Roselawn (sometimes referred to as ‘Rose Lawn’) was a historic estate located in North Oaklandʼs tony Claremont district, just south of Berkeley. Originally laid out by Oregonian transportation pioneer John C. Ainsworth upon his 1880 retirement, Roselawnʼs first heyday lasted barely a decade: its ultra-fanciful Victorian structures and many of its gardens burned in September 1890,1 and the poor disheartened Capt. himself died in late 1893.

Thereafter the property sat untenanted, as few home buyers were in any position to afford a 15-acre estate, especially one so star-crossed, and in such dire need of immediate, expensive renovation. Even without buildings, the setting — back then — should be understood to have been an exclusive country retreat, reserved for those with “more money than God”. (Capt. Ainsworth, it should be noted, had a town in Washington named after him; the state park in Oregon was named for one of his sons.)

But Roselawn never doubted her Prince would return someday. So she sat, patiently awaiting another Gilded-Age Bezos.

Roselawn reawakened a decade later, when mining maniac, “excellent horseman” and noted Oakland hater Charles Butters bought the property in 1903, with plans for some quick upgrades. 2 What he did not mention at the time is that he also wanted the property for use as an ideal secluded location for his secret laboratory (yes, really). Between 1903–1927 Mrs. Butters hosted many lavish parties there, even as, barely a few yards away, workers would occasionally be explosively defenestrated from her husbandʼs . . . er . . . “workshop”.

Good times.

Roselawn was covered in the Summer 1994 Oakland Heritage Alliance newsletter, as shown in the scans below. Also shown below is a 1911 Sanborn map excerpt showing the extent of the Butters property at the time. Mr. & Mrs. Butters' property interests at the time extended west of Roselawn, and included property that Mr. & Mrs. Butters purchased in 1905, which itself was subsequently sold to P.O. Boyd and subdivided into a development called Chabot Gardens that included the creation of Presley Street. 3 4 Roselawn itself became a subdivision called Oaklawn Manor a few years later.

1911 Sanborn

Links and References

  1. "Roselawn" In AshesOakland Tribune, September 18, 1890
  2. Roselawn Has Been SoldOakland Tribune, May 30, 1903 (note erroneous reference to Charles as "S.L. Butters," which was actually the name of his mother)
  3. Excerpt from Official Records, Oakland Tribune, May 17, 1905
  4. Map of Chabot Gardens, filed September 28, 1923 Chabot Gardens map.pdf