July 19, 2005 > Pauline and Bob McIvor
Pauline and Bob McIvor
Their hardware store is a landmark of the Mission San Jose district of Fremont, but the story behind the husband and wife team who built it is a slice of Fremont history - an integral part of the area's historical landscape.
"Bob's father was a local blacksmith," says his wife Pauline McIvor. A Canadian by birth, Burton McIvor and his wife, Maria moved to the Mission area in 1927 from the state of New York and bought Frank Martin's Blacksmith Shop. When he retired from blacksmithing, "Bert" built a little retail store in front of the blacksmith shop where Firestone Photography is now located.
The Washington Press in their April 22, 1949 edition noted that "Burton McIvor no longer shoes horses and does blacksmithing. Instead, this well preserved pioneer is very progressive in selling hardware and implements at his location adjoining Miss Hyde's property on Irvington Road near the main Mission Highway."1
Pauline's mother came from Holland [family name: Stamm] and her father from Greece [family name: Nickas]. They arrived in the area sometime in the 20's as young children. In the '30's, her father was a foreman on the railroad in the area and later worked at Pacific States Steel. Pauline was born and raised in Centerville and Bob in Mission San Jose.
"We were in high school together, and that is how we met," says Pauline. "I lived in Niles - a city girl - and he lived in Mission [San Jose] - a country boy." She explains that Niles had a theater at the time and for people in the area, that was an indication of city life. The area was a farming community with "five little towns and a lot of Cherry and Apricot orchards in between," says Pauline. "It was beautiful." Following the lower grades of education in the small towns of the area, everyone went to Washington High School. "That is where you could meet other young people from the districts."
Pauline remembers working at the orchards drying apricots and saving money to buy school clothes for the following year. "That was a lot of fun. You would see all your friends and work together. I am not sure how much work was really done, but the farmers put up with it," she recalls with a laugh. Everything was relaxed and open for kids. "We went hiking, out for a swim, all that kind of stuff. There was no anxiety by parents about kids being out on their own."
Bob and Pauline graduated from high school in 1948; Pauline worked for the Alameda County Water District and Bob went into carpentry. They married in 1949 and began to build a house in Centerville on a lot they had purchased previously. "We bought the lot and built the house as we got the money," says Pauline. "We actually bought the lot and started to build before we were married." She adds that Bob's father thought they were crazy to buy a lot for $1,200. He was convinced that they were throwing their money away.
Most of the work was done by the couple in the evenings after work and on weekends. "I can tape and sheetrock a house," says Pauline. "But," she adds, "I will never do it again!" She remembers that once, after working on the house, she came home to find her mother very upset because someone had seen Pauline working on the roof of the house. "How word got to my mother that fast is a mystery," she says in wonder. "We finished in 2 years and it was all paid for."
"We raised our family - three girls - in that house and still own it," says Pauline. Even though they live in the Mission area now, Pauline says that their original house is a part of them - "you know every nail in it." Asked if their daughters were bitten by the bug of construction and renovation, Pauline replies "no" although as youngsters, "they were dragged into dusting." Later invitations to explore the wonders of the hardware business and building renovation were met with replies of "I don't think so." They do, however, connect with the store as an icon of Mission San Jose and the role it plays in the lives of people who live or have lived in the area. There is hope for family retention of the business since one of their son-in-laws, Al, works at the store and a grandson recently became a journeyman plumber. Maybe "building genes" skip a generation.
When Bob and Pauline joined Bert's business in 1952, the lot next door was soon acquired and they constructed another building for the growing hardware business. McIvor Hardware moved to it in 1953. That building now houses Mission Coffee. Over the succeeding years, the McIvors bought the property at the present location of McIvor's Hardware store and have been there since 1990.
Maintaining and preserving buildings has been a McIvor philosophy beyond the family home. An old brick building (the Ehrman building) facing Mission Boulevard was in poor repair and in danger of being sold and demolished. Bob and Pauline bought the building in 1965 and restored it. After that Pauline says, "Others would come to us when they wanted to sell their buildings - usually in poor condition - and, after work, we would renovate them." Now many buildings of the Mission San Jose business district have received the McIvor treatment.
Although some people might buy buildings just for the land value, the McIvors have been motivated by the thought of saving the buildings and the historical value of the area. "We both enjoy older buildings; even when we travel; we love looking at buildings and seeing what people are doing with them." One of their common traits says Pauline is that both she and Bob "have the ability to look at a mess and say, 'that really has possibilities' and get excited about it."
The hardware business is fascinating to the McIvors. "We have been in hardware stores all over the world," says Pauline. In Istanbul, for instance, they have a hardware street of shops rather than one store that stocks many things. One shop will sell nails and another shop sells plumbing supplies and so on. "It works for them," says Pauline. "In Mexico, we visited a hardware store with five employees and practically no inventory, but they were all happy people." She adds that hardware is a necessity and sold everywhere around the globe. It is intriguing to see how the need is filled in different ways in different places. Pauline's interest in history and historical preservation along with an understanding of its relationship with the demands of the future led her to return to school with the support of her family - "Bob even learned how to iron clothes" - and receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in history. She has also served on the Fremont Planning Commission.
Thinking about the accomplishments her family, hours of construction experience and adapting to changes in materials and the hardware business over the years, Pauline says that as a minister friend once said, "Look for busy people to help if you want anything done." When asked to reflect and comment on all the time spent in hands-on experience building and renovating, studying and serving the community, she answers with a smile, "doesn't everybody?"
1 Two Centures at Mission San Jose, 1797-1997, Philip Holmes pg. 201