Like the rest of America, the small agricultural town of Medford, Oregon began the 20th century with great expectations. Convinced of their bright prospects, the local boosters commissioned a well-known Chicago urban designer to prepare an ambitious plan for the town’s future. Illustrated promotional booklets were distributed nationally touting the region as the model for a “new agricultural Eden.” The campaign was a success. By 1910 Medford had grown to 8,840 residents, a 500% increase over the previous enumeration. (US Statistical Handbook) With a growing list of public amenities including an opera house, University Club, Natalorium (indoor swimming pool), 5.5+ miles of paved streets, 15 miles of modern sewers and a train depot, the town congratulated itself on its progress and threw a four-day celebration--Jubilee of Visions Realized. (Joy B. Dunn. Land in Common, 1993 and Oregon Historical Quarterly. Summer, 2001) The community invited the whole country to come and experience the beauty and bounty of Jackson County life.
One of the newcomers who came and stayed was Seattle businessman and hotelier Samuel Rosenberg. Buying the 240-acre Bear Creek Orchards, Rosenberg relocated his family to Medford and enthusiastically embraced the town and its apple and Comice pear culture. (Medford Mail Tribune. April 3, 2004) A talented merchandizer, Sam soon devised a marketing plan to use the local railroad connections to sell his orchard’s produce to buyers on both American coasts and to Europe.
His sons, Harry and David, preferred animal husbandry to fruit orchards. Attending Cornell University in New York State, the brothers studied the economics of the wool industry. After graduation they purchased 1000 Rambouillet sheep for a ranch near Medford. Their plans changed after Sam died unexpectedly in 1919. The brothers sold their flock, grazing rights and ranch changing their focus to the family’s fruit business. (The National Wool Grower. February, 1919) Gifted entrepreneurs, Harry and David would become 20th century marketing icons developing an extensive fruit-centric mail order business and innovative Fruit of the Month Club. Sending a gift from "Harry and David" soon became a universal symbol of corporate largess.
As the business grew, Harry and David Rosenberg emerged as community leaders in Jackson County. David married Muriel Kinney, the only daughter of a “well-known merchant” (Medford Mail Tribune. November 5, 1928) while Harry stayed single focusing on his extended family and the complex Bear Creek Orchard operations. As an acknowledgment of his growing social standing in Medford, Harry lived in a residence in the established area of Oakdale Avenue.
In 1937 the Chicago Tribune (December 30, 1937) announced the marriage of Mrs. Eleanor Hunter, daughter of Judge and Mrs. William Richardson Hunter to Harry L. Rosenberg. Eleanor, an executive with the advertising firm of J. Walter Thompson, was living in Chicago with her sister when she met Rosenberg. With her many years of experience in retail marketing, Eleanor had a keen appreciation for what the brothers were creating in southern Oregon.
Though a Midwestern native, Eleanor quickly became part of Medford society. Soon after her marriage, the new bride was introduced to 100 of the most important Medford ladies at an afternoon tea hosted by her sister-in-law Muriel. (Medford Mail Tribune. February 20, 1938) With extensive real-world experience, Eleanor applied her business know-how to the home service programs of the Red Cross. During WWII she organized local study groups and participated in national panels where she stressed the value of integrating new foreign war brides into American society. She opened the family home on South Oakdale Ave to charity teas, lady’s clubs and orchard business dinners. Soon their home was too small for the Rosenberg's growing family and community commitments. (The family legally changed their name to Holmes after Harry and Eleanor's marriage.)
In the late 1930s Eleanor and Harry made the decision to build a bigger home. They selected a site on 12 acres in the undeveloped Modoc Avenue area in the Rogue Valley near their orchids. After much consideration and consultation, the couple contracted with Los Angeles architect Paul R. Williams. Though not licensed to practice in Oregon, Williams quickly established a collaboration with the respected local architects Frank Clark and Robert J. Keeney.
Living in a small Oregon town did not isolate Harry and Eleanor from changing trends in American residential architecture. Like the rest of America during the 1920s, Medford experienced the popularity of Spanish revival architecture. While first time homeowners continued to want this familiar building type, more affluent buyers turned to fresher historic styles —Tudor, Georgian and Colonial. Glossy design magazines featured the new looks now favored by these trend setters. Eleanor Rosenberg might have been intrigued by what she read or experienced first hand as she visited Harry's wealthy business customers on both coasts.
The Los Angeles residences of Charles Correll (1937) and Jay Paley (1937) were frequent examples of Paul Williams' interpretation of modern California Georgian revival highlighted by design magazines at that time. Might one of these photo essays been the catalyst for Eleanor and Harry as they selected their architect and building design? In his 1980 oral history interview for the Southern Oregon Historical Society, Robert Keeney remembered his work on the Holmes project. "Harry saw a home down there that he liked. And he wanted something just about like it...it was something just about like that he wanted" but Williams told him, "I won't sell you somebody else's house..." Instead Williams agreed to design a home customized for Eleanor and Harry's Oregon life.
Well-educated and cosmopolitan Eleanor was an ideal Williams’ client. Unlike some of Williams’ female clients not comfortable with new wealth, Eleanor recognized the difference between a fashion fad and enduring grace. Working for Marshall Field and Company as a staff writer for Fashions of the Hour, she knew what American women wanted. (JWT Newsletter. October 15, 1927) Carefully creating text and images to harness the buying power of an American woman who valued self-improvement and keeping up appearances, Eleanor’s sophisticated articles made reading Fashions… a must for Midwestern women striving to keep au courant. Interviewed in a contemporary advertising publication Eleanor shared her philosophy, “Women are not influenced by logic and reason … but by their emotions.” (People, a publication of J. Walter Thompson Co., October 1937)
Paul Williams’ 1940s design for the 5,500 sq. ft. Rosenberg residence was an excellent example of his sophisticated, stream-lined California Georgian style placed in a beautiful natural setting. With rooms showcasing views of the surrounding hills, swimming pool, Mount Ashland or the nearby Siskiyou Mountains, Williams created a city home with “the illusion of being out in the country.” (Mail Tribune. August 29, 2008) Like Williams’ other Georgian designs of that era, the Holmes' residence was approached by a landscaped, curved, paver driveway leading to an impressive frontcourt entrance. Anchored by an inviting portico with both pediment and columns, the entrance was flanked by a one-story garage wing with archway. The front portico was intimate and scaled for a building smaller, but similar to the Paley and Correll mansions in Los Angeles. Like the much-written-about Paley residence, this home had elaborate landscaped gardens that expanded the living space. Also, like the Paley home, the Holmes had an in-ground swimming pool installed—one of the area’s first.
Today though the residence is currently being repurposed as a community hospice, the intimate flow of the interior spaces remains faithful to Williams’ design. The elegant public rooms still open to the outdoors bringing a classic Williams’ California feel to the southern Oregon residence. Much of the custom ironwork also remains, including the metal work surrounding the swimming pool and a graceful wrought iron banister to the second floor.
For ten years this home functioned as the ideal backdrop for the Holmes’ family life and entertainment schedule—whether entertaining the Medford Garden Club in the afternoon, the evening Contemporary Book Club or the Junior Red Cross. Though Eleanor died prematurely in 1948 the Holmes residence and its extensive grounds continues to be an important Medford community asset.
Special thanks to George Kramer of Kramer and Company for his comments and insights on the current Holmes' residence repurposing. (2016)