Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Frederick Delger (1822-1898) - Millionaire Shoe Salesman

[Family mausoleum photo by Michael Colbruno]

Millionaire's Row

Frederick Delger was one of the best known Alameda County pioneers of his day. He lived in New York from 1848-1852 and came to California via a ship journey 'round the Horn,' in the early 1860s.

Delger is often considered to be Oakland's first millionaire.

After amassing a sizable fortune in the 1860s and '70s from investing his earnings as a shoe and leather goods merchant into Oakland real estate, Delger bought 10 acres between 17th and 20th Streets, and Telegraph and San Pablo Avenue (near the Sears store). He turned the plot of rolling grasslands, then north of downtown, into a lucrative subdivision of upscale homes. His growing family were comfortably accommodated in his own rambling mansion, considered at the time to be one of Oakland's most impressive estates. The property contained an aviary, water tower, greenhouse and a "honeymoon cottage."

One of the residents of the house was Lillian Moller Gilbreth, who was the inspiration for the book and movie Cheaper by the Dozen.

He and his family rest in and around a grand Gothic Revival aediculum -- one of two Fulgenzio Seregni-designed aedicula in the cemetery -- right next door to Charles Crocker on Mountain View Cemetery's Millionaire's Row.

Freda Ehmann (1839–1932) - Mother of Olive Oil Industry

"...not how much, nor how inexpensive 
but how good a product can we produce?"

This early mission statement was the slogan for Freda Ehmann, considered
by many as the "Mother of the California Olive Industry".

[Family mausoleum photo by Michael Colbruno; picture of Freda from company website]

Plot 48

In 1895, at the age of 56, Freda Ehmann found herself penniless and a widow. Her savings depleted, her sole tangible asset was a 20-acre olive orchard of dubious value. While her son, friends and a few lawyers urged her to file bankruptcy, Freda reminded her son that the family had always paid its debts. Thus began what a society at the end of the 1800’s would have seen as impossible steps of faith for a woman.

Mountain View Cemetery docent Peg Stone discusses Freda Ehmann:

"In looking back over these first pages of our business history, one might truthfully say that I did not know the enormity of the task which was before me." - Freda Ehmann, 1911

In the spring of 1898 Freda Ehmann got together enough money to take a marketing trip. First heading by boat to Vancouver, the year of the Klondike Gold Rush, she then traveled east with huge success in Philadelphia. By trips end, she had contracts for 10,000 gallons of olives though her orchard produced only a 1000 gallons. Her faith never allowed her to question whether she could pull it off. In 1898, the Ehmann Olive Company in Oroville, California was incorporated. 
Known around town as a compassionate, caring woman and boss, she not only gave this town and state a multi-million dollar industry, but used her influence to fight for the ability of others to better themselves, from worker's rights to women's suffrage. As a testament to her business and social stature in the early 20th Century, she counted Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt as her admirers. [From the Lodestar Olive Oil Company]

Her son, Edwin was the mayor of Oroville, California from 1919 to 1923.

Frank Norris (1870-1902) - Noted Author

[Gravesite photo by Michael Colbruno]

Plot 12

“No art that is not in the end understood by the People can live or ever did live a single generation.” – Frank Norris

Frank Norris was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1870, and moved to San Francisco at the age of fourteen. He later became a member of San Francisco's artistic Bohemian Club, which included such literary notables as Jack London and Ambrose Bierce. He studied painting in Paris for two years, where he was exposed to the naturalist novels of Emile Zola. He attended the University of California, Berkeley between 1890 and 1894 and then spent a year at Harvard University. Norris travelled to South Africa where he attempted to establish himself as a travel writer. He wrote about the Boer War for the San Francisco Chronicle but was deported from the country after being captured by the Boer Army. He worked as a news correspondent in South Africa in 1895–96, and then an editorial assistant on the San Francisco Wave (1896–97). He worked for McClure's Magazine as a war correspondent in Cuba during the Spanish-American war in 1898. He joined the New York City publishing firm of Doubleday & Page in 1899.

In 1900 Frank Norris married Jeanette Black. They had a child in 1901. Norris died in 1902 of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix, leaving his young wife and baby and leaving The Epic of Wheat trilogy unfinished. He was only 32.

Norris' McTeague has been filmed repeatedly, most famously as a 1924 film called Greed by director Erich von Stroheim, which is today considered a classic of silent cinema. An opera by William Bolcolm, based loosely on this 1899 novel, was premiered by Chicago's Lyric Opera in 1992. The work is in two acts, with libretto by Arnold Weinstein and Robert Altman. The Lyric Opera's presentation featured Ben Heppner in the title role and Catherine Malfitano as Trina, the dentist's wife.