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Old Richmond Street

Mr. George Barber, now deceased, was the first city marshal and long time resident at 729 Richmond Street, said Richmond Street on the south end of town being the first street in El Cerrito that was paved. He said it was paved by Hutchinson Company and the reason they paved it first was because there were more houses on this street than any other street in town. Mr. Barber besides being marshal acted in the capacity of street inspector, building inspector, dog catcher, and other things. Most of the streets at that time were graded by mules pulling plows and the Fresno Scrapers.

Mr. Barber's oldest son Claude was noted for his skill in testing parachutes and barnstorming. He recalls watching his son jump only once when he was to land in Richmond but a downdraft whipped him out over the bay and he landed in the mudflats and had to be rescued.

Mr. Barber served on the Stege Sanitary District Board from May 28, 1913 to April 4, l9l6 and also from April l, l9l9 to April 6, l921. He served as secretary of the first original board. His home still stands at 729 Richmond Street.

Kirk Elsworth Gray and his wife Cordella, who had a son Gerald Kirk Gray, purchased a lot on Richmond Street in 1908. This was next door south of the George Barber home. He completed his home in 1911, at which time he moved in while working for Standard Oil. At the first city election for Incorporation on August 23, 1917, Mr. Gray was elected Trustee and chosen chairman or mayor of the first board.

Mrs. Hofsas bought a lot where her home stood in 1908 at 555 Richmond Street and finished constructing her home in 1910. She said she ordered her groceries from Hadlen's at 945 University Avenue, Berkeley. The groceries would be brought out to the home in a large grocery wagon pulled by a team of horses.

Her home was the first in the neighborhood to have electricity in 1912. The electricity and wiring was put in by the power company as her house was to be used as a demonstrator.

Mrs. Hofsas purchased lots 16, 17, 18, in the Henderson Tapscott Tract from the real estate company and made a $20.00 deposit on April 6, 1908. The home was completed and they moved into their home on May 28, 1910. She had one of her early water receipts and the bill had to be paid every month to the People's Water Company in Berkeley. This bill in 1910 amounted to $1.50. They evidently opened a branch office in Richmond later as one of her bills dated June l, 1916 was paid at 207 Richmond Avenue in Richmond in the amount of $1.60.

Her paperboy, who delivered the Examiner to her house around 1910, was a young chap who lived in Albany and delivered all the way to her home in El Cerrito. He was Wally Kruger, who picked up the papers at the county line where they were dropped by the streetcar before it headed back to Oakland. He would deliver the Examiner and the Chronicle on his bicycle every morning. Mr. Kruger later was Assistant Manager of the American Trust Company in Modesto.

Mrs. Hofsas had a receipt of rental for her mailbox in Rust, California dated June 30, 1912 and signed by Wm. Rust, Postmaster. The bill was for the rent of a box for a quarter year, or three months, and the fee was 25 cents. This was five years prior to the City of El Cerrito being incorporated.

The regulations regarding collection of box rent on the reverse side of the receipt states: "No box shall be assigned to the use of any person until rent there for has been paid. Box rents must be collected at the beginning of each quarter for the entire quarter, but no longer. When a box is rented after the beginning of the quarter, rent must be collected, pro-rated for the remainder of the quarter. Ten days before the last day of each quarter, postmasters are required to place in each box a bill, on this form, bearing the date of the last day of the quarter, which must be receipted upon payment of rent. If a box holder fails to renew his box or or before the last day of a quarter, the box shall then be closed and offered for rent and the mail placed in the general delivery".

Mrs. Hofsas passed away a few year ago.

Another old house at the northwest corner of Richmond and Lincoln and still standing is the Victorio Quarello home. He had two children, Emil and Mary. Emil was born in what was then Stege, but now El Cerrito. Mr. Quarello had lived in the north end of town after the turn of the century before moving to the Richmond Street address.

At the rear of his lot was his bocce ball court that was used by his Italian friends. They would come from all around to spend the day playing bocce ball which was the Italian past time. In the evening after the game they would sit down for an Italian dinner, drink homemade wine and listen to the music of the concertina.

Almost a half block north of Fairmount Avenue on Richmond Street was John Morris' store where Mr. Morris sold dry goods and groceries. He completed building shortly before 1909. The streets at that time were not paved and people crossing the street would be knee deep in mud. At the front of the building at the edge of the sidewalk was an iron rail several inches above the ground where the customer could scrape the mud off their shoes before entering the store.

This store was a two-story affair with a dozen windows in front. The upstairs was used for living quarters with the steps running up on the south side of the building. This building was the only store in that locality at that time. This building was demolished at 415 Richmond Street to make room for the BART parking lot and was purchased from Vito Addiego, a very old timer in this area.

Mrs. Jewell Weeks, daughter of John Morris, lived nearby and had all boys in her family. John Morris' daughter-in-law, Alice Morris, (Mrs. Walker), was City Clerk from April 12, 1920 to April, 1932. The Morris store later became the Stewart store.

After the turn of the century the Monkey House Saloon was located at the corner of Richmond and Fairmount. It has since been moved and faces Richmond Street behind the Texaco Station. This saloon had been run by a number of different managers over a period of years. The saloon was patronized by a number of Italians in the neighborhood such as Joe Bona, Tony Gatto, Roberti and dozen of others. Inside the saloon you would find a couple of caged monkeys.

A half block below Lincoln Avenue on the east side of Richmond at Willow Lane was the first Methodist Church, started around 1908. They got their water from Mrs. Hofsas. This church was a one-room affair and many social gatherings were held there. This church had been remodeled and a home made out of it, which still stands at 524 Richmond Street. A new church was built at Stockton and Everett to take its place and it has been expanded from time to time.

The old one room church had shingle siding with a large window in front and a smaller window on either side. It had a few steps to get up to the double doors that opened out. Edwin and Herbert Lotter attended this Fairmont Sunday School on December 25, 1913 with a gathering of about thirty two people, the majority being children.

The George Scott family had a grocery store at 616 Richmond Street, next to the Alexander MacKinnon property, and also had a store at the northwest corner of Elm and Lincoln Avenue. George Scott was treasurer for the first city council when the city was incorporated on August 23, 1917. Mr. Scott had two children, a son named George and a daughter named Zella.

Stuck on the window of their Richmond Street store was a large sign with the letters N.R.A., and an eagle with spread wings below. This stood for the National Recovery Act. Mr. Scott's son George still lives in El Cerrito on Stockton Avenue.

Alexander R. MacKinnon was well known throughout El Cerrito acting in the capacity of Justice of the Peace of the 7th Township in 1914. MacKinnon practiced the plumbing and sheet metal trades in his early days. He became associated with the Richmond Annex Land Company in about 1912 which developed the annex and El Cerrito areas and he later became tract manager for the firm. It has been said that in those days he placed more people on property in this area than any other man. [Editor's note: Very early on, for administrative purposes, the unincorporated areas of the county were broken up into numbered townships. The area that is now El Cerrito was in the 7th Township.]

After building his home in this community, he took a great interest in developing the city. Besides being justice of the peace, he had his real estate office on San Pablo Avenue near the Rust Building and he also wrote fire insurance policies. He developed the southeast corner of Stockton and San Pablo Avenue at that time, but they have since changed this corner around.

His wife, Mrs. Jennie MacKinnon, had two children, Jean and Hector. They made their home in the 600 block of Richmond Street near Scott's store and later built another home in the 500 block on Norvell Street between Central and Lincoln Avenue.

The south end of El Cerrito had a number of small stores scattered around in this area in the early days, so let's not forget the Marsala store at the south west corner of Richmond and Central. They sold food to the neighborhood but did not handle much in hardware goods. This was a two story building with living quarters upstairs and at the rear of the store.

The Marsala family owned several buildings on Central Avenue and owned property all the way to the Santa Fe tracks right-of-way. The family was well liked in this city. The property was later sold to BART to make room for the BART parking lot. The store had also been run by a fellow named Pacheco.

One of the old Ernest Belfils' residences in the 500 block of Richmond Street on the west side about 100 feet south of Lincoln, was an earthquake refugee home. Shortly after the 1906 earthquake two small buildings had been hauled over across the bay by barges from San Francisco. These two buildings were put on the lot and nailed together for living quarters.

The earthquake buildings were finally demolished in the latter part of 1958 to make room for a new modern building. At the corner of Lincoln and Richmond Street stood the old Mark Cheesman building at 556 Richmond Street that was built in the early 1900's. In the beginning of the nineteen twenties the Belfils' purchased this home and added to the building, which they occupied for years. It still stands but under different ownership.

It was not unusual in the early twenties to hear the sound of a fish horn being blown by Henry Alexander, the fish peddler, indicating he was coming around the neighborhood with fresh fish which he sold to the people. He would be coming up the old dirt streets in his wagon with numerous cats following him. Occasionally, he would give the scraps to the cats as he butchered or dressed out the fish for his customers.

This was a long way for him to travel by wagon from Berkeley to Oakland, so in a few years he got himself a truck to haul and sell his fish from and easier to keep his ice from melting, which he stored his various types of fish in. As time went by, Alexander gave up his fish business and opened an Army and Navy Surplus Store in Oakland on Washington Street at 6th Street.

At least once a week, usually late in the afternoon, one would see Mr. Magnason, driver of the Swedish Bakery truck from Berkeley, stopping at various people's home in the neighborhood. People would go out to his old truck and look at his fresh pies, cakes, snails, doughnuts, and cookies, as well as fresh bread. He had quite a thriving business, especially with the Swedish people and he was a well-liked fellow.

Once a week, one could see an old horse and wagon coming up the street with the driver yelling "any old rags, bottles, or sacks?" He would stop and buy almost any old thing including bones, sacks of manure, bottles, metal, and even old mattresses. He bought almost anything as long as he could make a few pennies doing so.

Almost every couple of days the vegetable truck and driver would come by stopping for people to purchase fresh vegetables, fruit and other items as he picked them up fresh in Oakland at the wholesale house. This would be quite a treat for the neighborhood people to be able to get something different even though each property owner had their own vegetable garden.

The Corneles Kooy family, who lived at 525 Clayton Avenue, was also another old family who had a dairy and served milk to the south end of the village, now El Cerrito. One would see their son John coming up Richmond Street with his horse pulling the wagon laden with bottles of milk. Their old horse seemed to know the route as well as the driver as sometimes John would get off the wagon to leave milk for his customer and the horse would continue on to the next customer and stop, waiting for the driver to catch up. Many a young kid would be made happy by getting to ride in the wagon through part of the milk route.

On some occasions a train would pull up on the Santa Fe tracks and leave the cars to take the engine up to the quarries to pick up loaded gravel cars. After the engine left, one would see the neighborhood children running down to the right-of-way and climbing up the iron rungs on the side of the fruit cars. They would reach inside the opening on the side of the cars and pull out fruit or grapes to take home. They would do the same with the coal as some of the cars were heavily laden with coal that was being shipped by rail.

One could see tramps camped out along side of the tracks cooking their meals. Some would stay in the neighborhood a couple of weeks at a time begging or working for a meal, doing odd jobs around the area, as things were very tough then.

Some of the kids after the train pulled out would get into mischief, especially on Halloween. They would fasten a wire from one railroad track to the other rail. This would cause the wigwag at the crossing to keep going and the bell ringing continually until some resident got tired or hearing it ring and walked down and removed it so they could get some sleep. This steady ringing was very disturbing during the night to those living along the railroad tracks.

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