Sanchez Adobe Was Once Pacifica’s “Crime Shack”

Image: (Watercolor by Coastside artist Galen Wolf or one of his students, probably one of his students.)

By June Morrall (I wrote this in 1998)

It’s hard to imagine that Pacifica, a Coastside community of neat neighborhoods, was once a dumping ground for victims of the criminal underworld.

The organized underworld of 1920s Prohibition-era San Francisco consisted of criminals who specialized in bootlegging, gambling, the “white slave trade,” and all the other vices that spilled onto next door neighbor Pacifica.

Isolated and often hidden under a net of fog, the two-story “Old Adobe,” originally the site of a mission outpost in present-day Pacifica, was better known to law enforcement officials as the sleazy “Crime Shack.”

The house was built with sun-dried bricks by Francisco Sanchez, the grantee to the Rancho San Pedro. Sanchez resided in the fine adobe between 1846 and 1862, but 50 years later, surly armed guards were posted around the dilapidated structure, the favorite rendezvous for criminals gathering in Pacifica’s remote Pedro Valley.

Rumor had that the toughest lawbreakers felt safe hiding in the “Crime Shack.” Today, the beautifully restored Sanchez Adobe on Linda Mar Blvd remains an authentic reminder, perhaps the only reminder, of Spanish-American days on the Coastside.

No one knew more about criminal activity at the Crime Shack than Colma Constable S.A. Landini. At the adobe in 1920, Landini led police officers in a shootout with a band of liquor smugglers. On another occasion, the constable arrested members of the Baciagalipi gang for robbing and murdering an elderly man. Landini also broke up a “white slave” vice ring, rescuing four young women from the sinister network.

One woman, a regular at the Crime Shack, told Constable Landini that she could identify San Francisco mob leader Charles Valento as the murderer of her husband. Valento also had been identified as the killer of legendary San Francisco Police Detective Miles Jackson.

A few months earlier, Detective Jackson had been the lead investigator of Dr. Galen Hickok’s “abortion mill,” housed in the famous “castle of mystery” high above Pacifica’s Salada Beach surf. The “castle,” originally built for Ocean Shore Railroad attorney Henry H. McCloskey, grandfather of former Congressman “Pete” McCloskey, still stands overlooking Pacifica’s busy Municipal Fishing Pier.

Three days after testifying for prosecutors in the Hickok trial, held under the dome of the Redwood City Courthouse, Detective Jackson was gunned down by gangster Charles Valento in a brutal shootout in Santa Rosa. Unable to elude the authorities, Valento was captured and jailed.

Revenge for Detective Jackson’s death came swiftly. In Wild West vigilante style, a party of 100 masked men in 15 automobiles burst into the Santa Rosa jail, seized Valento and two other gang members, hanging all three on a tree overlooking the Odd Fellows cemetery.

Constable Landini, who had assisted Jackson with the Hickok case, was deeply familiar with Pacifica’s terrain. He knew every hidden valley and cow path; he knew every bend and turn of twisty Pedro Mountain Road. These skills proved invaluable later when the constable led a manhunt in Pacifica for Colma priest, the Reverend Patrick E. Heslin, abducted from his parish house in the summer of 1921.

On food and horseback, Landini and his men fanned out from Colma, heading south toward Pedro Mountain Road. The manhunt was meticulous. After threading through the mass of scrub and thick underbrush high on the side of the mountain, the posse approached a “squalid shack” at the end of a narrow foot trail. Near the shack stood two horses, saddled, with a rifle holster hanging from each saddle. A search of the shack came up empty; the riders of the horses were nowhere to be found, nor was there a trace of Father Heslin.

Constable Landini picked up the scent of Father Heslin’s abductor while interviewing a Salada Beach restaurant owner. Landini had a description of the kidnapper, and the restaurateur confirmed seeing the man, his clothes, gritty with sand.

The clue led Landini to Father Heslin’s shallow grave located beneath a Salada Beach billboard advertising a pancake mix.

Charged with murder in the first degree was William A. Hightower, a cook and former manual laborer for the Ocean Shore Railroad. In a sensational trial held at the Redwood City courthouse, Hightower was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. At the time of Hightower’s trial, there were unconfirmed reports that he had ties to the underworld of Sacramento.

Five years later, when the body of a young woman, wrapped in a sheet, was found in “O’Malley’s Gulch” near Salada Beach, police confirmed that the victim was the “Moth Girl,” part of San Francisco’s underworld. A police search of the “Moth Girl’s” apartment–where the last recording she played on her portable Victrola was the jazz favorite, “Charleston”–led investigators to believe she led a double life: one as a conscientious piano student, the other as a player in the city’s dangerous night life. Continue reading “Sanchez Adobe Was Once Pacifica’s “Crime Shack””

Angelo Misthos, OSRR Buff & John Vonderlin Fan, Says

countryside.jpg (Photo: Is this the Ocean Shore Railroad smokin’ through Pacifica?)

Mr. Vonderlin, I’ve enjoyed reading Half Moon Bay Memories and El Granada Observer as well as your Pescadero Memories, particularly references to the OSRR, which I became acquainted with in the late 1920s.

My uncle took my brother and me on a hike along the right-of-way from Thornton to Mussel Rock. Though the rails had been torn up, still it was obvious a railroad had been there.

In 1939 I made several bike trips down the coast from San Francisco, once climbing to the top of the collapsed tunnel at Pedro Point to view the grade south to Devil’s Slide. And I also drove to Santa Cruz in a friend’s Model A Ford, borrowed from his brother, always looking for OSRR remnants.

At Pescadero beach it looked like grading of the dunes had been done south of the “mysterious tunnel” bluff you described. On a much later visit I found the tunnel portal, and since the grading I’d seen earlier would have led to the tunnel site, I surmised that the OSRR had built the tunnel either as a pilot bore, or to use it to blow down the hillside for easier grading.

Your north portal pictures puzzle me as they don’t appear to coincide with this surmise. I’ve never seen anything about this in the OSRR literature.

Re the Palmer Gulch Trestle: I have a photo of it given to me in 1939 that shows the trestle had already started to sag in the middle. About 1960 a friend and I hiked down to it; by then it was sagging noticeably. On the north side was a large, weathered (tool?) box, about 12’x4’x4′ roughly. It had an old padlock on it which we left as is.

We walked across the trestle, and my friend took pictures, of which I have a couple. Unfortunately, they are now badly faded (Polaroid camera?). but the rotted ties are still evident. I don’t believe it burned down because I saw an internet picture of it taken a few years after our crossing, and it was in nearly collapsed condition, and the text said it totally collapsed shortly after. Regrettably I didn’t add it to my OSRR “favorites,” and have never found it on the Web again.
Thanks again for your interesting memories of the San Mateo coastside.

Angelo Misthos, Sebastopol CA.

————————————–

John Vonderlin replies

(email John: benloudman@sbcglobal.net)

Hi June,
I received this interesting email today. It reminded me the tunnel (s) story is not a mystery solved. I’ll get back to it. The gentleman from the cemetery has said he’ll show us it, so maybe it exists. I sent Angelo a picture of a burnt timber, though that might have happened after collapse. I loved that he lives in Sebastopol. I used to have a wonderful ranch/family orchard in the hills west of town during the Seventies. George Lichty, the cartoonist of “Grin and Bear It,” fame lived across the street. The Thomases who owned the American Opinion Bookstore (John Birch Society–remember them?) were at one corner, two gay interior designers from S.F. on another and a schoolteacher couple who were Sufis on another. A great time in my life to recall. Where has my youth gone?
Larry Fitterer and I are going to be lowering ourselves down the cliffs into “The Notch” and Acid Beach on April 9th or 10th. Yee-Haw. Hopefully, I won’t break my typing fingers or anything else. Enjoy. John

RIP: Mary Florey, Founder of Florey’s Books in Pacifica & Special Friend to Authors

Written by Mary’s son, Jon

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Mary Florey, Founder of Florey’s Book Co.

On Valentines Day Pacifica lost a sympathetic ear and a big heart. Mary Florey died after a prolonged illness at 81 years old. Mary, who founded Florey’s Book Co. over thirty years ago, will be remembered by many of Pacifica’s readers because she would always take the time to listen to everyone. Sometimes she’d offer advice but mostly she just listened to people expressing all of life’s joys and sorrows as they looked for the right book. She might sell them a book or send them to the library.

Mary is survived by her lifetime partner, George Carpenter. She was the loving mother of Barbara Schlieve as well as James, Jon and Roy Florey and aunt to John and Mona Dean as well as Ralph Raymond Black and the late Lee Black. She is also survived by her brother Matt Black and his wife Nancy and their children Nancy, Caroline, and Janet. Her grandchildren include Aaron Schlieve who continues as the proprietor of Florey’s. Other grandchildren are Juliet Schlieve as well as Jessica, Michelle, Robert, Glen, Owen and David Florey. She was proud of each one.

She was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1926 and moved to San Francisco just before WWII started. She worked all her life, first as a waitress, bank teller, and sales clerk before deciding to open her own business and moving to Pacifica in 1977. Mary always supported local writers and her store was used for many, many lectures, events and meetings over the years.

A memorial service will be held at Holy Cross Lutheran Church at 1165 Seville Drive in Pacifica on Thursday, February 21st at 6 PM followed by a reception. Those who wish to bring food to the reception are invited to do so. People who loved Mary can also make a contribution to Florey’s Book Co. at 2120 Palmetto Avenue, Pacifica, CA 94044

I Love This Email: Epic Pacifica Ride, See the Pix

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June,

Just discovered your site. Love the old photos of Pedro Mountain Road! And the interview with Pete Douglas!

I and my friends often ride our bikes up the peninsula along Crystal Springs to Pacifica, and then over the old Pedro Mountain road instead of Devil’s Slide. From Montara, we cross the highway and ride the dirt trails along the cliffs above Mavericks and then down through Princeton Harbor back to HWY 1. It’s about a 70 mile round trip, with the highlight always being lengthy rest stop for coffee on the beach at The Ebb Tide Cafe. See photos from Feb:

http://www.54×11.com/photos/PacificaRide_021707/index.html

Great site! Can you post some of the old photos in higher resolution sometime?

Thanx,

Chris

June, I should have said in my first e-mail that we start and finish in
Redwood City. The particular day I took those photos, we went back over
the hill via Purissima Creek fire road and Harkins Ridge Trail (VERY
difficult!!) as you can see in the pictures near the end. We then
descended back to Woodside and then Redwood City via Kings Mountain.
The weather was incredible that day.

Chris

History Mystery….Is Pacifica’s Notorious Madam, Dolly Fine?

thumb-SM655_01.jpg photo: The McCloskey Castle in Pacifica. Photo courtesy Sam Mazza Estate.

Readers, Kathy Alberts asks: “Do you know anything about the history of the house at 2 Carmel Avenue in Pacifica? I used to live there and was told that during the 20s it was owned by a Madame named Dolly Fine(?) who used to help the rum runners and also worked in partnership with the McCloskey castle house, directly up the hill. Any information you can provide me would be much appreciated.”

If you have the answer, please email Kathy at Do you know anything about the history of the house at 2 Carmel Avenue in Pacifica? I used to live there and was told that during the 20s it was owned by a Madame named Dolly Fine(?) who used to help the rum runners and also worked in partnership with the McCloskey castle house, directly up the hill. Any information you can provide me would be much appreciated.

If you have the answer, please email Kathy at katherinealberts@gmail.com

I Hear From Ocean Shore RR Historian John Schmale

rbrandt.jpg“Rudy” Brandt

A while back I posted a three-part short history of the Ocean Shore Railroad based on a 1980 interview I did with the colorful Ocean Shore Railroad historian, Randolph “Rudy” Brandt (his father had been an original investor in the Ocean Shore).

I also posted this photo, believing that it was the Ocean Shore’s observation car.

NotOSRR1.jpg

Well, now I’m not sure what it’s of…I’m honored to share this email from Ocean Shore Railroad historian John Schmale:
“Hi June. I was struck with nostalgia at seeing the photo of Old Rudy Brandt in your article on the Ocean Shore Railroad. For over 30 years I exchanged Ocean Shore RY information, photos, documents etc with Rudy. He left me all of his OS RR material. Thanks…You have a scene of an observation car and water tank which I question is Ocean Shore RR. Do you know anything about it? Sorry, I am not being critical. The car is not Ocean Shore. I was wondering if the location is identified? Maybe Leased equipment? Regards, John Schmale”

John Schmale also emailed me this photo taken in Pacifica, 1940s (see below) rudypedro_1.jpg

At left, “Rudy” Brandt, center, E.H. Dannman, at right, Lorin Silleman (photo, courtesy John Schmale)
Hi again June, Yes Rudy was one of the last of the old time rail fans. He
drove his old 1950’s Plymouth all night and two whole days to photograph
some rotting narrow gauge trains down in the middle of the Arizona copper
mining region. He related running into unfriendly natives, as in “Native
Americans.”…

…I was interviewed by the folks at the local Pacifica TV station regarding
the poor old Ocean Shore RR car which now lives at the Shamrock Ranch near
the South end of Linda Mar. I helped save it from getting a good bulldozing.
The car sat in a vine covered backyard 6 miles from my home in Sonoma Co.. I
have had this address for 20 years. Wow! one should get to know the
neighbors.

I found one photo, enclosed, showing Rudy on left, E.H. Dannman (Pedro
Saloon man) in center, and Lorin Silleman on right. Picture taken at Pedro
Station in the 1940’s…

I have really enjoyed your historical works on the Coastside and look
forward seeing to more.

Best regards, John Schmale

A Short History Of The Ocean Shore Railroad (Part II): Read The DEJA VU

“There were landslides from time to time. The Pedro Pt/Devil’s Slide area was a particularly bad section. On one occasion, I think around 1915, as a result of some fairly torrential storms, about a mile-and-a-half or two miles of right-of-way track just suddenly dropped from right under and fell into the ocean…”

As told to me in 1980 by Randolph Brandt, whose father was an investor, a stockholder, in the Ocean Shore Railroad:

rbrandt.jpg
“In 1907 they got a train into Rockaway, no Vallemar. I think the first train rolled into Vallemar around 1907. They sent an engine down there with two coaches—and a load of people, a lot of promotion and activity.

“People were assured that this was going to be the new ‘Coney Island of the West’. All sorts of grandiose plans and promoters were springing up. And these communities along the way which were yet unnamed—were coming to life like Granada.

“…The depot in San Francisco was located at 12th & Mission Streets. …

“They even invited people to go down on weekends to give ‘em a free ride down there—and a free lunch—and then when you got off the train down there, all these salesmen were there busy. Sales slips, you know, sign on the dotted line to buy lots.

“They assured people the railroad would be finished within a year or two—and have wonderful rapid transit right into the heart of San Francisco. Business was so good for awhile that they didn’t have enough coaches so they dragged out a bunch of flat cars and put benches in them, you know, and people rode flat cars with benches down there.

“If any of you have eer driven in an open car along here [Devil’s Slide] when it’s pretty windy, you can imagine how some of the ladies must have felt having their hats blow off—and I don’t know what else especially when they’re going around Pedro Point and Devil’s Slide.

“It gets pretty windy—especially looking over the edge of a flat car and seeing the ocean down below on the edge of the cliff.â€?

Randolph Brandt smiled and laughed.

“Must have been quite an experience.

“There were landslides from time to time. The Pedro Pt/Devil’s Slide area was a particularly bad section. On one occasion, I think around 1915, as a result of some fairly torrential storms, about a mile-and-a-half or two miles of right-of-way track just suddenly dropped from right under and fell into the ocean.

“Luckily, there were no trains in the area at the time.

“It disrupted service for awhile. They ran trains as far as they could go to where the right-of-way caved off—enough space left, apparently, and then brought in a train from the south and passengers got off the train, walked along the edge of cliff ‘til they got to the other train—and then ran the train backwards all the way to Tunitas [south of Half Moon Bay]

“Another problem—the boulders came off the cliffs every once in a while onto the track….â€?

…To be continued…

A Short History Of The Ocean Shore Railroad (Part I)

train.jpgA Short History Of The Ocean Shore Railroad (Part I)

As told to me in 1980 by Randolph Brandt, whose father was an investor, a stockholder, in the Ocean Shore Railroad:

“He, like a number of other people in the days when the stock was being offered to the public market, thought it was a good thing and it apparently was.

“There are a number of banks and prominent people—quite a number of people, well-heeled financially that invested money in it. Mr. Downey Harveyt there, was one of the original promoters of the line and he dropped, I think, around $2 million in it. Of course, he was one of those people that inherited the money, you know, didn’t have to work for it.

“And another man who was pretty well-off financially, too, was Mr. Foelder of the well known Foelger Coffee Company, and he dropped quite a bit of money into it—somewhere between a million and a million-and-a-half.

“In those days, a million was not considered pennies.

“When they got this thing started—it was just before the earthquake, well, 1905, well, railroads were springing up all over the place, up and down the state—from one end to the other they were starting to build…

“Why not a line down the coast to Santa Cruz?

“One of the reasons was tht they figured if they built the line through to Santa Cru they could take a lot of the business away from the SP [Southern Pacific], which had the monopoly up ‘til then by going the other way.

“Look like a good proposition. No one else was in there. They started work from both ends with one crew working from San Francisco south, another crew starting from Santa Cru, working north.

“Got along fine until a certain day in April 1906 when they had an earthquake. One of things they didn’t’ anticipate was a good deal of construction equipment, particularly in the area around Mussel Rock tumbled off the right-of-way and down into the ocean.

“A considerable financial loss.

“And part of the right-of-way, likewise, followed the equipment into the ocean—more financial loss—and additional expenditures the promoters hadn’t figured on.

“Recovered from that somehow and they pared down the project a bit as a result of that. One of the shortcomings of the original promoters was that they were a little too grandiose in their ideas. They started out—it was planned as a double-track electric, actually, to run from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, via Half Moon Bay.

“Better off if they’d started out with a single-track steam line. Then as business justified it, then extending to double-track, they might have succeeded. When you grade for a double-track along the line it actually costs you more than if you grade for a single track, so it means more money out. Since they never used the double track, well, it was just money wasted…”

Photo: Randolph Brandt

…To be continued…

Ed Bauer Talks About Growth In 1980

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Ed Bauer moved to Half Moon Bay in 1960 where he became the publisher and editor of the Half Moon Bay Review for about 25 years.

(In 1980 I interviewed him for my documentary, “The Mystery of Half Moon Bayâ€?. Here are some quotes that did not air).

On Growth:

“The community was essentially rural [when Ed arrived in 1960]. A rural community with an emphasis on agriculture. And it was just beginning to change from an agricultural area to a commuter or suburban area.

“When I came here they were building 9-10 houses a year on the whole Coastside—that would be from San Gregorio into Montara.

“And the cost of lots in Montara was from $300 to $400 which was less than the sewer assessment for the lot. So it was still pretty much…I’d describe it s a rural area in transition….

“…In the 1960s I made a statement that I didn’t want to see Half Moon Bay become another Pacifica. We wanted balanced growth. We didn’t want to see ultra-high density population and rows and rows f houses with no open space.

“What we were looking for was balanced growth. There’s enough area over here for a balance in the growth.

“I think this is what the City of Half Moon Bay has been attempting to accomplish—of having a balance between open space and housing.

“One of our biggest concerns was the people of San Francisco—we could see them pouring into Pacifica which had this ultra-high population density. And, with this came problems in schools, crime, and traffic, public activities and taxes.

“You get what’s called a ‘bedroom community’ which has an economic imbalance.

“We want to have some agriculture. We wanted to have some fishing. We wanted to have jobs for people who live here…â€?

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On the Coastal Commission

“Parts of coastal communities in California are exempt from the Coastal Commision: L.A., Santa Cruz, San Francisco, exempt. By political pressure they were able to get special concessions because they have more political muscle.

“The Coastal Commission is one law for one group, another law for another group.

“Half Moon Bay, because of the lack of political muscle, couldn’t stand up to the Coastal Commission the way other cities could on the coast.

“Frenchman’s Creek is a typical example. Quite a few homes were bought by people who lived in the area, then they made a return on their houses at Frenchman’s Creek. Some of
the very same people have gone to the Golf Links.

“…I don’t think Montara Mountain is going to be packed with house side-byside. I think even if the Coastal Commission hadn’t been in effect, there are certain pressures operating, just like they operated against the Ocean Shore Railroad.â€?