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Divvying up the spoils: Hale’s heirs stake claims: 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. Following is the final installment in the eight-part series on the area’s early history.

At the time of his death, Los Altos area pioneer Joseph Hale’s immediate family consisted of his wife, Anais, and his daughter, Josephine Boyle. But there were also brothers, sisters and cousins who had immigrated to California as well. Anais, Josephine and Ann Feeney Wright were the primary benefactors of Hale’s estate, with other cousins and relatives involved to a lesser degree. Legal fights ensued.

In 1896, the various brothers, sisters and cousins filed suit to receive the accrued monthly annuity of $50, as granted in the will. The request was granted despite large debts. In 1898, the finding was appealed to the California Supreme Court, which found the Baja portion of the estate to be of uncertain value and the remaining portion valued at $460,000, with debts approaching that amount. The higher court sided with the estate and ruled that creditors came before the annuitants.

In 1896, a German Savings and Loan Society sued to foreclose on a $75,000 mortgage on the 1,850 acres in Rancho San Antonio. The claim was granted with an order for foreclosure and sale. Immediately, Anais hired a surveyor to accurately plot and subdivide the property.

The map, approved by the county in 1897, included the entire Hale Ranch, from Adobe Creek to Permanente Creek and from Fremont Road to the foothills. The subdivision comprised 56 parcels ranging from 1 to 123 acres. It included two parcels (totaling 90 acres) for Ann Feeney Wright, Hale’s cousin and the first manager of the entire ranch.

The parcels near the creeks and near Fremont Road were smaller, typically 10 acres, while in the hills they ranged from 50 to 90 acres.

A year or two later, a version of the map was issued with prices of the parcels, ranging from $75 to $100 for the smaller lots off Fremont Road to approximately $50 for the larger lots farther into the hills. Two larger lots in the vicinity of upper Magdalena Road and Fernhill Drive, totaling 223 acres of vineyards and prune orchard as well as the Hale Ranch houses and buildings, listed for $15,000. This map and layout have survived the years and are the underlying basis for current property boundaries in the county records.

The pièce de résistance of this complex tale occurred in 1906 when a petition was filed for final distribution of the entire Hale estate. It boiled down to the wife and daughter vs. the sisters, brothers and cousins. The 21-page finding by Judge Coffey is an amazing historical treatise of all Hale’s businesses and dealings.

It left questions as well, however. What happened to all the money? The bottom line was that the estate, valued at $250,000, would be shared equally by wife Anais and daughter Josephine.

In 1909, the San Francisco Call announced the development of 1,000 acres (formerly Hale land) near Los Altos that was to become the campus of Santa Clara College (Loyola University). Ultimately during the recession, the project slowly morphed into a country club.

Studying local history offers the opportunity to inventory the houses and places left behind by the early settlers. Hale created Magdalena Road. The Hale Ranch carriage house remains today as the Catton House. Hale’s cousin, Ann Finney Wright, received the 90-acre parcel between University and Summerhill avenues and continued to live in Los Altos. Her daughter Sarah and son Michael purchased and rescued the Winchester-Merriman house on El Monte Road in 1924 and lived there with their mother, who died in 1926. In 1950, Sarah built a house on her mother’s property on Border Hill Road. At the end of Border Hill remains a small house, the Hale Water Tank House (today without the tank). Numerous Wright descendants live in the area today.

As an aid to future historians, I want to leave a legacy of sources for local information. The Santa Clara County Archives are a helpful starting point. The county clerk provides a laborious but proper way to uncover old land records. The county surveyor is a marvelous and helpful source of maps. The California History Center at De Anza College and the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley contain a rich trove of writings. Bobby Kinchen (a Wright descendant) at the Mountain View Public Library is a tireless source of knowledge and help. And special thanks for support to Laura, Lisa and Stephanie at the Los Altos History Museum, and my wife, Caye.

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