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September 27, 2005 > The Old Street Corner in Irvington

The Old Street Corner in Irvington

The old road came down the hill from the Mission and intersected the road from Union City to San Jose. A town called Washington Corners developed here. Yes, it is true; residents did call it Nigger's Corners for a few years. The crossing here was a logical place for a town, but it was also a difficult spot for building.

Overflow from the lagoon above the crossing that we now call Lake Elizabeth ran right through the crossing. In wet years and flood times, lots of water came down the creek and even spilled over the banks at the crossing. The local boys enjoyed floating from the pond to the corners. Pioneer builders battled to keep the water out of their buildings and fought to keep the street passable.

Dave's saloon, one of the first African-American businesses in the area, was the first building at the corners. It was soon followed by Sim's blacksmith shop (1850), the Walters house (1852) and school, Mack's store, the Rix store, the Crowell blacksmith shop and the Rix wheelwright shop (1853). All of these buildings were near the Corners. The school was located up the hill away from the creek in 1862. The Mission Peak I.O.O.F. lodge was built back from the street in 1863. Most community celebrations were held in the Crowell and Rix Hall.

The 1867 business directory lists several other business houses including two hotels and the newspaper office. Several homes were built near the Corners. There was a lot of building activity in 1875 - G. M. Walter sold acre lots, and several people erected new homes.

1876 was a year of change. Joseph Hirsch moved his store to Mack's building by the post office including a telegraph office and new store. Members of the Washington Lodge joined Alston and George Clark to erect the brick building at the corner of Bay Street and the San Jose Road. The lodge opened Good Templar's Hall in the upper story and the Clark brothers opened their general merchandise store in the lower. It was noted by the local editor that the new building was now hiding their view of Mission Peak. Most community celebrations were now held in Templar's Hall

The International Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.) moved their building 30 feet toward the street and raised it up one foot. Andy Tyler sold his Corners property to McLaughlin.

Two bridges were built across the creek leading to the railroad depot. They were high and well made, but the bridge leading to the schoolhouse was described as unsafe. Herman Crowell raised money to improve the school bridge. He also built a little bridge at Mack's Corner. William Mack moved the post office to his place on the corner in 1877, and Joseph Hirsch moved his new store into the I.O.O.F. Hall the next year. The new telegraph was located at the railroad depot.

The roads were being graveled in October 1878. Streets probably were improved at the same time. Mack raised the grade in front of the post office, and the Union Hotel became Foster's Hotel. The Washington Lodge purchased the old Tyler and Zimmerman saloon next to the I.O.O.F. Hall that was apparently called the Washington House.

The 1878 map shows J. S. Marston owner of the southeast corner, Tony the north corner, W. H. Mack to the north, and the triangle park and Clark's Hall on the west side. There were at least three bridges over the creeks at Washington Corners.

A terrible warehouse fire in September 1880 disrupted the orderly development of the town, but people recovered and progress continued. G. M. Walters surveyed town lots along the San Jose Road and installed some of the first cement sidewalks. An 1882 photograph shows a two-story building at the Corners with the words: "The Old Corner, Lyons Beer Depot, and Rasmussen Saloon."

G. M. Walters donated land for the park on Bay Street, and a 110-foot flagpole was erected in 1887. In the midst of all the progress, a fire broke out and destroyed many of the business houses.

The street changed slowly for several years. Clark Bros. installed iron doors and shutters on the west side of their brick building in 1889 as a protection against fire. Herman Crowell made the doors and George Clark painted them. The local editor noted that streetlights being installed by merchants brought a "rarified air" to the town. The brick I.O.O.F. Hall was built in 1890.

The street near the park was the same level as the sidewalk and still had no culvert inlet in 1909. Floodwaters made the section impassable at times. This section of the main street was paved with macadam (asphalt) in 1910 and was further improved with concrete curbing in front of the stores.

Frank Leal moved the Crowell mansion to the back of the lot and constructed the Leal Theater and adjacent lumberyard in 1921-1922. This section of the old Mission Road has survived as part of the present Washington Boulevard store frontage.

The most dramatic change to these Irvington streets came with the 1990s redevelopment project when the "Five Corners" intersection was widened, palm trees planted and a complex of stores, shops, and a Safeway store constructed. Clark Hall and the Leal Theater survived the redevelopment process but several other small historic buildings on Washington Boulevard were lost at the old corners. Proposed construction of the Washington Boulevard railroad overpass and the BART rail station will bring other dramatic changes. Pioneer merchants would certainly be amazed at all the changes in Washington Corners, Irvington.

 
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