THE ALASKA/FREMONT CONNECTION Kate’s Journal


Episode 33 Kirkland 1969-1974

kirkland 6

The barn was finished, with its sleeping loft which held six to eight people agile enough to climb the ladder to access it. We soon had guests from both Fremont and Alaska climbing the ladder.

Among the first guests who came, were three gentlemen from Juneau, Alaska with whom Sam did business, one of whom took an interest in the old green elephant on the bookshelf beside the living room fireplace. He asked where I had got it and I related what I had learned about it.

When the dusty old green elephant turned up in Olive Hyde’s antique shop in Fremont, it seemed a good birthday present for my husband, though she gave me no indication of its history. Sam had never shown a particular interest in elephants, but it’s green glaze captivated me enough to take possession of it.

green elephant

Olive came from San Francisco, hoping to make the Mission San Jose area a little Carmel. Hyde Street, in San Francisco, was named for her forebear, an early alcalde. She opened a tea shop, and when the tea shop went bust, she took over the old pony express building down the street and opened an antique shop. Ever ambitious, Olive kept buying up property throughout the new town. Bob McIver who owns the hardware store in Mission San Jose, drove Miss Hyde around town looking for property when he was a sixteen year old. The tea shop, much later became the Olive Hyde Art Gallery with which I had a twenty year relationship.

Laura Thane Whipple, an active woman involved in real estate, was a pioneer descendant of the Bay Area’s Tilden family and by marriage, the Whipple family. The two women had a contentious relationship through the years, with Laura claiming that Olive talked her out of a number of pieces to put in her antique shop. Through the years Laura became a close friend of mine.

Laura and her brother Bart, had been born in Oakland. When her family moved to Centerville there was no high school, so the children stayed in Oakland during the week, coming down to the country on weekends. The family had built a home designed by Bernard Maybeck, one of the early proponents of Berkeley brown shingle homes.

Laura’s mother didn’t wait long to campaign for a high school in the area. She was a reporter on one of the early San Francisco newspapers and as such she was accustomed to going to where the news was. She hiked up her long skirts and strode out into the cauliflower fields of Centerville to coax money donations from the farmers to build Washington High school, and Laura and Bart moved down to Centerville.

I learned that the elephant had been purchased in China many years before by Laura’s unmarried niece, a young teacher, whom she had raised. In the early part of the century they moved to Alaska to join Laura’s husband John, and her brother Bart Thane, who like many others, had gone to Alaska to find gold in the mining business. They settled near Juneau in an area subsequently named “Thane” for their family. Many years later Laura gave me a gold coin made from some of the first gold which had come from their mine.

The young teacher started a school for elementary grades, and told stories of her time in China, even sharing her mementos, among which was the green elephant. Amazingly, our guests had all been students in her class. Also in a surprising coincidence, two of them remembered seeing the green elephant.

When I asked if they had ever heard of “Thane”, they laughed and informed us that it had become Juneau! So our old green elephant has the distinction of being one of the first residents of Juneau, Alaska.

THE OAKLAND YEARS Kate’s Journal


Episode 20 Oakland, CA

053“Watercolor” by kayti sweetland rasmussen Iris from my first real garden.

Living in a semi-rural and hilly part of Oakland in the 50’s was quite different from our flat island of Alameda. With Sam traveling from Monday to Friday and me without a car, there were adjustments to be made. One of them was Al Cook’s small corner grocery store which not only delivered, but also let you run a tab. The girls walked to school, I walked to the bus for school, and we all walked 2 miles to Jan’s piano lessons.

We acquired Hilda, a small black and tan dachshund with strange long legs, who stayed with our family for many years. She actually became part of the neighborhood pack which included a large furry collie who was repeatedly attacked by a small chihuahua who buried himself in her thick neck fur to hide from his parents.

I joined a women’s singing group and we sang at women’s clubs, churches, etc. One of our members was a woman from Centerville, before it became Fremont, whose husband owned a nice steak restaurant there. She became ill with tuberculosis and had to be in an institution for a year and a half. When she returned in good health, she found that her husband had found other means of entertainment while she was gone, so she divorced him. The restaurant has changed hands several times since then.

We had a very active Campfire Girls group, and though it I met a very inspirational woman in her 80’s from Fremont who had been a real mover and shaker in the organization for many years. I will write later about her when we move to Fremont. In trying to find an interesting theme for our girls group, I had chosen Japanese children’s holidays which morphed into much more a few years later when they moved into high school.

I found returning to school to be harder than I had realized. Math and chemistry were not my strong points, but glaze calculation required a certain knowledge of.. them. I met a lovely old Japanese potter who was horrified that I could not retain the right information. When I begged for a simple calculation, he exclaimed “But that’s fourth grade math!” I told him I knew that and that’s what I wanted to know. I also began to be interested in a class about window dressing and display to see if it was different from what i had done for J.C. Penney in Alameda.

Sam’s parents had moved to Centerville which was just emerging from rural farmland, with a couple of very nice neighborhoods being built. Sam’s sister’s family followed a year or so later into a new home. At that time there was perhaps 6,000 population. There was bus transportation to Oakland, and there was a train to Sacramento. Our weekends were often spent together at the cabin at the Russian River, where the whole family gathered.

Our little neighborhood was safe and we had good neighbors. A creek ran behind our house at the bottom of a hill. Bishop O’Doud high School was on the other side of the hill. Neighborhood children played in the shallow creek, and the mothers all felt quite safe.

One morning I received a terrible ill-written note in the mail, accusing me of trying to steal someone’s husband. No name or return address. It was disturbing and I threw it in the fireplace. A few days later I received a package in the mail containing another note a pair of dirty men’s socks. I called the police, and in today’s world, I’m sure they would not bother to come. I was frightened to think that someone even knew that we were there and alone. Later we heard that a man had exposed himself to the kids walking the long distance to school. We were mentally gearing up to move when I looked out my upstairs window to see someone obviously proud of his manly equipment looking directly at me.

We had been happy in our first little home, but it was time to move on, and we chose to join the rest of the family in the little town of Centerville.