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How ‘capitalist’ Joseph Hale planted seeds for Los Altos: Los Altos’ Early Roots

In the wake of Los Altos celebrating its 60th anniversary of incorporation, it is worthwhile to recall the area and the events as they were when settled. The following is part seven of the eight-part series on the area’s early history.

By Richard Johnson

Joseph Hale, former cattle herder, silver miner and organic dye producer, began in 1872 to live at various addresses in San Francisco (238 Taylor St., 314 Oak St. and finally Montgomery Street). He previously lived in San Jose del Cabo with his first wife, Catarina, and daughters Catherine Josephine (b. 1861) and Anna (b. 1866).

Hale purchased 400 acres of Rancho San Antonio in 1869. His wife died in 1876, and his youngest daughter died in 1881. In 1880, he remarried Anais, a woman from Louisiana.

When the orchilla business collapsed, Hale returned to reside full time in the Occidental Hotel on Montgomery Street in San Francisco, leaving “Santiago Hale” and “Flores Hale” (his business partnerships) to manage affairs in Baja.

In 1883, Hale was naturalized in the U.S. Circuit Court in San Francisco and registered to vote in Santa Clara County, giving Mountain View as his address. He listed his occupation as “capitalist.” The Mountain View address at that time referred to the nearest post office, which was at El Camino Real and Grant Road. Before Los Altos was incorporated, everyone in the area actually lived in the Fremont Township, which extended from the Bay to the foothills.

Hale purchased properties that were to become a sizable chunk of Los Altos. In 1886, he bought an adjoining 1,450 acres. He brought his cousin Ann Feeney and her husband Thomas Wright from Ireland to manage the property. Hale paid for their transport and had a house and stable built for them, with instructions to support themselves by farming the ranch.

It is not known to what extent the ranch was farmed. From sketchy sources such as indications on old maps, we know there were grapes and orchards. Eventually there was a dairy. Perhaps they grew grain and had cattle. While no records or writings describing this ranch have been found, one can infer from the neighboring Grant and Snyder ranches that farming was probably quite productive. The area was the best fruit-, vegetable- and grape-growing to be found anywhere.

The locus of ranch operations was off Magdalena Avenue, just above Ravensbury Avenue at the beginning of the foothills. The Wrights had seven children who helped work the farm. The small, four-room house grew over time, as it was subsequently lived in, sold and improved. Originally known as the Wright House, after numerous owners it was finally known as the Frampton House. To me, it always seemed large and forbidding. I remember a large library with a green felt-covered table and a tall, rolling ladder. But alas, that large splendid house, deteriorating with age and rot, was demolished in 1988 and replaced with four new houses on Frampton Court.

Fortunately, the original carriage house from the farm survived and is known today as the Catton House. Originally built circa the 1890s, then rebuilt and expanded several times during the evolution of the main house, Ellis and Helen Catton purchased the old Tudor and carefully rebuilt in the 1950s. Marjorie Kellogg described the house well in the Nov. 29, 1979, Town Crier.

It was a treat to visit. I have fond memories of warm cider next to the large roaring fireplace, which separated the living room from the kitchen. While invisible from the street, the house can be seen from the hiking trail next to it starting from Frampton Court.

Hale spent summers in Los Altos, presumably in the house at the ranch. The rest of the time he resided at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco. Such was the extent of his residence in Los Altos.

The San Francisco Call, which published from 1895 to 1913, reported local activities like teas and travels, notably trips to Europe, in its society columns. In 1890, the Call noted that Hale’s daughter Catherine Josephine met and married (in London) a British gentleman, the Hon. Robert John Lascelles Boyle, whose family was titled (Cork) and adequately wealthy. The couple resided here and purchased the ranch superintendent’s house from the Wrights, who moved to Mountain View.

Joseph Hale died in 1893 at 56; the service was held in the old St. Mary’s Cathedral, with burial in the Catholic cemetery in San Francisco. The San Francisco Call reported his death and estimated his estate at $2 million.

This could have ended the story of Joseph P. Hale, but like his life, there were additional complexities. With 2,000 acres of property in the area, parcels of land and various buildings in San Francisco and millions of dollars stashed away from the orchilla business, the circle of family members (and, as it turned out, debt holders) closed in and gathered around.

Stay tuned for the final twists and ironies.

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