Louis Van Roekel House – 2024


The Redlands Area Historical Society, Inc.

The Louis & Jeanette Van Roekel House

1130 W. Highland Avenue


Behind a natural screen of shrubbery, the low, clean-lined structure presents expanses of painted wood and clear glass speckled with sunlight and shadow. The house was built in 1960 by James C. Coffin for Louis and Jeanette Van Roekel and designed by the owners’ son, renowned architect Robert Van Roekel.

The entrance elevation is south facing and incorporates floor-to-ceiling windows. The one-story, 1,707 square foot dwelling with two bedrooms and two baths was described at the time of completion in the Redlands Daily Facts as “a house for grandparents who are prepared for guests both from within and without the family. Some of the rooms are specifically provided for guest use rather than daily living.” This remains largely true today.

While not every room opens to the outside, glass walls insure that inside the house, shifting light and shadows outside is part of the experience as well. The living room is planned for gatherings that flow via an intimate entry courtyard to the front patio. A more secluded family room and sun porch are at the back, adjoining the kitchen and backyard for the kind of casual, open plan living that continues to be popular in residential design today.

The home is linked closely with the surrounding environment. The living room extends visually to the out-of-doors through glass walls, into the front patio and sculpture garden. Two primary bedrooms (one used now as a work room) open onto the glass-enclosed patio with an expansive view of the private back garden and the San Bernardino Mountains beyond.

A key design principle in post-World War II construction was to blur the lines between outdoors and in, especially in a temperate climate such as Redlands. Not only are indoor-to-outdoor sight lines used to tie the outside to the inside, but color is also employed, with fresh, springtime greens inside coordinating with the natural hues of the outdoors. Ever-changing natural light enhances this effect. River pebble paving is employed in the exterior entry way and on the fireplace hearth, linking exterior with interior. As well as reflecting his clients’ tastes and modes of living, architect Van Roekel liked to incorporate homeowners’ hobbies or personal interests in each design. In this case, aviaries and a pond were included in the original plan, since removed. One very personal touch remaining from his parents’ time are Jeanette Van Roekel’s footprints imprinted in the driveway.

Essential to Robert Van Roekel’s design were mature oak trees remaining from the gardens of the adjacent Henry Fisher mansion. The imposing 1890s house near the northeast corner of San Mateo Street and Highland Avenue had been torn down in 1942, but several full-grown trees remained. One oak in particular was key to Van Roekel’s design of the house, providing a treehouse-like sense of nature as well as shade and screening to the living room area.

By 2020, the oak trees were dying and dropping limbs, and therefore a safety risk. Owners Chris and Lisa Kane were concerned that removing the front tree would have had a detrimental impact on the atmosphere of the main living area, exposing the interior to more direct sunlight than was originally planned. As such, the homeowners engaged local architect J. Gary Stegemann to create an extension to the existing roof overhang and entry trellis across the front of the house to create more artificial shade to the exposed rooms. An exterior support wall and a two-foot retaining wall were included in the project that created a 180 square foot uncovered patio.

The design followed Secretary of Interior standards outlining that additions be compatible in terms of mass, materials, solids-to-voids, and color in such a way that they do not result in the loss of the historic character of the building. The plan was approved by the City of Redlands Historic and Scenic Preservation Commission in November 2020.

Following original owners Louis and Jeanette Van Roekel, Helen H. Boese owned the house from 1992 to 2000. The Kanes purchased the home in 2000.

Robert Van Roekel, the architect of the original structure, was a 56-year Redlands resident who designed many homes and business buildings in the city and beyond, including the Garden Terrace subdivision, bounded by Garden Street, Hilton Avenue, and Franklin Avenue in Redlands heights and the former Redlands Plaza commercial complex at Cajon Street and Citrus Avenue where the city offices are now located.

Born in Pella, Iowa, Van Roekel attended Iowa State University and served in the U.S. Army Air Force. His parents moved to Redlands and soon after, Robert Van Roekel followed, bringing his young family in 1951. Van Roekel served as president of the Riverside-San Bernardino chapter of the American Institute of Building Designers and played a major part in passing legislation for licensing of building designers.

Van Roekel had his own architectural business for much of his career. He built his office, the A-frame building at Sixth and Vine streets in Redlands, as well as his own homes on Monte Vista Drive and later in Reche Canyon. He was a licensed architect for Cliff May, renowned designer of California ranch-style houses.

Through Cliff May, Van Roekel worked with such clients as actor Robert Wagner and vintner Robert Mondavi, serving as lead architect on the Robert Mondavi Winery arch-and-tower building as seen on Mondavi wine labels, and the Mondavi home. He was active in the community, including the Noon Rotary Club and as a board member of the Chamber of Commerce and enjoyed attending Redlands Bowl programs. The Kanes had the pleasure of meeting Van Roekel and sharing their love for the house with him. Van Roekel died in Redlands in 2007 at age 82.

The Redlands Area Historical Society congratulates Chris and Lisa Kane on their 2024 Heritage Award and for their stewardship of the house for 24 years.

Presented on June 12, 2024. Research by Gregg Schroeder.