1. Mother Mary Teresa Cornerford -
Founder of the Sisters of Presentation Convent
Bridget Comerford was born in Ireland in 1821 and in 1841 entered the novitiate of the Sisters of the Presentation in Kilkenny where she was given the name of Sister Mary Teresa. When she took her vows she declared her intention to devote her life to the instruction of poor female children. In 1854 she traveled to San Francisco with several priests and the eight Sisters of Mercy, where they remained as a cloistered community of religious women in the Sacred Heart Presentation Convent. She set up both the Presentation Convent on Powell Street and the Sacred Heart Convent at Taylor and Ellis. By 1874, the convents were educating 1700 children tuition-free. She then decided to establish a school in the suburbs where sick sisters, who were ill because of the San Francisco climate, could go to recover their health. In 1877 Mother Teresa chose Berkeley as the location for a new convent school for girls.
St. Joseph’s Presentation Convent was built on 2.7 acres of land deeded to Mother Teresa by James McGee. In June of 1878, the convent was formally dedicated. “Large crowds came from Oakland and San Francisco, as well as Berkeley, for the ceremony. Archbishop Alemany had been scheduled to perform the dedication and blessing, but he missed the regular ferry from San Francisco and arrived two hours later, after the ceremony was over. As the San Francisco Monitor reported: ‘Archbishop Alemany arrived at the conclusion of the ceremonies, when he took occasion to congratulate the Sisters on the beautiful site of the convent, the symmetry and situation, and expressed his deep gratitude to the generous Irishman, Mr. James McGee for his liberality in donating the lot on which the convent is erected.’” A room in the Convent was used for the girls’ school.
Mother Teresa returned to Ireland in 1879 in order to establish a novitiate for the California foundation. She returned to California in May, 1881 and died that August. Her casket was taken by boat to Oakland, then back to Berkeley for burial in the small cemetery on the convent grounds, after final services in the chapel.
2. Carrie G. Davis -- Educator of Chinese Orphans
From 1903 to 1913, Carrie Davis was the superintendent of the restructured Oriental Home for Chinese Women and Girls in San Francisco. She would meet incoming steamers from China at the Pacific Mail Dock, to “inform the slave girls. . . of the terrible fate before them and tell them of the Home as a place of refuge where they might come and find a welcome.” After the 1906 earthquake destroyed the Methodist Episcopal Church’s mission buildings at the edge of Chinatown, Carrie Davis and the children fled across the Bay and took refuge in Berkeley. Housing was not easy to find after the earthquake, especially at a time when many landlords would not rent to Chinese, but after several days of searching they found a ten-room house at 2116 Spaulding Avenue. Although there was no gas or electricity and the quarters were cramped, Carrie Davis noted that the house had “several acres of vacant land on both sides. . .and there is a beautiful view of the hills and the bay.” In September 1908 the Oriental Home moved to less overcrowded quarters at 1918 University Avenue. During their stay they had tried unsuccessfully to raise funds for building a new Home in San Francisco, so that same month Carrie Davis set out, with eight of the children under her care, on a seven-month fundraising tour to forty-eight cities and towns throughout the United States. At the White House, the children sang for President Theodore Roosevelt.
Eventually their fundraising efforts paid off and, in 1911 they returned to San Francisco to a new building, designed by Julia Morgan, at 940 Washington Street. Carrie Davis died in 1925 at age 69. The house at 2116 Spaulding Avenue has been replaced by an apartment building.
Photos coming soon
Orphans at 2116 Spaulding Ave. Miss Carrie G. Davis 1864?- 1925
Photo from The Argonaut
3. Philip K. Dick -- Science Fiction Writer
Philip K. Dick is probably best known for the movie Blade Runner, based on his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep? (1968). He moved to 1711 Allston Way with his mother in 1944. In 1947, he moved to 2208 McKinley Street, formerly a warehouse whose upper floor had been converted into a rooming house. The rooms were occupied by some of the most notable young Berkeley artists of the time: the poets Robert Duncan, andJack Spicer, and the future art historian Gerald Ackerman. The original building on this site was the S.J. Sill house, a two-story building built in 1905 for the Sills as a dwelling and stable. The stable was used by Hink’s Department Store for its delivery van and horses. The building was demolished in 1979 and a ranch house moved to the site from Fourth Street.
4. Carl H. Fox -- Designer
The two brick cottages at 1672 University Avenue were designed by Carl Fox and constructed by the Fox Brothers Construction Company. The one in the front was built in 1940, the one at the rear in 1931. “This complex is known as Fox Common and is a green oasis of rustic, brick-sided cottages nestled in a tree-shaded garden, wedged between two 2-story stucco-sided commercial buildings on busy University Avenue. As late as 1941, University Avenue was not fully developed. There were almost equal numbers of homes, automobile-related businesses such as garages, gas stations, repair shops, and dealerships, and other commercial buildings, as there were vacant lots. This uneven development remains evident today.” The cottages are examples of a subset of the Tudor Revival style. Fox Brothers used different colors and sizes of brick, interspersed with rough stone for their exteriors.
The Fox Brothers Construction Company was established in 1924 and continued in operation until 1953. Fox Common was designated City of Berkeley Landmark #211 in 1998.
5. Ernest Landauer -- Poet, Actor and Community Activist
The two houses at 2422 and 2424 McGee Avenue were purchased in 1952 by Ernest and Alice Landauer. Ernie was a mover and shaker in the city of Berkeley for some fifty years. He co-founded the Actors Ensemble in 1957 (it celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007), as well as the Ecology Center, the Bay Area Funeral Society, and Commonarts. He was instrumental in starting the Berkeley city camps, helped run the Flea Market on Ashby and MLK for years, and was active also as a poet and teacher. Ernie came to Berkeley from Germany in 1933 at the age of 6 with his family. His father Carl Landauer had been a prominent economist in Germany and was a professor at UC Berkeley for years. Ernie died in 2006.
6. Michael Lerner -- Social Activist, Writer, and Religious Leader
Michael Lernermoved into the house at 1712 Channing Way in 1965 with Jerry Rubin. (Jerry Rubin, born in 1938, was a high-profile, left-wing American social activist and author during the 1960s and 1970s. He became a successful businessman in the 1980s and died in an auto accident in Los Angeles in 1994.) Lerner was president of the Berkeley chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) during the time he lived here. He was also one of the leaders of Stop the Draft Week and one of the Seattle Seven. J. Edgar Hoover described him as "one of the most dangerous criminals in America." Lerner became a Rabbi, started Tikkun magazine in 1987, publishing analytical articles on Israel/Palestine, Jewish culture, and the intersection of religion and politics in the United States, and has so far written eleven books. He is frequently written about and quoted in the media. He still lives and works in Berkeley. He recalls the neighborhood as quiet: “My dog [was] sleeping in the street because it was that safe and quiet and non-hassled,” beautiful and nourishing, “in stark contrast to the confrontations I was involved in.”
7. James McGee -- Pioneer Farmer and Benefactor
James McGee was born in County Louth, Ireland, we think in 1814. Researching his life and times was not easy, as we members of the McGee-Spaulding-Hardy Historic Interest Group soon found out; this article summarizes what we have learned so far. Information at the time of his death in 1899 indicates that he was then 85 years old; if so, his year of birth must have been about 1814. (However, according to the 1860, 1870, and 1880 Censuses, his year of birth was about 1820.) He and his two brothers, Peter and Edward, came to the United States and eventually made their way to California. We find a James McGee arriving from Liverpool on the ship Lenobia in New York in 1840 with his wife Catherine. Before coming to Alameda County in 1854, the McGee’s lived in Massachusetts; we know James was naturalized in Boston in 1852.
James McGee went on to become one of the region’s prominent Irish immigrant farmers, along with Michael Curtis, Peter Mathews, and Michael Higgins. Until their arrival, the flatland area of what is now Berkeley was almost entirely rural, with fields of grasses and a scattering of oak trees along the creeks; there were very few buildings. McGee purchased 115 acres there in 1855. The property is bordered by the present day Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Dwight Way, California Street, and Addison Street, with McGee Avenue running through the middle. It is not clear exactly where the McGee family lived. The City Directories from 1881 to 1899 show him living on his land on the northeast corner of California and Dwight Way, on Dwight Way between Catherine (later Roosevelt) and McGee Avenue, on Dwight Way near Spaulding, and at the corner of Dwight Way and McGee Avenue. The Alameda County voter roll of 1892 gives his address as the east side of McGee Avenue between Dwight Way and Channing Way. We hope someday to discover where his house stood.
James and Catherine McGee had two daughters: Mary Ann (Maria Anna), born June 19, 1861; and Catherine, born January 25, 1863. Both were baptized at St. Mary Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Oakland, where many of the Irish Catholic immigrants from the area worshipped at that time. Even though Berkeley was part of the Sacred Heart Parish of Oakland, established in 1876, many attended Mass only at the Curtis Ranch, when Father Gualco came to town on horseback; the Oakland church was too distant and the only transportation by horse or farm cart. The Berkeley Catholic community began to feel the need for a more religious life and especially some substantial religious education for their children. Michael Curtis, Peter Mathews and James McGee were anxious to have the Presentation Sisters, a teaching order established in San Francisco since 1868, come to Berkeley, so when they learned that the order wanted to establish a new school across the Bay, each offered to give land.
The order’s Mother Superior at that time was Mary Teresa Comer ford (see above). She chose Berkeley for the site of the new Convent and school for girls because of the climate and also because of the opportunity to obtain well educated teachers for the school from the University of California, which had recently moved there from Oakland. She chose to build the convent on the land offered by James McGee, rather than by Curtis or Mathews, because his was larger and more centrally located. In 1877 McGee deeded 2.7 acres at the northwest corner of his property to Mother Teresa and the Sisters of Presentation of San Francisco for a Convent and school. According to an item in a local newspaper, on Monday, April 23, 1877 the following real estate transaction took place: “Jas. McGee to M.T. Comerford 2 [and] 70 100 acres in plot 67, V. and D. Peralta Rancho; $5.” The property deeded to Mother Teresa included land between what is now California Street and Jefferson Avenue from Addison Street south to the north bank of Strawberry Creek. The Convent itself faced California Street.
That same year, McGee’s wife, Catherine, died leaving McGee to raise their two teenaged daughters.
On the day that Mother Teresa and eight Sisters of the Presentation took possession of the newly built Convent in 1878, they were met as they arrived on the ferry from San Francisco by Mrs. Curtis and Mrs. Lynch and transported in James McGee’s carriages to the Convent. The dedication and opening festivities were held on May 30, 1878. McGee continued to support the Sisters by delivering milk from his farm to the Convent every day. He also continued his generosity to the Berkeley Catholic community. By April of 1879, St. Joseph Parish was created. Pierce Comerford, brother of Mother Teresa, was named the new pastor. Dr. Comerford had served in the priesthood in Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean, for thirty years and in early 1876 had retired to Ireland to rest and restore his health. However, his sister persuaded him to come to Berkeley in late 1878 to serve her community, arguing that “the wonderful climate of Berkeley would be more beneficial to his health than the cold of Ireland.” One of the first things Dr. Comerford did after becoming pastor was to build himself a house with his own money on land given to him by James McGee. When he was given permission to build a school for boys, again James McGee gave the land for the school. St. Peter’s Boys’ School, financed by Dr. Comerford, opened on January 1, 1881. There is a tradition that Dr. Comerford sold his horse in order to furnish the school.
Dr. Comerford next decided to erect a church for the Berkeley Catholics. Bryan Clinch, who had designed several small wooden Gothic churches in Northern California, was chosen as the architect. The site for the church was partially on land that McGee had given to Mother Teresa and partly on land that he gave to the church. St. Joseph’s Catholic Church was begun in 1883 but, due to lack of funds, was not completed until 1886. The church was paid for by a series of annual fairs which attracted the interest of people as far away as San Francisco. In 1913, the Church was torn down to make room for a new wing of the Convent, which stood until 1966.
McGee was a major figure in early Berkeley politics. In 1874, he participated, along with his brother Peter, Henry Durant, and others, in the first effort to incorporate Berkeley. Though this effort failed, the advocates of incorporation were finally successful and Berkeley was incorporated on April 1, 1878. Berkeley’s first election as an incorporated town was held on May 13, 1878. It was an overwhelming victory for the Workingmen’s Party, which had been organized earlier in the year and of which James McGee was a member. The term Workingmen’s Party was somewhat of a misnomer because, as noted in W.W. Ferrier’s account of the election, “on their roll can be found rich farmers who have no need of earning their bread by the sweat of their brows--whose cakes are already baked--grocers, saloon-keepers, clerks, etc.” All those elected to the town’s first five-member board of trustees were members, including James McGee, who is described as a prominent farmer. The first meeting was held in a room on Shattuck Avenue near Addison. In December of 1878, McGee offered to donate a lot for the town hall “about three hundred feet from the actual center of the town.” A resolution favoring the adoption of the site was passed by the board, but in the end nothing came of this because of objections to the site and the lack of funds for a suitable building.
There are several early photos that show the land owned by James McGee. Taken from high in the Berkeley hills, above the buildings of the University of California, they are aimed at the bridge-free Golden Gate. One of them, clearly taken after 1882, shows the Convent on Addison, the Bryan Clinch chapel, the house built by Reverend Comerford and, much farther to the south, a mass of trees and buildings, one of them a large barn on Dwight Way. The land between is flat, free of buildings, and with only Bancroft Way cutting through the farm. However, by the mid-1880’s this area was beginning to be subdivided. The August 5, 1886 Berkeley Herald, in its Locals East End column ran the following item: “The McGee tract has been laid out rather systematically lately. It has been divided into blocks and roads made and covered with small rocks. It was said a short time ago that Mr. McGee contemplated offering his property for sale at auction. He has not yet decided to do so.” According to a Kellensberger Map of 1888, McGee’s 115 acres became the McGee Tract and was divided into lots. However, by 1892, according to the Tax Assessor’s Book, only a few had been sold. Originally, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and McKinley Avenues were named St. Joseph’s, Catherine, and Mary Streets, after the church and the McGee daughters.
James McGee died on October 24, 1899. On October 27, family and friends were invited to his home on the corner of Dwight Way and McGee Avenue to pay their respects. This was followed by a cortege from his home through his farm to St. Joseph’s Church, where a requiem mass was celebrated “for the repose of his soul.” He was buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Oakland in an unmarked grave. His wife, Catherine, who preceded him in death in 1877 at the age of 55 years is also buried there--again, in an unmarked grave. One of the stained glass windows, “Jesus and the Penitent Woman,” in the current church, was installed in memory of James and Catherine McGee. The sanctuary lamp is also a token of his generosity. Both remain there to this day.
James McGee’s will, dated June 2, 1883, is signed with his name but between the James and the McGee is an X, with the word “his mark” written above and below it. The will leaves everything belonging to McGee to his daughters Mary and Catherine, share and share alike. Catherine is named as the executrix. She is authorized to sell and dispose of all of her father’s property. McGee still had title to nine entire blocks in the McGee Tract and to many more lots in partially sold blocks. The probate papers contain an inventory of the items used on the farm. There was a mare named Emma, a grey horse named George, each valued at $20, two red cows and a spotted cow, each valued at $30 and eight dozen chickens, valued at $25. Also listed were several hay rakes, a buggy, two wagons, with a dump cart. A monetary value is attached to each item. Fifteen tons of loose hay valued at $75 are listed in the inventory. Judging by this item and the farm inventory, we can assume that McGee made lots of hay to feed his cows and horses. He would also have grown grain for the chickens. Also listed was a plow and a cultivator, both probably pulled by one of the horses to break up the grassland which the Peralta family had used to graze their cattle. McGee would have done dryland farming, growing wheat and barley in the winter. The two horses were probably also used for pulling the wagons and buggies, using the harnesses mentioned in the inventory.
Although James McGee apparently never learned to read or write, he died a wealthy man. According to the November 8, 1899 Berkeley Gazette, he left an estate valued at $100,000. McGee’s two daughters never married and continued to live together after their father’s death. We know very little about the life of the two sisters, although the Oakland Tribune reported them as among the arrivals at Byron Hot Springs for the week ending April 28, 1927. And a later Tribune report announced that Catherine was the hostess for the Renaissance Club for an event held at the Town and Gown Club on Dwight Way.
In 1909 the sisters still owned three lots at the corner of Dwight Way and Grove Street (now Martin Luther King Jr. Way) and were granted a permit to build a home at that corner. Their story becomes a bit confused here; several loans on the property were taken out by them, the last in 1936. There is evidence that in 1935 they split the property up, Mary Ann keeping 2436 Grove Street and Catherine the remaining two lots. At some point, Catherine deeded her property back to the lenders, and after their deaths in 1940 the Grove Street property was sold to satisfy the 1936 loan of $2,500. An article in the January 28, 1941 Oakland Tribune announced that “while the father of Miss Catherine McGee bequeathed valuable property to charitable groups, her estate will total but $250.” The sisters are both buried in unmarked graves in St. Mary’s Cemetery, next to their parents.
We are continuing our research on the McGee family and have recently been in contact with a descendant of Peter McGee, who is researching family genealogy. She has been
very helpful in providing us with information.
McGee photo here
8. Feodor A. Postnikov -- Balloonist and Esperanto Pioneer
Feodor A.Postnikov was born in Shadova, Kovna, Lithuania in 1872. He served in the Russian military from 1891 to 1905. While in the military he was named Commanding Officer of the first Naval Detachment, and worked on the design and construction of a spherical balloon for locating submerged mines and observing the movement of enemy ships. Stationed in St. Petersburg during his early military career, he became involved in the study of Esperanto and took part in the First Esperanto Circle organized by Dr. Zamenhof, a Lithuanian doctor who had originated Esperanto in 1887. On a visit to Japan in 1903 he contacted Dr. Hasegawa of Tokyo University. In 1907, the first book published in Esperanto in Japan, by Dr. Hasegawa, carried a portrait of F.A. Postnikov with the caption, “Father of the Esperanto Movement in Japan.”
He moved from Vladivostok to the U.S. with his family in 1906 and changed his name to Fred A. Post. In 1911 the family settled into the house at 1633 Dwight Way. While looking for an engineering job he worked as the Berkeley Circulation Manager for the San Francisco Chronicle. The barn at the rear of the house was used to stable a horse, which he used to pick up papers from the early morning train from San Francisco for delivery by his sons and other young boys. (In 1986, when the current occupants moved to the house, there were still cart wheel tracks and horse hoof marks in the soil of the driveway.)
In 1908, when a dirigible was launched
just east of Berkeley High School, Col.
F.A. Postnikov “had warned that the mission
was suicidal. He said that the canvas
could not withstand pressure from the
tremendous amount of gas and rarified
air.” Indeed, the dirigible rose only 150
feet before it plummeted to the ground
near where it had begun its ascent.
Fortunately, no one on the ground or
the dirigible was killed or injured. In
1917 he volunteered for the U.S. Army,
where he was put in charge of the Army
Balloon Engineering School at Fort Omaha,
Nebraska. He resigned from the U.S. Army
in 1918, changed his name back to Feodor
A. Postnikov, and went to work for Goodyear.
In 1920 he was one of the engineers assigned
to the construction of the U.C. Stadium, at Lt. Col. Feodor A. Postnikov during the
the same time claiming it was “a crazy place
to build a stadium; it was on a fault!”
Postnikov moved to Arkansas in 1929. He
died May 10, 1952. Lt.Col. Feodor A. Postnikov during the
9. Mario Savio -- Free Speech Movement Activist
In the fall of 1964, Mario Savio led a demonstration in support of the rights of students on the U.C. campus. Father Harry Morrison states in his Parish History: “It is interesting to note that as the University of California was embroiled in a controversy of far-reaching implications, the founder and spearhead of the Free Speech Movement, Mario Savio, living several doors down from St. Joseph’s Church, was engaged in a cordial relationship with the kindly old pastor of St. Joseph’s. These regular, friendly conversations between Savio and Patrick Galvan must have been far removed in spirit and tone from the noisy demonstrations in Sproul Plaza and serve to highlight the ironic, human, and often friendly coexistence of the ‘two Berkeleys’ during these troubled years.” He quit the FSM in 1965, and almost two decades later received a master’s degree in Physics. In 1990 he moved to Sonoma County, where he taught mathematics, philosophy and logic at Sonoma State University. He died in 1996.  Father Harry B. Morrison, History of Saint Joseph’s Parish, Berkeley California 1878-1979. (April 20, 1999)  Jeffrey L. Staley, Gum Moon: The first fifty years of Methodist women’s work in San Francisco Chinatown, 1870-1920 (copyrighted and published 2005 by The Argonaut Journal of the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, volume 16:1.  Lawrence Sutin, Divine Invasions: A life of Philip K. Dick ( New York, 2005: Carrol & Graf Publishers)  Article by Susan Cerny, Berkeley Daily Planet, Fox Court and Fox Common, January 12, 2002.  Most of this article previously appeared in Berkeley Historical Society Newsletter, Winter 2007.  Designed by Shea and Lofquist and built in 1907 (Landmark #164). It is now called St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church.  The property referred to here is the land he donated to St. Joseph’s Church.  Unless otherwise indicated all information is from Seraphim F. Post, The Story of the Postnikov Family (Bancroft Library, Berkeley, California: privately printed).  Linda Rosen, Berkeley Takes Off, Berkeley Historical Society Newsletter, spring 2006.  Father Harry B. Morrison, History of St. Joseph’s Parish, Berkeley, California, 1878-1979 (Berkeley, Calif,: April 20, 1999)..