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Northern San Pablo Avenue

Stege Junction was the area around San Pablo and Potrero and was very active in the earlier years. In the northwest corner of San Pablo and Potrero in 1906 stood the Grand Central, which was a tavern, dining room, and rooms upstairs, with a cupola on top. This business was run by Mr. Lavigne and his son Joe who helped him. Mr. Lavigne was also the father of Blanche Johnson. Dr. Breneman, who was an early settler, had his office next door, above a new and used furniture store. The Lavigne building was later used as a market and finally demolished in September of 1967. The lot now is occupied by a service station. [Editor's Note: This area was called Stege Junction because the streetcar line that went to Stege left the mainline on San Pablo Avenue at Potrero Avenue.]

On the southwest corner of San Pablo and Potrero in 1903 stood the Tony Regalia Saloon which had been purchased by Henry Kleese. In front one could see the weighing scales which were used to weigh the wagons passing through. Nearby would be parked Lottman's Raspiller Keg Beer Wagon. The Regalia Saloon was also known as the Stege Transfer Station. The Marston's Saloon on San Pablo Avenue, south of Cutting and north of Potrero, in 1909 would also have the Lottman's beer wagon making deliveries of bottle beer.

Just north of Lafayette Park on the east side of San Pablo Avenue, was the N. Moro Company. This building was constructed in 1903 and was a two-story building with the upstairs being used as living quarters. At that time, San Pablo Avenue was an old dirt road. A big sign on the front of the building advertised "N. Moro and Co., Plumbing and Tinning, Kitchen Utensils, and Windmill Supplies", with the merchandise on the lower floor of the building. Out in front hung their wares, pans, pots, and other utensils, including plumbing supplies.

This business was operated by Mr. and Mrs. Moro, grandparents of Marino Soldavini, who was an officer in the El Cerrito Police Department. Marino's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Soldavini, also ran this business for years. The building has been remodeled several times and still stands between Blake and Hill Streets. [Editor's note: this building was demolished when the Target store was built in 1992.]

Charles Soldavini, during his years in business, had installed plumbing in hundreds of buildings in El Cerrito. Charles was at one time a member of the Stege Sanitary District. Board. He was also City Plumbing Inspector for years.

At the southwest corner of Jefferson and San Pablo in 1916, stood the Joe Villalobos Saloon, a two story building with rooms upstairs and very tall eucalyptus trees along side the building. This building still stands and is now occupied by the present day Angelo's Market.

Across the street car tracks on the east side of San Pablo Avenue in the same year, 1916, stood a smaller building, the Panama Pacific Saloon, with living quarters upstairs, specializing in Yosemite Beer.

On San Pablo Avenue between Potrero Avenue and St. John's Church, stood the Edward Wuelzer's Paradise Gardens where fine food and liquor were served. Ed was well known throughout this area and served a term as a member and secretary of the Stege Sanitary District. He also served as president of the El Cerrito Athletic Club which had their club at Rossi Hall. Ed was one of seven children and after the death of his father, his mother married Frank McDermott, who was an elected member of the Board of Trustees. McDermott was serving his term as mayor during the time of the city hall and fire department dedication in 1926, at which time Wuelzer presided as toastmaster. Both the McDermott and Wuelzer families were old time residents of this city.

Just west of San Pablo Avenue, on the south side of Cutting Boulevard, was the Griffin Lumber and Wrecking Company. They specialized in old and new lumber. New garages doors in those days sold for $7.50 a pair, French doors at $2.50 each and nails at $2.00 per keg. The merchandise was on display at the front of the building with heaters, toilets, roofing paper, doors, and paints stacked out in front of the store along the parking area. All of the lumber was stored at the rear of the building.

Mr. Griffin later sold this property in 1931 and moved the building to San Pablo Avenue. He started his new business several hundred feet north of the present day city hall. His business had expanded from time to time and is presently situated at 10944 San Pablo Avenue. The Griffin Lumber Company is well known for their donations of merchandise to help the unfortunate and the needy. [Editor's note: the Griffin Lumber Company closed at the end of April in 1987.]

The Miami Club was situated on the east side of San Pablo between Blake Street and Potrero and was demolished a few years back to make room for a used car lot. The building was originally built by Mr. Copperburger. Later the place of business was called Sullivan's and run by Danny Sullivan, who sold this business to Joseph Jacobs on November 11, 1914. Jacobs remodeled the building, which consisted of a saloon, dance floor, and restaurant specializing in chicken and steak dinners. Their place of business never closed down up to the time they sold it in 1944 when it was opened under new management. When Jacobs purchased the building he decided to change the name from Sullivan's to the Miami Club. This club was noted for its food and entertainment.

A half block north of the Miami Club, Carl Hansen bought some of the property at the old Lafayette Park at the corner of Blake and San Pablo. He started the Peek-A-Boo Auto Camp and camping grounds with cabin rentals. He also had a two-pump gas station at the corner and north of the station a large building specializing in chicken dinners, a sandwich shop, and dancing with an orchestra every Saturday night. The Peek-A-Boo Park was surrounded by tall eucalyptus trees which were later cut down when the grounds were remodeled into a trailer park.

Looking north on San Pablo Avenue at Blake Street, the curb on the north side of Blake stuck out about 15 feet farther into the avenue than the curb on the south side. In other words, driving up the avenue there was a jog in the street. A lot of people driving up the Avenue in the dark would hit this curb and the power pole. Several people had been hurt, so Mr. Hansen deeded a strip of land to the city which widened the street to eliminate this hazard.

On August 4, 1924, Carl Hansen received permission from the State Highway Commission in Sacramento to fill in an old well about 200 feet north of Blake on the east side of San Pablo. This well was situated in the sidewalk area and permission was granted to fill it in to the sidewalk level. This was a very large well where the old county tank wagons would pull in to fill their tanks to sprinkle San Pablo Avenue before it was paved. The water from the well was pumped up into a large redwood storage tank from which the tank wagons drew their water.

Behind the Peek-A-Boo Trailer Park is the Santa Fe Railroad that once had been the California-Nevada Narrow Gauge Railroad in the late eighteen hundreds. The station depot was situated at the northeast side of Blake Street and the now Santa Fe Tracks. [Editor's note: BART bought the western half of the Santa Fe right-of-way through El Cerrito in the 1960's. In 1980, Santa Fe removed its tracks from the eastern half of the right-of-way and deeded the right-of-way to the City of El Cerrito.]

The former Lafayette Park, which was situated at the now Peek-A-Boo Trailer Park, was among a large grove of eucalyptus trees, and people from Oakland and San Francisco, on Sunday would take the street car to picnic or dance at the park. Others would come by horse and wagon to the huge dance hall to dance and spend the day. This park also was used for the Portuguese "Holy Ghost" Fiesta, which was held once a year. More recently, the Portuguese Holy Ghost Fiesta is held at their own hall on Portola Drive (St. John's Hall). This was an annual affair and after the St John's Church services, they marched in a parade back to the park. Then they celebrated by having sopas to eat, which consists of highly seasoned gravy, meat and French bread. Hundred of people were served and it was open to the public.

Ernest Navellier, a pioneer resident of this city, at one time purchased the Lafayette Park from Henry Kleise. Pete Soldavini, along about l905, served as bartender for the park.

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