The Secret Life of José Vicente DeLaveaga

DeLaveaga Park is known today for its covered bridge picnic area along Branciforte Drive, municipal golf course, disc golf course, National Guard Armory and Shakespeare Amphitheater. But who is the mysterious benefactor who gave the park its name?

Portrait of José Vicente DeLaveaga, from a photograph. (Contributed)

Aristocrat Antonio DeLaveaga came from Spain to Durango, Mexico, in 1820, in search of gold mines to finance the new Spanish Democratic government. But Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821 and also struggled with democratic reforms. DeLaveaga’s son Miguel and brother Jose Vicente (JV) joined him in his mining operations in Mexico, which became the DeLaveaga’s new home country. JV has developed close ties with Mazatlan as a purchasing agent for his mining company. He married around 1843 and settled in Rosario. On August 20, 1844, their firstborn was named after his father and was called Vicente.

In 1849, JV came to California during the Gold Rush, surprised that American mineral rights belonged to the individual, not the government. JV enriched himself in California, but did not settle permanently in San Francisco until 1867, while the young Vicente underwent extensive mercantile training in Germany.

In 1868, 24-year-old Vicente joined them in San Francisco to discover a family scandal. Brother José Maria had fallen in love with a maid, whose pregnancy was discovered in San Francisco. To avoid publicity, the maid was sent back to Mazatlan, where her son Anselme was born. The servant died in 1872, so José Maria brought in his son, and in 1873 entrusted him to a friend in San Francisco, Dr. William Dohrmann, becoming Anselmo Dohrmann.

Vicente had his father’s business acumen and became a savvy broker in railroad titles and insurance stocks, with fluency in Spanish, English, German, French and Italian. He has invested in properties across San Francisco and four other counties.

DeLaveaga was friends with Ralph Miller, owner of the 1883 Neptune Baths on the Main Beach. Note that Beach Street is actually beach sand. (Contributed)

Santa Cruz

When Vincente and his parents first visited Santa Cruz in the 1870s, they boarded the Andrew Trust’s German-speaking boarding house on Lincoln Street near Pacific Avenue, bringing their Spanish servants and doing their homework. own kitchen. But Vicente was a loner, a longtime bachelor who didn’t make friends easily. He preferred nature and horses, often seen on county roads on a silver decorated saddle on his pacer Duke, or in a phaeton carriage pulled by fiery ponies. It was not difficult to perceive that Vicente was a descendant of the Spanish nobility, with his quiet calm and aloof demeanor, and some thought him aloof, as he rarely returned their greetings in the street.

Yet this was in fact due to his near total deafness, which isolated him from the crowd and made it difficult for him to interact with people. Even with his trumpet, he felt isolated in the crowd and developed a strong empathy for the helpless, the disabled, and animals.

In 1875 Vicente met the newly arrived German, Peter Andresen, at the Trust pension. He has become Vicente’s closest friend since the Trust years and a longtime partner. Andresen had a tailor shop in the Odd Fellows building and ran the German Benevolent Society and the Singing Club. Vicente often went to the beach in the morning, where Ralph Miller had established Neptune’s Baths in 1883. Miller became good friends with Vicente, sharing an interest in nature, gardening, and animals. In 1887 Miller had two cubs that swam with him daily.

In 1883, the increased overcrowding of the Trust boarding house, led the DeLaveagas to the inhabitant of Joseph and Marie Pierrugue on Pacific and Maple streets. The Pierrugues were a French couple, who sold candy, fruit, toys, and stone and shell sculptures of Joseph. Mary’s Garden has drawn a lot of attention to Pacific Avenue, as well as her botanical knowledge. Like Vicente, Marie was cultured and spoke five languages. They appreciated good wine and were in awe of the fact that the Santa Cruz Mountains were becoming the first quality wine region in the west.

Vicente and his brother Miguel were both financiers in San Francisco, Miguel a banker and Vicente an investor. They were quite close and supported each other in family conflicts. Miguel married the French Maria Le Breton and Vicente adored the sons of Miguel, Eduardite and José Vicente III. The brothers were both interested in the nascent wine industry. Miguel’s family secured a place in Ben Lomond, where the county’s commercial wine industry began, serving as a vacation home and place to explore investment opportunities.

The Santa Cruz Mountain Wine Company on Market Street had sandstone wine cellars carved into the Branciforte Cliff, serving as a cooperative for winemakers from Ben Lomond, Scotts Valley, Vine Hill, and Santa Cruz. (Contributed)

Vicente began to divide his time between that of Pierrugue and the “Old Hill House” (near today’s branch to the Armory). In 1883, NB Hill, a 70-year-old bachelor, had himself planted a 2-acre vineyard on the heights, then his house became the residence of Vansen and Rosa Francon, who looked after the vineyard. Vicente was a regular guest, delighted with the view of the ocean and the nearby forest. Like Vicente, Rosa Francon suffered from bouts of ill health, so he would always inquire about her when she returned to town. Vicente has seen neighboring vineyards all the way to Branciforte Drive to Vine Hill, being at the forefront of serious winemaking.

North of the Hill House estate was the “Loma Alta” fruit farm of Hill’s parents, B. Pilkington and his son Humphrey Pilkington, who would become Vicente’s longtime friends. Humphrey graduated from UC Berkeley, having studied trees of all kinds, and was full of progressive ideas for fruit growing. He set up an experimental orchard separate from the main orchard, just to see what would grow locally. Humphrey planted apples, pears, figs, crabapples, Japanese persimmons, almonds, walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts and orange trees, as well as new varieties imported from Japan. The Pilkingtons also established one of the state’s first commercial olive groves.

In 1887, Vicente’s single brother, José Maria, died, leaving Vicente the executor of his estate. José Maria made a decree recognizing Anselm as his only child and legal heir. But the family blocked Vicente’s efforts to include Anselmo in dispersing the estate, on the grounds that the parentage decree was never officially released. Frustrated, Vicente made Anselmo a “business client,” to receive compensation in the form of investment bonds that paid off regularly.

The wine boom

The mountain wine industry began to flourish. Yet in the early days, state wineries competed with each other and prices only reflected the amount of wine on the market, driving down profits. What was needed was a central cooperative capable of storing and transforming regional wines, controlling their quality and the saturation of the market. The Branciforte Cliffs along Market Street were chosen for this co-op because Branciforte Drive was the road to the Vine Hill Wine Market. Caves were carved into the limestone cliffs for French-style wine cellars, and the Santa Cruz Mountain Wine Company was opened in 1887.

That year, the Hill Place vineyard went up for sale, and Vicente saw it as the perfect place to enter the market, with the co-op just down the hill, and he retained the Francons de la Hill. House to oversee the vineyards. By 1892 he had assembled 640 acres of foothills called “DeLaveaga Heights,” valued at $ 81,500. It was watered by five springs, 14 streams and a canal with an innovative waterwheel. Five of the cliffs were planted in vineyards, with a botanical garden on the southeastern cliff, which included a Mexican garden, a tropical garden, and a citrus grove.

In 1891, Vicente decided to build a Queen Anne house on the heights to spend more time in Santa Cruz. That year, Vansen Francon was driving a wagon full of DeLaveaga grapes down a steep incline when his brakes broke in his hand, resulting in a broken leg. Vansen was still recovering in January, when he accompanied his wife Rosa to the French hospital in San Francisco for her ill health. On the ferry ride, she died of chest pain at the age of 42.

Two years later, at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Vicente was delighted to see Santa Cruz wines take top honors. He felt that travel tended to improve his poor health, so in 1894 he planned a trip to Europe. Before leaving, he fell ill and fell into a coma on August 11. The Pierrugues looked after him for three days, until his death in his beloved Santa Cruz at the age of 50. His body was taken to San Francisco for burial.

The funeral was held at Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe Church on Russian Hill, awaiting only family and a few friends. Yet the church kept filling up, full of the poor and the lame, some having fasted as a sign of respect. Over the next few weeks, the story unfolded about this reclusive man who did many unannounced acts of generosity, helping those in need. He used to write worthy people on a list in his pocket, which turned out to be his will, and which was 20 pages long at the time of his death.

He left $ 125,000 for his family and $ 2 million for charities, various people, hospitals and orphanages, aid companies, friends and acquaintances. Santa Cruz was surprised that he left his local estate to the city and county for a park, after attending a meeting just two months before his death, where city leaders were looking for a large public park in Santa Cruz. , for picnics, a running track, and ball field.

DeLaveaga Park had a $ 125,000 trust fund in bonds and securities to include a safe haven for the elderly and disabled. When his will was challenged by family members, Santa Cruz got the land, but not the trust fund.

Ross Eric Gibson is a former history columnist for the San Jose Mercury News.

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