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March 29, 2005 > Recollections of Irvington

Recollections of Irvington

An Interview with Mark Hirsch and Estelle Anderson

Emigrating from the Baden-Baden, Black Forest area of Germany, Joseph Hirsch entered the United States through Ellis Island and applied for U.S. citizenship October 11, 1858. He became a citizen in 1865 and is thought by Estelle to have owned a clothing store in Davenport, Iowa in the years 1865-66. Joseph made his way to San Francisco and was followed by Caroline who traveled alone from Baden-Baden to New York and finally to San Francisco by ship. Joseph and Caroline were married in 1867. After a brief residence in Centerville, they moved to Irvington and opened a general store. Mark says that family history can be a bit "foggy" when you go back that far in time.

The Hirsch family grew to include two girls, Sophie and Lilly, and four boys, William, Alfred, Edwin and Otto. At the time, Irvington was a center of commerce as was Centerville with some activity in Niles. Mission San Jose was a sleepy little hamlet and Warm Springs had yet to form.

An article in The Washington Press of Niles in 1916 titled, "Irvington, A Thriving Town" begins with the following statement:

Among the good towns of Washington Township, Irvington has long held a prominent place. It is admirably situated on the east side of the township, four miles from Niles and three from Centerville, and is surrounded by a community of good farmers with well improved places and has an energetic set of business men who are active in the advancement of their town and have great faith in their country.

Each of the Hirsch boys followed different paths of employment. William (Bill) and his brother Alfred worked as plumbers and ran a well-drilling business; Edwin managed the mercantile store and Mark's grandfather, Otto, was involved with real estate, insurance with Home Insurance Company and farming. At one point, all four brothers had businesses located around the "five corners." Bill ran a hardware store where Bay Street Coffee is presently located and included the building next door that now houses Bay Street Salon. Mark remembers visiting the store as a youngster and gazing at racks and racks of hardware.

Mark's father, Allan, returned home from college to run the mercantile store when his uncle Ed passed away in the early '40's. He also became involved with his father's businesses. After WWII, Otto briefly opened a car dealership in the building that now houses Shen's Books. A garage - Owen & Hirsch Garage - operated out of the back of the building.

The women of the family all married local people and lived in the community. Mark comments, "When there was an event, you would see everyone there. Everyone knew what everyone else was doing." Many Hirsch family members did not have offspring, although Al and Otto did have families with children. "The family died down to a couple of lines," says Mark. Al had two daughters, Estelle and Leona. Leona married Bill Hirst who she met because, grouped alphabetically, they always stood in line together. They had one daughter, Susan who has two children (twins). Estelle married Andy Anderson, a local businessman.

Mark's parents, Allan and Alberta, have two boys, Rick and Mark, the namesakes of the Rick-Mark Shopping Center in Irvington. The construction of the Rick-Mark Shopping Center with a post office was big news in the early '50's.

An article in the June 23, 1955 issue of the News-Register newspaper proclaims the Grand Opening June 23, 24, 25 and states that the new center "was named for two young sons of the man who conceived the beautiful new shopping center between Highway 17 and Bay St" and represented "a $200,000 investment in Irvington." Jack Prouty, president of the Irvington Chamber of Commerce is quoted: "Irvington and its shopping area salutes the Rick-Mark. The progressive spirit which built the center and prompted merchants to take part in it is the brightest promise for Irvington's glorious future."

When a new primary school was to be built in Irvington, the school board wanted to name it after Mark's father, a former member of the Irvington School Board. He asked that it be named after his father, Otto instead. The small plaza at the five corners between Bay Street and Fremont Boulevard is named the Andy Anderson Plaza in recognition of Estelle's husband's service to the community.

Mark relates a story he has heard from the family about Otto. "In the old days, you did whatever you could to bring business into the area," says Mark. Otto apparently gave property to a company that made radiators in order to add to the local commerce and create jobs for the area. He comments that, of course, this type of promotion would never happen today.
Another story relates to Moffett Field off Highway 101. At the time, there were no significant roads in the area. The property was "almost wasteland;" some property owners, Otto included, worked with the Air Force and donated land to the federal government on the condition that the military build an airport on the property. This resulted in Moffett Field and the large hangers which housed dirigibles. Mark says his grandfather had only one flying experience in his life and that was on the USS Macon, a dirigible christened at Akron, Ohio March 11, 1933 that made its first flight on April 21 with 105 persons aboard. The Macon was subsequently housed at Moffett Field. Otto always talked about his amazing flying experience.
Mark recalls that during his childhood in Irvington in the late '50's and early '60's, going to Jack London Square on a Sunday was a "pretty big deal." It took too long to travel to San Francisco, so trips to that city were few and far between. Travel in the area was difficult since local buses and BART was nonexistent. There was no 680 freeway and Pleasanton was very small and a 40 minute ride away.

"We had school friends like the Fudenna's and Alameda's. I would go out on Monday nights with my dad to the Mission Ranch in Warm Springs. Our football coach, Jim Randall, worked there in the evenings as a waiter. "I would see him at school and then see him there in the evening." Mark remembers the incorporation of Fremont when he was 5 years old. The districts always kept a strong identity and any competitiveness was good-natured. "It was always a big deal that my grandmother was from Niles and my grandfather from Irvington."

Going to San Jose was not an easy task although the Peerless Bus Line stopped in Irvington at what is now a little phone store on Fremont Boulevard. "My great aunt had a dry cleaning business and was the bus station agent. My mom's family was from Modesto. That was a big weekend trip. We would drive to Livermore and stop for an ice cream, then on to Tracy and have a Coke, then Manteca for another stop. After a few more hours, we would arrive and spend the night."

Community events were very important and the bowling alley in Irvington was a landmark. Sophie's diner was a major restaurant in town.

Mark says, "In my family, everyone was always involved with agriculture - strawberries, apricots, etc. When the apricots ripened, everyone would come to cut "cots." We needed everyone to cut cots. We cut them and put them on drying trays in the sun. Strawberries fields were plentiful off Osgood Road where Fry's and Home Depot are now. Cauliflower grew in the winter and lettuce in the summer. Everyone knew when a crop was ready. There was one phone operator in town and through her, it was easy to tell everyone that the crop was ready and you needed help. The lady at the switchboard knew everything! If you needed a bunch of kids to work, you just told her and it was done!"

Things were changing rapidly. Mark comments that transportation was a key element of change and the completion of Highway 680 made a big difference as did improvements to Highway 17 and 101. The HUB shopping center was a showplace for Fremont. Fremont was a bedroom community - there were no local jobs. BART was designed to bring workers to San Francisco.

Mark says that Irvington historically extends to Mowry Avenue. He recalls a planner named Robbins who helped create Fremont's master plan. There was supposed to be a central business district but the identity of the small towns was to be maintained. "Our strength is to retain the independent identity of the districts and have a downtown. When the city grows, the government machine gets bigger which drives things economically, but you lose the small town atmosphere. It is always a struggle between quality planning and growth. You need both. We have to be extremely vocal to protect ourselves. The downtown never quite made it. The vision was not in synch with reality."

The huge influx of people from other parts of the world to supply the electronics industry drastically affected the area. Mark says he is looking forward to the maturation of this process and moving on to the next stage. "Fremont has always been a diverse community, it was the Portuguese, Japanese and German and whatever in the early years. The diversity issue is not so different from those days; it is just a different type of diversity. We are no longer an agrarian society. It will be interesting and our kids will be fabulous because of it."

Estelle Anderson lives in Fremont. Mark Hirsch is an attorney and maintains an office, New Tech Law Group, in the Rick-Mark Center. He and his wife Lisa live in Fremont with their three children, Madison, Merideth and Lucas.

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