This story first appeared in a newsletter for retired employees of the East Bay Regional Park District, 2002.
Saturday, May 18, 2002 was the dedication of the Ralph Samuel bench at the Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve. Ralph was the District’s Land Acquisition Specialist from 1979 to 1986. Hulet Hornbeck, Land Department Chief, originally hired him to acquire the privately owned lots that were included in the Claremont Canyon Preserve. During his seven years with the Land Department he acquired in excess of 1,000 acres of parkland for approximately four million dollars plus several miles of trails. Two hundred of these acres were in Claremont Canyon with a total purchase price of $2.7 million. When Ralph left the District, the project was 95% complete and none of the private inholdings posed a threat to the Park. The plaque on the bench reads “Ralph Samuel purchased 400 lots from 200 owners to create this preserve.”
About 20 of Ralph’s friends attended the dedication including former District Manager, Dick Trudeau, Hulet Hornbeck, and District Retirees President Bob Blau and Assistant General Manager for Park Operations, Jerry Kent. Jerry accepted the bench on behalf of the Regional Parks Foundation. Afterwards everybody enjoyed lunch at the Thornhill Coffee House where daughters Suzanne and Lysa brought a cake inscribed “Happy Bench Warming.” Ralph provided a 15-passenger bus to take the guests up Panoramic Way to the bench and back again.
The bench is located at the top of the trail that starts at the Stonewall Road trailhead just off of Claremont Avenue. Park Supervisor Ed Leong coordinated the siting and erection of the bench.
Ralph left the District in 1986 to join the City of Oakland Real Estate Department and eventually retired from the Real Estate Services Department of BART in 1997 after 25 years in local government land acquisition throughout the East Bay. Since retirement, Ralph keeps busy attending Park District retiree’s meetings and is on the Board of the BART Alumni (& Retirees) Association. As a Holocaust survivor, he is on the speaker’s roster of the Holocaust Center of Northern California and often speaks to Bay Area public and parochial schools and other organizations about the Holocaust and his experiences. Ralph was one of the 10,000 children that in 1938 and ‘39 were sent alone from Germany and Austria to England on the Kindertransports.
At the time, I was hired as Land Acquisition Specialist to the East Bay Regional Park District, I was 48 years old and previously had worked for 13 years as Right of Way Agent in the Real Estate Department, Alameda County Public Works doing land acquisition for flood control, street widening and other public purposes. In the early 1900s a paper subdivision, with a name now forgotten, was laid out on the hillside behind the Claremont Hotel, located on the Oakland/ Berkeley line on Old Tunnel Road, just below the Caldecott Tunnel. Sometime in the 1910s or 20s, the San Francisco Chronicle gave away individual lots in this paper subdivision with a year’s subscription to the newspaper. Generally, these lots were 15 or 20 feet wide by 100 to 110 feet deep and the streets were laid out running with the contour lines. Over the next many years, none of the streets or utilities in the paper subdivision were developed, some of the lots were inherited by the heirs of the original owners—many of which went tax-delinquent and were bought at tax sale by investors and/ or speculators. Some of the lots closest to Claremont Avenue, and reaching all the way up to Panoramic Way, were owned by the Marron family and used as a dairy farm. In the 1970s and 80s a neighborhood group, the Friends of Claremont Canyon, including people living on the hillside on the south-side of Claremont Avenue asked the Park District to purchase the remaining lots in the subdivision and create Claremont Canyon Preserve. ~ Ralph Samuel