Tuesday, June 29, 2010

62nd Street History

When the University first decided to sell or demolish the two Cheney houses, they first did a serious study of the historic nature of both houses. As a result, we have a copy of the "Historic Structure Report" done on the Cheney Cottage. It is 171 pages long, complete with photographs, plot plans, historic notes on the occupants, the community and the changing nature of the 2200 block of College Avenue.

For the Delaney House, we have very little information. But we have been doing our own sleuthing, along with our neighbor, Pete Alvarez, and we have learned a lot about the house.

The first mention of the Delaney House that Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association has is for 1904, when the Delaney family lived in the house. There were no records that show the house before that, and our assumption at the time was that the Delaney House was a farmhouse that was moved when they cut through some of the streets (South Berkeley went from farm land to more residential during the first decade of the 20th Century).

Research on 62nd Street is complicated, because the street names in the area changed, and because the Oakland/Berkeley line seems to have changed too. It appears that, even in 1904, South Berkeley was not considered one of the better neighborhoods to live in, and the records for the area were much less respected than the more "important" areas of Berkeley.

But Pete Alvarez, who lives across the Street, went into the Oakland History Room and discovered more. He found an early 1901 map of the neighborhood, which shows our house. The house is in the exact location where it is now, but the three houses to the east are not yet built, and our lot covered from King (which was then called "Paradise") to the existing west side of the lot.

So now, in addition to having this earlier reference for our neighborhood, Pete also researched who lived in the house. We know that the Delaney family didn't move to the house in 1904 - as early as 1894, William Delaney lived on "Todd near Paradise" (62nd near King). William's 1894 occupation is listed as "Capitalist." In 1895, William was listed along with John T Delaney, who is listed as "clerk". By 1896, Paradise had changed to King, and by 1898, a "Miss Annie Delaney" is listed as well.

John T and Annie eventually moved two doors down from the house, and John's name disappears off the records as of 1942. We know that Annie Delaney is the one who sold the 62nd Street house to the Thomas family 50 years later, in 1947. George Thomas, who bought the house from Annie, lived in East Oakland until moving his family in 1947. It was his daughter Doris who ultimately owned the house, after her brother, sister in law and nephew all died in the late 1980s and early 90s. She kept the house, vacant, for 20 years, finally selling the house to us. So it appears that we are the third owners of the house.

There's nothing momentous in any of this - it's not like the Wilmer McLean house in Appomattox Courthouse, where the surrender for the Civil War was signed. The Symbionese Liberation Army didn't camp out in the house. It was just family life, people living there, growing up and growing old, living and dying. Yet it makes us happy that we know this. As we strip wallpaper, we imagine which family members looked at the new decor with pleasure, and we try to figure out who lived in each room.

The house will be changing, going from a one storey house to a two storey house, but we hope to preserve as much of the past as we can,, and honor its history while creating a new life on 62nd Street.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for shedding a little more light on this semi-mysterious house ... and thanks for saving it ... and thanks to your neighbor Pete ...