San Mateo County Genealogical Society's Blog featuring society events, projects, meeting notes and other items of relevance to genealogists.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

SMC Places: San Mateo 1950s

a submission to SMCGS Sharing Stories 2017

Imagine SAN MATEO in the 1950's

Laurie Coulter, 2017, age 70 years

St. Matthews Catholic Church c 1950 - Ellsworth St.
(San Mateo County Historical Association)
The El Camino Real, "the royal road", was from my earliest memories, significant in our town, San Mateo, California. The El Camino is the path Fr. Junipero Serra took walking between the nine Spanish Missions he established in the mid 1700's. Stretching from Baja Mexico to Sonoma, they were a day's walk apart.  Mission Santa Clara is to the south of us and Mission Dolores in San Francisco to the north. There were  metal bell shaped markers on placed along the El Camino, which reminded us of our heritage. The name "San Mateo" is Spanish for St.  Matthew, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, so it is not surprising that there were two churches with that name: one Catholic and one Episcopalian. Both churches had schools and both churches were located within four blocks of each other.

I remember feeling connected to the history of the state of California and our Spanish heritage. The Spanish influence went beyond names as many homes and also buildings downtown like the U.S. Post Office on Ellsworth have white stucco exteriors with red tile roofs, wooden balconies and tile patios, porches or entries.

My Sense of Place.
533 Edinburgh, first home, Spanish style - personal photo Collection

I grew up in San Mateo, a city about twenty miles south of San Francisco, California, from the time I was six months old until age fifteen. My childhood memories are of riding my bike with neighbor kids all over our neighborhood which was from Edinburgh Ave. and 5th Ave/ Parrot Drive, then later, Aragon Ave to Borel.

Our neighborhood was safe and mostly flat so our parents did not limit our explorations. There was a paved narrow road that ran from the Alameda de las Pulgas down to the El Camino Real. It was six long blocks and was called, "the alley." It ran behind homes, so you walked or rode your bike with little if any car traffic. We walked to St. Matthew's Catholic School from about half the distance of the alley and collected students along the way. Even in First Grade, I remember walking home at noon with a girl who lived about three blocks up the alley, then I was on my own for two blocks on my street. I walked home for lunch until I was in the 4th grade.

Central Park

Figure 3 postcard Central Park, St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, 
Crystal Springs Reservoir 
(Photographer: Ken Glaser Jr., Smith Novelty Company, San Francisco, CA.)
We spent a lot of time in Central Park. Facing the El Camino from Fifth Avenue to Ninth Avenue, it seemed huge. There was a train ride open ride on weekends, and a stadium where events were held. We once got to see David Nelson of Ozzie and Harriet T.V. fame with a circus. He was a gymnast as I recall. I remember biking all over the park.
We spent a lot of time at the playground. My favorite things were the curly slide and the merry go round that you hung onto and ran like heck before jumping onto and riding it. We took turns running.

Also, I remember walking through the park from school to get to the church. Either our class or the whole school walked from Ninth Ave. to Third Ave, "cutting through" the park to get to Ellsworth and then to St. Matthew's Church. This happened in Lent when we went to confession and to the Stations of the Cross or when we had rehearsals for sacraments or special Masses.


My sister and I took tap, ballet and acrobat as preschoolers. I ended up taking some form of jazz dance through 8th grade. We had piano lessons from an early age and rode our bikes to the piano teacher's house when old enough. We learned to swim when very young as our mother could not and was terrified of us drowning. The early lessons were at an indoor pool on Baldwin Ave. Later we rode the bus to San Mateo High School for Red Cross lessons. We loved to roller skate at the Rolladium, a large domed building with a huge wooden roller rink. We learned to ice skate at the Belmont Ice rink. Both were locations for birthday parties through the years.

For a quarter, we saw movies, sometimes a double feature and always with a newsreel downtown at the San Mateo Theater or further south at the Palm or Manor theaters.
Summers were spent creating carnivals in someone's garage or back yard or building forts, playing board and card games and riding our bikes. Long summer nights were spent playing baseball in the street hating to hear that call to come in at 10pm.
As a teen, I had a friend two years older than I and sometimes she could borrow her dad's '57 Chevy and we would "cruise" the El Camino from Kibby's Restaurant in San Mateo down to Kibby's Drive-In in Redwood City. Sometimes, we would go north to King's Drive-In in Millbrae. We barely had money for gas let alone more than a coke at each place, but we were "out there."

4th Ave. looking East from El Camino c.1950
(Archives of the San Mateo County Historical Association, #88-96.19) 

Our family shopped downtown, for a couple of reasons. The big stores like Macys and Emporium were in San Francisco. Also, the downtown had everything we needed and we did not have to dress up. Going to San Francisco meant dressing up which included hats, gloves and dress shoes. Even when we went to visit friends, if they lived in "The City", we dressed up. Also, we had our own local department stores, Levy Brothers and a J.C. Penney's as well as Roos Atkins, Joseph Magnin and Jud Greene clothing stores.

Downtown San Mateo was laid out in a grid perpendicular to the El Camino Real. The hub was 3rd and 4th Avenues between the El Camino on the West and B Street on the East, which paralleled the Southern Pacific train tracks. It did extend north to Baldwin and there was a shopping district south, off the El Camino, on 25th Ave. Of course when Hillsdale Shopping Center opened in 1956/7, that became our shopping hub.

3rd Ave. looking East from El Camino circa 1950
(Archives of the San Mateo County Historical Association, #88-96.20)
I savor the memories of ice cream sundaes at Borden's Creamery and saving our allowance to go into Blum's Bakery and Cafe and sitting at counter and ordering decadent coffee crunch cake. I can still smell the minestrone soup from the Shadows Restaurant and feel the pinch new oxfords from our annual school shoe shopping at Sommer and Kauffman.

Near B Street we got to shop for toys and birthday gifts at Talbots and get our ballet shoes and tights at Cappezio's. We also got our hair cut and loved browsing at the 5 and 10 cent store and getting a coke at the lunch counter. A special treat was going to Benny's Meat Market on 3rd Ave. Benny or his brother Evo would give us a raw hot dog while taking our mother's meat order. Fridays in Lent meant no meat, so clam chowder or filet of sole at Vince's Seafood market was a treat. The Villa Chartier was a place for special family celebrations. We had to dress up to go there.

Villa Chartier Restaurant c late 1950's
       (Archives of the San Mateo County Historical Association, #88-96.50)
There are so many memories of friends and neighbors from the three houses in which we lived. I cherish my time there. I was very fortunate that I had the freedom to explore and experience a small town life in the midst of the larger community near a large city.
When I met my husband, I was happy to find out that he grew up in Hillsdale. We have since lived down the El Camino about ten minutes in Redwood City for nearly forty years, while raising three children, one grandson and recently welcoming a new granddaughter. San Mateo County is our home.
Laurie Coulter has been a member of SMCGS for 8 years. She was born in San Francisco but raised in San Mateo and has lived on the peninsula ever since. Her Dad was born in Woodside in the 1890s where the family had a farmhouse until the 1950s.  She is actively working on her First Families Application and is now Chair of the First Families Committee.  Laurie started taking classes from Gayle Simon and says "My classes led me to writing stories about my family as a way of sharing the family history which is so much more than a pedigree chart. Since I had no elders to ask, I decided that my own memories and those of my sister and cousins will have to do. I use research for gaps, but I inherited a lot of documents and photos which gain meaning and context in the stories. For now my focus remains on what we know collaboratively  and what I can verify."

© 2017 Laurie Coulter - Please contact SMCGS for use of any portion of this story.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Grandfather Edward Arnold

by Zita Ballinger Fletcher

Edward Willingham Arnold, an original founder of Coldwell Banker Real Estate, was a pioneer of capital projects in San Mateo County.

Edward was a longtime resident of the Peninsula with strong ties to the Burlingame and Hillsborough communities. He was born in Wartrace, Tennessee on October 14, 1895. He was of English lineage and belonged to the Willingham and Arnold families, known for their notable achievements in America.

As a young man, Edward moved to Riverside, California in 1909 with his parents and six siblings. He attended Riverside Polytechnic High School and studied law at Stanford University from 1915 to 1921.

While at Stanford, Edward was known for his fine character and leadership. He was admitted to Phi Delta Phi law honor society, which required members to have a grade average in the top third of their class and impeccable good standing at school. He also joined Kappa Alpha fraternity. He served as a student election official in 1916. He was chosen to represent and lead Kappa Alpha in 1917 in a campaign to increase membership in the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) student government. The same year, Edward was elected as a representative of the Stanford Flower Committee, who entrusted him with the responsibility of decorating the Stanford mausoleum with flower arrangements every Sunday morning for the upcoming fall semester. World War I interrupted his studies. Edward was drafted and sent to Camp Hancock outside of Atlanta, Georgia. He served in the U.S. Marines in the 76th Company of the Machine Gun Corps.

In June 1922, Edward married Ann Wickliffe Lowrie, of Nashville, Tennessee. She was a music major at Ward Belmont College and a gifted pianist. Her father, Harold Watkins Lowrie, was a lawyer and judge. The couple married at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, with Ann’s father as a witness.

Edward and Ann lived in Burlingame in the early years of their marriage and resided at 1240 Drake Avenue. In 1931, the couple lived at 108 Stonehedge Road in a large home built in 1910, which remained their family home for the rest of their lives. Together there they raised three beautiful daughters: Virginia, Ann and Sally.

Edward’s legal finesse, financial skills and ambition enabled him to become a California business titan. He began his career in 1921 at a small company called Coldwell, Cornwall & Banker, which was not yet prominent at the time. Edward was noteworthy for his exceptional performance. He became a General Partner in 1939 at age 43, ranking among the most successful executives. He and fellow board members changed the growing company’s name in 1940 to establish Coldwell, Banker & Co. He became Vice Chairman in 1963 and acceded to the post of Chairman in 1967.

Edward led the development of the Baywood Knolls subdivision in San Mateo, which today remains one of the most prestigious communities in the entire United States. Evidence of Edward’s high standards and belief in education can be seen in some of the community’s street names, which derive from America’s greatest universities. It is likely he wished families who settled there to aspire to first-class education goals for their children.

He was also active in charity initiatives. Edward was director of the United Bay Area Crusade, a medical charity organization in San Mateo County that provided essential funding to over 230 medical charities throughout five counties. The organization supplied more than 50% of budgets for Bay Area care centers including cerebral palsy organizations, drug and rehabilitation programs, family service agencies, and hospitals for unwed mothers and their babies.

Edward also served on the board of directors of Mills Hospital, a non-profit institution in San Mateo. He aided St. Luke’s Hospital in 1951 in an expansion project. He assisted St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in a project to underwrite debt in 1953. In 1946, he financed and led a committee to construct a new building for St. Paul’s to provide room for school classes, an auditorium and stage, meetings and a youth group space. He raised funds for the American Cancer Society in 1961 and, also that year, took part in a Hillsborough Citizens’ Committee 1961 to sponsor a local school board election.

He also personally directed the creation of the new Peninsula YMCA and Youth Center in San Mateo as director of the building committee in 1951. Edward managed a small team of people that bought the property in 1949 and supervised its planning and construction. The structure, valued then at $230,000, was a large-scale project and described by the San Mateo Times in 1951 as “one of the first of its kind in the nation.” At a dedication ceremony that drew about 1,000 attendees, the Reverend Benton S. Gaskell dedicated the building “in the terms of the ideals of those who made it possible.”

Throughout this time, Edward was also busy as a leader in San Francisco. He was president of the San Francisco Real Estate Board and director of the Better Business Bureau. He also held many additional offices. He was a member of the Pacific Union Club, which includes the nation’s leaders among its members. He belonged to the Burlingame and Menlo Country Clubs and served as Vice Chairman for the Hillsborough Racquet Club.

Edward retired from Coldwell Banker in 1969, a year after making the nationally significant decision as Chairman to issue public stock. He dedicated a total of 48 years of his life to the company.

Edward’s interests demonstrated his pursuit of personal excellence, law and leadership. Until his death in 1974, he continued to be involved in business and civic affairs in San Mateo County.

His wife, Ann, lived to the age of 106 and died in 2005. Their daughter Sally died at age 48 and is buried next to her parents in California.

Zita Ballinger Fletcher is Edward Willingham Arnold’s great-granddaughter through his daughter Sally. She admires her Grandfather Edward as a role model and has inherited his interests in finance and law. She resides in Europe.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

SMCGS Sharing Stories 2017

Daniel Joseph  McSweeney

Diane Bader

Daniel Joseph Sweeney was born on November 12, 1869, into one of the large Irish families in the burgeoning young city of San Francisco. He waof s the ninth child born to Julia Lenahan of Roscommon and Daniel Sweeney County Donegal, Ireland.

His father, Daniel Sweeney, owned one of the first stockyards in San Francisco. He ran his successful cattle business there for twenty-five years. During the early years of young Daniel’s life, San Francisco was a flourishing city. Lavish homes were being built by Leland Stanford Jr., Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington, Charles Crocker and others. The Palace Hotel, the Baldwin Hotel, prosperous banks, and magnificent churches were all under construction. Many streets were paved and gas lights were being installed.

Then in 1877, when Daniel was only eight years old, his father decided to retire and return to Ireland with Julia and their eight living children. He purchased an estate called Carrowcannon House as well as fifty-three acres in Falcarragh, County Donegal, North West Ireland.
Carrowcannon House

When the Sweeney family arrived in Ireland, the children saw a beautiful but very poor country. In contrast to what they were used to in San Francisco, there were no mansions, no two-story houses, one small wooden church. The children had to learn to speak Irish; they rode in a horse cart to school and church. All the children, including Daniel, wanted to return to San Francisco. It was especially hard for them when their older sister and brother did return after only two years and the six younger children had to remain in Ireland for six more years.
Upon arrival, Daniel’s father saw how poorly the peasants were being treated by the landlords. Their rents were constantly being raised and when they couldn’t pay them, they were evicted from their tiny homes. He decided to help them by organizing the Land League in four parishes of County Donegal, becoming president of one branch and traveling around the county delivering fiery speeches against the landlords and urging the poor not to pay their unfair rents. Young Daniel watched how hard his father fought for justice.

When his father was arrested at Carrowcannon House on June 2, 1881, Daniel, then 12 years old, raised the American flag over their home and said, “Father, they’ll pay for this yet!” Although he was an American citizen, the elder Daniel was imprisoned for 14 months without trial and without help from the U.S. government. With his father in prison, Daniel’s mother, Julia, joined the Ladies’ Land League and gave fiery speeches of her own.

The family remained in Donegal for 4 more years. Daniel was 16 years old when his father was released and they finally returned to San Francisco where he completed his education. An interesting fact: when they returned, they all used the name of Mc Sweeney which has confused genealogists ever since, especially since the eldest two children never changed their names from Sweeney to Mc Sweeney.
540 Baden St.
Daniel Mc Sweeney moved to South San Francisco with his brother, Ambrose Mc Sweeney, on November 17, 1895. He was employed as the first U.S. meat inspector on the Pacific Coast for the Western Meat Company. Previously, he had worked as a butcher in the Customs House in San Francisco. Soon after moving to South San Francisco, Daniel went into the hotel business. He purchased the Grand Hotel on Bayshore Blvd. He also obtained a contract with the Ocean Shore Railroad Board to act as commissary head with accommodations for 400 men. The earthquake came along in 1906 and ruined this business contract, although he still kept the hotel. He was also the proprietor of The Old Bohemia Saloon.

In 1908, Daniel became interested in the incorporation of South San Francisco and ran for city council. He was elected and then reelected in 1910. Then he was selected by his fellow trustees to serve as the second mayor of the city from 1910 to 1912. Daniel also served on the county Democratic Central Committee for over 30 years. During the Wilson administration in 1916, he became postmaster until 1917 when it was taken over by San Francisco Ferry Station Post Office.

Daniel then became personnel manager at Pacific Coast Steel.  He was elected to the position of City Clerk of South San Francisco in April 1920 and was reelected four times. He remained in that position until his death in 1946.

According to the April 10, 1910 Enterprise Journal, Daniel “is a very active and earnest man in all his work and undertakings and a most genial and jolly good fellow. Although one of the town’s first city fathers, Dan is, we are sorry to say a bachelor. However, he is not old and his friends still have hopes for him.” Daniel was 41 years old.

His friends’ hopes were fulfilled when he married May Elizabeth Ryan. Daniel never had any children of his own but was father to his wife’s son and daughter: Joseph Lloyd Ryan and Gladys Ryan. 

On Dec. 8, 1939, The Enterprise said, “His sunny disposition and friendliness has endeared him to all who come in contact with him. His pleasant Irish face framed by the wings of white hair is a familiar and welcome sight around the city hall.”


Pictures: Personal File
Newspaper: The Enterprise, South San Francisco, CA

Diane Bader is member of the Sacramento Genealogical Society, where she lives.  She grew up in Menlo Park and Atherton, attending St. Joseph's School, College of Notre Dame and Stanford. Diane has written a book about her life in Menlo Park in the 1940s and early 1950s.  She remembers when Silicon Valley was all fruit trees where people would come each spring to see the blossoms. Her father had a dental office in San Carlos and her mother and family were from San Francisco.  Diane is a retired teacher, church musician and liturgist.  She presently sings with the Consumnes River College Gospel Choir. Her book "Setting Donegal on Fire", about her great grandfather Daniel McSweeney, was launched in Falcarragh, Donegal, last August by the Minister of the Diaspora, Joe McHugh. You can contact Diane at

© 2017 Diane Bader - Please contact author for use of any portion of this story.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

SMCGS Databases Online: Layng & Tinney Mortuary

One of the  mortuaries in San Mateo County, was that of Layng and Tinney, which was located at Marshall and Jefferson in Redwood City. The mortuary closed its doors and eventually the San Mateo County Genealogical Society acquired a collection of records that filled 11 vertical file drawers.  Due to computer problems, the index that was begun and worked on by many library volunteers in the 1990s was lost.

Fortunately one printout of that original index survived.  Fran Pillsbury scanned it and work began anew.  Irene Gough, Leon Glahn and Donna Farmar checked every entry against the files in those eleven drawers. Others joined in as the list was proofread two more times. Finally in 2005 the index was deemed complete and the society published it in book form.

The files, themselves, date mainly from the mid 1920's to about 1970. Additionally, through the years, various families removed their loved ones from Union Cemetery, favoring the perpetual care of the cemeteries in Colma. The  files of removals by Layng andTinney provide information on deaths back as early as 1877.

You can find obituaries, death records, receipts, letters and more within the files.

There are over seven thousand files housed in the SMCGS library. They are filed alphabetically by surname and then given name. In the case of two identical names the earlier death is filed first. Some records are contained in file folders and others in envelopes. It is important to remember if you use these records that they are anywhere from 45 to 90 years old and, therefore, they are somewhat fragile.  If you visit the SMCGS Library during staffed hours, a volunteer can retrieve a file for you to view.  If you would like to order a record you will find information on the SMCGS Research Page.

Today the index, like all indexes created by SMCGS is available for free on our website.

Layng and Tinney Mortuary Record Index

Registers for earlier Layng and Tinney burials can be found in the Redwood  Library History Room.