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Anatomy of a Street (Part 3)

To get back to Paul and Faith Davies and the McKenzie sisters, I’ll relate a story as told by Faith to my wife Naomi. The Davies wanted to entertain the sisters and invited them over for cocktails. Faith warned Paul that these were elderly ladies and to make their drinks very weak. Paul mixed the cocktails with a minimum of bourbon and served them. One sister barely touched her cocktail and Faith apologized, feeling that she had offended them by serving liquor. She offered to get the sisters a non-alcoholic drink to which one of the sisters replied, “Oh, please do—but this time put some whiskey in it.” Faith had not realized that the sisters were of Scottish heritage!

612 Morse Street is where I have lived since 1972. In 1962, author Ken Kesey hid from the law here but, fortunately, his stay was short. The next home to the north, 616 Morse, was owned by prominent attorney Robert Morgan and is where bankruptcy judge Marilyn Morgan grew up. Later occupants included Lawrence Lockley, PhD and Naomi Lockley. Dr. Lockley started the business doctoral program at Santa Clara University. Next to them, at 618, was the home of the Naas family who ran the Naas Candy Factory in Santa Clara for many years.

617 Morse is where Mr. and Mrs. Mike Ruth lived. They were only there for a short time, however. Mike Ruth advertised himself as a private detective. Late one night, the gumshoe heard the doorbell ring and he answered it, but left the safety chain attached. An arm reached in around the chain and stabbed Ruth. Fortunately, it was superficial, and the Ruth’s soon left on a one-way trip to Honolulu. That was the last we heard of Mike Ruth, Private Eye.

Further north at 838 Morse, next door to where the lion once roamed, is the beautiful half-timbered home where architect Pierre Prodis and his wife Carol live. Their home is designated a City Historic Landmark and it was designed by Lewis Mulgart, the architect of the old De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park (now demolished).

There are many stories about houses and places in the nearby area, and I will write about some of these in future columns. The Lion family was the subject of one of my recent columns about the slain paper lion outside their store. Others I will tell you about are the Hart family, Boss Charlie Bigley, the first chartered university in California (no, not Santa Clara), and Jacob Rich who started the first horse-car railway. I will also tell you why the Alameda was and still is an important street.

Anatomy of a Street (Part 2)

Down on the corner of Morse and Fremont lived Fred Reynolds. Fred was a railroad engineer for the South Pacific Coast Railroad that ran from the ferry slip at Alameda to San Jose, and continued on to Los Gatos, Wrights Station and Santa Cruz. Originally a narrow gauge railroad, it was later absorbed by the Southern Pacific Railroad. Fred Reynolds was the engineer one day when the train approached the empty ferry slip in Alameda. The brakes failed and he drove the engine into San Francisco Bay. Fortunately, no lives were lost. Fred also had a problem at his home at 603 Morse. He was driving his auto into the garage, something again failed and he drove right through the back wall. Knowledgeable neighbors gave Fred great leeway on the road.

At 633 Morse is a home that has been remodeled several times. It was originally the Palace Saloon and Hotel, located at what is now the entrance to Diridon Station. The saloon was opened for business in 1900; the second floor was a brothel, when brothels were popular in old-time San Jose. The second floor was moved to the site at 633 Morse and remodeled and is now a million-dollar-plus family home.

Directly across the street from the Reynolds home is a palatial house on the corner of Morse and Fremont (the mailing address is 1181 Fremont), built by the McKenzie sisters and rented to Paul and Faith Davies while the Davies’ home was being built on Park Avenue. Faith Davies was the daughter of Frank Crummy, President of the Bean Spray and Pump Company. Faith’s husband, Paul, was a banker who put together the merger between Bean and another local company that created the Food Machinery Company, one of the fifty largest corporations in the United States at the time.

The McKenzie sisters were the daughters of Johnny McKenzie, the boss of bosses in San Jose at the turn of the 20th century. Johnny was a participant in a local story that seems relevant at the moment, so I am going to tell it to conclude this week’s column.

Ron Gonzales isn’t the first San Jose mayor to refuse to give up his office. It was a very close election in 1902, when the new mayor-elect, George D. Worswick, succeeded the incumbent, Charles J. Martin, who had been under the control of McKenzie and the other bosses. The election result was close: 2442 votes for Worswick— backed by the San Jose Mercury owners, the Hayes brothers—and 2176 votes for the defeated Adolph Greeninger—the candidate backed by Martin, McKenzie and the bosses. The bosses didn’t want to give up power, of course, and were presented with a dilemma when Worswick arrived at City Hall to be seated as the new mayor. What happened next was described by newspaper reporter Frank Hichborn:

“Mayor-elect Worswick… proceeded to the mayor’s desk, moved up a chair, and seated himself by the outgoing executive. The clerk-elect seated himself at the clerk’s desk next to the outgoing clerk… For a dozen minutes or so, San Jose had two mayors and two city clerks. Both mayors began talking. Above the din, Worswick could be heard calling on the chief of police to throw out the out-going city clerk [and mayor]. Clearly the police chief was in a spot… [but] eventually… threw out the former mayor.”

Anatomy of a Street (Part 1)

What San Jose street is actually in two cites, has had a murder by hired assassins, has three churches and narrows at both ends?

What street had a property with a live lion patrolling the grounds in the 1930s and has a house that was once a brothel before it was moved to its present location?

What private eye living on this street was stabbed when answering his door late one night in 1974?

On what street were two neighboring families united when their children married?

On what street did author Ken Kesey (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”) hide out when running from the police who were looking for him to arrest him on drug charges?

What street was named after a “seed king?”

What street has had many prominent San Jose citizens living there including the head of a food machinery company, lawyers, architects, college professors, doctors and engineers, alongside just plain common folk like me?

If you answered Morse Street, you were correct. A quiet, Rosegarden-area street that runs northwest from the old Singletary Estate in San Jose, Morse Street terminates in Santa Clara. The width of the last block on both ends of the street narrows by ten feet on both sides.

The street wasn’t always quiet. On April 6, 1972, two hired assassins, Mims and Rodriguez, were hiding in the bushes behind 795 Morse. When James Edward Carr exited his home to go to work one morning, the bushes exploded with seven shots, killing Carr immediately. Carr was rumored to be connected with the famous Angela Davis case then in the courts. An alert neighbor, Warren Hansen, heard the gunshots and saw two men running south down Morse Street, opposite his house. Hansen’s wife, Frenchy, heard the shotgun blasts and, seeing the men flee in their getaway car, wrote the license plate number on a popsicle wrapper, the only paper she could lay her hands on, and they notified the police. The getaway car, a black over blue Ford Fairlane LTD, was spotted in Morgan Hill later by police officer Bob Carroll on his way to work and he intercepted the assassins. Imagine his surprise when they surrendered just as he remembered that he had left his gun in the locker at Morgan Hill police station. Checking the back seat of the Ford after the arrest, Carroll found more loaded guns and a bucket containing Molotov cocktails.

There are three churches located on the street: the Calvary Methodist Church and the Quaker Meeting House, both founded in 1889, and the Center of Spiritual Enlightenment. Neither of the churches founded in 1889 are on their original sites. Prior to its founding, the house that became the Center for Spritual Enlightenment was built and occupied in the 1920s. The Center faces on to University Avenue, but the side where a lion patrolled the grounds is on Morse Street. Old time San Jose residents and historians, Frances and Theron Fox and Lawrence Campbell, remember the story well.

Dorothy Martin was a nurse at the county hospital when she became involved with a wealthy San Francisco car dealer. It seems that “John,” who lived in Woodside, put up the money for the purchase of the new house on the corner of University and Morse. Dorothy became his mistress and he would visit her often. According to Campbell, the car dealer had a different fancy car for each day of the week for his visits to his fancy lady. (Dorothy also changed her name often. According to old records and directories, she was listed as Dorothy Martin, Mrs. Dorothy Martin, Dorothea Martyn and Mrs. Martin, and on title papers for the house she is listed as a single woman.) John became alarmed that someone else might be paying attention to Dorothy, so he had a wall built around the property and installed a lion as a watchdog, or more correctly, a watchcat. The real, live African lion patrolled the grounds for quite a few years. Can you imagine living next door to a lion? I say that’s a lot of cat to protect a little . . . well, you fill in the blank!

The Great Lion Murder

Many years ago, an article appeared in the newspaper about the Great Lion Murder. It was confirmed by historian Larry Campbell (now nearly 100 years old), but neither of us could remember where we saw it. For nearly a decade, I have been searching for the original report. I contacted Paul Lion, descendant of the owners of Lion’s Furniture Store on the corner of Second and San Fernando Streets where the incident took place, but he was unaware of the story. Imagine my surprise when, at a recent Pioneer board meeting, the young lady sitting next to me was Alix Lion, who had a copy of the original story and sent it to me. Here is the original as it appeared in the San Jose Mercury on Wednesday, April 30, 1902:


A local furniture company recently secured from Chicago a fine paper-mache figure of a lion. The beast is represented standing with head erect, jaws open, and tail shifted sideways in the long graceful sweep of a Bengal terror. It is a very clever imitation in form, color and posture, and the owner of the store is quite proud of it—or rather he was until yesterday morning.

The figure was placed at the entrance to the store, and to prevent its being carried off was fastened by a chain to the wall. Thus secured, the owner never took the precaution to move it inside at night. Night before last there was trouble. There was a spirited lion-hunt on the streets of San Jose at an early hour yesterday morning and it wound up by the paper-mache animal being riddled with bullets.

A belated and unsteady wayfarer happened along. As he neared the entrance to the store where the lion stood on guard, he took a tack to the leeward, and came around with a lurch, bow towards the beast, under the full glare of an electric light. He stopped. His eyes bulged out. He backed away. Fear suddenly paralyzed his limbs and he collapsed in the gutter. In five minutes he mustered up his courage to rise and tiptoe across the street. Then he proceeded cautiously in a circle, imagining all the time that he was going away from the object of his dread. It wasn’t long till he was back near the store again, face to face with the lion. Then, for the first time, he spoke, though only in a whisper.

“Nuzzer one, b’gosh.”

Time number three he backed away and made the circle. This time it was five minutes before he ran into the lion again, and his surprise and terror was even greater than before. But this time he had evidently decided that it would be better to fight than run away. Unsteadily his weapon came into play. He wasn’t two feet from the brute’s head, otherwise some of the bullets would have missed it. As it was, six chunks of lead plunged through the figure, and the lion hunter continued his journey satisfied. Early wayfarers sent for the police, but the gun wielder had disappeared down a side street. Daylight, however, told the tale.”

The Educated Fly Rod (Part 2)

May Day of each year was an undeclared school holiday for high school boys as May 1st was the opening day of trout season, and nearly every boy skipped school that day whether they went fishing or not. I always eagerly awaited the opening of fishing season and every school day afternoon, while seated in class, I was afflicted with a tremendous itch to be out in our local trout streams. I was not the only one afflicted as many of my fishing buddies would be equally tormented. There was no football practice, basketball was over and we felt that we could best train for the track team by hurdling over rocks and doing the broad jump across the creek. One of my closest friends was Barney “Max” Barnett, who equally loved fishing. We would squirm until the 2:25 bell rang and by 2:30, we were out the door, heading for the creek. School was officially over at 3:30 but we were long gone by then.

One memorable trip began in 1939. Hitchhiking was popular, safe and easy then, and we caught a ride in a 1932 back Buick sedan heading for Alma, three miles upstream. (Alma is now a ghost town under the waters of Lexington Reservoir.) At the southern edge Alma, public land ended and the property of the private San Jose Water Company began. San Jose Water was very jealous of their land and patrolled it with horseback riders to keep out intruders—particularly young fishermen.

It was a beautiful spring afternoon when we arrived at the concrete seven-step fish ladder, and passing it put us in the off-limits stream. We gradually worked our way upstream, stopping at each of many rocky holes. As we cast our flies—either the productive Royal Coachman or Gray Hackle Yellow Body—into the pools, they were gobbled up by hungry, seven- to eight-inch rainbow trout. This was fishing as it should be and we soon filled our pockets with fresh trout. (We couldn’t carry a wicker creel; if searchers saw us, it would have made our illegal fishing completely obvious.)

We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves when we heard the clippity-clop of horse hooves coming downstream. We quickly hid in the bushes while the water company rider passed us (we were scarcely breathing). But now, our route of escape had been closed and the only alternative was through the brush, straight up the steep mountainside to the old Santa Cruz Highway. As we finally emerged, dirty, panting and scared, we arrived at the two-lane concrete road right in the middle of Father Riker’s Holy City Community (now a ghost town). We weren’t dilly-dallying, for fear the ranger might have heard us, so we promptly thrust out our thumbs, hoping to hitch a ride back to Los Gatos.

The second car approached, pulled over and stopped. It was a green Chevy sedan and as we got into the back seat we noticed that the driver was dressed in a matching forest green uniform. What startled us most was the shield-like patch on his shoulder that read “California Department of Fish and Game.” Our benefactor turned out to be the game warden. His first question was, “What are you boys doing up here?” As we were in the town of Holy City and dressed in our school uniforms, we explained that we were on assignment to write a story for the Los Gatos High School newspaper. He asked no further questions and we offered no conversation. We expected to be taken right to Juvenile Hall for fishing in restricted territory. As we entered Los Gatos, we asked to be let out at the corner of Main and Santa Cruz Avenue. Exiting the car, we heaved a big sigh of relief. As he started to drive off, the game warden’s parting words were, “Better be careful where you fish the next time.” We hadn’t fooled him one bit!