Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Second Owners

Been a while, hasn't it? Things have not been moving much, so I haven't had a lot to post - but there is progress being made.

Basically, we've had to cave if we're going to get this project done. The City of Berkeley screwed us over - had we known they would be so implacable on the bond issue, we would never have moved the Delaney House back, and simply sold it. But now that we've moved it, we're kind of stuck - we HAVE TO finish this project. So we're proceeding, following the City's rules. But rest assured: the City of Berkeley Permit Center is an evil entity. The Death Star. Darth MacQuarrie rules.

Okay, so enough of that....

We have done a lot of research about the Delaney Family, the first family we know of who owned the house on 62nd Street. The house was probably built in the 1880s, but the first records we have found have been from 1901. So we can only assume the Delaneys owned the house before that - there's no way of being sure.

The Delaneys sold the house in 1947 - but to who?

In our work fixing up the house, stuck behind the wainscoting in the kitchen, we found a negative for an old photograph. We had it developed, and it showed a strong, somewhat stern looking african american woman, sitting on a porch that, although it resembled the Delaney House, was not our house.

Doris Anderson, from whom we bought the house, was really nice to us - waiting while we dealt with all our odd financing, and trusting that we would be successful in purchasing the house. So we wanted to do something nice for her - the negative presented us with the perfect opportunity, and we had it printed and sent her the photograph. We assumed the woman in the photo was her mother.

After receiving the photo, Mrs. Anderson called us, and Tom had a delightful conversation with her - from which he learned a lot of the Thomas family history. Here are his notes on his conversation with Doris:
Belle Dixon
The woman in the picture was not Doris' mother, but was her grandmother, Belle Dixon, at her house in Hearn Texas. She died at the age of 50 not long after the picture was taken in the 50's.

Doris was born in the early 1930's in Galveston. Doris's dad, George Thomas, came west from Texas to join his brother and cousin during the war to work in the Vallejo shipyards. Doris' mother Essie said she'd come west to join her husband if God gave her a sign that she should go. She said, "God, if I wake up at 2 am this morning, I'll take that as a sign I should move west." That night, she woke up at 2 am, and so she packed up Doris and her sister onto a train headed to Oakland. On the way west, Doris was impressed with all the soldiers and sailors, fearing that her sister would be snatched up, but her sister appreciated all the attention.

Doris lived with her folks during the war in a modern duplex in Vallejo. She and her family would visit with her uncle, a porter with the Southern Pacific railroad, who lived on Tyler Street in South Berkeley. Her uncle would take them joyriding around town on weekends. Little did she know that her family was looking for a new home in the neighborhood. Not long after graduating from high school in 1947, on a sleepover visit with friend or family member in West Berkeley, her mom called to tell to wait another week before coming home. When she called back, her mom told her to walk with her bags to 1634 62nd Street. Doris walked up the steps of a strange old Victorian home, and her mom opened the door, surprising her by saying "Welcome home!". After living in a modern duplex, and developing friendships in Vallejo, Doris was very disappointed to move to an old house in Berkeley!

According to Doris, back in the 1940's, 62nd Street was primarily an Italian neighborhood. She recalls only three other black families living on the street back then. After the war, George worked in San Francisco's Playland at the Beach amusement park. Essie raised chickens and Jackson roses (many of the rose bushes survive in the yard). Doris remembers having a chicken for a pet. George only had a 4th grade education, but he was very handy, building duck ponds and chicken coops, and basement bedrooms for Doris and her brother, Preston. Doris' older sister at first lived in the bedroom adjacent to the kitchen, until their aunt who came to live with them displaced her, and then she too moved into a basement bedroom.

Not long after moving to 62nd Street, Doris got married (in 1949) at the Progressive Baptist Church on King St and Alcatraz Ave (two blocks away). Her husband was a veteran, and they decided to move into their own house in North Berkeley on Kains Street. Doris remembers having her wedding reception in the backyard on 62nd street, fearing that the chickens, ducks and roosters would interrupt the festivities, but they were respectful. Doris' new neighbors in N. Berkeley had a parade to welcome her husband back from the war. Despite the warm welcome, he made a point of regularly breaking down and cleaning his infantry service rifle while sitting on the front porch of their home. Doris was too young to recognize that there were race lines in Berkeley at the time. As a young UC Berkeley student told her as part of a college research project, Doris and her husband were among the first racial block busters in Berkeley. Doris still owns the house on Kains, over 60 years later. She has fond memories of joining her family for holiday dinners and neighborhood cookouts on 62nd Street.

Doris worked for the California Youth Authority and moved to Sacramento for work in 1979. Doris' sister passed away in 1979, her mother passed away in the 1980's and her brother Preston passed away in the early 90's. Doris herself is a cancer survivor, and she has three daughters, living in Berkeley, Fremont and San Jose. Preston's house was left to his son, but after he died shortly after his parents, the house passed to Doris, his nearest living relative.

From that time, the house was mostly empty, except of course when the squatter moved in. Doris finally got him out of the house in 2009, and the house was then purchased by us. So it's quite likely that the Delaney House has only been sold twice - once in 1947 and then in 2009.

Despite the City of Berkeley's shenanigans, we still feel lucky to own the Delaney House - and the Cheney Cottage, still in pieces under tarps in Albany Village. Some day, they'll be together, and the history of both houses will continue to be written.