Home & Garden Columns

East Bay Then and Now: Peralta Park Grew in the Shade of Giants

By Daniella Thompson
Friday May 19, 2006

Lying northwest of Hopkins Street between Gilman and Colusa, the Peralta Park tract straddles Berkeley and Albany across Codornices Creek. Built up in the 1920s, the neighborhood presents to the eye a sea of low stucco bungalows among which one can pick out a handful of Victorians. 

Of the latter, three average-sized Queen Annes may be found along Hopkins Street. The other two, however, are giants boasting remarkable architectural features. Relics of a grander era, they stand as a reminder of the larger-than-life people who harbored bold visions for this land. 

In the public domain until 1820, the area was part of the 44,800-acre Rancho San Antonio granted to Luís María Peralta for his services to the Spanish Crown. In 1842, Peralta divided the lands among his four sons, and José Domingo Peralta (1795–1865) received the portion that today comprises Berkeley and Albany from Alcatraz Avenue to El Cerrito Creek. 

Having his pick of many prime locations for his home, Domingo settled on the bank of Codornices Creek, where he erected a 30x18-foot adobe (removed after the 1868 earthquake) and, in 1851, a two-story frame house (moved to the nearby Schmidt tract in 1872 and torn down in 1933, when UC owned the tract). 

Had these structures survived in the original location, their address would be 1304 Albina Ave. 

During the Gold Rush, cattle robbers, squatters, and fortune hunters whittled away Domingo’s possessions, and by 1853, he was forced to sell most of his land, reserving 300 acres around his house. Taxes and legal fees ate up the remaining acres by 1868. 

Sixty of those acres were acquired by William Chapman Ralston (1826–1875), the boldest speculator on the Pacific coast, founder of the Bank of California, director of the Central Pacific Railroad, and builder of San Francisco’s fabled Palace Hotel. Never one to do anything on a small scale, Ralston was the first to have visions for Peralta Park, but his untimely death in the aftermath of a rush on his bank stopped any development for a while. 

The executor of Ralston’s estate fraudulently used the land as collateral for an $8,000 loan from the California Insurance Company. When he defaulted on the loan, the company, founded by Caspar Thomas Hopkins in 1861, seized the land, and Hopkins set about looking for a buyer. In 1887 he found a fabulous one. 

The man who reputedly peeled off $32,000 for a deed was Maurice Strelinger, aka M.B. Curtis (c. 1850–1920), a wildly successful actor who made his name playing the lead in the comedy “Sam’l of Posen” (more on him in a future story). Strelinger’s visions were as grand as Ralston’s. He planned an elegant subdivision, anchored by the luxurious, multi-turreted Peralta Park Hotel. 

The hotel was to be surrounded by large houses on spacious lots, circled in turn by medium-sized houses on standard lots. Always highly leveraged, Strelinger recruited investors from among his San Francisco business and theatre connections, and some of them bought parcels and erected homes. In all, thirteen houses were built on the tract, including Strelinger’s own home at 1505 Hopkins Street. Six of the houses went up in 1889, all constructed by Lord & Boynton, who in the same year also built the Niehaus Brothers’ West Berkeley Planing Mill and George C. Pape’s East Berkeley Planing Mill. 

Most of the six Peralta Park houses built in 1889 contained between eight and ten rooms. The largest belonged to the San Francisco physician Robert Macbeth and was located on a large creekside parcel on the east side of Albina Avenue. On the west side, also on outsize parcels, stood the houses of Anita Fallon and Julius Alfred Lueders. Although both of the latter survived, only the Lueders house at 1330 Albina remains on its original site. 

The house was designed by Ira A. Boynton, who was related to Moses Chase, a former seafarer and forty-niner known to have been the first squatter on Antonio María Peralta’s land and the first American settler in Oakland. A New Englander, Boynton came to Berkeley in 1877 and lived on Berkeley Way. Among the houses he built locally are 2328 Channing Way (1889) and the Edward Brakenridge house (1892) at 1410 Bonita Avenue. 

In 1895, Boynton’s daughter’s wedding took place in Joseph Clapp’s cottage at 2007 Berkeley Way. It is not known whether Boynton designed this Gothic Revival cottage, commonly known as the Morning Glory House (built c. 1878), but it’s possible, since Clapp was another transplanted New Englander. 

For a while, Boynton was associated with Horace Kidder (later of the contracting firm Kidder & McCullough), but in the mid-1890s he was drawn by the building boom in Alaska and settled in Douglas. He died in Seattle in 1920. 

Boynton’s client on Albina Ave. was one of the San Franciscans lured to Berkeley by Strelinger. According to his daughter, Mrs. Frieda Frohwerk, Julius A. Lueders moved his family from San Francisco to Peralta Park because his wife wanted to live in the country. Born in Germany, he “had no use for the Prussian military system, so came to San Francisco in 1877.” 

The Berkeley Daily Gazette columnist Hal Johnson interviewed Mrs. Frohwerk in 1947, at which time she divulged that her father “had learned the perfumery business in Germany by serving a four-year-apprenticeship to a leading chemist. 

He brought to California several formulas along with his family. In a few months he had worked up quite a business in perfumes in San Francisco. Interested in the life insurance business, he started his own life insurance company. And because he was particularly careful whom he insured, he prospered.” 

Mrs. Frohwerk didn’t tell Johnson that her father was secretary of the Pacific Endowment League, a real-estate firm whose reputation was less than a stellar, and that the family finances were kept on an even keel through the exertions of her mother, Anna, a stern woman who operated a dress shop in San Francisco.  

The Lueders house cost $4,900 and was second only to the Macbeth house, which came in at $6,900. In addition to ten rooms on the first and second floors, there was a third-story attic with four rooms and surmounted with a bell-shaped cupola. The three-acre lot was a block deep, extending from Albina to Fleurange Ave. (now Acton). The amenities included a gazebo, a large garden, a barn, and a well house with windmill. A gas plant on the premises provided illumination. The well water was still being used in 1947. 

Julius and Anna Lueders had four children: Hilda, Frieda, Walter, and Edgar. Hilda was principal of the West Berkeley Kindergarten until she married George Bruns. Thereafter she helped her husband run the D.H. Bruns General Merchandising store and post office on the corner of San Pablo and University. Frieda attended the Sprague School in Peralta Hall (formerly the Peralta Park Hotel) before becoming a teacher in the West Berkeley Kindergarten. When Sunset Telephone & Telegraph introduced 24-hour telephone service, Frieda became the night operator. 

Later she advanced to chief operator, and eventually went to work as a county employee. In middle age she married the carpenter William Frohwerk. Neither Walter nor Edgar married. Walter worked as a bookkeeper and Edgar as a mechanic. Both continued living with their mother at 1330 Albina. Walter bought the Bruns store, renamed West Berkeley Hardware. He died in 1924, and Edgar continued running the store until his own death in 1971. 

In 1972, the Lueders house was acquired by Thomas Roe and his partner, who lovingly restored it, preserving the original first-floor rooms. They added a second turret on the south end, glazed the gazebo with windows salvaged from a Mills College demolition, and constructed a showcase kitchen, largely with salvaged materials. Still a work in progress, the house is one of the finest Victorians in the East Bay. 


This is the first part in a series of articles on Peralta Park. 


Photograph by Daniella Thompson 

The Lueders house at 1330 Albina Ave. combines Queen Anne styling with Stick detail.