The Tapes of Russell Street

Part 9. The changing face of a South Berkeley block

Daniella Thompson

1 February 2005

Sanborn fire insurance maps

In 1895, when the Tape family moved to South Berkeley, the block on which they settled and where they would remain for the next eight decades was sparsely populated. Since 1820, this area had been part of Rancho San Antonio, the 48,000-acre Mexican land grant of the Peralta family. Until April 1853, when Alameda County was formed, the Peralta lands were in Contra Costa County. On 30 June 1852, George Mansfield Blake (1823–1875) filed in Martinez a 160-acre claim on a parcel of the Peralta lands measuring 80 rods by 320 rods (1,320’ x 5,280’), extending longitudinally east to west (transcription from Contra Costa County Land Claims, Volume 2, pp. 4–5 by Jerry Sulliger):

This is to certify that I G.M. Blake have taken up a preemption claim in the Town & County of Contra Costa situated about four miles and a half from the town of Oakland in a north easterly direction from the same near the mountains and between Bicente and Domingo Peraltas houses and bounded as follows commencing at the South East corner at a stake (about a half a mile west of the mountaines) marked Blake Almer L.[?] Kellys corner running westernally 320 rods to a stake marked Blake & Taylors corner (near Johnsons house) thence northwesterly 80 rods to a stake marked Blakes corner thence Eastwardly 320 rods to a stake marked Blakes corner which is in the west boundary of the Kelly claim) thence South only 80 rods to the place of beginning. The claim is bounded South by the claims of Alana (?) & Taylor west by those of Baly & Robinson north by the claim of [left blank] East by the Kelly claim.

[...] deponent has taken no other claim under the act concerning possessory actions passed by the California Legislature 1852 and to the best of his knowledge and belief the land thus claimed is not claimed as under any existing title

Nothing came of Blake’s claim; on 7 February 1854, a U.S. Land Commission validated Vicente and Domingo Peralta’s ownership claims. The Peraltas sold their lands to a consortium of investors headed by San Francisco jurist Matthew Hall McAllister. The consortium sold the plots through the land office of Jack Hays & John C. Caperton. On 7 November 1856, George M. Blake purchased Plot 69 in Rancho San Antonio for $5,000.

Plot 69 had the same configuration as Blake’s 1852 claim, amounting to a mile-long and two-block wide strip of land. However, the new parcel assumed a north-south orientation, extending between Addison St. to the north, Russell St. to the south, Shattuck Ave. to the west, and Ellsworth St. to the east. Until Blake’s death in 1875, the property was used as farm land. Beginning in 1876, the land—now owned by Blake’s widow Millicent Kittredge Blake (1824–1907) and administered by her brother Francis Kittredge Shattuck (1825–1898)—was subdivided.

The eight blocks at the southern end of the Blake Tract were the last to be subdivided, F.K. Shattuck having filed the subdivision map with the County in April 1884. On 18 August 1889, the four southernmost blocks—E, F, G, and H—were offered for sale at an auction of “102 elegant residence lots,” which was held by order of Francis K. Shattuck and touted “Large lots 44 to 66 feet front by 125 to 166 feet in depth” for “Unusual terms. Only $100 cash per lot.” It was in Block H that the Tapes’ first property, 2123 Russell Street, was located. The buyer was the contractor-realtor William C. Bissell, who around 1894–95 built on a speculative basis both the Tape house and two more Victorians around the corner on Wheeler Street, one of which is a mirror-image twin of the cottage purchased by the Tapes.

Three speculative Victorians built by William C. Bissell in 1894–95: the first Tape house at 2123 Russell St. (l), its mirror-image twin at 2917 Wheeler St. (c), and a companion house on Wheeler (r) (photos: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Another land purchaser at that time was John A. Brothers, an employee of Southern Pacific Co. in San Francisco, who acquired lots 30, 31, and 32 on Russell Street near Fulton. In 1891, Brothers built a house at 2147 Russell Street, where he resided with a large family that included Amos J. Brothers, who also worked for SP; Joseph E. Brothers, a molder and hoseman; and Walter E. Brothers, an electrician and engineer who would become electrical inspector for City Hall. John and Amos no doubt alerted their SP colleague Joseph Tape to the real-estate opportunities in Block H.

In 1896, shortly after the Tape family’s arrival in Russell St., Knox Presbyterian Church was established on the corner of Russell and Lorina Streets, directly across the street from their house. The original church building was a modest clapboard structure, which would be replaced in 1908 with an Arts and Crafts building designed by Henry F. Starbuck. The older building was moved to the southern edge of the lot and stands there still. In the mid-1950s, the church changed hands. It is now the Southern Baptist–denominated Church by the Side of the Road, a City of Berkeley Landmark, Structure of Merit.

Lorina St. seen from 2123 Russell, 1940s
(photo courtesy of Ann Grassel)

The same scene today (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

Church by the Side of the Road, formerly Knox Presbyterian
(photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Elizabeth Helen Shattuck Havens
(photo courtesy of M.K. Blake Estate Co.)

  As the fire-insurance maps below indicate, Block H wasn’t settled in a hurry. In 1903, a total of eight lots out of 33 had been built. By 1911, there were still five empty lots on the Russell St. side. The Oregon St. side was completely unbuilt with the exception of the Hunter lumber yard that fronted on Shattuck Ave. The rest of the block all the way to Fulton St. came into the possession of Elizabeth Helen Havens in July 1900. Elizabeth Havens (1835–1912) was the younger sister of Millicent Kittredge Blake (1824–1907) and Francis Kittredge Shattuck (1825–1898). Shattuck passed away childless, and Elizabeth’s son John Weston Havens was his heir. Millicent Blake was still alive at the time, but it’s possible that the Oregon St. lots were not sold at the 1889 auction, remaining instead in the Shattuck family.

Block H, Blake Tract, 1903 (Sanborn fire insurance map)

Block H in 1911 (Sanborn fire insurance map)

By the early 1920s, the lots were sold, and small stucco bungalows began appearing on them, presumably erected by one developer. The identity of the builder is not known. The first three bungalows went up in 1922 at the western end: 2124, 2128, and 2132 Oregon. In 1923, a single one was erected at 2164 Oregon, and the following year it was joined by three adjacent houses at the eastern end of the block (2172, 2176, and 2178). In 1925, six bungalows were added at 2140, 2144, 2148, 2152, 2156, and 2160 Oregon. The final house was constructed in 1929 at 2136 Oregon.

The same block in 1950 (Sanborn fire insurance map)

Bungalows on Oregon St. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

The Shattuck Ave. end of Block H was shared by Hunter’s lumber yard and the fire station manned by the Peralta volunteer firemen. (In the 1893 city directory, a year before houses were assigned numbers, Russell Street residents’ listings were followed by “mail Peralta.”) Both Joseph Tape and his son Frank were volunteer firemen in the Peralta company.

Peralta volunteer firemen, 1901 (photo: Berkeley Fire Department)

According to Husted’s 1900 Berkeley directory, David B. Hunter was manager of the Pacific Lumber Company and resided at 2428 Dwight Way, just below Telegraph Avenue. His first lumber yard had been located in the triangle between Shattuck Ave. and Adeline Street. Around 1910, when the Southern Pacific Railroad was asked by the City Council to move its maintenance sheds away from Addison St. in downtown Berkeley, it settled on Hunter’s lot, and he was forced to relocate across the street to Shattuck and Oregon. In 1950, the Shattuck-Oregon corner was still occupied by a lumber yard, now managed by the Hiscox Company. The adjacent fire house had given way to a contractors’ storage yard.
2428 Dwight Way (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

The 2100 block of Russell Street, 1911 (Sanborn fire insurance map)

In the map detail above, note the windmill and water tank in front of the second Tape house at 2121 Russell Street. In 1974, Frank Tape’s widow Ruby was interviewed for the Combined Asian American Resources Oral History Project. Walking in her garden, she was asked whether the well was operational. Ruby replied, “Oh, yes, there’s a lot of water in the well, but I don’t use it. [...] My father-in-law made that well.”

“2123 in the olden days” (photo courtesy of Jack Kim)
  The windmill and water tank were erected earlier than the 2121 Russell cottage. Although the 1901 photo of the Peralta company doesn’t show them, the 1903 Sanborn map marks their outline on the empty lot, with a shed in the rear addressed as 2123-1/2 Russell. Even though the well was still there in 1974, the tower was gone and therefore it doesn’t appear in the 1950 Sanborn map. In 1924, the Tapes moved the house to the front of the lot, and the well remained in the back yard for at least half a century. Following Ruby’s death in 1975, the house changed hands. The well was covered over, but the stone perimeter of the flower bed serves as a reminder.

Rear of 2123 Russell (l) & 2121 Russell with outline of well (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

2121 Russell St., rear (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

Continue to Part Ten

The Tapes of Russell Sreet

Essays & Stories

Copyright © 2005–2012 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.