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Historical Narratives

The Community's Past - 3

Phillip A. Lee was one the leading citizens of El Cerrito and was elected Trustee of El Cerrito on the incorporation in 1917 and Kirk Gray was elected Chairman. In 1918, Lee was chosen Chairman and with his progressive movement the city started to build as he had taken an active interest in city affairs. With his wife, Olga, and two children, Arthur and Olga Vilate, he purchased the northeast corner of Fairmount and San Pablo Avenue where he ran his service station. At the rear of the station on Fairmount, he lived in his home with his family and was very active in city betterment.

Steve Crespan, foreman at the cemetery, towards the end of the day would go to the well and check the height of the water and shut off the pumps for the night. These wells were down on Carlson Boulevard, then called Panhandle Boulevard, north of Lassen Street. One evening after work he went down to check the depth of the water and lowered a lantern on a long rope as it was very dark in the well. Just as the lantern got down to about the water level there was a terrific explosion, knocking Crespan to the ground.

Investigating the cause of the explosion it was found that the underground gas tanks for the service station were leaking and gas seeping down through the ground into the water channels that led to the well. This was also believed to be the cause of the lawns at the cemetery turning brown as the water had been pumped from the wells to sprinkle the lawns daily. The leaks in the tanks were soon repaired and shortly after the well was rebuilt inside.

Crespan's home was on Behrens Street a couple of lots south of Fairmount Avenue on the east side. This was next to the Eckhart Dairy and across from the Home Dairy which was run by Williams Hinds, who came to this village with his family in 1906. Later another daughter, Elizabeth, was born here. Later he became Fire Chief and Police Judge in 1926.

There was another dairy on Behrens Street not far from the county line and was run by A. Anderegg. A strip of land behind Anderegg's property, who lived at 208 Behrens Street, was used for landing planes during World War I and used for a training field. Pictures taken in 1917 showed Arnold Anderegg as a little boy standing on the wing of one of the planes which was a Curtis Jenny J.N.D. 4. The field was near to where Ashbury Avenue now runs but south of Harding School. Famous Captain Rickenbacker is reported to have landed in this field during training in World War I. Anderegg's milk sheds were used for storing some of the planes.

Mr. Delmar Hall, who was born at 609 Liberty Street, still lives nearby where his old home existed but which has been demolished. His father had a chicken ranch there and supplied eggs for people living in the community and was an old timer in this area.

Behind the Hall property on the east side of the street at 611 Lexington Avenue, stood the Roberre Lalieux home that looked like a castle, and was often referred to as such. This building was constructed by the Lalieux family who came here from France and started to build it in 1908. He worked on the building in his spare time. His trade was that of a plasterer. This building was not completed until about 1920 and shortly after was sold and they went back to France. This building was one of the most substantial built in El Cerrito and had beautiful and fancy designs on the stucco and plaster work.

Mr. Lalieux's son worked in the bay area until the early 30's and then left for New Caledonia. This home in later years was used for a rest home for old people. Later it was demolished to make room for more modern apartments. Mr. Lalieux was a close friend of Pierre Allinio.

Not far from the Hall chicken ranch stood the Ortez store at the southeast corner of Lincoln and Liberty Streets, which was a large two-story building which the kids often referred to as the Spanish store. Out front in the parking area stood one single gas pump which he sold gas from to the neighborhood people. Inside he sold candy, cigars, cigarettes, and a few groceries. He also had a couple of pool tables and played poker in the back. This building was demolished in later years and new apartments were constructed.

Next to the Spanish store stood the Roberti Home. The father had lived there a long time with his family, who were well liked in the neighborhood. Some of his children still live within El Cerrito and grew up here.

Pierre Allinio built his home at what is now 609 Kearney Street and was often called Pete. This was not far from the Roberre Lalieux building at 611 Lexington, another French man who took pains in building his home and a close friend of Pete. Pete settled in Rust, now El Cerrito, in 1908, and started the construction of his home. He was a decorative plasterer by trade and very skilled in his work and a top man in his field.

At night he would be found working on his airplane in the basement of his home, which was his hobby. He completed his first plane in 1915. This plane was hauled by truck to the other side of the bay to a landing field and reassembled. His plane and first flight were a success. Pete had used the landing field occasionally behind the Anderegg Dairy near Ashbury Avenue, and also the landing field in the town of San Pablo. It was also reported one of his planes landed on Kearney Street near his home.

Out in front of his home near the entrance were two very attractive decorative lions that Pete himself had skillfully constructed. Mr. Allinio's son, a real estate man, was very active in city affairs until he moved away only a few years back.

Another strong and well-built home is the home at 801 Bates Avenue, now occupied by the Dr. Victor Stallone family. This home is not very old but is considered on of the best built in this area. This home was constructed for the Gill family, a well-known nursery businessman known all over the bay area for his art in raising of exotic plants and trees.

He started landscaping the original six acres in 1927, planting trees of various types, fruit trees of all varieties, and all types of imported shrubs imaginable. He continued his landscaping for five years and did not build his home until 1932. He planned his home in his estate to be located on the top of a knoll overlooking the beautiful bay area and it was constructed on solid rock that had been leveled off. The chandeliers in the house were purchased from the Winchester family who built the well-known Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.

Portions of the original six acre estate have since been subdivided into smaller parcels of property to be built on, and acres of the trees and shrubs that beautified the area were uprooted to make room for new streets and homes. No longer during the fruit season were children able to go there and fill their pockets with the delicious varieties of fruits that had ripened there.

Doctor Stallone, his wife and children, live in this large 11 room home with five baths. Hanging from the ceiling is the beautiful prism chandelier the Winchester family brought from Czechoslovakia. The home is a three story building situated on what was the remaining two acres left from the original six acres. At the rear of the landscaped grounds was a pond stocked with large trout from which his children enjoyed fishing.

The Stallone property is not far from a large rock which the children in the 1920's referred to as Skunk Rock. Could this Stallone property be the same property that the Siegel ghost house once stood on as referred to by old timers?

This story had been told by Louis and Kate Hagen, and also by John H. Davis, who said the Siegel ghost house stood there in the 1870s and 80's. They claim the following to be true. They said the Siegel ghost house was situated south and not far from the Hagen home, which itself was near a small lake near where hole #3 at the now Mira Vista Country Club is. They said the Siegel home was below what is now Arlington Avenue near a large rock they also referred to as Siegel Rock. The house was said to have been owned by the Gills.

It was rented or leased by Gill to a man and within a few days his body was found hanging inside of the building and his money and possessions were stolen. It was believed he was murdered.

Later when the Siegel family moved into the building they claimed they had seen a ghost and lots of strange things happened from day to day. One day the Siegels disappeared, leaving furniture, their possessions, and the crop growing. They were never seen again.

John H. Davis claimed he went into the house later and said he heard moaning and strange noises going on. The Louis Hagen family also claimed it to be haunted as his wife Kate had stopped there during a storm but left in a hurry after hearing strange noises and seeing objects moving. Louis Hagen also claimed his wife's father, Pat Sullivan, during harvesting season, had spent a couple of nights in the house with Louis. The dishes and utensils dropped off the shelf for no reason and the fire in the stove kept going out, and they heard very strange sounds. They both claimed the beds moved around the room and they could hear footsteps of someone walking.

They both never went back inside this building again. Later Pat Sullivan was murdered over the hill in Wildcat Creek. Sometime later when it was raining very hard during a drenching storm, the Hagen family looking south from their home, could see flames shooting high in the sky from the Siegel home. The next day there was nothing left of the home except the ashes.

The terrible windstorm of 1927, driven by heavy rain, blew off roofs, broke windows, and uprooted trees in this city. The power poles along the west side of San Pablo Avenue all blew down from the south county line to Stockton Avenue, a distance of a little less than a mile. As the first pole at the county line fell the wires attached to the other poles running north, plus the wind, helped pull down each of the other poles in rotation. There was not a pole standing on the west side as every pole was laying across the pavement. Not one of the poles on the east side fell and all were left standing.

Crews worked like beavers digging and replacing the poles as wires were scattered all over the street endangering lives. Pop Wright, the City Marshall at the time, deputized a number of local men to patrol the area and one-way traffic later was allowed. When the poles fell, they were so long they almost reached the curb on the opposite side of the street. All people crossing the street were escorted by members of the deputized patrol.

No one was hurt at the time the poles fell, but several cars were damaged when the poles fell on them just missing the drivers. Streetcar service was stopped until all poles were removed and replaced as the power wires to run the streetcars were held up by the poles. In 1959 the City of El Cerrito and the PG&E removed the old wooden poles along San Pablo Avenue and provided modern electroliers and underground cable.

All of San Pablo Avenue from the north to the south city limits is in the city limits of El Cerrito, although some of the business houses on the west side of the avenue are not. Most newcomers to El Cerrito think the stores and places of business along the avenue are all in El Cerrito. That is not true as in that portion facing San Pablo Avenue from just south of San Jose Avenue to just north of Bayview Avenue. The city boundary limits just run up to the front of the property and all of the buildings themselves are in the Richmond Annex area.

It is too bad that this area had not become part of El Cerrito. It was unincorporated until 1926 and the people had an election to determine whether to go into Richmond or not. The voters voted by a margin of one vote to go into the City of Richmond and since then it has been known as Richmond Annex. They had one precinct which opened at 6:00 a.m. and closed at 7:00 p.m. There were 13 votes in favor and 12 votes against. It was annexed by the City of Richmond on September 26, 1926. This area is still served by the Stege Sanitary District, who maintains the sewers in this area.

The unincorporated area just south of Richmond Annex to the county line was known as "No Man's Land". Residents of that area made a request to the City of El Cerrito to become part of the city. Election was held and they voted to become incorporated into the city, which then gave them proper fire, police, and street services. They had lacked these services in the past. This added a number of acres to the City of El Cerrito.

It was only a few years back, after they became part of the city, that the city demolished a number of old buildings in this area. They reconstructed the sewer system, put in new storm drains, and reconstructed all of the streets which made it a better area to live in. This area now has some very fine large apartments buildings in it.

On August 24, 1926, an annexation election was held and territory was added to El Cerrito in order to control San Pablo Avenue. This territory on the west side of San Pablo Avenue gave the City of El Cerrito control of the avenue for three miles.

In the 1920's when "Private Patrol" was started along San Pablo Avenue, it was started by Stevenson and called Stevenson's Patrol Service, with permission from the State Prison Board and cities of El Cerrito and Richmond. He would check the various business buildings along the avenue several times a night to see if any buildings had been broken into or their doors left unlocked with routine inspection around the buildings. His patrol would start soon after sundown and continue until the early morning hours.

The fee charged by the patrol services was $2.00 per month per place of business. With the close cooperation between the local police department and the patrol service, San Pablo Avenue was pretty well police patrolled, even in those days. This patrol service was also operated at later times by Frank Walsh, Ed Smith, W.K. Gilmore, and Tony Meyers. Ed Smith was at one time one of the policemen on the local police department and also served on the City Council.

Just below Tapscott Hill facing San Pablo Avenue, the McClellan family had a large dairy which supplied milk for the market and people in the surrounding area. Below this ranch, just north of Conlon Avenue, near Macdonald, is where they blasted and hauled rock for the county roads. George Clark, who built his home on the west side of San Pablo, just about across from Ohio Street, in 1898, was employed to haul and spread this rock by team and wagon.

Dynamite was also stored near this quarry area in large brick buildings which were surrounded by trees to absorb the concussion in case of an explosion. This quarry site property was owned by Mr. Poinsett and Poinsett Avenue was probably named after him. He also had a bar at the corner of San Pablo and Ohio that they called the 12 Mile House.

There used to be a concrete trestle that ran across the Conlon Avenue creek as this was all low land. It has since been all filled in and lots brought higher to grade. Contractors have hit these concrete pillars when excavating in the past years.

Just north of this area, prior to 1912, the National Guard would pitch their tents and had a firing range where they spent many hours training their men.

The Berry family moved to the Clark property on the west side of San Pablo Avenue in 1920 and built their hothouses to raise cucumbers and tomatoes for the market. Ed Berry got his water from a 63-foot deep well, which branched out underground in four directions. Ed possessed a large brass lock about the size of a very large Pismo clam, which he was proud of and was dated June 29, 1879. This he used to lock his boiler house and it had been used on one of the old Clark barns. This house still is standing at 11915 San Pablo Avenue. [Editor's note: The Berry House stood in what is now a part of the Home Depot parking lot and the sale of the Berry property was not complete when Home Depot was built. Since the house was located in the part of the parcel that was to become the main parking lot, the contractor just built the parking lot “around” the house. The contractor eventually demolished the house and completed paving the parking lot when the purchase of the Berry property was finalized.]

When that section of land between Blake Street and Schmidt Lane from San Pablo to what is now Navellier Street was subdivided in 1907, filed maps showed the building lots to be l00 feet by 100 feet and the map marked "To Whom It May Concern We, George Schmidt, President of, and George W. Williams, Secretary of, the Boulevard Gardens Land Company, a corporation existing under and by virtue of the laws of California: do hereby certify that said Boulevard Gardens & Land Company is the owner of all the land within the area indicated on the map, and Boulevard Gardens & Land Company, does grant and indicate for public use, as, and for public avenues and streets. We also further certify that there is no other person whose consent is necessary to pass a clear title to such parcels of land to the public."

The above statement is recorded on the file map dated November 11, 1907. The tract in 1908 was re-submitted and filed and changed from "Boulevard Gardens & Land Company Tract #2" to "North Berkeley Terrace". The lots were changed to 25 feet building sites. This land had once been part of the Galvin estate. [Editor's Note: An earlier tract, called "Boulevard Gardens" and about half a mile south of this one, was filed in July of 1907.]

At the northeast corner of Blake and Lexington in the Schmidt Village Tract the filed map of Boulevard Gardens & Land Company Tract #2 notes the Santa Fe Station at this location. This station is evidently the one the old timers say was there when the narrow gauge California and Nevada Railroad was in operation. They also say there was a red flag hanging on the side of the small station and if they wanted a ride to Oakland they would get out on the tracks with the flag and flag down the train which would stop and pick up the passengers. At night, if a passenger wanted a ride, he would light a lantern to flag down the train and one fellow, Mr. Reinecker, remembers once there was no lantern there so he built a fire on the tracks and the stopped for him.

The old California and Nevada Railroad right-of-way has been referred to in various city filed maps as Oakland and East Side Railroad Company or the California, Arizona, and Santa Fe Railway Company. The old spur track that ran up Moeser Lane for 2,727 feet to the Bates and Borland Quarry from off the main line was called the Stege quarry spur. The East Shore and Suburban Railway obtained their right-of-way along San Pablo Avenue for their streetcar passenger service. [Editor's Note: The Oakland and East Side Railroad, which was controlled by the Santa Fe, bought the bankrupt California and Nevada Railroad from the court in 1902. The Oakland and Eastside Railroad had been created perhaps to disguise from the Southern Pacific Railroad that the Santa Fe was behind the purchase. Several years later the Oakland and Eastside Railroad was absorbed into a subsidiary of the Santa Fe called the California, Arizona, and Santa Fe Railway Company.]

The Cook family, who lived on what is now Portola Drive, at the corner of Richmond Street, a long time ago had a number of hothouses behind their building that ran all the way to Schmidt Lane. They raised carnations for the market and the flower store they had in Berkeley. Mr. Cook's daughter, Fanny Capponi, who has now passed away, had lived there most of her life.

Some of the Cook property was later sold to John Belliardo in 1919, who lived on Schmidt Lane near Richmond Street. He built new hothouses and raised beautiful roses, which were sold on the market. Walking through this building one could see lovely various colored buds reading for snipping.

Belliardo had been a wine worker during the time Winehaven was running in Richmond. He informed me that there are probably more than six hundred varieties of wine and table grapes grown in the California. Did you know the Egyptians were using wine at the earliest fixed date in the history of the world, B.C. 4241, when the calendar year of 365 days was introduced?

He gave me a list of wine prices from around 1910 and it listed fine matured bottled wine "Calwa Brand", such as Cerrito fine dry sauterne type white wine at 12 large bottles for $6.00 and 48 quarts for $8.00.
Belliardo seems to have been an expert at the wine business as well as his beautiful flower business. John's property ran from now Portola Drive to Schmidt Lane and some of the property was sold to the city so that Richmond Street could be opened for through traffic as Richmond Street had dead-ended at both Portola Drive and Schmidt Lane.

After John passed away, the rest of his property was sold off to a contractor who subdivided the property and new buildings were constructed there. This subdivision is now known as the Rose Park Garden.

John Belliardo was a well-liked man and was always giving fresh picked flowers to the children passing through his property so they could give their mothers a gift bouquet.

Copyright Mervin Belfils, October 1975
Copyright El Cerrito Historical Society, June 2006

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