(Photo: Looks like early Moss Beach. Courtesy Millie Muller. Email Millie: firstname.lastname@example.org)
A few days ago, I got an email from Millicent Muller, who lives in Farmville, North Carolina. Millie is a devoted genealogist who began researching her family roots in 1980, “back when,” she explains, “you actually had to handwrite a letter to the clerk of the court, asking for information. Of course, that included sending a check to pay for a copy, if there was a record.”
Today Millie uses the Internet, including ancestry.com, with pouring in faster than before.
She began “searching for a connection to Cherokee Indians on my mother’s side. Then I switched to my father’s side. Through him is the Frank Torres connection.”
In the 1920s Frank Torres built and ran the popular roadhouse called “Frank’s,” (today known as the Moss Beach Distillery.) He married Fanny Lea, who died on the Coastside in 1976.
Why does Millie want to know more about Fanny and Frank Torres?
Fanny Torres was Millie’s aunt, one of her father Howard Lea’s three sisters. Millie never met Frank or Fanny but “would love to contact someone related to Frank Torres. That would probably have to be a grandchild of Frank’s who might have a photo of him with Fanny, someone who could pass along family stories. I’d love either one!”
Tell me a little about you. (Photo: Millie Muller)
Millie Muller (MM):
I was born in 1954 when HH ( my father Howard) was 64 years old. Everyone either called him HH or Old Man Lea. I had an older sister and yes a younger one. We were called The Lea Girls. HH married my mom when she was 20. She is still alive and remembers some things about what he talked about. To the best of my knowledge he never spoke with any of his family. HH died in 1966. He was 75 years old.
So you began your search.
Millie Muller (MM)
The first real information I got about Fanny came from a copy of my grandmother’s death certificate. Her name was Martha Lea and she died in 1941. Grandmother Martha and Aunt Fanny lived on the East Coast and then suddenly moved to Moss Beach. But I don’t know why.
What else did you learn?
It was my Aunt Fanny who provided the information on her mother’s death certificate. That was the first time I knew for sure that Fanny had been married, and what her married name was. And that was the first time I heard of Moss Beach.
What about Frank Torres?
It says that Fanny’s husband, Frank Torres, was the owner of the Frank Torres Beach Hotel on the Coastside. When I did an Internet search on the hotel, it brought up a page that shows the Moss Beach Distillery, and there was mention of Frank Torres.
Three years before my grandmother’s death, she drew up a document for my father. It was dated Sept 13, 1938, giving his place of birth and birth date. The notary was R. Guy Smith. I searched Amazon.com for books about the Coastside and found his name in association with some pictures in a book. That was very exciting for me!
And you also got Fanny’s obit, right? How did you get that?
I posted a query on rootsweb asking for information about Fannie’s obituary and burial. Within nine days, a lady called Colleen copied and posted Fannie’s obituary for me.
There was so much information in the obituary. Her funeral service was held at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma; her street address, Ocean Blvd. in Moss Beach.
Her husband, Frank Torres, was the owner of Frank Torres Hotel on the Coastside. She was a 47-year resident of the Coastside, a native of Verona Mills, New York. She was survived by her husband and four step-children: Frank Jr., Jacinto, Margaret and Nellie.
My goal is to learn as much as I can about these people. Why the move from New York to California? That would have been a huge move for a widow (her husband, Edwin Charles Lea, died in 1906) and her three grown daughters, Fanny, Alice and Maude.
Did you know Frank’s restaurant was a prohibition-era roadhouse?
I first learned about the prohibition roadhouse when I did a search on the Frank Torres Beach Hotel in Moss Beach. That search brought me to your website, and that’s where I read about that.
Did you know there were rumors about Fannie working as a “madam,” running a bordello in the bungalows (now gone) next door to the roadhouse?
I had no idea about the rumors, and it doesn’t bother me at all. Matter of fact, I got a chuckle out of it. My oldest sister, Wanda, her mother-in-law, ran a house in Norfolk, VA back in the day. Wanda passed in ’96.
What else did you learn from Fanny’s obit?
In Fanny’s obituary, it says she was survived by Frank and four step-children: Frank, Jr. of Hillsborough; Jacino of South San Francisco; Margaret Rossi of Pacifica and Nellie Tooring of San Francisco.
If anyone has pictures of Frank and Fanny together, I’m guessing it would be them or their children. So far I haven’t found any information about them—but I just learned about them.
Here’s some background info about Frank Torres gleaned from food critic Ruth Thompson’s 1930s book (“Eating Around San Francisco.”)
Born in Peru, Frank Torres left his home at the age of 14, and traveled the globe, trekking through Central and South America, Europe and the Philippines. As a steward on vessels that called at ports of the world, he “learned to cook in every language.”
He also rubbed elbows with the rich and famous, such as Alice Roosevelt, a cousin of Eleanor Roosevelt, the future First Lady. In 1905 Torres was present when Alice met and fell in love with Nicholas Longworth, a freshman congressman from Ohio. Their wedding, later held in the East Room of the White House, was to be the social event of the season.
About 1920 Frank came to Moss Beach. At first he had an “attractive rambling place,” but in 1928 he built the new “bungalow restaurant.”
The kitchen was commandeered by members of the Torres family, including Mrs. Torres, ” a charming hostess,” Frank, Jr., the chef, and Victor, who not only worked as a waiter but also played the piano.
In the eyes of food critic Ruth Thompson, Frank Torres “led a life of romance and adventure which makes the live of us ordinary stay-at-homes quite pale beside it.”
I just found Frank’s name on the 1930 census report. He’s number 185. And on the 1920 report, he is number 1418.
I think all this exciting!
Let’s talk about the photos a bit. The one of the lady with the white cat—could that be taken at the Distillery? I know you’ve never been there, and the restaurant doesn’t look like that today, but, to me, it feels familiar.
I was thinking the same thing about the picture of Martha (my grandmother) and the white cat. Two things: the color of the building and the archway shadow appear to be the same as in the photo.
According to the dates on the snap shots, the time frame is right for all the photos to have been taken in Moss Beach.
We all hope you’ll solve the mystery—and that someone from the Lea or Torres family will contact you soon.
I’ve been doing genealogy research on the family for several years now. I like to know the where for and what if about things. And I enjoy putting puzzles together. This is like one giant puzzle to me. I want to know things like, Fanny had a middle name and the initial was “P” but I don’t have a clue what the “P” stood for. For Martha there was “A,” but I don’t know what the “A” was for.
I would love to contact someone who was related to Frank Torres.
Email Millie Muller: email@example.com