On Santa Clara Street in Richmond, California, the Rickmond family residence is called the neighborhood palace. Behind a flagstone wall and sited on a hill, the modern Mediterranean-style house is unique for the area. Small for an upscale Williams’ design at 1700 square feet with 3 bedrooms, the split-level house is a reflection of the family who lived there.
Richmond is a small industrial town in the San Francisco area that grew rapidly with little planning during World War II. Centered around the railroad economy with access to ground tranportation and deep-water port, it became an industrial hub for defense manufacturing. Thousands of men and women converged on the area attracted by well-paying jobs including African Americans from across the country. Housing and infrastructure struggled to keep up with demand. After the war many defense workers left, but the African American migrants stayed, attracted by the slower pace and temperate climate. (Wheaton Williams, 1985 oral history, Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley) Howard University graduate Arthur E. Rickmond, MD was one of a small core of African American professionals who remained to serve this growing minority population.
When Paul R. Williams designed this deceptively simple, aspirational home in 1947 (image 3) for the "A E" Rickmonds, he knew their vision and life-style as he was a personal friend of the couple (AE and wife Loraine "EL"). The socially active Rickmonds loved entertaining friends and supporting social causes. Their network of friends included newspaper editors, politicians, artists, NAACP officials, and scores of bridge players. EL was the founder of the 25th Western Area chapter of the important women's organization LINKS. She also encouraged her husband to raise money to support passage of the 19th Amendment for women's sufferage. They insisted on a home with an open floor plan and landscaped setting that could accomodate parties with 100+ guests. The home included banks of windows showcasing the panoramic Bay views, a large landscaped terraced yard for the 7,800 square-foot lot, a small convenient kitchen with a dumbwaiter, an elaborate built-in bar, recessed colored lighting system and secret hiding places. AE relaxed in the garden with the sound of distant trains to recharge his spirits. EL considered the home and garden a personal space where she could paint, listen to music, meditate and “retreat with God.”
The Rickmonds married at a young age and lived in this home for decades. Arthur died at 58, but Loraine remained here with her son Charles until her death. She continued the Rickmond tradition of grand entertaining and social activism while insisting on her privacy. Though the park-like gardens comfortably held scores of people, the home had only three bedrooms and one full bath. Few were invited to stay overnight, however, Williams was a frequent houseguest staying for weeks at a time as he supervised projects in the San Francisco Bay area.
EL died at 101, still known as a free spirit. At the funeral a friend saluted her memory with EL's favorite toast “In it and at it. At it and in it. You better get at it while you’re in it, or you many never get at it again.” A perfect summary of the Rickmond philosophy of life and the spirit of the Williams' designed home.
Dr. Charles Rickmond continued to live in the residence until his death at 85 in 2011. Like his father, Charlie was a proud graduate of Howard University and would practice psychiatry for 53 years. Like his mother, he considered the house and gardens his retreat from the stress of a busy, demanding practice.
(Thanks to Denise Ronay, Rickmond Trustee, for her memories of the family and the house.)