Race To Electrify The South Coast: Conclusion

As the official victor in the race to bring light to Pescadero in 1925–Great Western again petitioned the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors for a new franchise. Great Western was then working at Colma, where, according to the Half Moon Bay Review, the power company was “strengthening its poles, making it possible for them to carry 44,000 volts to Half Moon Bay where a substation is to be built…

“When all the new construction is completed, at a cost of approximately $2 million, [ed. can that figure be right?], the Coastside, including Half Moon Bay, San Gregorio and way points, will receive electric service equalling any city in the nation.”

Winning the race bestowed Great Western with a high profile and new purpose. The company donated the services of its legal staff to help secure the right-of-way of the abandoned Ocean Shore Railroad for a scenic highway. Great Western also granted the services of one of its leading engineers, W.J. Walsh, to help improve Pedro Mountain Road.

In December, 1925–as PG&E concentrated on buying out smaller power companies all over Northern California–Great Western was finally granted permission to extend itshigh tension wires from South San Francisco to Half Moon Bay.

Then–a strange twist in the tale.

Just when Great Western appeared to be in total control of the Coastside’s light and power, the company sold its interest in the South Coast, including San Gregorio and Pescadero. The buyer was PG&E!

Great Western was soon to bow out of the electrical business on the Coastside altogether. Again, PG&E was the buyer.

In this ironic turn of events, the loser of the race to Pescadero emerged as the winner who took all.

The Race To Electrify The South Coast: Part III

Review.jpgPhoto: The old HMB Review office. Is that a power pole in front?

…In the late summer of 1925 the Half Moon Bay Review devoted plenty of space to the race between Great Western and Pacific Gas & Electric Co.– the two power companies engaged in, well, a power struggle, to see who could electrify Pescadero and San Gregorio first. Beginning the work of planting poles in different parts of San Mateo County, Great Western was declared the winner, having lit the first light in Pescadero 24 hours before PG&E….

For decades there had been a subtle competion between Half Moon Bay (the “metropolis”) and Pescadero (the little village). There were some in Half Moon Bay who looked down on the Pescaderans–who were roundly criticized in the paper for not painting the fence around the old cemetery. In my opinion, Half Moon Bay could act a bit snooty when it came to their neighbors on the South Coast.

In 1925 the Half Moon Bay Review’s editor wrote: “Scarcely had the electric current reached their town, the inhabitants started a movement to have a street lighting system. Pescadero is without doubt populated with boosters, who never overlook an opportunity to advance the welfare and profess of their city.

“Only a short time back, they saw a bank and post office building erected on their mainn street, just at present a new high school is in course of construction.

“But still their desire for advancement in proding them, and ere long they will enjoy the evening walk along their electrically lit streets.”

Barely able to contain their curiosity about how Pescadero looked under electric lights, a headline in the Review read: “Pescadero. We’re Coming”.

The excuse was a meeting of the Coastside Civic Union to be held in Pescadero.

“….there will be at least several auto loads from this point alone,” the Review article warned. “Everyone is anxious to see Pescadero with her new ‘crown of jewels’–the town should fairly shine with the juice from two great systems running into the veins of the community. In other words, the town will really be ‘lit up’….”

…To Be Continued…

The Race To Electrify The South Coast: Part II

THUS FAR: In the summer of 1925 a most unusual “race” took place on the Coastside between the arch-rivals Great Western and Pacific Gas (GWPG) and Electric (PG&E). The two power companies agreed to compete to see who could get power poles to electricity-starved Pescadero first.

For PG&E, the starting point was in the magical redwood forests near La Honda. From there, PG&E crews labored up and down the steep grades, drilling holes for power poles.

Following the rugged coastline, and employing two dozen men in three crews, Great Western started work at Lobitos Creek, south of Half Moon Bay.

Some 400 poles were shipped by boat from San Francisco to Pigeon Point–once the site of a busy wharf.

For three weeks, the crews toiled, day and night. At 4 a.m. on July 16, 1925, an exhausted GWPC crew brought the first electric current into Pescadero–and were proclaimed the victors. The Great Western workers had beaten the PG&E crew by 24 hours.

The winner installed a temporary generating plant in the Roy Scott garage in Pescadero.

According to the Half Moon Bay Review, it was not likely that the power companies’ only interest had been in providing Pescadero with power. More likely it was symbolic of a larger struggle.

“Rumors of a corporation battle for control of the electrical supply of the coast region of central California have been frequently heard,” explained the Review, “but there has been no official word that would verify this.”

The race to Pescadero would not end the struggle. PG&E, “using their own power,” showed an educational silent motion picture ont he screen at the Community Center building in Pescadero.

“Both companies are building parallel lines on the streets” of Pescadero,” the Review reported. PG&E was extending its lines to Davenport while Great Western was heading toward Butano Canyon.

A few days after the race to Pescadero ended, the Review wrly commented that the new lights had “spoiled” the Pescaderans– long accustomed to a rustic lifestyle.

…To Be Continued…

It Took A Long Time For The South Coast To Get Electricity: Part I

GreatWestern.jpg (Photo: Great Western building on Main St, Half Moon Bay, at right. In the foreground, a parade.)

By 1925 much of the Bay Area had been electrified–but there was no electricity to light the darkness south of Half Moon Bay.

As the sun dimmed and the shadows took hold of the night, San Gregorio and Pescadero were stilled. An occasional flash of light from the headlights of a speeding rum-running automobile ws the only break in the night. Farmers and housewives depended on coal oil lamps for the routine tasks of living.

With an office on Main Street in Half Moon Bay, the northern Coastside was served by the Great Western Power Co. (GWPC) of California.

“Nowadays a good continuous supply of electric power is as necessary in the home and in the kitchen as it is in the artichoke field,” the Half Moon Bay Review proclaimed in 1923.

GWPC was committed to the spread of electrification, as was its powerful arch-rival, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. PG&E kept an office in Redwood City but it was known on the coastside for its aggressive ads in the Review.

In the early 1920s many rival power companies were elbowing for business room in California. It wasn’t extraordinary for two different power companies to light the opposite sides of a street in the same town.

The struggle to electrify the south Coast was just part of a larger competition between PG&E and GWPC. Great Western had long served the Coastside–and in early 1925 asked the County Board of Supervisors to grant it a franchise to expand power lines. The request was denied.

In late June 1925 having been denied the franchise, Great Western had no choice but to enter into a race with PG&E.Which company would plant power poles fast enough to reach electricity-starved Pescadero first?

The prize could guarantee supremacy on the Coastside.

…To be continued…

Pescadero 1924: Miss Evelyn Voge Loved To Type

1924yrbk.jpg MsVoge.jpg


Did you ever hit “râ€? when you aimed at k?

And mixed-up your copy
With a double jj?

Made a capital M when it
Should have been small.

And ruined the meaning
With ‘bell’ instead of ‘ball’….â€?

Poem from Pescadero Union High School 1924 Yearbook: Carnelian and Blue

Pescadero Union High School student Evelyn Voge never punched an “râ€? when she aimed for a “kâ€?.

“Evâ€? was the perfect typist, a real “speed demonâ€? who set out to prove she could click-clack her way to first place at the National Typewriting Contest held at the San Francisco Business Show in April 1924.

Typing was a significant skill. A proficient typist could aspire to be a secretary, a glamorous ambition in this new age of working women.

Given Evelyn Voge’s superior typing skills, it was no surprise that she became the editor of Pescadero High’s first “Carnelian and Blueâ€? yearbook, named for the school’s colors.

She surely organized the yearbook that was artfully bound in red construction paper. Browsing through a surviving copy of “Carnellian and Blueâ€? is like being transported back to Pescadero 1924.

The 90-plus pages are crammed with art, graphics, excellent black-and-white photos, humor and exuberance.

To see Evelyn Voge walking to school she appeared as a stylish young flapper—but when she sat down to punch the keys on an Underwood typewriter, she was transformed into a vrtuoso.

On a 60-second typing test, Ev scored an astounding 79-words per minute, earning the admiration of all her classmates and teachers.

Due to Evelyn’s influence, typewriting became one of the school’s most popular classes with may of the students enrolling. When the day came for Evelyn to compete with 100 other first-rate typists at the contest in San Francisco, she was escorted by her friends to the bus stop in front of the local hotel owned by Dr. Thompson, the county supervisor from Pescadero.

As the bus carrying the young aspirant rolled away in a puff of exhaust fumes, the mood among Ev’s friends was wistful.

The soft-spoken Catherine “Cassieâ€? Bentley and the chatty Elsie Blomquist lingered on the hotel porch wishing they could have accompanied Evelyn on her exciting trip to the big city. Alas, their typing skills were mediocre and the girls glumly walked back to the school.

Note: Cassie and Elsie had their own talents. They were mischief-makers of the first order, later involved in an amusing scandal at the school when they hid the soccer team’s street clothes.

Evelyn Voge, Pescadero High’s legendary typist performed admirably at the contest in San Francisco. Ev finished in the top ten, the only candidate from San Mateo County to do so.

The Underwood Typing Company awarded her a bronze medal. In my 1924 copy of the “Carnelian and Blueâ€? yearbook there’s an amusing caricature of Evelyn Voge wearing her flapper era cloche frantically pounding at the keys of her typewriter.

Evelyn Voge’s true legacy was a role model to many of the other students who resulved to emulate her so that, they, too, could one day make the exciting trip to the big typing contest in San Francisco.


Once–The Most Recognizeable Backside in San Gregorio/Pescadero


And I can’t remember her name–was it Mrs. Bell? She could be seen everywhere–here she is at the “Worm Ranch”, in the 1970s, waiting for the local band, “Full Faith & Credit”, to begin their pop concert.

In San Gregorio, in the 1970s, the members of the band, “Full Faith & Credit”, featuring singer Michael Schwab. Michael lived at the worm farm.

Full Faith.jpg

Two guests at the concert: (At left) former El Granada contractor Doug St. Denis  with unidentifed man.Guests.jpgsg.jpg

hello to jerry koontz!!!

peter adams , laguna beach

Handwriting Expert Chauncey McGovern, The Artist’s Colony & A Famous Pescadero Murder Case: Part II

In his July 30th report, the handwriting expert Chauncey McGovern raised grave suspicions. He advised all parties that the signature was not that of Sarah Coburn. There were too many variations, he noted, between the signature on the will and the one on official records.

The “sâ€? and the subsequent “aâ€? on the official documents, for example, were not connected—but they were connected on the alleged forgery. On the official documents, the “aâ€? was executed with one stroke, while it took two strokes on the will. In the authentic signature, the final “hâ€? in the name, Sarah, “faded out in a flourishâ€?. In the will it looked like a drawn line.

Finally, Chauncey McGovern pointed out that the will was typed on a typewriter of “ancient vintageâ€?. Only Sarah’s signature was actually signed by hand. The letters and the alignment indicated that the will had not been typed by a stenographer – and, in his opinion, not in a lawyer’s office.


Did Sarah Coburn know how to type? No one knew for certain.

McGovern’s report did not speculate on who the alleged forger might have been.

In 1920 the will contest was dismissed when a financial agreement was reached between the beneficiaries of Sarah’s will and the East Coast relatives. By that time, the plaintiff’s attorney Charles Humphrey had acquired a desirable stretch of South Coast property. At the scenic Pescadero ranch he now owned, Humphrey entertained a steady stream of guests until his death in the 1940s.

A year after the case was dismissed, Chauncey McGovern’s ad seeking artists to rent the Von Suppe Poet and Peasant Cottage in Montara appeared in the Half Moon Bay Review.

In the early 1990s the cottage still stood in Montara, across the way from the old Montara Schoolhouse on Sixth Street. At that time, maintaining its tradition, the Von Suppe cottage was home to a music teacher.

Handwriting Expert Chauncey McGovern, The Artist’s Colony & A Famous Pescadero Murder Case: Part I

NOTE: While researching old newspapers for my book called “The Coburn Mysteryâ€?– a true story of murder [unsolved] and revenge set in 19th & early 20th century Pescadero– I ran into names of many prominent Bay Area attorneys because the main character, Loren Coburn, had earned the “overly litigiousâ€? moniker.

If Loren had a problem, he sued. He sued everybody. That’s why there’s so much information on his long, long life.

And being detailed oriented, I also happily found and pursued the “little storiesâ€? I found within the big one. Tangents.

Cottage For Rent In the Montara Artist’s Colony

“Cottage For Rent: The Von Suppe, Poet & Peasant Cottage of the Montara Fine Arts Colony Country Clubâ€?—that’s what the ad said that appeared in the summer 1921 issue of the Half Moon Bay Review.

(Von Suppe was a 19th century European theatrical conductor, the composer of 150 operettas. He became well known for composing the overture to “Poet and Peasantâ€?.)

The Review ad described the cottage as a “5-room, rustic camping out structure, rose vine covered, dozen 10-year-old Eucalyptus trees, on Bret Harte Hill near corner of Elbert Hubbard Road and Rudyard Kipling Ave.—within 200 feet of spacious schoolhouse and one block from Ocean Shore Auto Blvd.—tenants preferably artists, authors musicians. Weekly $5.00â€?.

Artists were directed to contact Chauncey McGovern, president of the Montara Fine Arts Club. Although we don’t know if he dabbled in painting, labored over romantic poetry or composed music, McGovern’s line of work as a well known San Francisco handwriting expert made his life from ordinary.

McGovern either rode the Ocean Shore Railroad (if it was still running) or drove to his San Francisco office in the Hearst Building. There is no doubt that he knew Harr Wagner, the educator, publisher and real estate developer whose dream was to turn Montara nto an artist’s colony. Harr and wife Madge Morris, a minor California poet, hosted many literary barbecues at their home, marked by stone pillars.

Chauncey McGovern’s introduction to the Coastside may or may not have originated at Wagner’s parties. His association with the fine arts club and cottage at Montara could also have come as a result of legal business that introduced him to Pescadero, south of Half Moon Bay.

In 1919, San Francisco attorney Charles F. Humphrey hired McGovern to verify the signature on Sarah S. Coburn’s last will. The elderly, wealthy widow had been clubbed to death in her Pescadero home in the summer of that year. The will–dated Feb. 19, 1919–was found by Half Moon Bay’s Dr. W. A. Brooke, then the county coroner, in a room adjacent to the one in which the body lay motionless.

Attorney Humphrey represented the disgruntled East Coast family members who had been omitted from the rich woman’s will. Aside from a few minor bequests to friends, the bulk of the estate was left to “strangers in bloodâ€?.

Feeling cheated out of their rightful inheritance, the East Coast relatives challenged the authenticity of Sarah Coburn’s signature.

The relatives wondered if that was even her signature—or if she knew what she was signing. After engaging Humphrey’s legal services, papers were filed to initiate a heated will contest.

Enter handwriting expert Chauncey McGovern, also president of the Montara Fine Arts Club.

Examples of Sarah’s handwriting were turned over to McGovern to examine. These included Sarah’s handwriting on official documents and the outside of folders, to be compared with a photo of the signature that appeared on the will.

…To be continued….