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June 25, 2008 > History: Dr. Eugene and Ethel Grau

History: Dr. Eugene and Ethel Grau

Eugene Grau was born in North Platte, Nebraska about 1901. He earned his medical degree at the University of Nebraska and came to San Francisco in 1925 to work at San Francisco Hospital. He became friends with Ethel Valencia who was working there as a nurse.

Ethel was the daughter of Manuel Jr. and Mabel Valencia, descendents of a pioneer Spanish family. Manuel and Mabel were both artists, and Ethel was one of their nine children. She grew up in "the San Francisco bohemian atmosphere surrounded by artists and poets," studied at several colleges and became a famous oil painter specializing in historical subjects.

Eugene and Ethel were married in 1927 and moved to Scotia in Humbolt County where the doctor had a private practice. They named their daughter Elizabeth, but she was often called Betty. The family moved to Niles about 1930, probably "to seek better economic opportunities." They may have also been encouraged by influential friends in the area.

The Graus purchased property on G Street where they established their home and the doctor opened an office labeled an "emergency hospital" on a 1929 map. A 1931 advertisement read "G Street, South of Studio Building." The nearest hospitals were in San Jose and Oakland so patients depended on their doctors to meet their needs. Eugene became the company doctor for the Pacific States Steel mill when it opened in 1938.

The Graus became active members of the local social and civic organizations. Eugene joined the Niles Rotary Club, the Alameda-Contra Costa Medical Society and eventually the American Legion and other medical and educational organizations. Ethel worked as office manager and receptionist and continued her painting, focusing on scenes around Niles. She was a charter member of the Washington Township Arts and Crafts Club, several art associations and eventually served on the Fremont Historical Architectural Review Board.

Many prominent people in the Bay Area were known to the Graus including the famous architect William Wurster. They asked Wurster to design a house for them near the gravel pit on a lot they purchased from Joseph and Florence Shinn. The house was built by E. E. Dias, and the Graus moved in on October 30, 1941.

Dr Grau also asked Wurster to design a new medical office and emergency clinic for him. He purchased two lots of Block F on Main Street from Frank Martinelli, and Wurster completed the drawings in May 1941. Contractor E. E. Dias agreed to complete the building for about $10,175, and Dr. Grau moved into his new clinic November 17, 1941. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor December 7, and everything changed. The Graus organized an emergency hospital and Ethel concentrated on nursing and first aid training.

In September 1942 Dr. Grau joined the Army Medical Corps and left his office and clinic in the hands of Dr. Grimmer. He served overseas for 14 months, completed his service in Kentucky and returned to his Niles practice after the war. He was part of the Washington Hospital Medical Staff organized in 1953 and continued his practice into the 1960s. The Graus sold their house to the City of Fremont for a community center in 1965 and moved to Hayward. Dr. Grau died in 1971, and Ethel sold the clinic the next year.

Dr. Grau's emergency clinic was a wood frame structure, about 1700 square feet, with a tar and gravel roof and plastic walls and ceilings. The office and clinic contained rooms for reception, examination, consultation, emergency, recovery, lab, X-ray, and office work. The rear of the unit contained a small living area.

Ethel exhibited her work throughout the country. She was art consultant for Kraftile Co. and displayed her sculptures, wall insets and mosaics there.

Dr. Grau's clinic is significant not only because it was designed by the famous architect William Wilson Wurster, but also because it was "the first specially built medical building in Niles" and probably Washington Township. It is a rare example of Wurster's designs and is judged eligible for the California Register of Historical Resources. It was referred to in 1941 as "the fine new emergency hospital and office," and may be considered "the first emergency hospital built in Washington Township."

The Grau family is gone, but the Grau house, clinic and specimens of Ethel's art work are still here for us to appreciate.

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