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February 21, 2017 > The school on top of the hill: a lively history of land ownership

The school on top of the hill: a lively history of land ownership

Submitted By Kelsey Camello for Washington Township Museum of Local History

This year, Ohlone College is celebrating the fifty-year anniversary since the first classes were held in the fall of 1967. In those fifty years, much has changed at Ohlone College, but whatÕs to be said about the history of the land during the two-hundred and fifty years preceding its establishment?

Like all California land, the geographic location of the Ohlone College Fremont Campus has passed through the hands of many people and cultures over the years. The first inhabitants were the Ohlone Native Americans (thus the naming of the College), followed by the Spanish and Mexican people during the Mission Period (1769 Ð 1833, with Mission San Jose founded in 1797) and the Rancho Period (1834-1849). In 1850, the land came under American control as California became the 31st state.

The pioneering history of the area, from 1850 through the building of the collegeÕs first structures in the 1970s, is itself just as colored and interesting as that of the earlier years.

In 1852, Joseph C. Palmer, a San Francisco banker, purchased the property that is now home to Ohlone College. On it he operated the Peak Vineyard and established a second home there. Palmer had cultivated 140,000 vines by 1874, and by 1876 he owned the finest and largest winery in Alameda County, with enough storage room for 100,000 gallons of wine. The winery was well known around the United States.

PalmerÕs father in law, Edward Field, loaned a large amount of money to the bank and the land was transferred to him as security. This is why a popular 1878 Thompson and West map of the Mission San Jose area shows the Peak Vineyard land as being owned by an E. Field.

Charles C. McIver and his wife Clorinda (maiden name Stevens) became the next owners of the land when, in 1888, McIver purchased the Peak Vineyard and cultivated it into his own vineyard and estate, called Linda Vista. The park was remarkable due to its beautiful newly built home and extensive gardens, so charming a place that the estate became a noted destination of travelling poet Joaquin Miller. Linda Vista wines were award winning, including seven first prizes at the 1892 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Additionally, the wine was exclusively served by the Pullman Palace Car Company. McIver also operated a profitable dairy and raised pure blooded stock onsite.

In the late 1890s, the tranquil life at Linda Vista was disrupted forever. The 1892 home burned down, Phylloxera bugs killed all the vines, the McIvers divorced, and the property transferred into ClorindaÕs motherÕs name. By 1898, Clorinda and her mother had rebuilt the home (in a different style than the 1892 home). The building still stands today; it houses the police and security services on campus. Clorinda and her mother continued to farm the land, including prunes, other fruits, and olives for olive oil. They planted the olive trees that still line the walkway from Mission Boulevard to the Orchard House today.

Tom and Blanche Witherly purchased the land from theStevensÕ in 1922. On their farm they cultivated peas and prunes, until the depression era forced hard times onto the Witherlys. Subsequently, they sold lots for homes along Witherly Lane (the road bordering the north side of campus). They turned the remainder of the land into Linda Vista Park Ð an amusement park replete with a dance pavilion, concession stands, bath houses, a swimming pool, amusement rides, and picnic areas with barbecue pits. During the peak season, up to 5,000 people could be seen in the park in one day. The land was later purchased by Andrew Hynes and John Amaral and rebranded as the Linda Vista Park Co. in the 1940s.

E. E. Huddleson bought what was left of the original property in 1948. Huddleson employed a foreman, lived the life of an upscale farmer, and was active in the community. He built a new home near the base of the hill, which still stands today as the PresidentÕs Office on campus.

In 1968, the Huddleson Ranch property was chosen as the site of the future Ohlone Community College. It was a purchase of 480 acres for 1.9 million dollars. Eleven million dollars in bonds was passed that same year to provide for the building of the campus.

Between 1967 and 1974 classes were alternatively held at the Serra Center (the former Saint Mary of the Palms School for Girls), Our Savior Lutheran Church and the old Mission San Jose School. Graduation ceremonies and the ground-breaking for the new campus were held in 1971 at Linda Vista Park. Construction began in 1972, and the first classes on the new campus were held in 1974.

The only buildings that remain on the property today which existed prior to the campusÕ inception are the Orchard House (1898) Ð now home to police and security services Ð building 20, and the Huddleson Ranch Home (1960s) Ð now the PresidentÕs Office Ð building 27.

While ownership of the land has changed hands numerous times over the years, the outlook atop campus looking out towards the San Francisco Bay remains. Take a walk up the hill sometime; recall the history of days gone by, and enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of the place many are lucky to have called Òhome.Ó

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