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.

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