Saturday, June 28, 2008

Joe Coney - Risk Taking Developer

[Gravestone of Joe Coney taken by Michael Colbruno; Lake Ilsanjo]

Joseph J. Coney (1895-1998) was a fearless risk-taker and business executive who for four decades owned the land that later became Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa.

Born April 1, 1895, in San Francisco, Coney had to evacuate his home during both the 1906 earthquake and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

After studing engineering, he became a naval architect for Consolidated Steel, then he founded Pacific Coast Engineering. For many years Coney was a partner in Hillcone Steamship Company with Stanley Hiller, whose son, Stanley Jr., developed the first helicopter. The company operated oil tankers. The two men also owned gold dredging operations from California to Alaska. In the 1930's he acquired, and then lost, the fishing rights for all of Newfoundland and Labrador.

In 1954 Hiller and Coney, who had been buying up the tidelands along the south shore and Bay Farm Island in Alameda for some 30 years, proposed a major development. The plan called for building 1,500 homes and a six-lane freeway about 2,000 feet offshore that would connect with a new Bay bridge dubbed the Southern Crossing. Faced with strong opposition from Alameda residents, the developers withdrew their plan and sold their property to the Utah Construction Company.

During the 1960s Coney and Hiller were instrumental in the development of Benicia Industrial Park.

Coney may best be remembered as the man who gave the exotic name to Lake Ilsanjo in Annadel State Park. The name combined the first names of his late wife of 72 years, Ilse, and his own. For many years, Annadel was Coney’s private reserve where he hosted lavish parties, built giant hop kilns, mined perlite, hosted hunting parties, raised Black Angus, raised and trained horses, allowed the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to use the property, and set up shooting ranges for the California Highway Patrol and the FBI.

Coney stayed active as a senior citizen, driving until he was in his 90s and taking a lease for an office for himself when he was 95. When he was a 100 years old, he lived in modest splendor on the shores of Oakland's Lake Merritt. He died at a Berkeley retirement community at age 103.

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