A couple of years ago someone in a Facebook group I belong to asked if anyone else remembered a story or rumor that went around Montclair in the mid-50s. It was a story about a guy the ran repair shop on La Salle Ave who was a spy for the American Government or something like that. It took me a while but I found it.
Undercover Agent – Asked to Join
The tall shapely women said she joined the Communist Party after an FBI agent approached her and said:
Would you like to do this? There will be nothing it for you, but you would be doing your country a great service.
San Francisco Examiner April 1953
Joins Party to Help FBI in Roundup of Subversives
The tall shapely women was Sylvia Hill the wife of Dickson P. Hill of the Montclair District. The Hill’s lived had 3 children and lived on Snake Road. Mr. Hill owned Montclair Radio & TV Service at 6127 La Salle Ave.
From the outside they were your typical 50s family.
Dickson P. Hill said he and his wife were approached by Communists in 1944 and ask the FBI ( I think the FBI was already watching them) what they should do. The FBI told them to try to join the party so they could do the country “a great service.”
They joined the Communist party in 1945 at the request of the FBI, and rose to the positions of membership chairman and education chairman receptively, while serving as undercover agents.
Hill and his wife lived “double lives” as Communists for the FBI for about four years. He said he named more than 50 people in Oakland-Berkeley area he had met personally and identified them as Reds. He also identified 36 organizations as Communist Party clubs during his membership 1945-1949. Dec 03, 1953
Reds Call Labor School ‘Ours,’ Witness Testifies
California Labor School of Alameda County
The California Labor school presented a Russian film “One Day in Soviet Russia” with English narration.
If you grew up the Montclair District of Oakland from 1956 to about 1990 you shopped at Freeway Variety.
Freeway Variety opened in March of 1956. It was owned and operated by partners Cy Fritz and David Iventosch. They both had experience running the same type of stores in Berkeley.
In 1957 Iventosch bought out his partner Fritz.
I felt the best way to describe this most beloved and dearly missed variety store is by sharing memories of it which were detailed in a Facebook group. The group is lovingly called Forgotten Montclair. It is dedicated to preserving and sharing the memories of growing up in the Montclair District of Oakland, California.
Laura C: I bought my Beautiful Crissy doll there, in elementary school, along with my camping cookware for Brownie camp. When I graduated to high school, I bought my powder blue gym clothes there.
Joanne G: Freeway Variety was “candy land” heaven to me! My mom never let me have candy growing up – not ever once being able to trick or treat. So if I was ever able to ride my bike up to Freeway Variety from lower Broadway Terrace (all uphill)! The Now or Later were my first choice after a spin around the store to take in the isles of crazy stuff
Todd E: Lived in Montclair 1970 – 1992. Freeway Variety was like the ultimate dive bar of five and dimes. It was kind of dark with low ceilings, but it was comfy. It felt a little bit like a place where you could buy a Gremlin from some ancient guy in the back where all the wicker baskets hung from the ceiling. There were nuances to Freeway Variety that can never be replicated anywhere else. There was nothing funnier than riding your BMX down that strange concrete slope and dropping your bike down and entering the store in one fluid motion. It’s the place where I thought Army Men and those little parachute dudes where born. It had all the romantic stuff of childhood, candy, cards, Slurpee’s, video games, toys, Choose Your Own Adventure Books, a whole section on Movie Novelizations (with pictures in the middle!), strange arcane stuff like rabbit’s feet and real Mexican Jumping Beans.To me, the basic concept of what 1 mile is will always be the walk from my house over by Joaquin Miller School to Freeway Variety.
Christopher W: Ah there it is, my favorite store growing up in Montclair. While my mom shopped at Lucky’s I would be down at Freeway Variety looking for everything from match cars, Pez dispensers, loved the chocolate ones, and when I was really small, I would get a quarter and ride the horse in the front. Good times
Cherie L: We would walk down there from Westwood Way. Buster brown socks. Schools supplies. Candy you name it. Lived in Montclair from 1959 to 1982.
Nanette: I loved Freeway Variety! The old creaky wood floor that sloped down. You could get art (my favorite), craft, and school supplies. And of course where we got our Wacky Packs!!!!·
Dennis J: Does anyone remember the ladies of Freeway Variety store? Florence, Winnie, Mildred, and May. I worked there after school and weekends. Coolest boss ever: Big David Iventosch. My first real job!!!
Helene C: Loved everything about Freeway Variety. The smell of popcorn, candy, turtle pond scum. The only place where you could get candy, washcloths, home goods, toys, candy, an iron, a picture frame, valentines, Christmas cards, canning jars, toy guns, turtles, popcorn, and candy. And those old ladies behind the counter. A golden childhood staple and memory. I pity everyone else.
Dena M: I remember we would all go there to pick out our Halloween costumes and buy wax harmonicas.
Lara: I loved getting presents from here. Thanks to my mom, this is dated. I guess that means I am too! 33 years ago . . .
Erik H: Florence always gave me extra on my Icee. But you introduced me to the “Suicide “flavored slush.
Jan D: The ladies used to follow us around the store, thinking we were going to steal something!
Hays Canyon or sometimes called “Jack Hayes Canyon” was the area in hills behind Piedmont. Now known as Thornhill Canyon, Thornhill Drive and Moraga Avenue. For more info please see here – Oakland Local Wiki – Hays Canyon
On June 6th, 1894 Manuel Souza Quadros was murdered on the old Thorn Road in the “Jack Hayes Canyon” (Hays Canyon) by an unknown man while returning home. “The assassin did his work well and left no trace behind him”. Quadros had a wife and three children. He had a very “good reputation as a sober and industrious fellow”. He was returning home after delivering milk to the Oakland Creamery.
In order to reach the Moss Ranch (not sure where this was will have to research more) he had to pass through the canyon pass Blair Park. When found he was lying on the seat of his wagon “in a lonely place” in the canyon. He was shot in the breast . He was killed instantly by a 44 caliber pistol.
Theodore Medau , a rancher gives the only clue to the murder. He says “a middle- aged man, who was very excited” stopped him and said that a man was dead down the road. The man said he had 15 miles to drive and he was in a hurry. Medau went down the road a few hundred yards and found the deceased. San Francisco Chronicle June 07, 1984
Was He Assassinated?
Suspected in Murder
Quadros Suspected Slayer – Before Grand Jury
Miller Trial to Start
Miller does not seem to be frightened at the prospect of a noose.
Acquitted of Murder
Frank Miller Will Not Have to Stand a Trial
The moment Miller walked out of the courtroom he said was going to “start to walk East at once”.
Discharged and Rearrested
Murdered Man’s Estate
Now the question is who murdered Manuel Quadros? I can’t find anything on it…yet.
Is this considered a “cold case” ?
Is it still on the books?
Does the modern day Oakland Police Department even know about this murder?
Was he murdered for his estate?
Inquiring minds want to know.
More to come I hope.
In January of 1886 a man by the name of John Schneider (the name he gave them) was arrested for a stage coach robbery in Ukiah. When he was arrested the SF Call published a picture of him. See Below
Attorney Tom Garrity recognized the man as Frank Miller. Garrity was Miller’s attorney during Manuel Quadros murder case. Two other men also identified Schneider as Miller.
Growing up in Montclair (for me) Thornhill Drive was always just Thornhill Drive. But come to find out it was once called Thorn Road (sometimes Thorne Road). Thornhill is a nicer sounding name than Thorn. But there is a perfectly good reason as to why it was called Thorn Road.
The name goes back to 1856 when man named Hiram Thorn (Hiram Thorne) built the road at a heavy expense. Thorn’s road brought redwood logs to Oakland out of the vast forest known as the Moraga Redwoods where he ran a lumber mill on Pinehurst Road. Thorn was later given a franchise to run and collect tolls for the road, it was one of 3 toll roads in Oakland. In 1933 Thorn Road officially became Thornhill Drive.
Since I found out about Thornhill Drive I have been very curious about the names of our city streets. If you are interested you can read more at the Oakland Local Wiki page Street Names.
Oakland had lots of streets that seemed to be name for tress. Like Acacia Avenue Beech Street, Birch Street, Holly Street, Linden Street, Locust Street, Palmetto Street, Pine Street, Poplar Street, Plymouth Street, Redwood Road, Sequoyah Road, Spruce Street, Walnut Street and Willow Street. To name a few.
In the Laurel District there are streets named for the states. The streets are Maine, Vermont, Jersey, Montana, Texas, Ohio (now Dakota) Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas. California and Wisconsin Streets. Maine, Vermont and Jersey are no longer due to the construction of the MacArthur Freeway . I happen to live on Georgia Street.
In Sequoyah Hills, which located in the Oakland Hills above 580, off of Keller Avenue, directly below Skyline Blvd. The streets are named Hansom, coach, chariot, phaeton, shay and surrey are varieties of horse-drawn carriages. Better yet, the theme is a pun, considering the wheel-like arrangement of Shay, Phaeton and Coach streets radiating from Hansom.
In Montclair there is group of street possibly named for early explorers. The streets are Balboa Drive, Cabrillo Drive, Cabot Drive, Drake Drive, Gasper Drive, Magellan Drive and Mendoza Drive. Another group of streets seem to be named after WW I Generals. They are Liggett Drive, Pershing Drive, Sims Drive and Wood Drive.
The following is a group of articles by Albert E. Norman from the Oakland Tribune in 1960-1960.
If you have wondered about the name of your street, leave message below and I will check it out.
In 1944 Admiral Thomas Sprague and his family moved into 26 Ascot Court . But his life in the Navy took off and the traveled around the world. In 1951 Sprague retired from the Navy and they settled in after only living in the for 2 weeks in the 8 years they owned it.
The Sprague Family lived there until about 1963 after Mrs. Sprague passed away.
A Montclair Treasure – March 2019
In March of 2019 the house was put on the market for $ 1,249, 000 and it sold for April of 2019 for $1,300,000.
I wish I had more to share on this Thornhill Park this is all I can find. I only found out about it by accident when researching the home of Judge EM Gibson who lived on a ranch in area where Thornhill School is now and over to Aspinwall Drive. Judge Gibson lived there in the late 1880’s. I will soon post something on the first residents of Montclair which will include Gibson. I will call this page a work in progress to be undated.
Thornhill Park was first advertised for sale in May of 1917. It was handled by the Reality Syndicate at first and then Phil Hearty a local Montclair Real Estate Agent. The area was only know as Thornhill Park for few years it is now called Montclair and possibly Forest Park (another blog in the works) or what ever is best to sell the area.
Thornhill Park was an area of small farms of 1/4 acre to 1 acres where you could grow your own food or say raise chickens as noted the ad below.
By 1922 they were having a “Liquidation Sale” and trying to “close out” the rest of the tract. Selling 1/2 acre lots for 66 cents on the $1.00. It seems Thornhill Park wasn’t a big seller. I noticed it wasn’t advertised as much as any of the other tracts in Montclair like Forest Park, Merriewood, or Fernwood were. Later on Phil Hearty a developer and agent who had an office at 5815 Thornhill for years, took over the sale of the remaining Thornhill Park lot. Now Thornhill Park is part of Forest Park and Montclair Highlands.
Some of the homes in Thornhill Park –
A September 1919 advertisement for 6-Room Bungalow on One Acre in Beautiful Thornhill Park located at 650 Thorn Road (now Thornhill Drive) . It is my best guess that this is not 6110 or 6116 Thornhill Drive. 650 Thorn Road is one address that I can’t link to a modern address number. But I am fairly certain that it is one those two.