(Photo: The Coastside artist Galen Wolf posing somewhere on his property at Frenchman’s Creek, north of Half Moon Bay).
The War and the Korean War suddenly overflowed the bay area. A new, almost unrecognizable county swiftly came to overlay the quiet fields and hills. It was marked with every facet of today.
Immense roads, overpasses, crowded traffic, tract homes and supermarkets were jammed alike with the crowds and tensions of a swarming life.
We will invoice only its assets. Many good and prosperous people, living in a gentle healthy climate. Fine schools, libraries, parks, dustless roads and well-kept lawns everywhere. Houses furnished with immaculate plumbing, formica drains, television and two-car garages. Often too a plywood boat with outboard motor hanging to its square transom.
Busy endless goings and comings in glistening automatic cars. Nearby industries, mostly electronic and often quite secret. The five-day week with its long weekend. A truly volcanic stream of traffic going to the crowded places.
From D.O. Mills’ thousand acres to James Flood’s lace palace, a chain of estates lay like a necklace along the foothills.
Furnishings were sumptious. Horses and carriages in the English pattern were everywhere. Tallyhos, silver mounted harness, coachmen, graced the estates or met the trains at Burlingame.
The estates, often a thousand acres, vied in exotic landscaping. Some had a crew of twenty or more gardeners. Each estate featured an avenue, a sunken garden or pool. Sometimes a show of annuals blooming in a gorgeous quilt.
Newhall was reached by way of a thousand-foot, four column avenue of hawthorn.
William Crocker’s garden was perfumed by a grove of white datura, the trumpet flower of Mexico. St. Cyr moved a Japanese garden intact onto the premises.
The long line of parks extended ot the Bournes at Spring Valley, and to a cluster–Jacklin, Jocelyn, Fleischackeer, Folger and Schilling–in the Portola Valley.
Changing ways and heavily increased taxes began the doom of this exuberant country life about twenty years ago.
Miss Clara Dills, County Librarian at that time, well aware of what was happening, had an extensive set of pictures made of these buildings and their gardens. This group of pictures will be an increasing treasure as most of them could never be made again. In a few case, the very houses were being torn down or the grounds bulldozed as they were being rapidly sketched.
A part of this flood washed over San Mateo County. Little towns knit together. Presently the Southern Pacific paralleled the Camino. Maybe a single block of stores, hotels and saloons. Then scattered cottages of early commuters.
Stores still featured the Western false front. Brick began to be used and was popular until the 1906 earthquake. With most of the square false fronts lying in the streets, it speedily became much less esteemed.
San Francisco’s wealthy, always conscious of the weather that in 1817 caused the Franciscans of Dolores Mission to build a place in the sun for their chilled staff to recuperate at San Rafael, began to move down the peninsula. The warm eastern slopes of the hills charmed them.
William Ralston spearheaded the move. Even before the railroad was built, he had a palace of wooden lace erected at Belmont. There with fast horses and continuing demands for good roads, he became the first commuter. First in what a flood!
This was a time uninhibited by social restraints as the days of the French Louis’. Huge fortunes had been swiftly made in silver, in railroads, in shipping, sugar and pineapple. Taxes were negligible. Labor was cheap.
Exuberant, fantastic and lavish palaces and chateaux rose like mushrooms in the favored hills.
(Photo: Galen Wolf works on the family car in Half Moon Bay, circa 1912).
For a century, the Spanish century, little changed along El Camino Real. Nothing could be called a town. Horsemen sauntered or gaily, wildly raced.
Under the oaks the poppies bloomed, the “cup of gold” of the Spaniard. Cattle lazily grazed. Elk moved among them in the easy truce of the herbivorous.
On occasion, a grizzly might lurch from a scrub thicket to break the neck of a young bull. Sometimes a panther dropped like a stone from his tree perch. At night, the coyote sang hysterically to the stars.
Cattle had little value except for hide or tallow. The Indian got his fill of meat and the Spaniard in joyous fiesta and ceremony counted his long and serene days.
No one foresaw the changes the gold find was to bring. No one saw the endless caravans and the fleets of windjammers that would populate the state a hundred fold in a few years. And would change the government and way of life for all time.
“St. Matthew’s Land,” Part II by Coastside Artist Galen Wolf
On the riders’ left hand rose the blue and misty ridge of a wooded range. Beyond the ridge lay the sea.
The salt smell of marshes and the glint of a great bay was to their right. Brown frocked Franciscan brothers rode the mules. Ragged and patch Indians accompanied them.
The cavalcade camped at the creek of San Francisquito, and again at a stream that emerged from low hills and flowed through the present San Mateo. They passed on to the founding of Dolores Mission.
It was a peninsula over which the riders travelled. It had the joy and excitement that waters bring to a land.
No one could forget that across the world wide sea lay the Tropic Isles, China and Japan. In its deeps lived huge whale and myriads of fish. Men lived here that set forth to sea for adventure and livelihood.
Captains built high white houses. Fishermen assembled huts of beach drift.
Hills ran like a spine the length of this land. They were blue with forest and with haze. In the midst of a taming land they remained wild. With their deer, bear and panther, their turbulent lumber camps, with creeks cool in fern choked canyons, they were a remote island between two growing populations.
“St. Matthew’s Land” by Coastside artist Galen Wolfe written to accompany a series of paintings of Peninsula landmarks on display at the San Mateo Library in 1961.
St. Matthew’s land is San Mateo County.
A county is more than a political subdivision, more than its acres and population and improvements.
It is always, and foremost, a great human story. The eventful lives of its people, the legends and traditions, make the tale, make the rich personality of this land.
Unlike the Sierra, San Mateo County had no gold and little traffic in six guns. [I have never heard of this term, “six guns.” Anyone know?] But to offset the brash and rowdy thrill of this hectic and short-lived world, our county has a history more than twice as long. And far more varied.
It roughly divides into two parts, each looking over a century. The first was passed in the tranquil sleep of the Spaniard. The second awoke to the accelerating pace of an American state.
Years before the shots at Lexington were fired, the tiny hooves of mules were trudging ankle deep in the alluvial dust of the peninsula. They tinkled in the stony dry creek beds.
El Camino Real was being etched by these patient hooves, a road that was to be the ribbon of life in California for a hundred years. And in the county which became, for another hundred years. Amid changes inconceivable to the humble cavalcade of its beginning.
“The pier at Amesport is one thousands feet long. Here at the double warehouse Wm. Mullen greets you, the loads are weighed. The low cars roll slowly down the grade of the wharf. A steady horse immune to the scare of breaking waves beneath, follows the cart to draw it back.
“Other wagons come from the north. From the ranch of Guerrero, at the foot of Pedro Mountain. The Burkes come in. Deany, Draffen, Dennison, John Kyne, Murphy. There will be a load for the little steam schooner rolling at her anchor fifty feet beyond the pier.
“The donkey engine clanks. The slings lift high. Your potatoes appear on the deck of the schooner. The men work fast, to clear the way for the waiting boats.
“You shake hands with John Mullen, with Ring and Casey.
“It is too late for the stage. You walk along the cliffs south of town to pass the afternoon.
“Godetia and wile aster and clean shining strawberrries garden the banks. A rich, drowsy smell comes from the new mown hay, and it is spiced with tarweed. You breathe deeply.
“The beaches far below are swept clean as carpets. Gulls float by. At sea the murres are flying in an endless phalanx from south to north. This will go on all day.
“In the bay a whale breaks the surface. The cry of sea lions comes from the Sail Rock of Pillar Point.
“Over the sky a silver veil has crept. The hay fields are a dusty gold, and the half seen hills a soft and smoky blue. The sea breaks with a hollow sound and the sea birds scream.
“To the west a grey shape passes. It is no doubt the steam schooner. But it could be anything. The ghost of a ship that had lost its way in the fog and wrecked. Now its whistle blows, a voice hoarse and unbelievably wild.
“In the hay field a horseman is riding. No particular somebody. But in the glorifying light, and in your wish, it is Pablo Vasquez on the golden pony.
(Pablo Vasquez and his golden horse).
“For a spell has been about you since first you glimpsed the coach in San Mateo. The magic reaches you now with great force. There is no distinction of time remaining. Either of the day or of the year. The gentleness of the land has overcome you. Here is the long sleep. The long dream.
“You will carry some of this back to the busy city streets. You will carry a bit of it all your life. For the dream is fadeless, the heritage of those who know and love this land.”
Note: “Coastland 1885” by Galen Wolf was published to commemorate the 90th anniversary of Levy Bros, founded in Half Moon Bay in 1872.
“Pablo Vasquez, slender, grave,white head and beard, unbelievably poised and graceful. And his golden pony. Little hooves flicking like white butterflies, golden skin polished and glinting in the sun. They pass. An era passes on those twinkling hooves.
“The stage draws up to the porch of the Schuyler House. Quick leaves, hand shakes, and you board it,climbing to the high seat beside Bob Rawles.
Wells Fargo’s box lies at your heels, and the reins of six horses, complex and demanding, are in Bob’s hands.
“You look at his seamed and weathered face. He is no longer young. Soon Eddie Campbell and Frey of Purissima will drive, and old Bob will linger at the stables, unable to leave the animals he has handled so long.
“From your high perch you survey the homes, the picket fences, the bursting, overflowing gardens. This is the land of the fuchsia, the geranium, the nasturium.
“Against the quiet neutrality of the sky and green-grey lands, the flowers flame with a passionate glory.
“The homes look loved and well cared for. The contentment reaches you on the high seat and you are happy.
“The hay is a long sea before you. Occasional fields of flex are heliotrope lakes. Eucalyptus and cypress fence the farms with sheltering walls.
“Purissima beckons, but Irish Ridge is your destination. There are the fields of potatoes for hungry San Francisco. This is your business today.
“A road winds steeply and curves from sight. Goldenrod and wild aster border it. You leave the stage and look forward to the climb. But here is John Ring, with his team behind you. You ride.
“On Irish Ridge, the fiddles sing. The merry quips and laughter ring. At night the lads and lassies dance. The old folk dance the clog.
“On Irish Ridge are Garrigans and Rings. On Irish Ridge the Caseys live like kings.
“The dusk of the dawn is in the barns as leather is flung on sleepy horses. In lamp-lit stalls the bit, collar and harnass are fitted. In the quiet of the morning, you are on your way to Amesport [ Miramar Beach].
“Six wagons are coming. Loaded high and heavy with potatoes. Kinds unknown today; Bodega Blues and Sonoma Rose and Peerless. Blue shirted, big-framed men quietly handled the teams. It is a land and a time of horsemen.
“Up through dusty miles. Dust in little cataracts falls from the wheel rims.
“On through the half-wakened town. Northward, where the whistle of an impatient steamer blows.
“You know the man speaks the truth. Across the Peninsula, a few dairies lie scattered from Colma to Redwood. Although it is a county seat, Redwood is just emerging from the prevailing marshland.
“Here on the coast is vigorous, bustling life. Two stage lines serve the coastland and the traffic is phenomenal. Sometimes three steam schooners are waiting their turn at Amesport.
“Wheat, potatoes, cattle, hay, flax and timber pour out to nourish the new growth of San Francisco.
“The Steeles, Moores and McCormacks farm all the way to the Santa Cru county line. Doble, Dowell, John Mein, Deany, Schult and Martin are at Lobitos, at Tunitas and Purissima. The latter boasts a hotel, a store, a dance hall, a saloon, a school and a church. Fishermen from San Francisco know these streams well.
“Irish Ridge is populated. Rings, Garrigans, Casey and O’Briens have built there, high above the sea.
“Halfmoon or Spanishtown, throbs with life. Its stories, schools, churches and saloons are all patronized as occasion calls.
“Bolts of cloth are piled to the ceiling in Levy’s store and Boitano’s. The barns bulge with grain. Team after team crawls up and down Main Street.
“Mary McCormack and Miss Pringle and Clara Mullen have their schools.
“And on Sunday, the workaday community quiets to a hush. The church bells call their singing cadence. Almost to a man, woman and child, the town turns out.
“As you stand on the porch of the Schulyer House, you can see across the grainfields the mouth of Higgins Canyon. Sanor and Tom and Wm. Johnsonn farm theere, and Clement Nash. The hill of Rudolpho Miramontes is a waving backdrop of grain beyond the town streets.
“A six horse team strains at the tugs as it starts a load of lumber. It hass three miles to go to the long pier at Amesport.
“There will be more of these teams soon. Charlie Borden and Rufus Hatch are cutting in the Purissima. Hughes at Tunitas, Walker, Bloomquist and a score of others in the San Gregorio, the Pomponio, the Pescadero. The walls of San Francisco are being created.
“Behind you the election talk simmers. Now local pride has its hour. A man tells of the running of Andy Younker from San Francisco with a fifty pound sack of flour on his back. He made Amesport before dark and won his wager.
“You hear of Louis Cardoa who carries two sacks of grains at a time to the boats and earns two men’s wages.
“You hear of Wm. Griffith. He bought the first lot in 1862. It seems he has again won the turkey shoot with frontier markmanship.
“And then, visual focus of their pride, a horseman rides by. He rides simply, without ostentation. But here is drama living.
“And now the town. A tall white church, new and imposing. A store, and a store, and a store. Joe McCarthy’s, Angelo and Joe Boitano’s emporium. The headquarters of the Levy brothers; Ferdinand, Joe, Armand and Adrian, from Alsace Lorraine. And their wives from a German merchant port. They had come to serve and to prosper and they are doing both well.
“On the right, on Kelly Avenue is Nelson’s livery stable. Harry the post carrier, is still to be born. The postmaster is Fred Valedejo. Here is Quinlan’s blacksmith shop. There, Charlie Gonzales’ forge, showering sparks and tinkling with hammer blows.
“Now neither rawles nor the horses are too tired for the expected dramatic finale. Bob brings the team to a spanking trot. With a roar of wheels, a grind of brakes and trampling hooves, the stage comes to a hard down stop in front of the Schuyler House.
“The Schuyler House looks down from four impressive stories and balconies. A few years before it had been sold to a corporation of ten, at a thousand dollars a share. So now in the bar is young Andy Gilchrist. And in charge of the kitchen is young Kate Burke.
“They are to have many years of marriage and hotel keeping before them. But the years of the foredoomed Schuyler House are to be few. On April 26, 1894, it is to vanish in an avalanche of flame and thundering fall of roof and floors. Charlie Walker’s drug store is to be burned too, and the whole town threatened. Half Moon will fight back desperately with buckets and will never forget that day.
“You clamber a bit stiffly from the stage. The strap bound Wells Fargo box plummets to the board sidewalk. Not always has it survived the journey. The stage is not the only institution of the West to travel that lonely road. There are highwaymen too.
“On the hotel veranda you see the Higgins boys. Also McGovern, Clement Nash and Wm. Savage. You see splendid Dr. Church, and towering alongside him Johnny, all eight feet and one inch of him, the tallest man in America.
“The passengers separate to the bar, the dining room, to their homes. New passengers arrived; John Mein for Lobitas, some for Irish Ridge and for Doble’s ranch at Purissima. Three drummers are going through to Mc Cormack’s new hotel, the Pescadero House, and one to the Swanton House.
“Here they will take the Sears stage through the heavy timber to La Honda. Up and down the terrific Upenuf dusty grade to the Trippes store at Woodside and thence to Redwood City.
“It is a jolting, bone-weary job the drummers have, but with a pint of whisky and big black cigars they will see it through.
“After dinner in the bar, there is quite a gathering. It is nearing election. The strong voice of Judge Pitcher asserts, ‘As goes Spanishtown, so goes the county.’ A cheer goes up. The new name, Half Moon Bay, is yet strange to say.