Saturday, May 29, 2010

Niles - Using History to Set the Course for the Future

My favorite place to eat in Niles - the Nile Cafe on I Street. Run by a Vietnamese family since 2003, they specialize in wonderful sandwiches and homemade soups.
The inside of the cafe, which appears to have been a bar in a past life, is a blend of Egyptian and railroad lore; only in Niles! Charlie is up on the wall, too.
One of the controversies around the new town plaza-and they were legion-was whether or not to include a water fountain. They did, and brought the movie industry into it as well. When you spin the cylinders, a "movie" plays and can be viewed through the slits.
Visitors taking pictures of the Robert Dollar #3 steam engine from the freight room platform.
The Robert Dollar #3 steaming past on its way to Sunol.
Bailey on the lawn at the Niles Town Plaza Celebration held May 1 and May 2.
Charlie will not speak, but he is more than willing to dance!
A shot of the Robert Dollar letting off some steam before heading to Sunol.
The interior of the Southern Pacific depot has been transformed into a museum focusing on Niles as a railroad junction.
One of the groups set up at the celebration was the Railroad Gardeners society. Members set up miniature electric or steam trains throughout their gardens, combining two great interests!
Me as Charlie Chaplin! Below, the Real Deal is checking out the train depot. Only in Niles!

In 1969, the development plan for Niles was to lose the small town character and replace the 481 older homes that line Second and Third Streets with 1205 high-density apartments. A 16-member committee was formed to re-evaluate this plan and the consensus of the town members was successfully voiced: Niles would retain her small town character (yes!) and increased development would take place on 4-6 acres on the north (Southern Pacific) side of Niles Blvd. An emphasis on parks in the form of Niles Community Park (one of Bailey’s favorite places) and the Quarry Lakes area was deemed necessary to maintain a high desirability for living within the Niles Community (shades of the City Beautiful movement; again, yes!). Commercial uses were to be restricted to the downtown area and the proposed increase in housing lost by maintaining the existing Second and Third Street homes would be made up by adding 650 units at the base of Niles Canyon, spreading up into the foothills on the south side of the canyon.

The guiding principles for the overall plan were: 1) variety of lot and building size (maintain existing low-density older homes), 2) individuality of structures and architectural detail, 3) movie and railroad heritage, 4) quiet tree-canopied streets, and 5) preserve the relative isolation and self-containment by maintaining the existing overpasses connected to Niles Blvd. The development of the railroad property (which was defunct in 1976, when the 1969 plan was updated) was considered crucial to “maintaining a viable downtown commercial area.”

The 2001 Niles Concept Plan intended for Niles to revitalize as a destination point for both visitors and residents and to strengthen its pedestrian scale, its small town character and its local economy. The planning committee also wanted to see Niles as a railway junction be reactivated; this has not yet happened in terms of commercial passengers (Amtrak rushes through Niles but does not stop here) but it has in the creation of the Niles Canyon Railway and the building of the new Niles Town Plaza which is the site of the 1901/1904 restored Southern Pacific depot.

The dedicated members of the Pacific Locomotive Association painstakingly relaid by hand torn up Southern Pacific track that once ran through Niles Canyon and has built up a collection of steam and diesel engines, in addition to numerous other cars and cabooses. Maintained by volunteers at the Brightside Railyard in Niles Canyon, these trains now run tourists between Niles and Sunol on Sundays, bringing visitors and their dollars into both towns. As a result of writing this blog, I’ve joined the PLA and will be a train doecnt this coming summer. They also offer opportunities to drive the train (!) and I noticed a woman engineer running last weekend’s diesel. Hmmm…..If being a docent is fun, how cool would it be to actually RUN one of those fabulous steam engines????? Needless to say, I’m gonna check this out!

The Niles Town Plaza, recently completed after 10 years in the making, now holds pride of place across from the downtown commercial district (I’m writing this in my living room and I just heard the steam whistle blow; there must be some special excursions running today!) and will draw in visitors by its park-like setting, its depot-turned-railroad museum and its small center stage perfect for outdoor concerts. The Essanay Museum is located near the plaza and Charlie Chaplin can be seen all over town in one form or another.

What I see missing from this picture is Niles’s horticultural history. When Fremont’s mayor and others spoke at the Niles Town Plaza dedication, they all noted the significance of the railroad and (to a lesser degree) Essanay Studios in Niles’s past. They also talked about how these historical entities would be utilized to bring visitors and dollars into Niles and this makes sense. After all, the railroad and movies were created to make money in the first place; it makes perfect sense they continue to do so now. But where is Shinns’s Nurseries or the California Nursery Company in all of this? While the railroad and the film studio are well-recognized historical icons within Niles, there appears to be little effort beyond the California Nursery Company Legacy Council to bring some focus on the horticultural side of things. As I noted in last week’s blog, I believe there are many options that could be developed within the California Nursery Company Historical Park that would change this situation for the betterment of the community. I’m doing my part to change it by joining the Legacy Council and one of the first things I am going to do is help archive their multitudinous records over this coming summer. Between this, helping to make a stronger historical presence within the California Nursery Company Historical Park, and hanging out at the Brightside Railyard, I’m going to be taking an active role within the community to help shape its future by making Niles’s horticultural history take its rightful place with the railroad and with Essannay. This has all happened as a direct result of writing this blog, just another reminder on how our past is tied so strongly to our future! Thanks, Professor Ivey!

Oh, for those who want to check out what riding on the train is like, check out my video. Better yet, come and ride for yourself. Then check out the rest of Niles, including the Essanay Studio Museum and the two parks (Shinn Park over on Peralta Blvd. and the California Nursery Company Park on Niles Blvd. at the junction of Nursery Ave.) And eat the best pizza at Bronco Billy or go to my personal favorite, the Nile CafĂ© on I Street. Run by a Vietnamese family since 2003, they serve fabulous sandwiches and soups, not to mention great coffee and mochas! S’all good!

The sources I used for this blog were: 1) Fremont Planning Commission. Niles Area Plan. City of Fremont, 1976, 2) Planning Division (Fremont), Niles Concept Plan, 2001, 3) Corrie, Judy. “Niles Opens Its Town Plaza,” Tri-City Voice (27 Apr 2010): 1, and 4) Luna, Henry and the Pacific Locomotive Association. Niles Canyon Railways. San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing, 2005.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Running Bibliography Update #5

Running Bibliography

1. Archives

Local Museum of History, 190 Anza St., Fremont, CA 94539

Shinn Historic Park and Arboretum, 1251 Peralta Blvd., Fremont, CA 94539

2. Primary Sources

A-E, Photographs of Washington Township.

“A Call to Organize A State Horticultural Society,” Pacific Rural Press (13 Sept 1879): 172.

“Auction Sale of Valuable Fruit Lands Near Decoto,” San Francisco Call (11 Sept 1890): unpaginated.

“Banana Plant in Fruit,” Pacific Rural Press (3 Mar 1887(: 193.

Barry, W. “Ladybirds at Southern Alameda County,” Pacific Rural Press (9 Apr 1898): 234.

“Beautiful Wild Flowers,” San Francisco Call (25 Mar 1904): unpaginated.

“Brownfileld Redevelopment of the Niles Town Plaza from Railyard,” California Green Solutions (http://fremont/ Brownfields Redevelopment of Contaminated Sites) (29 Apr 2010)

“California Nursery Company,” Pacific Rural Press (27 Nov 1886): 453.

“California Nursery Company, Niles, Cal., April 4, 1889” map.

“California Nursery Company, Niles, California, E.U.A. Catalogo Illustrado 1962” catalog.

“California Nursery Company Workers, 1890” photograph.

“California Nurseryman’s Association,” Pacific Rural Press (19 Aug 1893): 136.

California Nursery Company and Fancher Creek Nursery advertisements, Pacific Rural Press (29 Dec 1894): unpaginated.

Corrie, Judy. “Niles Opens Its Town Plaza,” Tri-City Voice (27 Apr 2010): 1.

Employment Development Department. California Agricultural Studies: California Nursery Workers and the Nursery Industry. San Diego, CA: CIC Research Inc., 1993.

Fremont Planning Commission. Niles Area Plan. City of Fremont, 1976.

“Fruit for the Centennial,” Pacific Rural Press (2 Sept 1876): 156.

Gupta, Meenu. “A Rare Railroading Experience.” Tri-City Voice (10 Mar -16 Mar 2010): 1,6.

Holmes, Philip, “Niles Helped California to Blossom,” The Argus, undated clipping.

Map of Washington Corners, Haywards Park, Niles, Pleasanton, 1878

“Need White Families in Fruit Harvesting,” San Francisco Chronicle (5 Sept 1910): 1.

“Niles and Vicinity,” San Francisco Call (2 Dec 1891): unpaginated.

“Nurseryman’s Association,” Pacific Rural Press (10 Jul 1886): 42.

Planning Division (Fremont), Niles Concept Plan, 2001

“Price List, Fruit and Ornamental Trees,” California Nursery Company catalog, 1 Dec 1898.

“Residence of M.J. Overacker, Niles, Alameda Co., California. Residence of Geo. Emerson…” (Http:// (14 Apr 2010)

“Sale of Orchard Lands,” Pacific Rural Press (20 Apr 1878): 249.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for Niles, 1929 (9 sheets)

Scrapbook, California Nursery Company.

Shinn, Charles Howard. Historical Sketches of Southern Alameda County (First Published in the Oakland Inquirer as a Series of Articles June 8 – November 18, 1889) Alameda County Historical Society. Oakland: GRT Publishing, 1991.
Shinn Nursery Ledger 1903-1904.

“Shinn’s Nurseries” advertisement, Pacific Rural Press (24 Oct 1874): 268.

Shinn’s Nurseries Descriptive Catalogue, undated.

“The Nursery Business,” Pacific Rural Press (14 Apr 1888): unpaginated.

“The Roeding Family,” Tri-City Voice (12-18 Sept 2006): unpaginated.

“The Sonoma Seedling Apple,” Pacific Rural Press (5 Jan 1878): 12.

“Tour de Niles: Historic Biking and Walking Tour” Girl Scouts of Northern California, Coyote Hills Service Unit (Http:// undated.

“Welcome to Mission Adobe Garden Center” Nakamura Nursery pamphlet, undated.

3. Secondary Sources

Brown, Dee. Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow: The Epic Story of the Transcontinental Railroads. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2001.

Butterfield, H.M. “Some Pioneer Nurseries in California and Their Plants,” California Horticultural Society Journal (27, 1966): 70-77.

Butterfield, H.M. “Some Pioneer Nurseries in California and Their Plants, Part Two” California Horticultural Society Journal, (27, 1966): 102-108.

Butterfield, H.M. “Some Pioneer Nurseries in California and Their Plants, Part Three” California Horticultural Society Journal (27, 1966): 132-139..

Butterfield, H.M. “The History of Ornamental Horticulture in California,” California Horticultural Society Journal (26, 1965): 47-50.

Country Club of Washington Township Research Committee. History of Washington Township. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 3rd ed., 1904, 1950-1965.

Duval, Charlene, “Historical Background of the Vallejo Adobe on the Former California Nursery Property, City of Fremont, County of Alameda,” San Jose, CA: Archives and Architecture Consultants, May 30, 1977.

Field, Les, “Unacknowledged Tribes, Dangerous Knowledge: The Muwekma Ohlone and How Indian Identities Are ‘Known,’” Wicazo Sa Review 18:2 The Politics of Sovereignty (Autumn 2003): 79-94.

Fisher, Robert B. (Dr.) Scene From the Peak: A Pictorial History of Washington Township, Alameda County. Book 3 – Niles (Vallejo Mills). Local Museum of History, undated.

Holmes, Philip and Jill M. Singleton. Niles Fremont. San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.

Hunt, Lyla. Shinn Historical Park: A Souvenir History. Gala Bicentennial Celebration commemorating 100th Anniversary of the Shinn Mansion, May 22-23, 1976 (Fremont, CA: Mission Peak Heritage Foundation and Country Club of Washington Township): 1-15.

Kruckberg, Henry. George Christian Roeding, A Tribute. Los Angeles: California Association of Nurserymen, 1930.

Kurutz, KD and Gary Kurutz. California Calls You: The Art of Promoting the Golden State, 1870 to 1940. Sausalito, CA: Windgate Press, 2000.

Luna, Henry and the Pacific Locomotive Association. Niles Canyon Railways. San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing, 2005.

Ockerman, Phil (ed). City of Fremont: the First Thirty Years. San Francisco: Mission Peak Heritage Foundation, 1988.

Orsi, Richard. Sunset Limited: The Southern Pacific Railroad and the Development of the American West. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

Page and Turnbull, Inc., Shinn Historical Park: Dwelling Nos. 1 and 2, Cookhouse and Outhouse. Historic American Building Survey Documentation (July 10, 2007): 1-67.

Raynor, Richard. The Associates: Four Capitalists Who Created California. New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 2008.

Shinn Historical Park: Fremont’s Regional Heritage (Mission Peak Heritage Foundation pamphlet, c. 1972)

Starr, Kevin. California: A History. New York: The Modern Library, 2005.

Steinheimer, Richard. Railroading in California and the West. Santa Barbara, CA: California Department of Parks and Recreation, 1991.

Taylor, Judith and Harry Morton Butterfield, Tangible Memories: Californians and Their Gardens, 1800-1950., Xlibris Corporation, 2003.

4. Online Sources

Alameda Creek Regional Trail
California Digital Newspaper Collection (

California Nursery Co. Legacy Council. (

Niles Main Street. (

Niles Canyon Railways. (

Tule Ponds at Tyson Lagoon (

Niles - The California Nursery Company Exhibit

The best exhibit for the California Nursery Company would be on the site of the old grounds. A commercial nursery could set up within the original building near the lath walk. With sustainability all the rage, organic fruits and vegetables could be grown with produce sold in a weekend farmer's market. Remaining space could be alloted for community and demonstration gardens focused on organic growing methods. An annual flower show could be held, much as Filoli holds their annual Mother's Day Garden Show. The California Nursery used to hold tulip and rose festivals and could do so again.

The old Vallejo adobe could be opened on a regular basis as a tea room, as it had been used by the Roedings from the 1930s through the 1960s. A museum could be set up in both the old office and in the Landers house. Picnic tables could be set up throughout the grounds, encouraging people to come check out plants while having a family get-together.

Like Daniel Burnham said, "Dream big." It certainly worked for John Rock and the Roeding family. The strongest connection to today would be the sustainability angle, which would allow people to purchase fresh organic fruits and vegetables within 25 miles of their home. People are constantly learning anew ways to healthier living, and Niles's horticultural heritage could be used to bring in tourists and tourist dollars in the same way the Niles Canyon Railway and the Essannay Museum are utilized.

The California Nursery Company used to extend from Alameda Creek to Mission Blvd. Today the old grounds front Niles Blvd. (a road was literally cut through the grounds c. 1930), and the short section of road perpendicular to Niles and Mission is called Nursery Ave. Here is a pointed clue to Niles's horticultural history!

An old rose planted on the nursery grounds. There is a rose garden on the site now, featured in an earlier blog. There is enough space for different demonstration gardens focusing on different plants, dry gardening, organic gardening, etc.

Walking through the grounds now is like discovering a secret garden. You can see some of the palms used to landscape the 1915 Pan Pacific Exposition in San Francisco on the skyline.

There are flowers in addition to the many heritage tree specimens. The California Nursery Company Legacy Council is in the middle of setting up a self-guided walking tour that identifies historic plants and structures. They are also intending to set up a pergola with historic storyboards. This will be an interesting challenge due to the long and complex history tied up with John Rock, George Roeding Senior and George Roeding Junior, with their multiple contributions to California horticulture.

One of the old California Nursery Company trucks could be restored and displayed to interpret one part of a long and complex story.

Some of the old archives back in the early 1970s. These materials could be cataloged and housed in either the old office or the Landers house, to be used by historians or horticulturalists for research. Among the items are 16mm films of the nursery's flower shows held between the 1930s and the 1960s; these could be utilized into a more digital type of display. The park should also have a Facebook page because everyone and every entity has a Facebook page! (My age is showing....)

Old equipment stored in one of the barns during the 1970s.

Equipment could be restored and displayed as it is at Shinn's Nurseries and Ardenwood.

The iconic lathwork of the walkway and the circular sales area could be restored. I found an image of it from the 1920s in George Roeding Sr.'s scrapbook at the Museum of Local History, plus another photograph of it taken (I believe) during the 1960s. I took the most recent photograph of it; the circular display area has deteriorated and is now considered unsafe. It could also be restored and used for commercial sales or educational displays.

Fruit culture was once the specialty of the California Nursery Company. An old test orchard was once planted on this exact spot; it has recently been replanted with the same varieties. This fruit could be sold at a weekend farmer's market held on the grounds. Niles folks have to go to Centerville right now if they want fresh produce.

One of the old roads. The remaining roads could be resurfaced for safe walking and would allow for wheelchair access.

Some of the still existing outbuildings could also be restored to interpret the story.

Community horticulural and gardening classes would be offered. Other subjects could include ecology, pottery, landscape design, edible gardening, ornamental gardening, etc.

The California Nursery Company closed in the late 1960s, but Bruce Roeding today still sells peach seed. This and a plot of land are all you need to plant a new orchard. If you don't own any land, come and plant on a communal plot. Needless to say, community interaction would be a vital component to making the California Nursery Company exhbit viable and sustainable.

Niles - The California Nursery Company and the Roeding Family

I was really happy to find this 1894 page from the Pacific Rural Press which showed two ads for the California Nursery Company of Niles and the Fancher Creek Nursery of Fresno right next to each other. Frederick Roeding, another German immigrant who made his money in banking in San Francisco, had invested in 80,000 acres in Fresno with a group of partners. The property was relatively worthless until the train was put through in 1870 and M.J. Church created an irrigation system that would allow farming in the area. In 1883 Frederick Roeding, in partnership with Gustav Eisen (a fig expert) started the Fancher Creek Nursery. By 1886 he was ready to write the business off as a learning experience but his oldest son, George Christian Roeding, persuaded his father to allow him to run the nursery for a year after his graduation from high school. His father wanted him to attend a university but George was determined to follow his passion for plants.

While George Roeding was successfully building up the Fancher Creek Nursery (in his first year he did not break even, he actually made a profit of $3500, to his father's astonishment and joy), Rock continued his exemplary work at the California Nursery Company. After his death in 1904, the business passed to William Landers. He lived on the property in the house pictured above until his death in 1917. Local legend has it this house was designed by Bernard Maybeck in 1907.
This Pacific Rural Press tribute to George Roeding took a playful poke at his propensity and focus for work, work, and more work, claiming his father had to send George to Fresno to escape the dangers of San Francisco high society! Roeding, who was a personal friend of John Rock, purchased the California Nursery Company from the Landers estate in 1917 and moved to Niles.
A survey of the property made in 1918, allowing George Roeding to assess his new holdings. The key to the map shows quarters for both Chinese and Japanese laborers. As mentioned in the Shinn blog, a San Francisco-based Chinese family worked on both the Shinn and Roeding properties throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

As this California Nursery ad demonstrates, Roeding was a strong believer in the white family farm that Cecelia Tsu wrote about. He publicly wrote against the use of alien labor in 1923: "The agricultural industry in California does not need aliens who cannot assimilate with our people." As Charles Nordhoff noted in his book about California as a potential home, many if not most of the wealthier Californians who spoke publicly against the Chinese hired them privately and, behind closed doors, swore that California as a state could not afford to operate without this labor force.

My research partner ran across this 1910 San Francisco Chronicle article about white family farms and saved it for me; thank you, Marlea! As you can see from the headline, a movement was afoot to extend summer vacation to allow children to help their parents harvest fruit.

This Niles postcard featured the palm-lined entry drive of the California Nursery Company. In the text below, the connection between the railroad and marketing of fruit was made.

Workers at California Nursery, preparing plants for long-distance shipping. George Roeding experimented with different ways to ship both fruit and plants to enable viability.

Roeding set up several roadside distribution points at various highways in California due to the rise of the automobile. He owned additional growing grounds in Loomis and Modesto. This image is of Niles facing Mission Blvd., the main county road that once connected the missions.

Here is an advertisement focused on those new automobile owners.

One section of the growing grounds at Niles during the 1920s, with the President's House and packing sheds seen in the background. The photographer, Gabriel Moulin of San Francisco, was standing with his back to Mission Blvd. and the railroad tracks.

Workers moving palm fronds. They could have been doing cleanup or gathering fronds to decorate a parade float.

The growing grounds were home to hundreds of tress specimens. Though many remain, this gigantic "Big Tree" is long gone.

The Roeding family encouraged casual picnic visitors; this looks like a group of horticultural experts holding a meeting.

These adverisemts were just a few of many that George Roeding Senior kept in a scrapbook, along with dozens of articles he wrote about the nursery business, plants, landscaping (both public and home), the need for parks, auto parks, local and state fairs, and numerous other subjects. The connection between John Rock and the two Roedings, George Senior and George Junior, was unbreakable in terms of the contributions these three men made to the state of California regarding the nursery business and fruit cultivation.

George on horsback at Niles. George's daughter, Mrs. Butler, noted: "When I returned from Europe we used to ride horseback before breakfast practically every day. Those morning rides are indelibly impressed on my memory. The sun coming up behind Mission Peak; eating cherries as we slumped in our saddles; or inspecting the peach and apricot trees, with now and then a taste of fruit when in season" (Kruckeberg, 95).

This local Niles child is standing in front of one of the demonstration gardens in 1926. George Roeding Seniors health was starting to fade at this time, and his son, George Roeding Junior, took over the business. He focused on crop experimentation and allowed UC-Berkeley space for additional experimentation (the university already owned several experimental ag stations).
The original logo of the nursery. Grandson Bruce Roeding told me someone from the state asked that the logo be dropped, possibly due to the bear's presence on the state flag. The California Nursery Company then adoped the Vallejo mission sitting in the middle of the grounds as their new commercial logo.

The Jose de Jesus Vallejo adobe on the California Nursery growing grounds. George Roeding Junior and his wife, Frances, had the mission restored in 1930 and used it as a guesthouse and tea house for visitors.
George Roeding Junior and his wife Frances in 1956.

The last California Nursery Company office, still standing on the grounds today.

The California Nursery Company closed in the late 1960s. I lifted this image from the California Nursery Company Legacy Council website, which shows the layout of the grounds in relation to Alameda Creek and Mission Blvd. Those interested in preserving the history of this nursery can find out more information by visiting the website at

The sources I used for this blog were: 1) California Nursery Company and Fancher Creek Nursery advertisements, Pacific Rural Press (29 Dec 1894): unpaginated, 2) “Need White Families in Fruit Harvesting,” San Francisco Chronicle, 5 Sept 1910, 3) “Price List, Fruit and Ornamental Trees,” California Nursery Company catalog, 1 Dec 1898, 4) “The Roeding Family,” Tri-City Voice (12-18 Sept 2006): unpaginated, 5) “Tour de Niles: Historic Biking and Walking Tour” Girl Scouts of Northern California, Coyote Hills Service Unit (Http:// undated, 6) Duval, Charlene, “Historical Background of the Vallejo Adobe on the Former California Nursery Property, City of Fremont, County of Alameda,” San Jose, CA: Archives and Architecture Consultants, May 30, 1977, 7) Fisher, Robert B. (Dr.) Scene From the Peak: A Pictorial History of Washington Township, Alameda County. Book 3 – Niles (Vallejo Mills). Local Museum of History, undated, 8) Kruckberg, Henry. George Christian Roeding, A Tribute. Los Angeles: California Association of Nurserymen, 1930, 9) California Nursery Co. Legacy Council. ( May 2010), 10) Holmes, Philip and Jill M. Singleton. Niles Fremont. San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing, 2004, and 11) George Roeding Senior's scapbook (1917-1927), housed at the Museum of Local History in Mission San Jose.