Who’s been living in my house?December 16, 2008
This month, some great house history posts over at Shaker Heights Restoration and Bungalow Insanity inspired me to finally finish the genealogy of our house. I’d been stuck for a while on who owned the house between 1944 and 1969, but some good advice on how to track the final pieces down (and several trips to the Alameda County Assessor/Recorder’s office) turned up the missing link at long last. Now we know who’s owned the house for every one of its 93 years.
Here’s the full story….
The Wanners (1915-1919)
Emma and Albert Wanner were the house’s first owners. Emma’s father Henry Gloy, a well-known Oakland cigarmaker, built it for them shortly after their marriage, and built the matching next-door house for son Henry, Jr. and his wife and children. The family was periodically covered in the society columns of the Oakland Tribune, so I was able to find out a bit about them. Albert, for instance, eventually went on to help run the General Engineering & Dry Dock Company, an Alameda shipyard that built gunners and minesweepers for the navy until the end of World War II. Why the Wanners moved out after only four years is somewhat fuzzy; why they sold the house for ten dollars in gold coins to a family friend is even fuzzier. (Even in 1919, that was a steal!) [Edit: I’ve learned that ten dollars in gold was a common downpayment for an early mortgage, so it’s likely that this is what was going on. I need to dig a bit more to see if there’s an actual sales price in the record.]
Emma’s brother Henry lived in the house next door until his high-profile 1921 death in a pistol battle (in the backyard, no less!) over union issues; his widow remarried and the family owned the home until 1984. Emma and Albert also stayed in Oakland, but moved up into the hills. Their home there ultimately burned in the 1991 Oakland firestorm. Emma died in 1948; she’s buried at Mountain View Cemetery at the end of Piedmont Avenue, not too far away.
F. Joseph Smith (1919-1921)
Update: Thanks to commenter Roxy, I now know a little bit about Joseph Smith (who had previously been a mystery, mostly because he has the world’s most common name and had consequently been tricky to trace). Joseph and Helen Smith, immigrants from England, lived in the house from 1919 to 1921 and had three children: Frederick, an accountant at a Gas and Electric company; Elizabeth, a stenographer at a bank; and Dorothy, a stenographer at a ship yard. I don’t know too much about why they moved into or out of the house, but will try to cross-reference these names with the Oakland Tribune archives when I have a chance (ha, that would be 16-18 years from now…)
The Kiedaisches (1921-1927)
Walter and Mabel Kiedaisch raised their five (!) children in our home for six years. Walter was a photographer who made his name shooting the 1906 San Francisco earthquake aftermath. The younger Kiedaisch children—Donald and twins Anita and Ethel—attended the nearby Grant Elementary (then at the corner of 29th and Broadway) and Lakeview Junior High (now Westlake Middle), and were periodically featured in the Trib for their school activities. The older boys, Calvin and Arthur, were students at Tech and later at UCLA. In 1927, the family moved to LA (and advertised in the Oakland Tribune that they had to leave town and sell the house as soon as possible—though it’s not clear why). Sadly, the last of the Kiedaisch children died in 2002, so we’ll never get to ask them about their years growing up here.
The Shaws & the Vanderbecks (1927-1944)
Some combination of Shaws and Vanderbecks lived in the house in the late 1920s, 1930s, and early 1940s. Katherine Shaw, a “California pioneer and native daughter” who helped settle the Yosemite Valley, lived here until her death in 1940 (and died in the house—the only death I’ve discovered so far). Her daughter Lucille was married to Earl Vanderbeck, whose name is on the deed. We have the Vanderbecks to thank for our 1939 kitchen remodel, which—amazingly—they even pulled permits for. The Vanderbecks moved to LA and then to San Diego, where they lived until their deaths in the mid-1960s.
The Souzas (1944-1957)
Frank and Pearl Souza owned our home in the post-war years, and raised three daughters—Lucia, Nancy, and Jean—here. (The girls’ names are still etched into our garden pathway, along with their parents’ names and a big heart—awww!) Frank worked at the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond during the war, and then went into business with his six brothers. The family owned a restaurant called Oscar’s on Lakeshore Avenue, not far away. It’s long gone, though there is still one piano bar on the lake, a lingering memory of Grand Lake’s past. (The original Oscar’s location is now home to the Gap.) The Souza girls went to Edison Elementary (now swank condos on Kempton), which had opened in 1927 to relieve Grant’s overcrowding, and then on to Westlake and Tech. The family moved to South Lake Tahoe in 1957, where Frank became one of the region’s early real estate developers and was actively involved in planning the area. (South Lake Tahoe even dubbed November 17th “Frank Souza Day” in his honor.)
The Wais (1957-1975)
The Wais had me stumped for a long time. The early history was easy to research because there were census and voting records that noted who lived here, and it didn’t take too long to match up names and years to find the deed transfers. Similarly, everything after 1969, when Alameda County started using computers, was easy to find, too. What was impossible to find were the records between the 1944 sale and the 1975 sale. I had a couple of leads, but they had all been dead-ends, partly because the Souzas had a fairly common surname. (To track deed transfers here, you have to know the name of either the grantor or the grantee, and then have to look for the name in the kind-of-alphabetical listings for each year the house might have been transferred; up until the 1960s, these records were handwritten in longhand, making it rather tricky.) All I knew for sure was that in 1969, when the records were computerized, someone named Wai Hing Tong owned the house.
A lot of sleuth work finally turned up an affidavit from Wai Yook Toi in the 1970s declaring that her husband, Wai Hing Tong, was actually the same person as Wong Quok, and had died in 1961, so his house now belonged to her. Apparently the original deed had been issued in the latter name (which was why I couldn’t find it). The wonder of Google got me the full explanation: Wai Hing Tong, aka Wong Quok, had entered the country illegally while the Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect, deserting his ship and refusing to leave the country (a common practice for skirting the immigration laws at the time). He apparently lived under the new name for some period of time. By the 1950s, the act had been repealed and he immigrated formally and went back to his original name, but consequently the house sales and personal records didn’t match. But there they were: our home’s sixth owners.
By the time the Wais bought our house in 1957, our neighborhood was in transition. The MacArthur Freeway (aka I-580), which is six blocks north of us and cuts our neighborhood off from Temescal and Piedmont Avenue, was planned and plotted, and in the summer of 1956, the city began publishing notices to vacate for homes along the proposed route. This took out stretches of homes along nearby Richmond Boulevard, Kempton Way, Santa Clara Avenue, Stanley Way, and Harrison Street, along with hundreds of other blocks across the city. It was also during this stretch that the houses behind us were demoed and the lots redeveloped into apartment buildings. I imagine it wasn’t the best time to live here! (And on that note, I’m not entirely sure the Wais did live here—by the early 1970s, Wai Yook Toi seems to have been living in an apartment on Grand, so possibly the house was rented or even empty during those decades.) The house was briefly on the market in 1973 according to an ad in the Oakland Tribune at the time, advertised as a “great buy for the small investor! (Zoned R-70!)” Fortunately for us, no one bit, and the house didn’t sell until Wai Yook Toi’s death in 1975.
Update: I did eventually find some information on the Wai children—there were four, and they did indeed live here. Raymond Wai was eight years old when his parents bought the house in 1957, and had three sisters: Janice, Marian, and Grace. He later moved to Piedmont and sadly died in 1991; I haven’t tracked down too much on the girls yet.
The Jeffreys (1975-1997)
Wayne and Nellie Jeffreys bought the house in the summer of 1975 after it had been briefly owned by an Oakland Avenue neighbor. (Perhaps he was “flipping” it?) They retired here, as far as I can tell. They may also have done some of the restoration on the house, though that’s a bit unclear. (The spring 1975 listing for the house advertises the wall-to-wall carpets, which fortunately kept our original quarter-sawn oak floors in pristine condition!) The Jeffreys are largely responsible for all of our fruit trees and edible landscaping, and possibly for some of the perennial beds as well. I’m pretty sure the basement workshop was Wayne’s—it doesn’t seem that the previous owner used it much, and there are old newspaper clippings and mailing labels that date to the early 1990s. The Jeffreys also tackled our first earthquake retrofit after the Loma Prieta quake in 1989. They lived here until Wayne’s death at age 80 in 1996; Nellie then sold the house and returned to Utah, where she still lives today. (While we haven’t been in touch with her directly, she continues to exchange letters with our next-door neighbor, who shares updates on the house and garden with her.)
Finally, the previous owner bought the house in 1997 and lived here for a decade with her son; she sold it to us in the fall of 2007 and moved up into the hills, and we’ve lived here ever since.
This post was brought to you in part by:
- The U.S. Census—in 94 years, someone might need to know who lived in your house, so don’t forget to send your 2010 form back today!
- Betty Marvin and the Oakland Cultural Heritage Survey—please help save Oakland’s historical archives library and staff from budget cuts!