Superintendent's Residence

The Superintendent’s Residence is one of four Nelles-era buildings that remain standing on the site. It was one of several buildings added to the complex during Fred C. Nelles’ tenure as superintendent to improve the school and fulfill the ideal of a cottage system for the school. The Superintendent’s Residence was Fred C. Nelles’ home on the Whittier State School site after it was constructed; as it was a requirement of the position to remain on site. As the home of Nelles, a figure of local and statewide importance, the residence was very significant; however, it was also architecturally significant, as well.  The Tudor Revival and Arts and Crafts features expressed the ideals of Nelles’ cottage system, where small scale housing and common spaces were meant to inspire a sense of family and community among the young wards. The elaborate and picturesque residence provided a setting for Fred C. Nelles to be the emissary between the wards of the facility and Whittier community.

Architectural Character

The residence was a picturesque Tudor Revival-style building with Arts and Crafts influences. The residence was constructed of brick masonry laid in one-third running bond, with a combination roof clad in wood shingles. Sitting on a cement foundation, the residence housed a partial basement. The attached garage and servants’ wing, to the northeast were clad in stucco and a half-timbered façade. On the entrance or north elevation, the large brick chimneys, cross gable, tiered roof and contrast between the main section of the house and the garage wing provided a picturesque quality and created the false impression that the building was constructed in stages over time. The central portion of the house was two-stories in height, while two small single-story wings extended to the rear, creating a U-shaped footprint for this portion of the residence.

The first floor originally included an entrance vestibule, which led into the stair hall. The vestibule contained marble floors, a small closet and a half-bath beneath the stairs. To the northeast of the vestibule was the rear hall, a small room that connected to the attached garage wing of the house which provided a bedroom and bathroom for a servant, and access to the garage. The rear stair hall also connected to other servant spaces such as the laundry, kitchen and pantry. The main part of the house consisted of the living room, with oak floors and a large fireplace. The living room had double-doors that opened to the dining room. The dining room and living room had large windows and opened onto the patio or court in the rear of the house. The court was framed by the two wings of the house, to the southwest was a porch complete with marble floors, and the northeast wing had a bedroom with closet and full bathroom. To the southwest of the stair hall was the Superintendent’s study. On the second floor of the residence was one master bedroom with a dressing room, closet, and a bathroom, as well as three more bedrooms and third full bathroom. The original plans for the roof indicated the use of slate shingles, but currently the roof is clad in wooden shakes.

Floor Plans

The residence had an irregular shaped floor plan, combining the U-shaped plan of the main residence with the rectangular plan of the attached garage and servants’ quarters. The house plan was dominated by the centrally located living room and dining room, which opened out toward the south onto the central court. The other rooms in the residence included a stair hall, rear hall, five bedrooms, three bathrooms, kitchen, enclosed porch, and servant’s quarters, including its own bathroom. The floor plan was not modified after its original construction.

Historical Landscape Design

The residence also had significant landscaping, a variety of trees and bushes and plantings as well as constructed features like a fountain, stone benches, and short brick walls. The historic chronology of the road infrastructure adjacent to the residence and Administration Buildings was explained in further detail in the Administration Building form. The residence was accessed via a large open roadway that lead from the Visitor and Administration parking lot in front of the nearby Administration Building. The road ended at the west end of the residence, resembling a cul-de-sac, directly behind the Administration Building. Historically, this road led into the property; however, in 1965 the road was altered to fit the needs of the facility at that time.

A concrete pathway led from the road to the residence’s main entrance (the orientation of the pathway appeared to be original, but the concrete was not, as well as the concrete curbs around the perimeter of the front lawn as were depicted in historical photographs). Another concrete pathway led from the road, around the attached garage, to the rear of the residence where it joined a network of serpentine circulation paths through the rear landscaped yard (the serpentine paths and scored concrete paths appeared to be the oldest). Directly behind the residence was a large grove of trees. The landscape around the residence was not maintained; thus the landscape became overgrown and many trees and plants were not able to be retained.

Historic photographs indicated that the landscape surrounding the residence was lushly planted and some of the large trees in the rear appeared to survive from the 1920s and 1930s. The contributing landscape for the residence included a shallow front yard and large rear yard. It appears that the majority of the hardscape did not date from the period of initial construction and was added to the residence’s landscape over time. The features of the shallow front yard included the flower bed running along the primary elevation (all of the plantings were replacements), grass lawn, trees, concrete pathway to the front door (the pathway to the secondary door on the north elevation did not appear original), and the concrete pathway into the rear yard northeast of the garage.

Contributing features of the rear yard included the grass lawn with various mature trees, planting bed running along the rear elevation (all of the plantings appeared to be replaced and were not originally boarded by concrete edging), brownstone benches, a pathway leading from the side entrance on the east elevation north to the side gate near the garage, a pathway leading to a fountain, the brownstone fountain, and the sloping grade. The brownstone stone benches and fountain were historic fragments of the original 1891 Administration Building. The rear porch cover, large patio area built of square concrete pavers and central tree, and various pathways appeared to be later improvements. A historical photograph of the rear yard angled northeast towards the rear elevation showed the yard as a grass lawn with the pathway to the fountain in the lower left corner. Another historic photograph showed the side yard in front of the east elevation as a kitchen garden with rows of wood trellises and a concrete pathway leading to the rear yard. Despite the addition of the circulation paths, the narrow serpentine paths and scored concrete paths appeared to be older than the patio and concrete that had in-filled voids. Historical mature trees in the rear yard may included Canary Island Date Palms, Chinese Evergreen Elms, Avocado, and Grapefruit. The Jacaranda and Indian Laurel Fig trees most likely dated from the Mid-Century.

The fountain was located within the western portion of the rear yard at a lower grade than the eastern yard. An east-west pathway with sets of stairs led to the fountain. The configuration, orientation, and design of the path and fountain appeared to be original, but the path was repaved and brick retaining walls that lined the pathway were later additions.

The grounds of the residence included a detached garage to the northeast of the main house. The detached garage exhibited elements of the Tudor Revival-style similar to the attached garage.

Additional Information

For more historical information, including more building specifics, floor plans, and photos, download the HABS Report and reference page 74.

Physical History

Date of Erection

Constructed between 1919 and 1920


George McDougall

Builder, Supplier, & Contractors

The Division of Architecture at the State of California Department of Public Works



The main section of the residence had overall dimensions of approximately 70’ long by 44’ wide. The attached garage and servants’ quarters was approximately 36’ long by 19’ wide.


The residence sat on a reinforced concrete foundation.


The exterior walls consisted of a mixture of unreinforced masonry, organized in a one-third running bond, and stucco with half-timbering common for the Tudor Revival-style of architecture.

Structural System & Framing

All exterior brick walls were furred with wood lath, while other portions of the residence were made up of wood framing with cement plaster.

Porches, Stoops, Balconies & Bulkheads

Originally an open courtyard, the rear portion of the residence was converted into a covered porch area with the addition of a shed roof canopy and six wood posts.



The residence had two stairways. The primary stairway was located directly adjacent to the vestibule and contained an open newel staircase with an open string and balustrade. The newel posts featured decorative acorn-shaped wooden pendants. The second stairway contained a straight run staircase with a 90 degree turn near the second floor landing. The second stair case had an open string and balustrade with decorative newel posts similar to the main staircase.


The original oak flooring can be found throughout the residence. Historic plans showed marble flooring in the stair hall; however, the wood flooring appeared to be original, suggesting the original flooring plan was changed. Tile flooring in the upstairs bathrooms was replaced, as well as the wood flooring in the rear hall, which was covered with newer linoleum. The same linoleum was used in the kitchen as well.

Walls & Ceiling Finish

The walls and ceilings throughout the residence were finished in plaster and painted. The walls in the kitchen were clad in painted plaster and tile. The stair hall’s plaster walls featured decorative wood framing.

Decorative Features & Trim

Decorative features in the residence included the ornamental baseboards and door trim found throughout the residence. Many of the rooms featured decorative crown molding and picture molding common in houses from this period. The living room and dining room featured a chair rail encircling each room. The living room was dominated by a large brick fireplace along the west wall, decorated with wood trim and a wood mantle. Above the fireplace there was decorative wood trim forming a rectangle, flanked by two squares. Similar wood paneling was found in the vestibule and the stair hall. Additional details included wood built-ins found in the upstairs bedrooms and decorative wood cabinets in the kitchen. However, the kitchen cabinets were most likely a later addition since they did not match the historic drawings.


The majority of the original interior hardware remained in the residence. The extant doors have brass door knobs. The windows retained their original metal casement latches. Both the kitchen and bathrooms were updated with more modern fixtures.