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Leonard McKay

Leonard McKay

Welcome to www.leonardmckay.com, the site dedicated to the life and learnings of Leonard McKay, historian, San Jose, California. My grandfather was an amazing man and a wealth of knowledge. As such, I have decided that it is a crime to let his knowledge go to waste, and will be developing this site in his honor.

Excerpts from Leonard's Blog

  • Dirt (Part 5): After World War II, I returned home to college and normal life in “The Valley of Heart’s Delight.” Agriculture was still king, but waste from the industry overwhelmed the sewage system, which was unable to carry it all to Alviso. So, truckloads of tomato and fruit waste were hauled there and dumped in huge piles. These piles fermented and developed hydrochloric acid fumes that were borne on the wind southwards. If you owned a building that was painted with white lead paint (very common in the 1950s), it could turn gray overnight.
  • Beer Making in San Jose (Part 2): Prohibition brought chaos. There was no longer any control over alcohol quality or purity. Bootleggers flourished, sometimes killing their customers with bad hooch. If you knew the password, usually “Joe sent me,” and could afford it, then you could get a shot of “bathtub gin” at George’s on South First Street, out at the Hoo-Hoo House on Stevens Creek Road, or at many other local “blind pigs.”
  • The Canning Industry in San Jose: The canning industry got its start in 1871 when Dr. Dawson and his wife canned some fruit over an old cook stove in their backyard on The Alameda. From this humble start, a huge industry developed right here in San Jose for three basic reasons: the fruit was grown here, there was a ready supply of labor and two railroads, Western Pacific and Southern Pacific, built rail sidings right to the canning plants.
  • Artist Andrew P. Hill: Over the years some great artists have lived and painted here. Of particular interest to me are A.D.M. Cooper (1856-1924), Charles Harmon (1859-1936) and Andrew P. Hill (1853-1922). Cooper was certainly the most prolific and he commanded the highest prices for his paintings. When he was still alive, one of his paintings sold for $60,000, the equivalent of more than $1 million today. In my opinion Charles Harmon was perhaps the most gifted, but my favorite is Andrew P. Hill and, while not well known today, he painted some wonderful local pieces. Of course his real fame is that of the “man who saved the redwoods.” His painting “California Redwood Park” was exhibited during the second year of the San Francisco Panama Pacific Exposition in 1916.
  • San Jose’s Music Man: Does the sound of “76 Trombones” make your feet stir and, perhaps, you want to do a little tapping or a little marching? If so, you might be interested to know that we had the predecessor of the famous Henry Hill, the “Music Man,” right here in “River City,” San Jose. He lived here about 40 years before Meredith Wilson wrote the wonderful hit Broadway musical, “The Music Man.”