William Raymond Yelland was born in Saratoga, California in 1890. His father was a prune rancher, and the family lived on the prune ranch. His mother was a physician who received her degree from the University of California in 1886. Yelland trained at UC Berkeley, graduating with a B.S. in Architecture in 1913 when John Galen Howard was the program's director. He then spent a year at the University of Pennsylvania. During World War I, Yelland was stationed in France, and his time spent there influenced his architectural esthetic. He is believed to have worked in the offices of Bernard Maybeck and Walter Ratcliff after graduation. Licensed in California in 1916, Yelland joined the Oakland office of Miller and Warnecke in 1920. By 1924 he had set up an independent practice at 1404 Franklin Street in Oakland, where he remained for his career.
In 1930, Yelland married Edna Holroyd, a poet and librarian from San Mateo county, and traveled to Europe and Asia. Afterwards, he exhibited his sketches in local galleries and published them in the San Francisco Chronicle. He and his wife collaborated on Christmas cards and booklets--he did the illustration and she wrote the poetry.
Yelland's architectural style has been characterized as Medieval Revival, particularly the French Norman Mode. He described his style as vaguely "rural." one example of this style can be seen in the Richards House of 1926 in the Claremont section of Berkeley. It was built on property owned previously by Duncan McDuffie, a major developer of residential tracts throughout the East Bay hills and in San Francisco. McDuffie was also an advocate of conservation. He had enlisted the renowned Boston landscape architecture firm of the Olmsted brothers to lay out his westward sloping 14 acre site in a series of terraces. Another example in Berkeley is the Thornburg (or Normandy) Village of 1926-28. Colonel Jack Thornburg, then a student at UC Berkeley, hired Yelland to develop a self-sustained village with retail and housing, however zoning restrictions limited the project to residential apartment units. With the image of the rustic French village in mind, Yelland designed a structure that looked like a series of smaller units grouped together around a courtyard. The perimeter allowed additional open space to be accessible from the second story units by exterior staircases. Arched passageways provided a view to the courtyard. Various roof styles and stucco surface textures further added to the affect of individual units.
The fusion of medieval style with his sense of materials and the building process signified Yelland's projects throughgout the 1930's. At the end of the decade and into the post-World War II period, however, his style broadened to include California ranch houses and modernism.
In the early 1950s Yelland moved to Milan, where he passed away in 1966.Click on these links to view some of Yelland's Berkeley work. Thornburg Village is now known as Normandy Village.
|Front elevation, Thornburg Village, Spruce Street, built 1928||
Front entry, Thornburg Village on Spruce Street
|Front entry close-up, Thornburg Village, Spruce Street||
Gable wall, Thornburg Village on Spruce Street
|William R. Yelland Cafe||
1781-1839 Spruce, Normandy Village
Robert Winter. Toward a Simpler Way of Life, The Arts & Crafts Architects of California" University of California Press. 1997