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06 September 2017

An Aerial Photo Solves a Family Mystery

by Cassie Arnold

My mother recounted a funny and puzzling story from my grandmother that just never added up until I found an old aerial photo of Hayward posted in the Oakland History group on Facebook. It’s amazing sometimes what we uncover when we investigate our family’s stories.

Setting the Scene 
My grandmother spent much of her childhood in an orphanage run by an order of French nuns in Lowell, MA. When her family was reunited in Berkeley, she was a very attractive young woman happy to be free of supervision of the sisters. At Berkeley High School she immediately set her sights on the best looking boy in school. They were married in May 1931 when she was 18 and three months pregnant. 

My grandmother's maiden name was Mildred Frazier.
Her married name was Mildred Murphy. She eventually
 married again and died with the name Mildred Klefsky.
However, she always went by the first name “Marie”.
Photo labelled, "Dec 1930, 18 years old".

While my grandmother was still pregnant with my mother, she and one of her sister-in-laws were staying with their mother-in-law. My grandmother was there because my grandfather was off at college; I don’t know why the sister-in-law was there, but probably because her husband was away for work. 

Regardless, they were staying at a house my great great grandfather owned on Lewelling Boulevard in Hayward. Apparently the two girls were bristling under the supervision of their mother-in-law, so one day they over-powered her, tied her to a kitchen chair, took her pin money and rode the streetcar up East 14th Street to 150th. 

They did what?  
My brother-in-law is a pretty good amateur genealogist and history detective. He was intrigued by this story too, so he tracked down some historical maps for us. We couldn’t find anything along the entire length of 150th Avenue that would be of interest to two young women. Well, at least nothing worth risking the wrath of your mother-in-law over. 
I quizzed my mother again, but she insisted it was on 150th Avenue. Hmm...

A Link Provides the Clue to Oakland’s Forgotten History
I was stumped. Then I got a link to these historic aerial photos. At the intersection of 150th and East 14th I found a raceway! The Oakland Speedway had opened in February of 1931 and hosted Indy cars and (I’m sure of more interest to my grandmother) their drivers until 1936. Now the property is the Bayfair Mall. 

Since the girls were spending the summer of 1931 at Lewelling, so the new raceway probably was a very compelling diversion. I’m not sure I would judge it compelling enough to commit felonious involuntary imprisonment, aka tying up my great grandmother, but my grandmother was always a bit wilder than me. 

All’s Well That Ends Well
And apparently there were no significant consequences from the episode. It was already established that my grandmother and great grandmother were never going to be the best of friends, which helped sow the seeds for future genealogy brick walls, but that’s for another day.

The untold story is that my great grandmother might have been happy to be free of the girls for the day! 

About the Author

Cassie Arnold is an Alameda-based business and financial writer as well as a second-generation Oakland native. She is working on a history of Oakland / Berkeley from 1919 to 1941 from the perspective of her maternal ancestors. 

Copyright © 2017 by California Genealogical Society


Carol said...

What a very interesting story about your grandmother! When you mentioned 150th and E 14th St. I recognized the area as I grew up in San Leandro on 138th Avenue, a block and a half from E. 14th Street. I was a little mystified when you said the Oakland Speedway was only there between 1931 and 1936 because I remember going there with my father as a young child in the early 1950s, well before the Bayfair Mall opened. I see from googling the Oakland Speedway that the race track still existed but just not as the Oakland Speedway. I'm so glad you shared your story and gave the link to Historical Aerials.