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August 27, 2008 > History: Early Farmers of Union City

History: Early Farmers of Union City

By Myrla Raymundo

The Cheng family occupied and farmed the site where the Crowne Plaza is presently situated. Wah Sing Cheng and his father immigrated from Canton, China to the United States in 1919. Wah Sing's wife, Gum Hoo, arrived four years later as his picture-bride.

They started farming in the Washington Township-Centerville and Niles (Fremont) before moving to Newark in l937. Wah Sing and Gum Hoo had nine children. In Newark, they lived in a two-story house on Jarvis Road (Avenue). Wah Sing sharecropped on farmland owned by Henry and William Patterson.

There were mostly dairies and other farms around the Newark area. Wah Sing grew sugar beets, tomatoes, cucumbers, bok choy, cabbages, cauliflower and corn. The Patterson Ranch also had walnut orchards with many walnut trees to care for. Those were very hard years but Wah Sing endured, starting life in a new country and supporting a large family through the Depression and World War II years.

Wah Sing's children attended local public schools: Niles School, Lincoln School - the one-room schoolhouse on Newark Boulevard, Newark Elementary, and Alvarado Elementary, before eventually completing high school at either Washington Union High in Centerville or James Logan High in Union City.

Their grandfather purchased land in Irvington (Fremont) and Wah Sing Cheng was one of the first Chinese farmers to purchase land to farm in southern Alameda County.

In 1945, the family moved to Alvarado (Union City) on the "Creek Road." Mail was delivered from Niles. Their home was a much larger two-story house with five bedrooms and one bath. It had an attic, basement and a huge floor furnace. The wall telephone was connected to an operator assisted party line. In order to place a call to another party, a caller would lift the receiver and ring for the operator. Their telephone number was 57-W.

Those were the days of radio. When black and white television came into existence, a console for the TV was chosen from a pamphlet. Wood cabinets were beautiful, but television channels were very limited.

On the premises there was a smaller house for migrant workers. A new, larger barn was built to house semi-trucks and tractor-trailers. Two water pump houses moved water through irrigation pipes; water flowed slowly to many rows of crops in the fields. A tanker-truck periodically delivered fuel to the gasoline tank for the farm machinery (John Deere tractors, Caterpillar tractors and trucks).

Wah Sing farmed twenty acres near the house, another thirty acres across Alameda Creek, a plot on nearby Abreu Road and another parcel off Decoto Road. He used plows and discs to work the farmlands and welded and repaired his own equipment.

On one occasion, a crop duster was hired for the cucumber crop. It was a sight to see as the pilot maneuvered his airplane, swooping down and dusting insecticide onto the field behind their home, between the highway and the creek, barely missing the high voltage lines and power poles.

Depending upon the crop, if there were not enough migrant farm workers, Wah Sing would go into town to pick up extra workers. Tomatoes were trucked to either the F.E. Booth Cannery in Centerville or the Ball Cannery in Oakland. He started the Wah Sing truck farming business, which created jobs for seasonal and local farm workers, as well as truck drivers.

Wah Sing died in l952. Not long after, the Nimitz Freeway (Interstate 880) was built through the property. The land was sold and in use until a Holiday Inn was constructed on the site in l983; it was there until l994 when the Radisson Hotel occupied the site, It is now known as the Crowne Plaza.

Gum Hoo, Wah Sing Cheng's wife, lived to the age of 93. Most of the Cheng families reside in the Bay Area. From the nine children - Mabel, Milton, Mary, Raymond, Josephine, Florence, Betty, Jenny and Gloria - there are twenty-nine children, forty-three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Note: In l985, the preserved George W. Patterson mansion was nationally registered and a portion of the Patterson Ranch in Fremont is currently known as Ardenwood Historic Farm.

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