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THE UNION CITY HISTORICAL MUSEUM LETTER

VOL. 2 NO. 5

March 2002


 

Dear Members and Friends of the Union City Historical Museum,

Adhering to our Mission Statement which is the preservation, maintenance and protection of, and the education of the public about the architectural, cultural, natural and historical heritage resources of the City of Union City, you will see on these pages stories of Union City old-timers whom we interviewed and wrote about, past events that will bring lots of memories to us and remind us of the past happenings in our then little city. Please enjoy thumbing through the pages.

Since 1997, the Union City Historical Museum had been in existence and had been providing historical services to the residents of Union City:

Visit our Museum - We are adding more and more artifacts that were donated by the community. The latest are the antique Singer sewing machine donated by the Padaong family, old deeds donated by Melvin Flores, and the spectacular display of the remnants of the crash of the United Airlines Flight 615 in the Decoto hills, developed and presented by Museum Director Mike Christ. We continuously clip articles that pertain to Union City in newspapers and keep them in binders by subject matter. We research history as requested by the community.

Historical Preservation of Homes and Structures - We continuously work with the City of Union City in designating old homes as historical.

Writing of Oral History - We continuously interview residents who had lived in the area for quite some time and write their stories for inclusion in the book that we are writing and also write about the historical structures in Union City.

Bi-Monthly Museum Newsletter - Our Newsletter goes out bi-monthly that contains the history of Union City.

We have a Museum Website -Visit the Museum website at www.geocities.com/ucmuseum/ to inform people about us and about Union City history.

Continuous Educational Presentations - We have schedules of history presentation to school children, the boy scouts and girl scouts and the community. Call us for presentation appointments.

Informational Brochures and Fliers - We develop brochures and fliers on the city's history for distribution to the community.

Historical Tours - Join us in our historical tours of the old Alvarado Area, the old Decoto District, the Meyers Sisters' Secret Garden and the Tolman Peak.

Please continue to support our Museum, the Union City Historical Museum.

Myrla Raymundo, Founder/President

To our Community
 We are inviting you to join a very prestigious organization, the Union City Historical Museum, a non-profit organization in Union City. It is located in the old Alvarado area at 3841 Smith Street. Your membership in the Museum will help support educational programs for youth and the community, maintain our museum that contains artifacts, historical books and documents, and continue with the works of the volunteers in the maintenance of the museum. As a member, you have free admission to the Museum, free use of the Historical Library, a one year subscription to the Museum Newsletter, featuring Union City history, Oral History from long time residents and news, and invitations to events and programs.
Please choose your membership: 
Individual--------------------$10.00 
Supporting-------------------$25.00 
Corporation/Business------ $ 50.00 
Lifetime---------------------- $200.00

ANNOUNCEMENT

There will be an election of officers and directors at the Annual General Membership Meeting on May 6, 2002 at 7:00 PM at the Museum.

Members are invited to attend to either run for office or vote for your Museum officers.

THE 1951 CRASH OF UNITED AIRLINES FLIGHT 615 IN THE HILLS BY DECOTO by Myrla Raymundo

While the different groups and organizations in the country are busy collecting remnants from the September 11, 2001 tragic event, the Union City Historical Museum historians are also busy collecting and preserving many relics of the past of Union City.

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History convened historians and museum professionals in New York recently and established an online forum to continue discussions on the mass collections. The San Francisco-based Internet Archive has been collecting remnants from the wreckage of the World Trade Tower, making copies of Web sites, and television archives are digitally storing weeks of television broadcasts from around the world, Verizon Communication Inc has produced cassette tapes of final voice mail messages left by victims from the hijacked planes. And many more. Museums are working to preserve many relics of September 11, 2001.

Union City Historical Museum Director Mike Christ and Museum Volunteer Mike Montalbano had been going up the hills at Tolman Peak, the site of the crash of United Airlines Flight No. 615 that crashed above the hills what was called Decoto in the early morning hours of August 24, l951 where all 44 passengers and six crew members were killed. The plane was enroute to Oakland from the East Coast. It was to turn north from Newark but turned at Niles instead.

Mike C. and Mike M. were salvaging what was left by the crash and they were very lucky. After 50 years, it seems that the remnants were left untouched by people.

Tolman Peak, located east of Union City and south of Garin Park with elevation of 970 feet, was named after Stanford University geology professor Cyrus Fisher Tolman who took his students there for fieldwork.

On display at the Union City Historical Museum now are few of the remaining pieces of the wreck.

Tolman Peak Dump

A private dump was also found on the east of Tolman Peak. Some of the residents at the time were the Montes, Leiva and Dolphin families. They were the three families living at the bottom of the Tolman Peak, who might have used the dump. I wonder where they are now? Evidence shows that the dump was created directly from the crash of flight 615 on August 24, 1951. Three facts support this. One, access to the area by vehicle was not until the road was made to reach the downed plane. Two, the household product containers that were found were not older than l951. The most reliable items found for dating were empty toothpaste tubes that are discarded after use. The Listerine tube has been confirmed by the Warner-Lambert Co. to be the model used in l951. Copies of Good Housekeeping magazine from 1951 were used to verify the ages of the bottles found. Three, parts of the airplane were found at the bottom of the debris. The bottles on display were chosen for their designs and markings that make them easy to research for age. The two other toothpaste tubes found (Ipana and Colgate) are from the l960's and that is when the dump was determined to be last used.

By looking at the display, you are capturing not just the lost, but the life that came before that and what an ordinary day that fateful day might be.

There are still residents in Decoto and the volunteer firemen who remembered the crash, which was the worst air disaster in county history and who participated in the rescue of dozens of people who died. They saw the incident with their own eyes.

Argus staff writer Robert Airoldi wrote a complete story about this crash and the bound copy is available at the Museum. This is a story that Union City old-timers will never forget.

Come to the Museum and see with your own eyes parts of the wreckage.

Docents will be there to guide you during the tour.

Mike Christ developed the Tolman Peak display. Mike is a director of the Union City Historical Museum. Some of his accomplishments in the Museum are the replicas of the old Victorian house in the Drive In Theater and the Fire Station that houses the Union City Historical Museum. He also created a lot of birdhouses and entered them at the Sulphur Creek Nature Center in Hayward.

The CHENG Family By Betty Tom

This story is a series of stories about the early farmers in Union City. The Cheng family occupied and farmed the site where the Radisson Inn is presently situated. Old photos of the Cheng family and the farming area are on display at the Union City Historical Museum. Betty Tom is one of the children of Wah Sing Cheng.

Gum Hoo & Wah Sing Cheng

Our father, Wah Sing Cheng, emigrated with our grandfather from Canton, China, arriving in the United States in l9l9. Our mother, Gum Hoo Cheng, arrived four years later as a picture-bride for our father.

Our parents started farming in the Washington Township - Centerville and Niles (Fremont) before moving to Newark in l937. There at the Four Corners, our family of eleven lived in a two-story house on Jarvis Road (Avenue). Our father sharecropped on land owned by the Pattersons, Henry and William.

There were mostly dairies and other farms around the Newark area. Our father grew sugar beets, tomatoes, cucumber, bok choy, cabbages, cauliflower and corn. The Patterson Ranch also had walnut orchards, thus our father had a lot of walnut trees to care for. Those were the very hard years our parents endured --from starting life together in a new country and supporting our large family through the Depression and World War II years.

In l985, the preserved George W. Patterson mansion was nationally registered and the Patterson Ranch became known as the Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont.

Among the nine of us, local public schools we respectively attended were: Niles School, Lincoln School - the one-room schoolhouse on Newark Boulevard, Newark Elementary, and Alvarado Elementary, before eventually completing high school at either Washington Union High in Centerville or James Logan High in Union City.

Besides our grandfather who purchased land in Irvington (Fremont), our father was one of the first Chinese farmers to purchase land to farm in southern Alameda County.

It was in l945 when our family moved to Alvarado (Union City). On the "Creek Road" we had mail delivered from Niles. Our home was a much larger two-story house with five bedrooms and one bath. It had an attic and basement and a wonderful floor furnace. The wall telephone was the old party line, operator type. In order to place a call to another party, you would lift the receiver and ring for the operator. Our telephone number was a simple 57-W.

Those were the days of radio until black and white television came into existence. The TV console was chosen from a pamphlet. All the wood cabinets were beautiful, but television channels were very limited.

On the premises there was a smaller house for migrant workers. A new, larger barn was built to house the semi-trucks and tractor-trailers. Two water pump houses generated water through irrigation pipes, the water flowing slowly down the many rows of crops in the fields. A tanker-truck periodically delivered fuel into the gasoline tank for the farm machinery, i.e. John Deere tractor, Caterpillar tractor, and trucks.

Our father farmed the twenty acres there, another thirty acres across the Alameda Creek, a plot on nearby Abreu Road, and another parcel off of Decoto Road. He used plows and discs to work the farmlands. He welded and repaired his own equipment.

For the cucumber crop, a crop duster was hired on one occasion. It was a sight to see the pilot maneuver his airplane, swooping down and dusting insecticide onto the back field behind our home, between the highway and the creek, barely missing the high voltage lines and power poles.

Depending upon the crop, if there were not enough migrant farm workers, our father would go into town to pick up extra available workers. The tomatoes were trucked to either the F.E. Booth Cannery in Centerville or the Ball Cannery in Oakland. He started the Wah Sing truck farming business, which created jobs for seasonal and local farm workers, as well as truck drivers.

Our father died in l952. Not long after, the Nimitz Freeway (Highway #880) was coming through the property. The land was sold and was in use until Holiday Inn was built in l983; it was there until l994. Thereafter, Radisson Hotel occupied the site.

Our mother lived until the age of 94. Most of our families reside in the Bay Area and presently there are twenty-nine children, thirty-two grandchildren and one great-grandchild in our Cheng clan.

Mabel Jung, Mary Lee, Raymond Cheng, Florence Castillo, Betty Tom, Jenny Gee, and Gloria Louie (Milton Cheng & Josephine Louie, deceased)

WELCOME NEW MEMBERS

Mrs. Betty Tom Atty, Alfredo Edano

MELVIN FLORES By Myrla Raymundo

Melvin Flores, who now resides in Hayward, California, was born in Union City on January 26, 1928. The house where he grew up is on Alvarado Niles Road between Central Ave. and Western Avenue, near the Lawyer's house. His sister in law, Margaret Flores, still lives there.

He married Rosaline in l948 at a young age of 20 and they have four children, three boys and one girl. They have four grandchildren. Rosaline passed away many years ago.

He bought the Hayward house for $9,700. He farmed until l965 in the Alvarado Dry Creek that belonged to the Decoto family, who was the district attorney for Alameda County in l900s. He worked on 10 acres of pear trees, tomatoes, cucumber, and sugar beets. He was awarded Farmer of the Year in l945. He attended Decoto School and Washington High School.

In l965 through l972, he worked for Ranch Patrick View in Hall Ranch Road.

He worked at the Hayward School District, by Amador Street, as a school bus mechanic from l973 through l995. After 22 years, he retired from the district.

Mr. Flores reminisces so many memories: Mr. Eastwood, the owner of the Pacific States Steel, who comes to work by plane, Mr. Earl Smith of the Alvarado Sugar Company, a little food store named Jacinto Food Store in Alvarado Blvd, Sam Dinsmore owned the present pizza place in Alvarado, J. L. Olsen in Decoto, a cannery at the end of the block, a bakery at H Street, Ray McNolte owned a garage at Decoto and 11th Street, Peter Decoto, Railroad Avenue crosses Dry Creek, Searles School used to be farmed by the Japanese during World War II., Joe Enos' ranch is now the New Haven School District's corporation yard.

Mr. Flores not only gave his remembrances of Union City, but also gave a lot of artifacts to the Museum.

A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY........... By Myrla Raymundo

The Holly Sugar Factory

With a heavy heart and a sadness I could not bear, I looked and looked at the plaque at the corner of Dyer and it reads: "SITE OF NATIONS FIRST SUCCESSFUL BEET SUGAR FACTORY" The factory was built in l870 by E. H. Dyer, father of the American Beet Sugar Industry located on a corner of Dyers farm. The small factory began processing sugarbeets on November 15, 1870 and produced 29 tons of sugar during its first operating season. The plant has since been completely rebuilt at one time on the original site. The entire plant was demolished in l977.

CALIFORNIA REGISTERED HISTORICAL LANDMARK NO. 768" The Alvarado plant's history begins in 1869, when E. H. and Ephraim Dyer established America's first sugar mill and began production the next year. Some 7,000 tons of beets were sliced, boiled and relieved of their sugar that first year. In those days, sugar extraction was a new science and modern chemists agree that too much sugar was left in the pulp destined for cattle farms.

The Dyers couldn't make a go of it financially, and the plant was closed four years later. But another five years later, the persistent Dyers returned to the same site and started the wheels turning again.

In 1886, with finances well under control, the plant was struck by a mechanical disaster; the boilers blew up and caused so much damage that the plant shut down for a full year.

For three more years, the Dyers made sugar at Alvarado. They sold the plant to the Alameda Sugar Co., which in turn sold out to the Holly Sugar Corp. in l927.

In 1889, the Alvarado plant received license No. 2 of the U. S. Treasury Department and in l962 the California Historical Society dedicated the site as a historical landmark. The society affixed a plaque to the plant gatepost to make it official.

The science of sugar making and plant efficiency had come a long way when Holly took over. The Dyers' first plant processed 7,000 tons of sugar beets during all of l870; Holly Sugar processed 11,383 tons in l927 - its first year on the Alvarado site.

During the years before, there were sugar beet fields around the Alvarado plant as far as the eye could see. The beets were brought in from Hayward, Newark, and Fremont, and at harvest time the farmers' trucks line the streets of Alvarado as they were waiting to be unloaded. Most of the 47 full-time sugarmen at Alvarado have spent their lives in sugar plants.

Smokestack falls... When the smokestack and some surrounding buildings were constructed many, many years ago, the now-bustling area around the 42-acre Holly site was all but deserted.

There was the old Ebenezer Dyer home, the residence of the man who first founded the company for the manufacture of sugar beets on a corner of his farm property. In the late 1920s and l930s, there was still rows of sugar beets and the nearby Nimitz Freeway was no more than a dirt and gravel road.

Some people led the fight to keep the stack intact. They said that it was a crime that a portion of Union City history is gone. Pretty soon people are going to wake up and see that there's nothing left here of the city's history. There will be just a lot of homes.

Mayor Tom Kitayama, Councilmembers Manuel Garcia and Dick Oliver voted to demolish the smokestack and the surrounding buildings. Councilmember Sue Boyle was the only one who saw significance in the stack. Councilmember Marshall Stone was absent but sent word that he wanted to have an environmental report prepared.

History portions taken from the files in the Union City Historical Museum. EPILOGUE.....

In 1997, the Union City Historical Museum came into existence. One of the three components of the Museum is the preservation of historical homes and buildings. An ordinance on this component was approved by the city council. A consultant hired by the city and assisted by the Museum volunteers determined historical designation of around 400 homes and buildings in the city. Ten structures each month is being presented to the Planning Commission for evaluation and approval of historical designation.

If the plan for demolition occurred during this time, we would probably still see the magnificent smokestack, slim, imperial, aloof, towering far above all the passing trucks and people. That sentinel structure that many passersby looked at so many times before, but whose quiet magnificence and awesome presence, people had always taken for granted would still be here. The smokestack should probably still be a landmark for pilots on approach to the Hayward airport.

The smokestack has fallen. The history is gone. The history buffs are crying. I am crying.

 
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