header chapter 06

Middle Berkeley is geographically represented as the central north-south corridor which lies between San Pablo Avenue on the west, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way on the east. At the north end was the Peralta Homestead. The land northwest of the Homestead, designated as the Reserve, will be discussed in the chapter describing the development of "North Berkeley". The circumstances which dominate the history of Middle Berkeley principally involve a few Irish families and even fewer Germans. It was the latter whose efforts at the north end resulted in the acquisition the Peralta Homestead; the Irish occupying the rest of central Berkeley.

Squatters with names like Connolly, Randall, Dunnigan, Robertson, Bailey, Walker and O'Neil made early claims to the sparsely occupied, relatively flat area that was comfortably above the water line, that lay just east of San Pablo Road. These folks moved onto the land at about the time of the State's Constitutional Convention. Very little is known about the character of these people. They claimed the land when the opportunity presented, they sold their rights to this land to those who came almost immediately after, and most of them left without a trace. A few remained, residing on smaller parcels of land, living out their lives with so little public notice that they remain known only by the space they briefly occupied.

The Disposition of the Peralta Homestead

Some years prior to his death, while in the midst of yet another of his chronic financial crises, Domingo Peralta was once again in arrears in his county taxes. In 1862 his property was confiscated by the sheriff and sold at auction. This time he was bailed out by James Williamson. On August 26, 1862 Williamson redeemed the Peralta holdings from the sheriff's custody by paying the delinquent taxes. On January 31, 1863, Peralta was given back his 300 acre homestead by Williamson, after the latter received from Peralta perfect title to some 600 acres lying due east of the Homestead. Most likely it was unknown to Peralta that Williamson was the husband of Maria Hall, and Maria Hall was the daughter of Sarah Carpentier Hall and the niece of Horace Carpentier. Maria claims her place in Berkeley history as having at one time held title to virtually all of North Berkeley, a little familial maneuver similar to so many others orchestrated by her "uncle" Horace.

Jose Domingo Peralta

died a wretched man on April 3, 1865. In his will he left the remnants of his share of Rancho San Antonio to his wife and 10 children,. In so doing, he uselessly, and far too late, attempted to deny Carpentier's extensive claims to his property. Nearing his end, Domingo took issue with his attorney, accusing him (with the brilliance of hindsight) of failing to perform any of his "contracts" in the prior 13 years. In this document he accused Carpentier of cheating him consistently, but with failed insight, gave no thought to his own persistence in the retention of Carpentier's services. Domingo Peralta, this pathetic, stupid, broken man, managed to figure out what was happening much too late.

His passing was marked by no formal observance, except that which took place within his own household, attended by those of his intimates who were not currently in jail. While he was the first of the four brothers to die, and while his brothers were men of no less than comfortable means, Domingo had apparently so alienated his next-of-kin that, collectively, they refused to provide him the dignity of a proper internment. Domingo's body was ignominiously consigned to a common, unmarked pauper's grave.

The Domingo Peralta family continued to sustain the household in the irresponsible manner of their patriarch, his daughters escaping through provident marriages, his sons maintaining a state of stubborn dissension with the law. It was apparently on this account that Domingo's personal business, during his final days, was managed by his son-in-law, Jose Vallejo, rather than any of his progeny.

Prior to his death, Domingo managed to sell off a portion of his homesteaded property, and to very substantially mortgage the remainder. The sales had been exclusively to John Everding, who resold portions to his sister Catherine and her husband John Schmidt. Together the Schmidts and Everdings owned the entire southern portions of the Homestead, that which now lies south of Hopkins Street, much of which is now occupied by King Junior High. Everding apparently had an earlier claim, by way of another Peralta mortgage, on portions of the Homestead northwest of Hopkins Street.

John C. Schmidt

John Schmidt came to California in 1849 and, like nearly everyone else, went immediately to the gold mines to try his luck. While still involved in prospecting, he married Catherine Everding, the sister of John Everding. They had one son, George, who was born in Dutch Flat in November of 1859. John's brother, William Schmidt, and his wife (who was also named Catherine) preceded him to the Berkeley area. This Catherine Schmidt, not to be confused with Catherine Everding Schmidt, was killed in October of 1878 when she was run over by a train. She was then age 55. The accident occurred at Derby and Telegraph, where she was driving her team of horses upon the tracks of the Berkeley-Temescal railroad. Unfortunately, she was run over twice. There was also an unmarried Schmidt sister, who participated with her brothers in the real estate trading of the Peralta lands. Both John and William owned a substantial portion of the Homestead, and each farmed this land before developing the property into residential tracts. John became a Trustee of Ocean View School District in May of 1877, and did not trouble himself with the notion of reelection.

His son George also distinguished himself in the real estate business. George was a Berkeley postmaster for 12 years and in 1887 was elected to the post of Town Assessor. He was a three- time ex-officio tax collector and at one time Superintendent of Streets. In 1892 George Schmidt was elected to the position of Town Marshall. George had interest in the Sea View Tract, Allston Tract, Loheed Property, Sobrante Tract, Galvin Tract and several other portions of West Berkeley. He was one of the owners of the Cragmont and North Cragmont Tracts, Boulevard Gardens and North Berkeley Terrace. In 1890 he had two real estate offices, one in West Berkeley, and the other in East Berkeley on Shattuck Avenue. As a developer in partnership with Anson Stiles Blake, he founded Schmidt Village in Rust [El Cerrito] in 1896.

Another interesting player in the homestead saga is E. B. Mastick, known best as The Father, and first mayor, of Alameda and as a prominent member of the Bar Association. During the early months of 1873, Mastick bought title to extensive portions of the Homestead from Isaac Marks, H. K. W. Clark, and Horace Carpentier. From then on he was busy selling, for handsome prices, his title to the Schmidts and Everdings. With them he sold to others. For example, in concert with Schmidt and Everding, he sold a portion of this property which lay near its western boundary to Cummings, Watkins, and Smith for $5000 in December of 1873, not long after the lingering Peraltas were dislodged from their home. The Cummings property of 23 acres, together with an adjacent strip of Homestead land owned by E. A. Lawrence (36 acres; gained after Domingo defaulted on his mortgage), lay between Santa Fe and Peralta Street. These properties were eventually developed by their owners and sold as residential lots. In 1876 Mastick sold a few acres to the California Insurance Company. The remaining portions of the Homestead, by far the majority of space north and east of Hopkins Street, was eventually owned by the California Insurance Company and developed into Peralta Park.

California Insurance Company and
Caspar Hopkins

The California Insurance Company, with Caspar Hopkins as its president, and the infamous Samuel Merritt as its vice president and financial backbone, had the good sense to buy one of Domingo Peralta's many mortgages. The other mortgage holders, however, made the mistake of illegally liquefying their assets by mortgaging their presumptive holdings with the California Insurance Company. Hopkins was able to legally foreclose on these transactions and to thereby acquire title to most all of the Homestead save those portions that were owned by Lawrence, Cummings, Everding, and Schmidt. Sixty acres of the Homestead were then under Hopkins (and Merritt's) control. In 1876 Hopkins sold the vacant Peralta house to John Schmidt who moved it to his property, locating it just west of Sacramento Street near Rose. In 1879, unable to find a buyer interested in the complete Homestead package, Hopkins hired M. G. King to survey the land, and James Bailey an Oakland nurseryman and founder of the Dwight Way Nursery, to install hedges and trees on the various properties. (Sadly, James hanged himself twelve years later while committed to the State Asylum at Napa). This section of town was to be called Peralta Park, and was distinguished by a plan which allowed no straight streets or property lines, with the exception of those which faced Hopkins Street. The lots ranged in size from a half acre to three acres. When all was ready, Hopkins hired John Schmidt to maintain these properties. He named the main avenue after himself, and proceeded to make sales. The northwest corner of the Peralta Homestead, that north of Codornices Creek and west of Monterey Boulevard, later became incorporated as a part of the City of Albany. Within this sector was erected the Peralta Park Hotel.

The Irish

Middle Berkeley was farmed largely by the Irish, who also were the first to settle in the Berkeley area. These were the "second generation" settlers, folks who purchased from the initial squatters. But they too had arrived early, and they generally claimed large tracts of land that approached the 160 acre limit. While sharing a common cultural heritage, several of these original settlers were further united by their matrimonial vows; i.e. by virtue of their respective marriages to the several, very eligible Dunnigan girls. This group included John Kearney, Michael Curtis who married Anne Dunnigan, Michael O'Neill who married Margaret Dunnigan, and Peter Mathews who married Mary Dunnigan in 1854. Patrick Dunnigan, father of this fulsome foursome, lived with his family on the farm which he purchased in May of 1855 from Poncho Gascier, owner of a preemptive claim which fronted upon the east side of San Pablo Road. The Dunnigan farm was located between 59th and 60th Streets. Each daughter received a portion of her father's land as she married, land which was eventually donated for railroad right-of-way when its ultimate route wended its way through the Dunnigan's land.

John Kearney

, Irish, but not properly a Middle Berkeley resident, owned the property upon which was built the School for Deaf and Blind. Purchasing Plot 78 from the estate of Joseph Irving on May 29, 1860 for $3500, Kearney sold 130 of his original 160 acres to the State for use as the School on April 8, 1867 for $12,000. The thirty acres he retained were developed into residential sized lots between College Avenue and Waring Street. Waring Street runs in front of the School and was named for the school's first director, Waring Wilkinson. On January 1, 1887 the body of John Kearney was found bludgeoned to death in the weeds near his home in Sonoma county, to which he had moved, there to do farming, several years before.

Of the other Middle Berkeley farmers, Joseph McGee purchased his property from Francois Pioche through Eldridge Robertson who had established "squatter's rights" to this property. On May 15th, 1858 McGee bought Robertson's title, which represented only 3/4's of the plot. In January of the following year, McGee paid Pioche for the remaining 40 acres of Plot 67. He then owned the whole of plot 67 in a partnership with Nathaniel Spaulding. Together in 1873 they planned a thoroughfare through its center, creating McGee Street. He named two other streets after his daughters Catherine and Mary, but these were later changed to McKinley and Roosevelt. Later, the western quarter of this plot, that lying between California and Sacramento Streets, was developed and sold piecemeal as the Spaulding Tract. The relationship between these two men, whose lives seem more divergent than compatible, is something of an enigma.

Joseph McGee

Joseph McGee was born in Ireland. He arrived in California on the ship Areatus from Boston, on April 5, 1849. McGee moved to Berkeley in 1854 and settled on the land he was later to purchase. He was on the board of trustees at the incorporation of Berkeley and tended to represent a liberal influence on that board. In fact, he was one of the very few declared Democrats in the town. A Catholic, McGee donated the land for the building of St. Joseph's Church. In 1878 McGee donated land for St. Joseph's Presentation Convent located at California and Addison Streets. In December of 1878 in an effort to settle the growing conflict over the location of the "City Hall" McGee donated a 104 x 135 foot lot at the corner of Addison Street and McGee, for the city to use as a "town hall and lock up". His gift was accepted and never used. Shortly afterward the new town jail was constructed on a lot in West Berkeley donated by Captain Bowen.

Nathanial Spaulding

Spaulding was born in North Anson, Maine on September 24, 1829. He was the eldest of eight sons. Since the age of 13 he began his training as a carpenter, millwright, and later a bridge builder. At twenty he went to work in Boston, and two years later he joined a group from Portland, Maine who were headed for California. The party arrived in San Francisco on September 13, 1851. He went first to the Mother Lode, in Old Calaveras, to engage in mining, however his interest was still in wood. In 1852 he and several others set about whipsawing 20,000 feet of lumber to flume the bed of the Mokelumne River. After six months the flume was swept away. Undaunted, he then constructed a sawmill at the headwaters of the Mokelumne. Spaulding was married on May 25, to Miss Mary Teresa Clinkenbeard of Lexington, Kentucky. Spaulding moved his family to Sacramento in 1859 and there opened a shop repairing saws. It was in this shop that he developed an adjustable tooth saw which revolutionized the entire lumber industry. He manufactured saws in Sacramento from 1859 to 1861 at which time he left his brother in charge of the Sacramento facility and moved to San Francisco to open a similar operation.

In 1868 Spaulding moved to Oakland, where he entered politics. He served as a City Councilman from 1869 and was twice elected Mayor of Oakland, initially in 1871 and again in 1872, both times without opposition. He declined the 3rd term. In Oakland he built two fine mansions. The first at the corner of 9th and Madison, the second in the Highland Park section of East Oakland.

In 1874 he became a director of BLTIA's Berkeley Ferry & Railroad Co. Later he became Assistant U. S. Treasurer (appointed by President Garfield), and served four years in that capacity. Still later he was a trustee of Stanford University.

He died on October 8, 1903. He was described as being a large man at 6 foot 3 inches and weighed in at 235 pounds. He had 10 children, six girls and four boys. His relationship with McGee remains something of an enigma.

Due east of McGee and Spaulding was the land already claimed by Francis Shattuck. North of McGee lay the 80 acre parcel owned by Thomas Hardy. To the west was the land owned jointly by Higgins and Tierney.

Michael Higgins

Michael Higgins was born in Ireland and came to California in 1854. He died in January of 1879. Apart from his buying into Middle Berkeley, in his partnership with William Tierney, not a great deal is known of him. During his residency there was a Captain James Higgins, a West Berkeley saloon proprietor, who took a somewhat more active role in the politics of Berkeley. Their relationship remains no more than speculative.

William Tierney

As little as there is known about Michael Higgins, even less is known of his partner. Tierney was a trustee of the BLTIA, and he had traded five acres of his land for 30 shares of the Association. Otherwise, besides his quiet residency, he has left only his shadowed presence in the town’s history.

Thomas Hardy

Hardy was born in Danvers, Mass. on September 10, 1816. He came to California via Panama on the "Colonel Stanton" arriving in San Francisco on September 14, 1849. Going first to Sacramento and then to Auburn to mine, he soon returned to San Francisco. But by 1855 the record shows that he was back to mining in Stanislaus County. In 1860 he entered the butcher business and remained at this work for 5 years; he apparently did well enough for he then had the means to invest in copper mines. In 1864 Hardy was elected to the State Senate, and served there for the next 4 years. He retired from politics to go back into mining and was one of the "prominent citizens" involved in the establishment of the College of California. In November of 1865, having faith in the success of this venture, he co-signed a loan on behalf of the school. In July of 1866, while still serving in the State Senate, he bought a substantial chunk of College Homestead property, which consisted of the land from Telegraph Avenue to Dana Street, fronting on Bancroft Ave. He had the foresight to purchase as well the property further west on Bancroft, that which fronted on Shattuck Avenue, and was bounded by Channing and Fulton. These were both prime properties, and testify to the financial and political weight carried by Mr Hardy.

The first parcel was sold to George Beaver in September of 1867. Beaver was president of California Cotton Mills, vice president of Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Co., and was involved in the Spring Valley Water Co. and San Francisco Gas and Light Co. Beaver’s resume identifies him as a business associate of Messrs Moss, Pioche and Bayerque.

Still in the Senate, Hardy sold to Durant his south half of Plot 66, 80 acres spanning University Avenue between Sacramento and Grove Streets, on August 17, 1867. There is no telling when or how Hardy obtained this piece of central Berkeley real estate.

Plot 66 was originally homesteaded by a man named Walker, however there remains no evidence of any recompense received by him from any of the new owners. There had been a number of sales of the north half of Plot 66 prior to Hardy's presence. For example, in March of 1866 John Caperton sold forty acres of this plot to E. C. Sessions and G. W. Osborne, and these men immediately sold half of their interest D. C. Emerson. Emerson was a business partner of Henry Durant.

As a result of these events, Plot 66 was developed in two parts. The northern half was eventually owned in part by the BLTIA, and in lesser part by the State University Homestead Association. Rivals in land grabbing, their joint presence suggests that this was considered to be a critically situated parcel of land. Within the BLTIA sector, the southwest corner of Cedar Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way (Grove Street), was property owned by Penwell and Rammelsburg.

State University Homestead Association

The State University Homestead Association was organized between March of 1869 and January of 1872. It was incorporated four times, each corporate entity owning a separate parcel of property that had been acquired by this organization. These entities were all established between March and May of 1869. William H. Knight was president. Ambitious, but relatively modest in scope, this real estate effort did what it could to compete with the BLTIA, but never accrued the extent of land as was managed by the latter. Their holdings never amounted to more than two parcels within Plot 66, one in the northeast corner of Plot 61, the Tierney property, and one in the southeast corner of Plot 56 (Mathews).

The State University Homestead (SUHA) development which lay adjacent to the property of Peter Mathews, was bordered on the south by Russell St, and on the east by Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, was effectively backed by the Ralston ring, of which both Knight and Carpentier were known affiliates. Those directly involved, were all prominent men, and Ralston associates. This is reflected in the allusive naming of the streets within this development: Felton (now Derby), Butterworth (Ward St.), Moss (Stuart St.), Tompkins (Oregon St.), Dwinelle (McGee Ave.), and Ralston (Grant St). The SUHA acquired their property over a year's period, partitioned the tracts into individual lots, and offered them for sale. By 1880, in contrast to sales in other areas of Berkeley, many of their lots remained unsold.

Plots 64 and 66 (which flank University Avenue —which at the time was entirely nonexistent— between Grove Street and San Pablo Avenue) would to take on special significance in the late seventies when these properties became crucial to the plans of the BLTIA. In the early 1870's, even before its formation, the BLTIA principals had planned the laying down of an essential transportation link between its properties east and west. On the west would lay Tract B, by far the larger of the two, which was to be the object of considerable promotional activity. Nearer the hills to the East, there was now reason to believe that progress in community planning was indeed underway. Then, with the installation of the new wharf at the mouth of Strawberry Creek, the need for a roadway between it and the planned commercial center of East Berkeley became patent.

Carving out University Avenue

On August 17, 1867, shortly after acquiring it from persons entirely unknown, Thomas Hardy sold to Henry Durant what he had left of the aforementioned half of Plot 66 for $12,000. This represented an area bounded on the south by Addison St, on the east by Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, on the west by Sacramento Street, and on the north by Hearst St. At the time of Durant's purchase, there had already been no less than 17 prior sales of this same 80 acre tract of land, with the multiple owners holding title "undivided". Durant then performed some commercial gymnastics in the course of which he acquired clear title to the eighty acres He divided up the property into proportional sections, and "sold" them back to that group of title holders. In so doing, he managed to exempt one thin strip of land which was to become University Avenue. This bit of real estate razzle dazzle took place during July and August of 1868.

Then on September 21, 1869 Michael Curtis sold to Durant another five acres of Plot 64 which was in line with this strip, for $1750. This property lay at the south end of the Curtis property. Sometime between September of 1869 and March of 1875 this five acre tract was transferred from Durant to John Felton, known to be a good friend of Durant's and who was at this time both the President of the Board of Trustees of the College of California as well as the Mayor of Oakland. On the latter date, Felton sold the five acres to Michael Reese, noted University benefactor and nationally renowned eccentric. Curtis had previously sold an additional forty acres to A. C. R. Shaw in July of 1867. Shaw was at that time a principal of the BLTIA. This parcel too lay along the southern end of the plot.

On February 6, 1871 William K. Rowell, a professor at the College (which was soon to become a University), and business partner of Henry Durant, petitioned the county board of supervisors for permission to establish a road (#1433) extending from the University site to the Bay of San Francisco. The road was to begin some 356' north of Plot 69 (at Oxford St.) and as proposed would be no less than 100' wide. In this proceeding, a Mr. Estuardo, represented by his attorney S. F. Gilcrest, singularly claimed damages to the extent of $1000 caused by the laying out of this roadway. The resolution of this matter, strongly contested by Mr. Rowell, is now fairly apparent. Such objections notwithstanding, by the time of the incorporation of the BLTIA, and the establishment of the municipal wharf, the BLTIA owned in its own name or the name of several of its principle members, the main route from east to west. University Avenue had been accomplished.

The two major BLTIA properties had thus been connected and in doing so, they effectively squashed Shattuck's aspirations for Addison Street to be the primary east/west thoroughfare. Addison Street, laid out much earlier, was not completed until the early eighties, but was designated on maps long before University Avenue was even conceived. In late 1879 the town fathers agreed to complete this neglected roadway, and ordered the cutting through of Addison Street east of Shattuck to Oxford, and west of San Pablo to Third St.

University Avenue, now the essential link between East and West Berkeley, was established as a broad concourse, and it had a primitive version of public transportation in operation by 1874. No longer was it necessary for Berkeley residents to travel the full distance to Oakland in order to make their connection for a visit to San Francisco.

The Jose Domingo Peralta Tract

The area now known as Westbrae, constituting the east end of the Homestead, runs from Hopkins (Codornices Creek) to a point a bit south of Rose (School House Creek), and lies west of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. This land, steeped in legal ambiguities, was long the subject of serious contention. The events describing this contention involved the attorney who ultimately managed the estate of the late Domingo Peralta (Frank B. Cunningham) at issue with the original assignee, Joseph Irving. Cunningham, as executor of the estate of Domingo Peralta, sensing the potential for real profit in the ambiguity of the limits of the McAllister sale, claimed that the sale to McAllister et. al., extended only as far north as Strawberry Creek. He also claimed that Domingo Peralta was not of sound mind at the time of the transaction and thus could have easily erred in his understanding of the terms of the sale. As "Mary Ann Cunningham" vs. Irving, this case lingered in court and required the testimony of many prominent people. Frank Cunningham died in September of 1879 but the case was continued by his attorney, a "Judge" McCabe, who employed a "special administrator of the Peralta estate", a Mr. C. J. Collins, as the plaintiff. His motives, clearly expressed, were to take away from Carpentier what Carpentier had earlier taken from Peralta. Previously, Cunningham had assumed legal ownership of the Homestead (again, from the Peraltas) which seemed, asserting in his definition of the sale, that this land was still unclaimed Peralta Reserve. Title was held by Henry Irving, now owner of his brother's share of the partitioning. Cunningham had started to develop the area as the Jose Domingo Peralta Tract as early as 1878. These portions of the tract he claimed to hold in the names of surviving members of the Peralta clan. In the process of developing this property he laid out a north-south artery, which has since become The Alameda at its northern extremity, and Josephine Street at its south end. This roadway extended, until 1905, as far as School House Creek; i.e., half way between Rose and Vine Streets. While the case lingered, this area was said to be languishing under the "Cunningham cloud", where all title was uncertain and land sales dropped off accordingly.

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