Leonard McKay

Leonard McKay

Posts by Leonard McKay

The Italian Hotel

Most immigrants arriving in San Jose from Italy early in the last century were quite poor, so they stayed in boarding houses that offered furnished rooms. The building now known as the Fallon House was used for a much longer time as the Italian Hotel, where single Italian men or families would stay for a reasonable time with people like themselves while they earned enough to buy a small farm or establish a business. Property was extremely important to them; in the old country it was impossible for a man of limited means to ever own land. Many of the wealthy Italian families now in San Jose exist because their grandparents bought and worked the land.

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How Andrew P. Hill Saved the Redwoods

Have you ever been to Big Basin Park and stood under a giant redwood, the tallest living trees on earth, and wondered how and why they are still here? This is the story of the man who saved them: artist and photographer Andrew Putnam Hill.

Hill came to California in 1867 at the age of 14, just before the continental railway was built. His father, Elijah, had made the journey just before Andrew was born, but before he reached the golden land, Elijah and a companion were attacked by Indians. Elijah survived the fight, but he died a week later of exposure and exhaustion.

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Louis Pellier

Who was the greatest motivator for education in “The Valley of Heart’s Delight?” For my money, it was a Frenchman who never spent a day in school here, never served on a school board and was not an instructor.

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Mormons in California

More than 35 years ago, our renowned historian, Clyde Arbuckle, stood at Emigration Canyon, overlooking the Great Salt Lake in Utah, and repeated the words that Mormon leader Brigham Young uttered 130 years before: “This is the place.” But then, Clyde added something that is not listed in Mormon ideology: “This is the place, I cannot go any further.” The faithful were carrying the desperately ill Young on a bed, and it was there that he urged them to stop and build their “Kingdom of God.”

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Early Land Grants

Many people have asked me about the land grants dating from the Pueblo de San Jose era. Most people refer to them as the “Spanish Land Grants.” In fact, the grants were nearly all Mexican grants as the Spanish king’s land was only given to retired soldiers for their military service. Of the 44 land grants in Santa Clara County, only three were Spanish while 41 were Mexican. To receive a Mexican Grant, an individual only had to petition the governor, file a crude map of the area, and submit a fee of about twelve dollars. The petition could be for a city house lot or a 50,000 acre rancho. In addition, one had to be a Mexican citizen and of the Catholic faith. To become a Mexican citizen, an individual merely had to pledge allegiance to Mexico.

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Anatomy of a Street (Part 3)

To get back to Paul and Faith Davies and the McKenzie sisters, I’ll relate a story as told by Faith to my wife Naomi. The Davies wanted to entertain the sisters and invited them over for cocktails. Faith warned Paul that these were elderly ladies and to make their drinks very weak. Paul mixed the cocktails with a minimum of bourbon and served them. One sister barely touched her cocktail and Faith apologized, feeling that she had offended them by serving liquor. She offered to get the sisters a non-alcoholic drink to which one of the sisters replied, “Oh, please do—but this time put some whiskey in it.” Faith had not realized that the sisters were of Scottish heritage!

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Anatomy of a Street (Part 2)

Down on the corner of Morse and Fremont lived Fred Reynolds. Fred was a railroad engineer for the South Pacific Coast Railroad that ran from the ferry slip at Alameda to San Jose, and continued on to Los Gatos, Wrights Station and Santa Cruz. Originally a narrow gauge railroad, it was later absorbed by the Southern Pacific Railroad. Fred Reynolds was the engineer one day when the train approached the empty ferry slip in Alameda. The brakes failed and he drove the engine into San Francisco Bay. Fortunately, no lives were lost. Fred also had a problem at his home at 603 Morse. He was driving his auto into the garage, something again failed and he drove right through the back wall. Knowledgeable neighbors gave Fred great leeway on the road.

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Anatomy of a Street (Part 1)

What San Jose street is actually in two cites, has had a murder by hired assassins, has three churches and narrows at both ends?

What street had a property with a live lion patrolling the grounds in the 1930s and has a house that was once a brothel before it was moved to its present location?

What private eye living on this street was stabbed when answering his door late one night in 1974?

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The Great Lion Murder

Many years ago, an article appeared in the newspaper about the Great Lion Murder. It was confirmed by historian Larry Campbell (now nearly 100 years old), but neither of us could remember where we saw it. For nearly a decade, I have been searching for the original report. I contacted Paul Lion, descendant of the owners of Lion’s Furniture Store on the corner of Second and San Fernando Streets where the incident took place, but he was unaware of the story. Imagine my surprise when, at a recent Pioneer board meeting, the young lady sitting next to me was Alix Lion, who had a copy of the original story and sent it to me. Here is the original as it appeared in the San Jose Mercury on Wednesday, April 30, 1902:

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The Educated Fly Rod (Part 2)

May Day of each year was an undeclared school holiday for high school boys as May 1st was the opening day of trout season, and nearly every boy skipped school that day whether they went fishing or not. I always eagerly awaited the opening of fishing season and every school day afternoon, while seated in class, I was afflicted with a tremendous itch to be out in our local trout streams. I was not the only one afflicted as many of my fishing buddies would be equally tormented. There was no football practice, basketball was over and we felt that we could best train for the track team by hurdling over rocks and doing the broad jump across the creek. One of my closest friends was Barney “Max” Barnett, who equally loved fishing. We would squirm until the 2:25 bell rang and by 2:30, we were out the door, heading for the creek. School was officially over at 3:30 but we were long gone by then.

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