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March 4, 2009 > History: Stanfords called East Bay home

History: Stanfords called East Bay home

Most long-time residents are acquainted with the name Stanford and its significance in Fremont history. Many relative newcomers to Fremont, however, might wonder how Stanford Avenue got its name and if there's a connection with the famous university across the bay. There is, and this is the story.

The western slopes of Mission Peak are the source of underground water and the site of several springs. A group of springs near the base spew forth warm, medicinal waters. Warm Springs Resort was developed there and became a destination for wealthy travelers. After the 1868 earthquake it was bought by Alfred Cohen, who made repairs and renamed it the Cohen Hotel.

Leland Stanford, former governor of California, first saw the property in 1869 and liked the area so much he bought the entire 660-acre farm. Leland's brother, Josiah, moved his family to Warm Springs and began operating the ranch. The Stanford family raised horses, hay, grain and grapes and produced some wine. They began planting more vines and enlarging the winery. Most of the grapes were made into wine, and by 1875 production was 50,000 gallons. The wines were distributed under the family name and received worldwide recognition. Annual production was about 100,000 gallons.

Jane and Leland Stanford brought Leland Jr. to Warm Springs in 1874 to escape an epidemic of scarlet fever in San Francisco. Leland Sr. spent as much time as possible at his ranch and used it as a training ground for his race horses. An old photo shows about 30 workers and several teams and wagons posed by the Cohen Hotel.

The death of Leland Stanford Jr. in 1884 devastated his father so much that he turned over the Warm Springs property to Josiah and concentrated on other enterprises. An important one was building Stanford University in memory of his son. There are various tales of how the decision was made to locate the university in Palo Alto. They range from simply a toss of the coin to an elaborate story about Mrs. Stanford being frightened by a team of runaway horses she was driving and becoming disenchanted with life in the area. A more logical explanation appears to be that most of the Stanfords' social life centered in San Francisco and the peninsula, so they chose to settle in Palo Alto where they owned 9,000 acres of land.

An 1889 photo shows a fountain filled with rare water lilies in front of Josiah's residence. Another shows Josiah by a large African date palm. The farm expanded to 1,225 acres and had a distillery, fermenting house and brick storage cellar with 300,000-gallon capacity. Josiah died in 1890 and his son, Josiah W. Stanford, became owner of the property.

The grounds were so beautiful and well-kept they were the showplace of Alameda County in 1900. They were decorated with date palms, oranges, lemons and olives planted by the Stanfords many years before. The Stanfords guarded the old oak trees and preserved the spreading sycamores and natural growth along the creek which wound through the park.

Buildings were spacious and charming; the central residence was fronted by a large veranda. The original Stanford home was razed because of water seepage. A new one was built and the old hotel was used as a dormitory for workers. The springs were flowing at about 50,000 gallons per day. Josiah built a bath house with dressing rooms next to a circular swimming pool that held some 45,000 gallons. He covered over one of the springs and dug a reservoir where he kept three young alligators from Florida.

Water ran from springs into artificial ponds filled with lilies. The grounds were laid out in charming little vistas with rustic bridges and walks through the park. These grounds were private property and not advertised but Josiah did not exclude the public from enjoying this beautiful, historic spot. A visiting reporter called it paradise.

Josiah owned a Winton automobile - one of the first cars in Washington Township. An excellent mechanic, he traveled over 3,000 miles in it by 1900. He was able to drive the 33 miles to Oakland in about two hours. Josiah also collected relics of the Indian tribes who once lived here. He enjoyed examining the pages of the old Warm Springs Hotel Register which recorded the visits of many prominent people.

Josiah sold the ranch to Frank Kelley in 1923 and moved away but the property was called the old Stanford Ranch for many years. In 1919 the property was bought by Fred Goosen, who named it Hidden Valley Inn and Dude Ranch. It became a popular entertainment area with picnic grounds and dining facilities.

Stanford Winery on Stanford Avenue was purchased in 1945 by the Weibel family, who restored it and once again produced wine comparable to their predecessors. It was designated California Historical Landmark No. 642 in 1958. All that remains today is a winery building and the historical marker.

With the coming of development in the 1990s, local history buffs made repeated efforts to save the hotel. Funding to restore it wasn't available and the City Council permitted developer Frankel Enterprises of San Jose to demolish it making way for the residential area that now exists. The names Weibel, Hidden Valley and others reminiscent of their times live on in the street names given to this beautiful area dominated by Stanford Ave.

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