is known, and her death date is uncertain.[1][2]

Partial list of buildings[edit]

  • 796 Faxon, San Francisco, California (1918)
  • 600, 676, and 701 Miramar Ave., San Francisco, California (ca. 1918)
  • 45 Upper Terrace, San Francisco, California ("Dettner House", 1916 or 1917)
  • 180 Westwood, San Francisco, California
  • 141 Westwood Drive, San Francisco, California
  • 475 N.E. Hazelfern, Portland, Oregon (formerly 115 HazelFern Pl; built before 1913; McCain's own residence)
  • 3391 N.E. Multnomah St., Portland, Oregon (with Spencer-McCain)
  • 1617 S.E. 23rd Ave., Portland, Oregon (with Spencer-McCain)
  • 4063 N.E. 29th Ave., Portland, Oregon (with Spencer-McCain)
  • 3033 N.E. 63rd Ave., Portland, Oregon ("Hibbard House", with Spencer-McCain)
  • 2817 N.E. Dunckley St., Portland, Oregon (with Spencer-McCain)
  • 444 N.E. Floral Place, Portland, Oregon (with Spencer-McCain)
  • 436 and 475 N.E. Hazelfern Place, Portland, Oregon (with Spencer-McCain)
  • 7468 N. Huron Ave., Portland, Oregon (with Spencer-McCain)
  • 3641 N.E. Senate St., Portland, Oregon (with Spencer-McCain)
  • 2647 S.W. Talbot Rd., Portland, Oregon (with Spencer-McCain)
  • 1121 N.E. Glisan St., Portland, Oregon (1912, "Henry House", with Spencer-McCain; torn down 1966)
  • 1135 E. Glisan St., Portland, Oregon (1910, "Keeney House", with Spencer-McCain; torn down)



  1. ^ a b c d Allaback, Sarah (2008). The First American Women Architects. University of Illinois Press.
  2. ^ a b c d e Weinstein, Dave (2004-10-09). "Signature Style: Ida McCain: Builder of Bungalows: Renegade Ida McCain Brought Character to Hundreds of Homes for the Bay Area's Middle Class". SFGate. Retrieved 2014-12-02.
  3. ^ a b Horton, Inge Schaefer (2010). Early Women Architects of the San Francisco Bay Area: The Lives and Work of Fifty Professionals, 1890-1951. McFarland.
  4. ^ Hunt, Rockwell Dennis; Sanchez, Nellie van de Grift (1932). California and Californians. 4.
  5. ^ a b "Ida McCain". Laurelhurst Craftsman Bungalow. 2013-02-15. Retrieved 2014-12-02.
  6. ^ a b Cerny, Susan Dinkelspiel; Armstrong, Beth A. (2007). An Architectural Guidebook to San Francisco and the Bay Area. Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith.
  7. ^ Torre (ed.), Susana (1977). American Women in Architecture: A Historic and Contemporary Perspective. New York: Watson-Guptill.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Horton, Inge. "Women Architects in Northern California". Women Architects in Northern California. Retrieved 2014-12-02.
  9. ^ Proctor, Jacqueline (2006). San Francisco's West of Twin Peaks. San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing.