Who were the Montclarions? We all know about the Ohlones, Spanish, Gold Rush era and later settlers. But there’s more color and dimension to these earlier inhabitants, according to Oakland historian and librarian Kathleen diGiovanni. She brought her well-researched and clever observations to the Montclair Library today, as part of their 80th year celebratory events.
Without further introduction, here’s a bit more about the people who lived outside, camped, planted flags and established the good life here:
- Native Americans – Sure enough, the Ohlones populated these parts and lived in small units rather than some centralized settlements. Decades before the Spanish arrived, these newcomers transmitted their old-world pathogens and sickened many of the natives through trade. By the mid-1800s, the remaining Ohlones were living as virtual-slaves in the nearby missions.
- Land Grantees – To pay their military, the Spanish government handed out land grants and Luis Maria Peralta received nearly 44 thousand acres. His four sons ranched lands from Albany to San Leandro, including Antonio Maria around Oakland. The Peraltas spent substantial energies proving their ownership to Uncle Sam, yet their holdings were gone by the next generation.
- Bad Eggs – There were people who leased property from the Peraltas, all above board. There were other people who were bad eggs, and just squatted all over the place – and even sold land they didn’t own. Our very own version of the Wild West, right here!
- City Fathers – Well, Montclair was the place to escape for John Coffee Hays. He built the first amazing estate in the hills, right around Thornhill Drive. Hays was a big shot, as a Texas Ranger, before arriving in California. Once here in Oakland, he helped found the city and wanted that (mostly unused) home outside city limits.
- Entrepreneurs – Now this is a species we can understand. Everyone was rather scrappy around here, but John Percy ended up living in the same general area as Hays. He was involved in real estate and in the water business. However, Percy was absolutely over-extended and this came to light when his estate burned down. The guy went broke.
- Settlers – By the 1920s, there were many workers living here who hailed from Portugal. There were also farmers, including the Medau family at (now) Montclair Park. In the next decade-plus, developers built homes for modest and more well-healed buyers who arrived in droves. Various covenants restricted ownership, and they were blatantly advertised.
From afar, these Montclarions might teach us a lesson or two. At some level, we know it’s worth preventing infectious diseases. Please clear deeds on your property. Don’t do land scams. Get fire insurance that covers replacement value. And try living within your means.
Last but not least, everyone should be welcome to live here. History teaches lessons, and sometimes we listen.