National Register of Historic Places in Alameda County

National Register #66000204: Joaquin Miller Abbey 8 September 2012
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National Register #66000204
The Abbey
AKA Joaquin Miller House
Joaquin Miller Road and Sanborn Drive
Built 1886

Joaquin Miller's house is a small three-part frame building at the foot of the steep hills East of Oakland. Composed of three single rooms joined together, the so-called "Abbey" must be seen as the most provincial of efforts to impose gothic-revival detail upon the three rooms.

Two of the rooms, with gabled roofs, have their narrow side to the front, while the third, with broad side front has a flat roof and overhanging eaves. Attached to the flat-roofed room is a curious open lean-to, which apparently is without purpose.

Monuments to Joaquin Miller's admired men are scattered in the nearby hills. Each of them is hand-built by Miller of rubble. A cylindrical castellated monument memorializes Robert Browning, an elongated cube with two pointed and two slit windows memorializes John C. Frémont, and a pyramid is dedicated to Moses, the biblical figure.

Finally, the site contains a funeral pyre built by Miller for his own cadaver, which pyre, however, was never used despite Miller's own death in 1913.

Extracted from the NRHP nomination.

Cincinnatus Heine Miller was born in Indiana in 1837. In 1852, his family traveled by a covered wagon to Oregon where they homesteaded. Cincinnatus took to the wild west, following a turbulent career as a miner, judge, student, teacher, Pony Express rider, and editor.

When his first book of poems, Specimens (1868), met with limited local interest, Cincinnatus assumed the name of the West's most notorious outlaw, Joaquin Murietta, and migrated to England where he immediately grasped the potential of his natural showmanship.

In England, parading about in red shirt, high boots, and a broad sombrero, Joaquin established himself as the center of attention in certain circles, performing such zany acts as smoking three cigars at a time, and biting the ankles of squealing debutantes in Mayfair drawing rooms. He provided the English with just what they expected of a California frontiersman. In 1871, the publication of his Songs of the Sierras was loudly acclaimed.

After a brief visit to America, which confirmed his unpopularity at home largely because of his lack of learning and his unrealistically romantic depiction of the West, Miller decided to console himself with more foreign travel.

He visited South America, Europe, and possibly the Near East, while grinding out poetry and prose. He returned to the United States in the early 1880s and briefly lived in New York, Boston, and Washington, but he found these cities too crowded.

In 1883, he remarried. In 1886, he settled permanently in Oakland, California, purchasing a hundred acre estate known as "The Hights."

Adapted from the NRHP nomination.

The Abbey is also California Landmark 107.
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