Historical Narratives

The Community's Past - 2

Ernest Navellier, a pioneer resident of this city, built his home on the east side of Navellier Avenue between Donal and Manila Avenue, overlooking the whole bay area. He came here in 1898 and built his poultry ranch on the side of the hill facing the golden gate. He drilled wells on his five acres of land (which cost $125 per acre) and found springs of soft water at the top of the hill suitable for laundry purposes. He started a laundry business which he ran for a number of years and continued to raise a couple thousand chickens for the market and for the eggs. Some of his fowls were pedigreed and cost him from $10 to $85 each and used for breeding purposes. He named the laundry the Richmond Laundry, being the first to carry this name in the community. His business was taking in all communities as far as Franklin Canyon.

Navellier purchased property from Henry Kleise and improved what was known as Lafayette Park at San Pablo Avenue and Blake Street. Mr. Navellier was also appointed a member of the original Board of the Stege Sanitary District of the Seventh District from May 28, 1913 to April 3, 1917 when sewers were being installed in the District. He also served as a School Trustee in the Stege District.

He was a long time resident of this city and raised four children, Victor, Lucy, Louis and Ida. His son, Louis Navellier, served on the City Council and also as Police Judge in El Cerrito and was one of the substantial citizens of this city.

The San Francisco earthquake started shortly after 5:00 a.m on April 18, 1906 and lasted about two minutes. There were more shakes later during the next two hours. Oakland, Los Banos, Martinez, Healdsburg, Geyserville, Ukiah, Santa Rosa and San Jose all reported damage and loss of life. Santa Rosa was reported a total wreck and l0,000 people homeless.

The late Louis Navellier said he could remember reading the newspaper from the light of the fires as they were sitting on the side of the hill above his home on Navellier Street. They were afraid to go into the house and slept outside as every time they used dynamite employed to stop the driving march of flames in San Francisco the jolts would rock the old wooden home the Navelliers lived in.

There was also a French Laundry located at 509 Norvell Street in the early days and was operated by a little short, dark French man. He would travel around in his wagon picking up laundry from the people in the area. He drove his horse and wagon wearing a clean, white shirt, arm garters and stiff collar. His place of business has since been remodeled into a residence and still stands next to a creek north of Central Avenue at this address. A pipe has since been put in the creek and built over.

He went into the business around 1909 and it was the only French laundry in this area. The area did not build up very fast and he went out of the laundry business due to lack of customers in the slow growing community. He lived in this building for years and made the better part of his living by picking up driftwood and cutting it up for firewood and delivering it to prospective buyers by horse and wagon.

Mr. Reinecker, who lived in the 1500 block of Navellier not too far from Ernest Navellier, came to the city in 1904 to live with his uncle, Mr. Renkwitz, who lived here quite a few years before Mr. Reinecker. Mr. Reinecker lived on the property, which was 5-1/2 acres. The old farmhouse had been remodeled a number of times and was set among the big eucalyptus trees. They raised all kinds of vegetables for the market and had about 1,500 chickens, 3 horses, and a couple of cows.

He can remember walking several hundred feet south of his property, just south of Gladys Avenue to an old Indian mound and picking up wagon loads of clam shells to feed his chickens. He gave up the chicken business just after World War II as his stock had dwindled down to 104 chickens and one night on December 10, 1945 at 6:51 a.m. a bobcat got into his pens and killed 102 of them. He then decided to give up the chicken business entirely.

He recalled spending hours talking to old Pop Wright, former City Treasurer, who at that time or about 1916 had a real estate office at Potrero and San Pablo Avenue.

Near the Reinecker homestead or near where the Cameron School stands, was a slaughter house and butcher shop which was first operated by Mr. Cohen and later by Mr. Eckmann.

After Mr. Reinecker passed away, the ranch was demolished, the land subdivided and new modern buildings were constructed on the property. [Editor's note: the Wildwood Subdivision.]

On the north side of the Reinecker property, or to the left of the present Potrero Avenue, at the end of Blake Street, was the hill climb, about where the Schmidt Dairy stood. On Sunday, crowds of people would gather to see the motorcycle riders try to get to the top of the hill. This was a very rugged hill and few ever made it to the top.

In later years a fellow who started a garage on San Pablo and Cypress Avenues by the name of Corey, assembled a machine with which he tried to make the climb. The machine was able to travel only a very few feet as it was a very rugged hill.

Going up this hill climb the motorcycles would bounce like a cork on a strong sea. The steepest part of the hill climb course had an average 74% grade with cuts and ruts one to two feet deep in places. The course was rough and steep. The record time for the 650-foot climb was 27-1/5 seconds from start to going over the top to the finish line.

Orrie Steele, of Patterson, New Jersey, who held the eastern championship, attempted to ride and take the championship from Dud Perkins of San Francisco, who held the western championship. Dud Perkins was known as the Daddy of the Hill Climb and had been competing since 1916. He was always a consistent winner and held the record at the hill. This hill where the Oakland Motorcycle Club held their meets was often referred to as Peralta Hill, but later usually referred to as Thulin Hill.

The hill was marked in white lime and the date the hill climb was to be held was in big white letters that could be seen from all along the avenue. Cars would be parked for blocks and blocks around the area as thousands gathered to watch the fun and competition. At that time, most of the streets were not paved and were very dusty.

Northeast of the hill climb is the Mira Vista Country Club. It was formerly called the Berkeley Country Club. The Berkeley Country Club Terrace Tract, which is in the Stockton and Terrace Drive area, was named after it.

All of this golf course was graded by horses and mules with Fresno Scrapers by a contractor whose name was O'Neal. This was done around 1921 and the property consisted of around 200 acres at that time.

The original golf course consisted of only nine holes. When the people got off of the streetcar at San Pablo and Potrero, Earl Johnson, a garage man, would taxi the players up to the club. The club paid him $4.00 per day. He did not make very many trips per day as it was a rough old trip to get up to the club and he wore out plenty of tires as the climb was so steep and muddy.

Copyright Mervin Belfils, October 1975
Copyright El Cerrito Historical Society, June 2006

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