A dead body on Panoramic Trail. A ghost town in the Sierra Mountains. A German professor who happens to be a werewolf. Mystery and science fiction writer William Anthony Parker White — known by his pen name, Anthony Boucher — brought these tales and many more to life in a second-floor office in a house right off Telegraph Avenue, often weaving Berkeley’s people and places into the backdrop of his stories.
Boucher lived at 2634 Dana St. from 1947 until his death in 1968. Now, new owners outside Boucher’s family have bought the historic house. As a final tribute on Saturday, Jan. 16, about 35 fans of his writing gathered to perform excerpts from his stories and dedicate a historic plaque in front of the home where Boucher helped shape the genres of mystery and science fiction.
“We were just fascinated by the fact the person to do the most to nurture modern-day mystery was working right here in Berkeley,” said Steve Finacom, a community historian and a founding member of the Berkeley Historical Plaque Project, which will install the plaque in the next few weeks.
The event was organized by Finacom as well as Randal Brandt, a UC Berkeley librarian and the editor of the online bibliography, Golden Gate Mysteries, about mysteries set in the Bay Area, and Janet Rudolph, editor of Mystery Readers Journal.
The plot of Boucher’s first murder mystery novel, The Case of the Seven of Calvary, involves a group of students living in the International House on the UC Berkeley campus. He also wrote scripts for the Sherlock Holmes radio show along with many other short stories and books.
But even more than his own fiction, mystery writers revere Boucher for his literary criticism and the numerous ways he helped popularize mystery, science-fiction, and fantasy. In 1946, he founded the Northern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America to advocate for higher pay and more recognition for genre writers. And through the 1950s and 1960s, Boucher wrote more than 800 columns and book reviews for the New York Times.
“He legitimized mystery,” said Bill Gottfried, a decades-long fan of Boucher’s work. Since 1985, Gottfried and his wife, Toby, have made it to every Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, an annual convention named in honor of Boucher, with the exception of the one year it was held in Alaska.
In addition to Bay-Area mystery writers who read excerpts from Boucher’s short stories and radio dramas, Boucher’s sons, Larry and Jim White, shared memories of their father’s writer friends who passed through the house including Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick, who took one of Boucher’s living-room writing classes. Larry and Jim said they remember hearing the clack of their father’s typewriter across the hall from the room they shared, sometimes until 2 or 3 in the morning if he was on deadline.
Boucher’s granddaughter, Chimène Stewart, and her family have been living in the house since Boucher’s wife, Phyllis White, passed away in 2000. However, the family is moving to Hawaii due to Stewart’s husband’s job. At the event, Stewart said the new owners are in favor of the plaque and are looking forward to reading Boucher’s work.
When unveiling the new plaque, Finacom said the house is only one of Berkeley’s hundreds of “literary homes,” noting the nearby homes of Pauline Kael, an influential film critic for the New Yorker, and Diana Paxson, a historical fiction and fantasy writer.
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