St. Matthew’s Land by Coastside artist Galen Wolf (Part IV)

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.

…to be continued..

St. Matthew’s Land by Coastside artist Galen Wolf (Part III)

galen_2.jpg (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.

…to be continued…

St. Matthew’s Land by Coastside artist Galen Wolf (Part II)


“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.

…to be continued…

St. Matthew’s Land by Coastside artist Galen Wolf (Part I)


“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.

Part I

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.

…to be continued…

Dear John

Dear John,

Yes, there were two restaurants. “Frank’s” in Moss Beach, overlooked the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, the beautiful reefs you speak of. The other was pink in color and stood a mile or so from the foot of “Devil’s Slide,” that dangerous but breathtaking slice of roadway, “a little Big Sur,” that separates Pacifica and San Francisco from the Coastside.

Frank Torres owned both restaurants. Frank’s son, whose name eludes me, did operate the one in Moss Beach for a time. Unfortunately oldtimers report he died youngish of imbibing too much.

Frank’s has gone through several sets of ownership since Mr. Torres death ( he was rumored to have been a power during Prohibition). It’s now called the Moss Beach Distillery and the former roadhouse is publicized as the home of the “Blue Lady,” a ghost who roams about at night. You get the idea.

The other Torres restaurant, the pink one, was torn down (but leaving one wall to satisfy the Coastal Commission’s rules) and replaced by the very modern, sort of abstract-ty Chart House restaurant which changed management several times before suddenly closing down a year or so ago. The empty building overlooks a spectacular view of Montara beach.

The reefs you recall (at Moss Beach, where the Distillery is located)l are as breathtaking as ever–but now there is a new element. A local young surfer named Jeff Clark “discovered” a fantastic surfing cauldron that is called “Mavericks,â€? and is NOT named after Clark’s dog as is sometimes said.

When conditions are ideal, the waves are enormous, sometimes as tall as a six-story building– and Maverick’s is now listed as one of the best surfing venues in the entire universe–and the yearly contests where world-class surfers are summoned when the waves are awesom–draw thousands upon thousands of observers and fans to the little fishing village of Princeton.

In recent years so many people have come to view the surfing contest that there are rumors of banning the hordes because the landscape is so fragile, lots of erosion. One plan is to have the public watch the surfing events on closed circuit tv at the old Candlestick ballpark in S. San Francisco,

Princeton, which borders the airport you remember so well, is also adapting to changing times.. A large hotel and indoor mall is being built. I don’t mean to give you the idea that this a city -size hotel and mall; it’s not, but it’s big enough for us Coastsiders.

The airport is still home to pilots learning to fly and other small aircraft bringing visitors to the Coastside, perhaps to play golf at the pretty Ritz Carlton Hotel, south of Half Moon Bay. Or to wind surf, kayak or hike to the peak of glorious Montara Mountain—and drink in the Coastside’s natural beauty.

Yes, during WWII the airport was also a training sites for the Women’s Army Corps (WACS) and I have some extraordinary photos of them on my site–and there are pictures of many of the other places you speak of.

In the 1950s the airport hosted drag strip racing featuring big stars like “Big Daddyâ€? Don Garlits–there is a photo of the racing superstar at the airport—the surroundings might bring back warm memories.

On April 29 the annual “Dream Machine” extravaganza is being held at the HMB airport–all kinds of cars, fully loaded, weird and fancy. Other types of incredible machines. We didn’t have the Dream Machine show last year because Devil’s Slide fell in and we were dependent on one road only, two-lane Highway 92.

Sounds to me like you’re ready to re-visit those exciting images of your youth.


A Coastside Cave Sheltered The Outlaw Pomponio: Part IV

The frustrated soldiers waited in vain for the rebels to strike but the attack never came. Infuriated, they frantically renewed their hunt and Pomponio withdrew to the safety of the cave at the headwaters of Pomponio Creek, south of San Gregorio.

The crafty Pomponio must have felt secure knowing that the soldiers wearing standard issue uniforms and heavy boots were not prepared for the rugged terrain. This remote part of the Coastside was uncharted–and did not lend itself to an orderly field of battle.

His pursuers would lose their footing, slip and fall as they tried to climb the precarious layers of rock that led up to Pomponio’s hidden lair. In the unlikely event they did reach the cave, Pomponio and his men would be waiting for them, armed with weapons stolen on their raids.

(The Coastside was so isolated that not until 1850 did the famous Johnston brothers from Ohio distinguish themselves by being among the first to navigate wagons over the Coastside’s mountainous barriers. They used an ingenious rope system to gingerly lower their wheeled vehicles down the steep slope.)

But Pomponio’s luck was running out. Perhaps his youthful illusion of immortality led him to become sloppy. It was only a matter of time before his bravado would bring him down.

…To Be Continued….

A Coastside Cave Sheltered The Outlaw Pomponio: Part III

Indians2.jpg(Photo: Indians at mission in San Jose)*

Pomponio’s pursuers, Spanish or Mexican soldiers, must have believed that the fugitive Indian was dead, perhaps killed by grizzly bears or mountain lions that roamed the hills near Half Moon Bay. Visibly relieved, they pushed Pomponio out of their minds. He was forgotten and good riddance.

The soldiers had ceased looking for him when, one day they received a disturbing report of a raid on a Pacifica ranch. It sounded suspiciously like the work of the notorious Pomponio. Their worst fears were realized when eyewitnesses confirmed it was Pomponio and his gang, who had swooped down on the ranch and seized horses and supplies.

Once again the crafty Pomponio had slipped away.

Although Pomponio was ordinarily secretive–his success had made him careless. He started to confide in people whose loyalty he could not be certain of. A few traitorous Indians who had pretended to be sympathetic were actually employed as listening posts for the authorities.

When one of these deceitful fellows learned of Pomponio’s plans to raid a ranch near San Jose, he alerted the missionaries who set in motion a trap for the wanted outlaw. But in another twist, Pomponio, using his own spies, learned of the betrayal and altered his strategy by forgoing the raid.

*Photo: San Mateo County History Museum. Please visit the new galleries at the museum in the historic Redwood City Courthouse.

…To Be Continued…

Rancheros Sought Safety On The Coastside (1840s) Part V

bandit.jpg(Photo: The bandit Tiburcio Vasquez, whose uncle by the same name, owned the Corral de Tierra, stretching from Miramar to Half Moon Bay).

The Coastside was so isolated that the bandit Tiburcio Vasquez could visit his uncle on the remote Corral de Tierra without fear of being arrested by the authorities. He was finally captured in San Jose. The sheriff printed invitation announcing his execution on Friday, March 19, 1875.

GuerreroHse.jpg(Photo: Guerrero Farmhouse, later a hotel, Montara)

Francisco Guerrero continued to spend a great deal of time in San Francisco. In 1850, he was murdered as he stood near the corner of Mission and 12th Streets. The fatal injury occurred when a man stalking him on horseback struck him in the head with a slingshot.

On April 12, 1863, as the ranchero Tiburcio Vasquez sat near a window at a Half Moon Bay saloon, a volley of gunshots rang out. When the dust cleared, Vasquez was declared dead–and the murderers escaped.

It was later reported that there may have been a connection between the Guerrero and Vasquez murders. They had appeared as prosecution witnesses in an infamous land fraud case.

Although Candelario Miramontes did not live to see the outcome of the U.S. war with Mexico, all of his daughter Carmelita’s children were born in the adobe house on Mill Street in Half Moon Bay.

Descendants of these famous early Spanish families still thrive throughout California. Coastside street signs and geographical landmarks carry their names, a constant reminder of Half Moon Bay’s Spanish heritage.

Bank of Half Moon Bay


Photo: courtesy Spanishtown Historical Society, the SHS operates a small museum on Johnston St. Check with the HMB Chamber of Commerce for the schedule.