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Remembering Adachi Florist and Nursery in El Cerrito

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Adachi Florist and Nursery in 1992, shortly before the site was cleared for construction of a The Home Depot store. (Click for an enlarged view.)

There was no ribbon-cutting when the enterprise that grew to become Adachi Florist and Nursery, straddling the border of a new city called Richmond and an unincorporated portion of West Contra Costa that would become El Cerrito, was established in 1905. But by the time it closed and was torn down to build The Home Depot in 1992, the venture was among the oldest businesses in the West County region, dating to just three years after the opening of the Standard Oil refinery in Richmond in 1902.

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The Adachi family business as it looked around 1940.

The business was founded by brothers Isaburo and Sadajiro Adachi with a single greenhouse a year before the great San Francisco earthquake. It grew to 12 greenhouses and survived challenges such as state exclusion laws directed at Asians and the Japanese internment during World War II. Extension of the Eastshore Freeway and construction of the new BART line claimed portions of the Adachi property.

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Adachi commemorates El Cerrito’s 50th anniversary in 1957.

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Adachi Florist and Nursery before and after a remodeling in the mid-1960s.

Some of the family greenhouses were razed during a mid-1960s remodeling that modernized the business as it is now remembered by most who saw it in its commercial heyday.

The remainder was finally torn down in 1992 for a joint retail project by El Cerrito and Richmond.

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TBT: Once-familiar El Cerrito building had a link to black Americana

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Winner, winner, chicken dinner —
Here is the ID of the once-familiar building in El Cerrito and its background, which we asked about last week. The building is best known (see photo above) from its decades attached to El Cerrito Mill & Lumber, with the lettering growing more faded as the years passed.

The building originated around 1929-30 as Mammy’s Place, a plantation-themed attraction for travelers on the newly rerouted Lincoln Highway (San Pablo Avenue), just south of Cutting Boulevard, “near the large Carquinez Bridge sign,” according to the menus given out to customers as a souvenir. The proprietor was Harry Bottger, who may have also operated the food concession on the Richmond-San Rafael ferry.
Mammy’s Place boasted a “fine hardwood dance floor and music,” though the establishment once ran afoul of the authorities over the use of its jukebox, according to news accounts of the day.
Bottger later opened another restaurant on the southern end of San Pablo in El Cerrito and Mammy’s closed.
With demand for housing at a peak during World War II, contractor Elmer Freethy purchased what was then El Cerrito Lumber at 1206 San Pablo Ave. (now 10812 San Pablo Ave.) from John Carrick to secure a supply of building materials. At some undetermined point, he also purchased the abandoned Mammy’s Place building and had it moved and attached to El Cerrito Lumber. There was a sentimental attachment. Freethy, in a 1990 interview about the “chicken dinner” building, referred to it as “the chicken shack,” and said he had purchased and moved the building because he used to take his future wife dancing there.
Elmer and Marjorie Freethy were married in 1930 and he started his contracting business the next year, according to an El Cerrito Wall of Fame profile in the city newsletter. One of his early big contracts was construction of El Cerrito High School from 1939-41.
The old chicken dinner building was torn down when El Cerrito Mill & Lumber underwent a major remodel by Elmer’s son, Jack Freethy, in 1996 as noted in this earlier post. The business, which had grown over time to include major portions of several blocks, closed in 2000 and the remodeled original El Cerrito Lumber building, redesigned in Victorian style, was moved across San Pablo and is now the Vitale Building.
Mammy’s Place is long gone and even though original owner Bottger was of European extraction, those free menus once given out to travelers are now rare and prized pieces of black Americana. A menu listed on eBay about in 2011 sold for more than $120.
Elmer Freethy died in 1998. Marjorie Freethy, a native of Point Richmond, died in 2013 at age 105.

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Elmer Freethy at El Cerrito Lumber.

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TBT: Can you ID this once-familiar El Cerrito building?

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This building was once a familiar sight for a long time in El Cerrito, first at its original location and even longer at the property where it was moved and attached to an existing building and given a new use. By then in rundown condition, it was ultimately torn down during a major remodeling of buildings on the property that became its second home.
Can you identify its original and/or later locations, as well as its original name and use from this photo detail?
Feel free to click the comments button above and post guesses or memories of the building.

Our thanks to the El Cerrito Chamber of Commerce for sharing this photo from its archive.

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Richmond: Happy birthday Priscilla Elder, original Rosie and Pinole resident who turns 96 today

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Priscilla Elder.

Priscilla Elder, a Pinole resident and one of the group of original women war workers who relate their experiences each Friday at the Rosie the Riveter WWII/Home Front National Historical Park visitors center in Richmond, turned 96 today and was acknowledged by Richmond Mayor Tom Butt and other dignitaries at an event with National Park Service officials today at the Craneway Pavilion.

“I had a very busy morning” at an event that brought fourth grade children to the park for a presentation of National Park family passes as part of the national “Every Kid in a Park Initiative” being coordinated with the White House.

“It turned out very nice. They let everybody know I was 96,” Elder said. Mayor Butt, who shares the same birthday, presented her with a rose, and she was also given a bouquet of roses.
“I had all kinds of congratulations and kisses. I have people say ‘You don’t look 96,’ and I say ‘But I feel like it,'” she said.

Elder and the other Rosies who volunteer at the center keep busy.
They will be at a naturalization ceremony on Thursday at the Craneway and back at the visitors center for their regular time on Friday.
Earlier this month they went to Sacramento to meet Gov. Jerry Brown, the Women’s Legislative Caucus and other elected officials. There they had brunch with the governor and were honored by both houses of the Legislature.

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Rosies at the State Capitol in Sacramento in early March: (Standing) Marian Sousa, Marian Wynn, Kay Morrison, Agnes Moore, Mary Torres, Phyllis Gould. (Seated) Margaret Archie, Priscilla Elder. Photo courtesy Rosie the Riveter Trust.

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Phyllis Elder’s biography that she gives to visitors to the park.

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Wayback Wednesday: Miss America visits El Cerrito in 1974

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Rebecca Ann King, the reigning Miss America, signs autographs at the Value Giant in the Moeser Lane Center in El Cerrito in 1974. King earned a law degree with her scholarship money from the pageant. Our thanks to the El Cerrito Chamber of Commerce for these photos from its archives.

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The still-new Moeser Lane Center in the 1970s, when it was home to Safeway, Value Giant and the Jerry Lewis Theatre, a short-lived movie house visible at the right.

El Cerrito had its own national pageant winner when Maria Remenyi was named Miss USA in 1966.

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1936: Negro League great Satchel Paige faces Joe DiMaggio in exhibition at Oaks Ball Park in Emeryville

1936 GAME BETWEEN SATCHELL PAIGE AND JOE DIMAGGIO
An article and photo previewing the Jan 25, 1936 that put an undefeated Satchel Paige against some big hitters such as Dick Bartell and Joe DiMaggio. The caption on the photo says, “Dick Bartell studies the Satchel’s flipper.” (from the Oakland Post-Enquirer)

It was 80 years ago last month that Bay Area baseball fans got a look at Negro League pitching sensation Satchel Paige, who came to Oaks Ball Park in Emeryville for an off-season barnstorming exhibition. Professional baseball was still segregated at the time, but Paige routinely faced white stars of the era in the exhibition contests, and this was no exception. Paige pitched for a team of black players from California in the exhibition, facing a team of “major league all stars” that included local favorites Joe DiMaggio, about to begin his career with the New York Yankees that year, and Ernie Lombardi, an Oakland native and veteran catcher for the Cincinnati Reds.
No less a figure than Pittsburgh Pirates manager Pie Traynor planned to make a special trip from spring training back east to attend the game. Traynor called Paige “one of the greatest pitchers he ever faced,” and expressed “regrets that the bars of organized baseball keep him out of the big leagues,” according to an advance story on the exhibition in the Oakland Tribune.
Paige, as was his style in pumping up the attendance for his barnstorming appearances, predicted a win over the big leaguers he would face in Oakland. As it turned out, Paige took the loss in a 10-inning 2-1 pitchers’ duel that the Tribune reporter described as one of the best pitching exhibitions he had ever witnessed. Paige also had two of his side’s six hits.
The contest was among the most star-studded attractions held at the ballpark in Emeryville.
DiMaggio was elected to the Hall of Fame. Paige, who was 30 at the time of the exhibition (estimated age, his year of birth varies greatly in various accounts), finally got to the major leagues in his 40s in 1948 with the Cleveland Indians. He was selected to the Hall of Fame in 1971 by the newly created Negro League Committee. Lombardi, who would go on to be a two-time batting champion and the National League MVP in 1938, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986. Traynor was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1948.

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Richmond Black History Month presentation Tuesday will revisit forgotten men of war era tragedy

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The Richmond City Council meeting on Tuesday will mark Black History Month with what promises to be a poignant presentation by National Park Sevice ranger Betty Reid Soskin on eight men who worked at the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond and died in a fire in a war worker housing dormitory in January of 1944.
While it made headlines at the time, the fire and its victims had been forgotten in the ensuing decades until Soskin was studying a photograph of the time that set off an investigation to uncover a neglected part of the city’s history.
According to a news release:

The genesis of this effort began in 2010 when Rosie The Riveter’s oldest and most famous staff member — National Park Ranger Betty Reid Soskin — was looking over a familiar picture of funeral services in the “Negro” section of the then-segregated National Cemetery in San Bruno of what park officials had long thought were the caskets of eight of the more than 200 African-American sailors who died in the munitions ship explosion at Port Chicago in 1944.”
Although she had seen the photograph many times before, she said that she had “never noticed it before [and the] impact was almost painful. Though this was a solemn military burial rite … the caskets were not flag draped.”
Soskin set out to discover why those eight black Navy sailors might have been so dishonored. Months of historical detective work by Park staff and associates turned up the discovery that there had been no dishonor at all, because the remains in the casket were not Navy sailors at all.
Instead, they were the remains of eight civilian African American shipyard workers, one of them only 17 years old, who died in a dormitory fire at the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond six months before the Port Chicago tragedy.
The site where the Kaiser dormitory burned is now a collection of warehouses at South 11th Street and Potrero in Richmond, less than a mile from the Rosie The Riveter Visitors Center. No marker of what Soskin calls “the awful event” currently marks that spot. Rosie The Riveter Park officials are hoping that their proposal for a memorial to the eight Kaiser dormitory deaths on that site will start the process of both recognizing and honoring the American civilians who gave their lives supporting the war effort in this country.

The presentation is at the top of the agenda for the meeting at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 23 in the council chamber at 440 Civic Center Plaza. The meeting will also be televised on city channel KCRT.

Below are the item on the City Council agenda on Tuesday and Oakland Tribune coverage of the fire.

PRESENTATION FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH REGARDING THE DORMITORY O FIRE IN RICHMOND, WHICH CLAIMED THE LIVES OF EIGHT AFRICAN-AMERICAN HOME FRONT WORKERS IN RICHMOND DURING WORLD WAR II.

    STATEMENT OF THE ISSUE: Black History Month occurs each February as an annual observance for remembrance of important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. This presentation honors the lives of eight African-Americans who were killed in a deadly fire in Richmond during the World War II. RECOMMENDED ACTION: RECEIVE a presentation for Black History Month regarding the Dormitory O Fire in Richmond, which claimed the lives of eight African-American Home Front workers in Richmond during World War II. FINANCIAL IMPACT: There are no financial impacts related to this item. DISCUSSION: National Park Service Ranger Betty Reid Soskin recently uncovered the forgotten story of eight African-American men who worked in the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards and were killed in a devastating dormitory fire. The location of the fire is less than a mile from Dr. Martin Luther King Park on Harbour Way South and Virginia Avenue. Remembering this tragedy is important to Richmond’s history, because it honors the lives of black men and others who answered our nation’s call to service by working on the Home Front.


Oakland Tribune, Jan. 10, 1944:

8 Die, 20 Hurt in Richmond Fire
Firemen Aid in Rescue of 30 as Shipyard
Dormitory Is Razed; Watchman’s
Shots Rouse Sleepers, Coll Fire Engines

RICHMOND, Jan. 10—At least eight Negro shipyard workers were burned to death early today and score of others were injured when fire swept through Dormitory O, a war housing building at South Eleventh Street and Potrero Avenue.
At least 30 others were saved from death or injury by an alert patrolman who fired shots in the air to awaken them when he discovered “lames pouring from the structure at 2:10 a.m.
The eight who lost their lives were burned beyond recognition, and housing authorities said they probably could not be identified until all of the men mown to have been in the building are accounted for. It is feared there may be more bodies in the smoking ruins.
EIGHT BODIES FOUND
Five bodies were found when the blaze was brought under control and three more were discovered in the embers later.
The two-story frame structure burned mrncd to the ground in less than two hours. Fire Chief William Cooper said there never was chance to save it.
His men were handicapped in trying to fight the blaze, he reported, because two hydrants in the immediate vicinity were too rusty to be used and because water pressure in the area was very low. The hydrants, the chief pointed out, are the responsibility of the Federal Projects Housing Corporation, which erected the dormitories with Maritime Commission funds.
CRITICAL CONDITION
One of the injured workers, Henry Manney, 17, is in a critical condition it the Permanente Foundation Hospital in Oakland. He is burned badly on the arms and legs and may not live.
One fireman, J. E. Nelson, stepped on a nail and cut his foot. He was given emergency treatment and an anti-tetanus shot and sent back to duty.
LEAP FROM WINDOWNS
Almost immediately, sleepy residents of the dormitory were jumping from windows or fighting their way through the fire at the doors. Most of them were clad only in underwear or night clothes and were barefoot.
The seven who died either didn’t awaken when the shots were fired, or were unable to get out of their rooms.
The shots also aroused firemen at a city fire station a block away.
They saw the flames shooting up from the building and rang in an alarm for more apparatus.
Three engine companies responded from their station and another came from the main fire station at Fifth Street and Macdonald Avenue. The entire building was blazing by the time they arrived.

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Richmond: Plan for airport at Point Isabel never got off the ground 50 years ago


Before the Point Isabel proposal, an airport was proposed off of Berkeley in 1945. (San Francisco Public Library History Center)

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If a plan first raised in 1966 had flown with regulators, there might have been an airport for small aircraft along the Bay in Richmond where dogs now frolic, strollers and bicyclists take in Bay views and UC Berkeley is planning its global campus.
The proposal for the Point Isabel airport between Point Isabel and Brooks Island surfaced in the summer of 1966 and was largely embraced by business leaders in Richmond as beneficial to local commerce and the region as a whole. Had the proposal been made 10 years earlier, it might have flown. But plans to fill 225 acres of mudflats now had to go before the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the regulatory panel established in 1965 as a result of the activism of the the Save San Francisco Bay Association (later Save the Bay).
The airport proposal was exactly the type of project Save the Bay tried to halt, but it wasn’t for lack of trying by the idea’s promoters.
The City Councils in Albany, Berkeley and El Cerrito all went on record in opposition, with Kay Kerr, one of the three founders of Save the Bay and the wife of UC Berkeley President Clark Kerr, speaking against the project before the El Cerrito council.

point isabel airport 10 1966

The plan did get as far as being submitted to the BCDC for consideration, but discussion was postponed a few times and the notion ultimately ran out of steam.

On Nov. 16 the Oakland Tribune reported that Berkeley had officially stated its opposition to the project:

OPPOSE AIRPORT
The council also went on record as opposing the proposed Richmond Airport in the bay between Point Isabel and Brooks Island. The project, which is to come before the Bay Conservation and Development Commission on Friday, would require
filling 225 acres in two stages.
The council opposed the project because it would create a noise problem and commit a major portion of the Eastbay shoreline before a regional plan could be drawn up. Councilmen also noted that regional plans call for inland rather than bay airports.

On Nov. 19 the Tribune reported that “BCDC took no action at this time on a request by the city of Richmond for an ‘advisory opinion’ on a proposed airport construction at Point Isabel which would involve filling 225 acres of tidelands. The project would serve small planes.”

A man readies to throw a ball for his dog to fetch while enjoying the sunset at Point Isabel Regional Shoreline in Richmond, Calif. on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011.  (Dean Coppola/Staff)

A man readies to throw a ball for his dog to fetch while enjoying the sunset at Point Isabel Regional Shoreline in Richmond, Calif. on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011. (Dean Coppola/Staff)

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Throwback Thursday: Bowling was still a big West County attraction in 1977

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We’ve written here before about the bowling alleys of West County, in this post and this one. Not to mention this one and this one.

This time out we’re looking back almost 40 years to bowling alley ads and advertorial copy that appeared in the Richmond Independent “Progress Edition” of 1977. Bowling was still quite popular, and Lucky Lanes in San Pablo, Golden Gate Lanes in El Cerrito and Albany Bowl were represented in the edition. (Uptown Bowl in Richmond did not advertise in the edition.) Only Albany Bowl and Pinole Valley Lanes are still operating in the area today. Can anyone tell us what the “Moon Walk” was at Lucky Lanes?

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