Famous Residents of Old Brooklyn
The remnants of Arbor Villa, entrepreneur Francis Marion “Borax” Smith’s 1890s estate, still flavor the neighborhood. Smith ended up with the nickname “Borax” after he discovered the mineral borax and its uses.
F.M. Smith Park and Recreation Center on Park Blvd honors Smith with a statue of the mules used to transport borax from the mines: the borax mule train.
F.M. Smith is also honored as one of the figures (sculpted from nuts and bolts) in Bella Vista Park's iron entrance gate designed and built by East Bay artist Eric Powell.
Smith also earned a name in the East Bay as a real estate entrepreneur, running streetcars into lesser- known parts of Oakland where he was selling land.
The palm trees that line Ninth Avenue once formed the border of his estate, and across Park Boulevard still lie some of the historic cottages built by his wife, Mary, in a charitable effort to house “friendless (i.e. orphaned) girls.” Frank built a total of 13 cottages for the girls, plus the Home Club, which served as a community center. Some of the cottages were designed by big-name architects—Bernard Maybeck, Julia Morgan, and Clarence Dakin among them.
The grounds of Arbor Villa covered 50 acres and contained an observation tower for what must have been stunning views from the top of Ivy Hill. The villa had 42 rooms including 15 bedrooms, a bowling alley, and a miniature Borax mine.
(some text taken from Oakland Magazine, May 2007 and the blog: www.ouroakland.net)
Gertrude Stein's family moved to old Brooklyn in 1880, in what is now the Bella Vista area of Oakland. She was 6 years old, and she lived in Oakland until she was 18.
Stein studied psychology and medicine on the East Coast, before moving to Paris to live with her brother, Leo Stein, in 1903. They began to collect art, as Leo intended to be an art critic. Their home at 27, rue de Fleurus, became home to their Saturday salons. A circle of artists gathered around them, including such notables as Picasso, Matisse, and Gris, whom Leo and Gertrude Stein helped bring to public attention. Picasso even painted a portrait of Gertrude Stein. In 1907, Gertrude Stein met Alice B. Toklas, who became her lifelong companion.
As Pablo Picasso was developing a new art approach in cubism, Gertrude Stein was developing a new approach to writing. She wrote novels, poetry, librettos for operas and even children's books in a playful, repetitive and humorous style.
After many years in Paris, Stein returned to visit an Oakland she hardly recognized. Her remark, "there's no there there," has stuck, much to the delight of San Franciscans! A public art sculpture has even been created inspired by Stein's statement: the HereThere sculpture at the Berkeley-Oakland border.
Former Gertrude Stein Houses in the Bella Vista area: East 25th Street and 13th Avenue; 1640 10th Avenue.
Gertrude Stein is honored as one of the figures (sculpted from nuts and bolts) in Bella Vista Park's iron entrance gate designed and built by East Bay artist Eric Powell.
|Friends of Bella Vista Park