Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Fritz Boehmer (1831-1910): Early Alameda pioneer

Fritz Boehmer (Image from Hayward Daily Call; Grave photo by Michael Colbruno)
Plot: Plot 21, Lot 17
GPS (lat/lon): 37.83457, -122.24029

Text by John Sandoval, reprinted from Hayward Daily Call, December 13, 1964

One of the most colorful early pioneers of Alameda was Fritz Boehmer, who was an early merchant whose general merchandise store was built on Park Street.

Fritz Boehmer was born in Prussia, near Magdeburg in 1831. His father was a machinery maker and foundry owner. At 17 Fritz and a company of students fought briefly in the battle of Gravelot, for the unification of Germany under Bismark.

However, the news of the discovery of gold in California swept the youth of Germany into a frenzy to come to the gold fields, and in the fall of 1848 Boehmer went to Bremerhaven to see his older broth- er, Edward, off by ship to California. Fritz stowed away on his brother's ship and came to California with him without his family's permission.

The Schroeder Building was built in 1873 for Fritz Boehmer. He moved his grocery and hardware business into the ground floor, and the upper floor contained a public meeting hall. The Masons leased that space until their new hall was built in 1891 at the corner of Park Street and Alameda Avenue. In 1876, Boehmer sold the building to Adolph Schroeder (co-owner of a local feed and fuel business), who used it as rental property.
Mr. Boehmcr's ship rounded the Horn and arrived in San Francisco Bay in 1849. He went to the mines near Mokelumne Hill but being unsuccessful, returned to San Francisco and there joined with his brother in the house-building business. As a contractor the Boehmer Brothers paid carpenters the then-high wages of $12 a day.

Fritz Boehmer then alternated between operating mining ventures at Marysville, Coloma, and the American River, and in farming at Sacramento, in running a restaurant at Sacramento and in the contracting business in San Francisco.

In 1851 Boehmer and a partner, Henry Rosenbaum, bought rights to 150 acres of land in what is now downtown Oakland. However "squatter trouble" with a very rough element in the little village of Oakland caused Boehmer and Rosenbaum to sell out.

With the proceeds of the land-sale Boehmer joined a brother-in-law, Henry Gersting, in a mercantile business in San Francisco. Boehmer then established mercantile establishments in the booming gold-strike towns of Campo Seco and later Columbia and eventually in Alameda.

An historic post card of Park Street where Fritz Boehmer opened his first store
His store in Alameda on Park Street eventually expanded to encompass an en-tire block of the business section. When Alameda was in-corporated as a city the first board of city trustees was composed of Fritz Boehmer, Henry Robinson, Henry H. Haight, E. B. Mastick, and Jabish Clement.

Boehmer was also on the local school board and was effective in getting teachers salaries raised from $50 per month to $125, a very high scale for the 1880's. He also was instrumental in getting $300 raised by subscription to start the first public library in Alameda.

Boehmer was a member of the pioneer fire department of Alameda and was always interested in glee-club and choir singing, being a member of the pioneer San Francisco Harmony Glee Club and the Thalia Singing Society of Alameda.

Boehmer was married twice, first to Johanna Sevening, whom he courted by mail back in Germany and brought back as a bride to California. His second marriage was to Mary Elizabeth Hildenbrand a member of a well-known pioneer family of Stockton and Tuolumne County.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Socrates Huff (1827-1907): Gold Rush Pioneer; Banker; Alameda County Treasurer

Socrates Huff (photo of grave by Michael Colbruno)
Plot: Plot 21, Lot 43

Socrates Huff was a Gold Rush Pioneer, successful businessman and the elected Treasurer of Alameda County. 

He was born in Crawford County, Ohio on July 1, 1827 and moved to St. Joseph, Michigan when he was 2 years old. His mother died a year later and stayed in Michigan until 1849, when word reached the community that gold had been discovered in California. Huff organized a party of men to travel west, purchasing mules in Indiana, wagons in Chicago and provisions for the journey in St. Louis. The group arrived in Bear River in the Sierra Nevada on August 12, 1849, where Huff tried his hand at mining. He abandoned his gold mining pan after just two weeks and traveled 33 miles to Sacramento, where he worked for the city.

Due to ill-health (purported to be malaria), he headed to Mission San Jose where he bought a freighting boat that he ran for profit between Stockton and Alvarado (now Union City). In 1853, he returned east where he married Amelia "Mamie" Cassady and returned to California with her.

In the ensuing years, he raised cattle and horses in Green Valley, Contra Costa County and Hayward, ultimately settling on Estudillo Avenue in San Leandro. In 1869, his wife was injured in a famous train wreck that killed a number of notable people, including the Honorable Alexander Baldwin, U.S. District Court Judge of Nevada.

The Huff residence, which was torn down in 1972 to make way for a fire station
In 1863, Huff was elected Treasurer of Alameda County from 1863-67 and from 1886-92,  opting not to run again in 1892. In 1880, he was chosen as a  delegate-at-large to the Republican National Convention in Chicago which chose James Garfield as their nominee. During much of this time he also ran a mercantile business in Carson City, Nevada. 

In 1891, while serving as Treasurer, he caught three men stealing oysters from his oyster bed near San Leandro and seized the boat and its load. He refused to give the boat back to its owner, Joseph Peralta, and the county official was arrested on charges of petty larceny. He was eventually acquitted, while the two thieves were apprehended and arrested.

Huff became a successful banker in East Bay, serving as a director of the Union Savings and Union National Bank, and as president of the Bank of San Leandro.

A description of his memorial and funeral took two full columns in the Oakland Tribune. 


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Joachim Mathisen (18??-1896): Noted architect; Hanged himself from tree

Gravesite of Joachim Mathisen and image from San Francisco Call
Mathisen was born in Trondhjem, Norway and trained as a civil engineer at Hanover's Technische Hochshule. He came to the United States around 1886 and in 1890 worked as a draftsman for A. Page Brown. In 1891, he set up business in San Francisco with William Howard on Montgomery street. In 1892, along with Maybeck, he entered the competition to design the California Building at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. They lost to he famed architect George Brown.

Mathisen design for San Francisco homes (SF Call)
He later honed his skills under the tutelage of George Brown, who mentored many other great architects including William Knowles, Sylvain Schnaittacher, Frank Van Trees and James R. Miller. Even Bernard Maybeck was associated with Brown in 1890.

His business partner George Brown took ill after they had taken over much of A. Page Brown's work, after the latter died from severe injuries suffered in a runaway horse and buggy accident. The stress proved too much for Mathisen, as income dropped and his rent increased. Two days after laying off two employees, he headed into the woods behind the Asylum for the Blind and Deaf in Berkeley and hanged himself with a four-in-hand neck tie which he had suspended to a small cypress branch.

Asylum for the Blind and Deaf in Berkeley
The branch that Mathisen hanged himself from was only about three feet from the ground and his body was found in a kneeling posture, his bead thrown forward, and his hands and arms dangling by his sides. There was no sign of struggle and there was a post card found in his pocket addressed to C. B. Vorce, a draughtsman in his office, with the following written on the back: "Please look for directions in safe."
Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley
Mathisen designed the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, which included fellow architect Bernard Maybeck amongst its parishioners.  The ambitious design for the church and seminary resulted from a resolution by the Pacific Coast Unitarian Conference to establish a Unitarian divinity school. The redwood-shingled structure became a landmark of the Bay Region's "building with nature" architecture and still stands at its original location and is now used as a dance studio on the University of California campus. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1981.

Burlingame Train Station

In 1893, he worked with his architectural partner George Howard in designing the Burlingame Train Station, where trains brought wealthy businessmen from San Francisco to the Burlingame Country Club. The two men chose a quintessentially California design for the station—that of a California mission. The train station, completed in 1894, is now designated as a California Historical Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places due primarily to its architectural significance as the earliest permanent example of California Mission Revival architecture.

Sources: San Francisco Call, Burlingame Historical Society, UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library, "On the Edge of the World: Four Architects in San Francisco" by Richard W. Longstreth, Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association