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September 30, 2009 > Wherefore art thou San Lorenzo?

Wherefore art thou San Lorenzo?

By Simon Wong

What is San Lorenzo? It is an un-incorporated community in Alameda County, along with Ashland and Cherryland. Woe to anyone who describes any of them as "suburbs of Hayward." Voters decided not to incorporate in the mid-1960s and there has not been a vote since.

El Rancho San Lorenzo was a 27,000-acre land grant presented to Guillermo Castro in 1843 by Mexican Governor Michaeltore–o for military and civil services rendered (before the US took over California in 1848). The land consists of what is now Hayward, Castro Valley and part of San Lorenzo. By 1852, Castro had built the small town of San Lorenzo and donated land for schools and public amenities.

The fertile land, enriched with silt borne by San Lorenzo Creek and deposited by periodic floods, was ideal for agriculture. San Lorenzo was a major production center of fruit and flowers from the 1850s to the 1950s. The area's output was initially shipped to San Francisco from Roberts Landing, a wharf established by Capt. William Roberts at the end of Lewelling Boulevard. The arrival of the railroad in 1865 enabled goods to reach nation-wide markets in chilled wagons that stopped at ice stations for replenishment to keep the produce fresh.

Many of the original farmers were '49ers who realized farming and supplying ancillary services and products to miners were more lucrative than searching for gold. Prominent residents included brothers John Marlin and Joseph Brady Marlin, who resided on Peach Drive and on Washington Avenue and Lewelling Boulevard, respectively, Moses Wickes, who brought oysters to San Leandro Bay, and the Gansberger family who lived on Lewelling Boulevard in San Lorenzo and grew wheat in the early part of the 20th century on much of the land now occupied by Hayward Executive Airport.

Many prominent residents rest in San Lorenzo Pioneer Cemetery which will cost about $1M to restore to its original state. It is maintained by Alameda County and the Hayward Historical Society. The San Lorenzo Heritage Society has a keen interest.

The sale of farmland started in 1944 when David Bohannon, trading as the Greenwood Company and contracted to the US Navy, began to construct San Lorenzo Village. One of the US's first planned-communities, the two- and three-bedroom homes were targeted at industrial, war-time workers in the East Bay. Housing development continued into the 1950s.

The Society owns a low-sided, milk-delivery wagon (c.1900) discovered in a shed close to Arroyo High School. Restoration took more than a year and it is displayed annually at the East Bay Regional Park District's Garin Apple Festival. The EBRPD generously allows the heritage society to store the dray on its property during the year.

The small non-profit also conserves the Fred Heide farmhouse, built in 1901, on Grant Avenue. McConaghy House, the Meek Estate and the Roberts Estate and the Heide farmhouse are the only surviving mansions from Old San Lorenzo. The grand properties of other pioneers, such as the Lewellings and Marlins, no longer exist.

The San Lorenzo Heritage Society would like to recreate the Nielson Ferro Barn (c.1881) as a museum in Kennedy Park on Hesperian Boulevard using modern materials according to current code. The estimated cost is at least $2M. The organization has relied on small donations from members and the public and has a long way to go before reaching its target.

Kennedy Park is owned by Hayward Area Recreation & Park District. The latter and the Society would sign a memorandum of understanding agreeing respective responsibilities for the facility.

The barn was dismantled by the owner and the timbers acquired by the Society. The museum will tell the story of Alameda County's agricultural history with a focus on San Lorenzo and serve as a "catalyst to promote pride and unity in the unincorporated communities of Ashland, Cherryland and San Lorenzo which currently are disjointed. Residents have no knowledge of the marvelous history and minimal methods to seek it out. The barn-museum would be a unifying and educational tool for all."

San Lorenzo Library has a visual display of the Society's events.

Anyone wishing to join the San Lorenzo Heritage Society or to make a donation should contact Betty Moose, Membership Secretary, San Lorenzo Heritage Society, 1328 Via El Monte, San Lorenzo, CA 94580 or call (510) 278 2094. Annual memberships: individual ($10), family ($25) and business ($50). Please make checks payable to "San Lorenzo Heritage Society."

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