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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;

  • Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
  • Valley Times : Do You Remember?
  • The Independent : Do You Remember?

The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.

They will also be found on this page each week as well.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

Archive Page

Phoebe Apperson Hearst's Pleasanton ties

By Barry Schrader.................................September 29, 2005

During the two-day Pleasanton Heritage Festival last weekend there were lots of questions about Phoebe Apperson Hearst's ties to Pleasanton and her hacienda on the hill where Castlewood stands today. We also had a lot of fun printing on the old wooden press and playing the ancient "frog's mouth" washer toss game with Al Spotorno whose three-generations ranching family was one of the attractions at the Pioneers of Pleasanton tent.

After trying to field dozens of questions on Phoebe and her family, I did some research and came up with this brief history which I hope will satisfy the inquisitive.

George had already made a fortune in silver mining in Nevada. In 1865 bought 40,000 acres which today includes the Hearst Castle at San Simeon. He then looked around Alameda County for some more land and purchased 1,900 acres along the Pleasanton Ridge, which became a sort of hunting lodge. He apparently began building the lodge as early as 1866, later to become the mansion known as Hacienda del Pozo de Verona (named after a fountain Phoebe imported from Verona, Italy, the home of Romeo and Juliet). This was confirmed by the late John Marshall, who owned the land and operated a dude ranch there from 1940 to 1952. Marshall found a carpenter's chisel dated 1866 in the walls of Castlewood.

George died in 1891 at the age of 70. He was 22 years older than Phoebe so she had many years of life ahead of her and tremendous responsibilities to oversee the empire he had built, along with their son William Randolph Hearst. But she proved to be up to the challenges over the next 28 years.

Her charitable and civic efforts had included establishing the first free kindergarten (with Sarah B. Cooper) in San Francisco in 1883, then establishing Cathedral School in Washington, DC, plus another kindergarten there while her husband served in the US Senate. She is also known as the founder of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers (now the PTA).

After her husband's death in Washington she returned to Pleasanton where she began building her dream home, hiring a young woman named Julia Morgan to design the hacienda, who later became one of the nation's most renowned architects. The fabulous complex originally consisted of three sections connected by enclosed arbors. The main building had 53 rooms alone, was three stories and its picture windows, verandas, lawns and gardens provided a panoramic view of the Amador-Livermore Valley, which is still the case today. It was furnished with some of the finest tapestries, paintings, sculptures and furniture from all over Europe. The list of guests over the years included royalty from Europe, artists and composers, presidents, movie stars, and the rich and famous from far and wide.

The music room at one end contained objects of art from all over the world and still had space for 100 guests. The massive fireplace, copied after those in ancient monasteries, could roast a whole ox on a spit. (When Castlewood burned in August 1969, only that room remained.) But her favorite forms of entertaining were garden parties and masquerade balls. She had a large storeroom stocked with hundreds of costumes for the pleasure of her guests. She would frequently host groups of 40 to 50 friends for weekend parties.

After her death in 1919 her son William Randolph maintained the place for a few years, then sold the property in 1924 to a group of businessmen who planned to turn it into a country club. The name Castlewood was chosen, because of the wooded hillside and the castle-like building as the centerpiece. Some 800 members signed up in a short period and it flourished until the Depression hit. In 1940 it was sold to Marshall. And later on it was turned into a country club once again, which it is today.

Phoebe was kind and generous to her Pleasanton neighbors, and hired many locals at her “ranch.” The school district has named the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Elementary School after her and a great nephew Bill Apperson is invited to the school each year to talk about the history of the two families. They also hold a fundraiser, patterned after the traditional "Enchanted Evening" parties of William Randolph Hearst, raising as much as $90,000 each year for the benefit of the school. I learned this from Ellen Pensky McGraw, a PTA leader, who visited our Heritage Days exhibit over the weekend.

And of course you can also walk away with a “wanted poster” printed on an old press, but the ink will still be wet so handle it gingerly! I suspect that Pleasanton Hotel proprietor Bill Lobby will particularly want one for his wall.

***

My attempt to get people to come and read the front page of the January 1902 Pleasanton Times at the Heritage Festival so they could answer the history mystery question didn't produce any winners. So the answer is that a story told about an employee of the Hearst Ranch (the one near Pleasanton, not San Simeon) who fell asleep in his quarters and the coal oil heater nearly suffocated him. Luckily for him, other employees smelled smoke and found him unconscious in the smoke and soot-filled room.

***

This week’s question: What famous alumnus of Chabot Valley Campus (now Las Positas College) has written a book about his life and included many details of his rough early years growing up in this valley? Hint: he was a commencement speaker at “Las Po” about six years ago.

 

The columnist can be reached via email at :

Historian2sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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