(Photo: A rickety Amesport wharf some 60-70 years after it had been built at Miramar).
The political star of Josiah Parker Ames was rising when he donated a new flag staff to the town of Half Moon Bay in 1876. The newspaper described it “as a beautiful stick, with a small platform around the base.” The flagpole was planted on the southwest corner of Kelly and Main.
While JP reached new political heights as a stage legislator, the booming potato business at Amesport slipped into decline. A pesty worm destroyed the future of the crop and the little steamers stopped less frequently at Amesport. Finally Ames sold the business to the Pacific Coast Steamship Company–but they were never able to resuscitate the business and duplicate the heady days of the 1870s. The connection between JP Ames and Half Moon Bay was severed.
Josiah Ames was appointed the warden of San Quentin Prison in the 1880s; he is noted for introducing the manufacture of jute bags there. This prolific Englishman by birth died in 1903 in Martinez but not before he was subjected to embarassing accusations of fraud by a sister living in Oakland.
Josiah “JP” Ames had his finger in every sector of Half Moon Bay’s miniscule economy. He owned a flour mill where the grain was ground and cracked. In 1873, when 700 citizens lived in Half Moon Bay, the mill turned out 50 barrels of flour per day. He supplied the town with water. He was the proprietor of the Half Moon Bay Livery Stable at Main and Kelly.
“J.P. Ames has selected and stocked one of the best equine establishments on the coast,” bragged the Times & Gazette. Perhaps he rented horses for the Fourth of July races at the Half Moon Bay Trotting Track. But there were hard times, too: in 1869 his friend James Denniston died at age 45 of Bright’s Disease (related to the kidneys).
Ames’ wife died in 1871 and he remarried later. In 1874 JP was the last survivor of Stevenson’s Regiment in San Mateo County.
A significant contribution by JP Ames was the building of a wharf and warehouse at the mouth of the Arroyo de en Medio in 1868 in present day Miramar. Called Amesport Landing, the new wharf opened up a vital economic link with the outside world. From here the Coastside’s fresh local produce was shipped to market in San Francisco. A small, colorful village with seafaring characters sprang up around Amesport and the wharf prospered in the 1870s.
San Franciscans couldn’t buy enough Half Moon Bay potatoes, lettuce, cucumbers–and strawberries. In 1874 the steamer Monterey sailed off with 6000 sacks full. “This is almost like shipping coals to Newcastle,” remarked an amused reporter in the Times & Gazette.
A creek running through the James Denniston property in Princeton–where the family reputedly resided in an adobe–was named Denniston Creek after its owner. Denniston operated Old Landing, the only wharf on the Coastside (where there were no natural harbors); little steamers stopped there to load produce in the 1850s. Denniston was politically powerful. During a trial in which he was the defendant, the jury didn’t bother to leave their seats to deliberate in the jury room. They acquitted him on the spot.
While in Half Moon Bay, Josiah Ames found romance, wedding Elizabeth Freeman in San Francisco in 1861. The happy couple lived in a new 12-room house with ocean views, described by the San Mateo County Times & Gazette as “decidedly the finest dwelling on the other side of the mountain.”
Already a county supervisor, Josiah P. Ames now took office as treasurer.
Born in England–but reared in New York City—Josiah P. Ames was 20 when he joined Col. Jonathan Stevenson’s special regiment that sailed around Cape Horn to California in 1847. The colonel’s instructions were to take part in the American occupation and to make the inhabitants “feel that we come as deliverers.”
With the completion of the mission, Col. Stevenson bought a rancho in Contra Costa County. His objective was to turn the land into a large, prosperous city. Ames followed in the colonel’s footsteps when he cast his eye on Half Moon Bay.
Already Ames had tasted the life of tents and cloth houses in San Francisco and the rawness of life in the gold mines. Filled with energy, he was now ready to buy land, start up businesses and launch a political career.
Perhaps it was fellow Stevenson Regiment member James Denniston who invited him to the Coastside; they were close friends. After marrying into the prominent Guerrero family, Denniston found himself the wealthy owner of an immense tract of land, called El Corral de Tierra, stretching from Montara to the Arroyo de en Medio in Miramar.
The few clusters of Americans scattered in the bureaucratically named “Department of California” felt threatened on the brink of the U.S. “war” with Mexico in 1846.
The settlers smelled invasion in the air.
But from whom? They weren’t certain. They feared the Indians who could set fire to their homes and crops; they feared the Mexicans who could take away their livelihood…but for a time these isolated Americans whipped themselves into a frenzy against their old enemy, England.
And why not fear England?
At that very moment Admiral Seymour of the British Fleet were rumored to be sailing for the Pacific Coast. The settlers wondered if his orders were to take California. The editors of English publications gleefully took pen in hand to support the efforts of any country (except the U.S.) in a takeover of California. The nerves of Americans weren’t soothed by the fact that until 1846 England and the U.S. jointly held Oregon. That rainy territory was just too close for comfort…so it was understandable that the thought of the old Union Jack fluttering in the wind gave settlers the jitters.
The jitters were unnecessary. The English either decided California was not a plum worth fighting over or the British agents weren’t on the ball when the time came to strike. After all, it was the U.S. that went to “war” with Mexico and won handily in 1848.
Josiah Parker Ames was an Englishman who did not alarm the settlers when he appeared in Half Moon Bay about 1858.
When I dropped in on Tom Clyne at the historic Mullen Farmhouse in east Miramar in 1977, the 84-year-old retired bookkeeper told me he had inherited the property from Clara Mullen.
Wow, I thought. What a great property. The Mullen Farmhouse stood at the far end of a dreamy country lane, itâs white paned windows barely visible from a favorite nursery of mine specializing in apple trees.
Clara–the last surviving Coastside Mullen– died of a heart attack in 1971. Tom did the books.
Was there a romantic link between the couple? I doubt it. Clara Mullen was two decades older than Tom Clyne. But although born in San Francisco, Tom Clyne spent the latter part of his days living alone in the Mullen Farmhouse, leaving only to drive to Pacifica where he swam laps in the high school pool.
The old farmhouse was originally home to the Irishman John Mullen, his wife, and eight children, four boys and four girls.
There was Ned and Bill and Annie and Clara and Tom Clyne couldnât remember the names of the other two boys.
I already knew the background of the property when I visited Tom in the 1970s.
A century earlier the Pacific Steamship Company had hired John Mullen to run Amesport Wharf, today known as Miramarâand Tom added that Mullen purchased the beautiful property, within walking distance of Amesport, from the famous San Franciscan, Claus Spreckels, âthe sugar kingâ?.
Busy Amesport was a power point and John Mullen so famous that nearby Medio Creek was called âMullenâs Creekâ? by the locals. Memories of John Mullenâs presence hadnât faded much over the decades because I heard locals comfortably using âMullenâs Creekâ? in the 1970s.
In the Redwood City archives of the San Mateo County History Museum, Clara Mullen left us an anecdote about Amesport Wharf. She describes the tiny village of misfits and sea captains and deep sea divers as such a busy place that three small ships were loading and unloading supplies at the same time. Coal for heating was imported from far away England but the self-reliant Coastsiders planted fast growing eucalyptus trees and later cut them down for firewood.
Tom didnât change much inside or outside the old Mullen farmhouse, constructed entirely of redwood, and held together with square hand-cut nails–but he did like modern conveniences and installed electricity and plumbing. There was an outhouse but there also were two commodes (bowls) inside cabinets in the event you didnât make it to the outhouse in time.
Original furniture remained, chairs, a walnut bed frame and an antique secretary with hand carved handles. One entire room looked as it did 100 years earlier. I hope I get this right: throughout the house the walls were fashioned of âwood on woodâ?. In this one room I saw an old- fashioned wallpaper pattern. Tom explained that in order for the wallpaper to stick, a layer of cheesecloth was placed between the wood and the wallpaper.
The art on the walls was that of the easily recognizable local painter Galen Wolf, watercolors of Pillar Point, Devilâs Slide and the Hatch Mill that once stood south of Half Moon Bay. Also mounted on the wall was a special dinner plate, a reminder from the ill-fated T.F. Oakes, the iron ship that ran aground at the foot of Kelly Street in 1898.
I felt lucky to see the old Mullen Farmhouse . You donât get to do that often these days.
Before I left, Tom Clyne pointed out one more thing. Look closely at the white fence, he said. I saw a single red rose blooming. Look closer, he said, and youâll see a bullet hole. Just above the edge of the red petals, I saw it, the bullet hole.
Not long after the Palace Miramar had replaced the Amesport Wharf, one of the Miguelâs horses trespassed on the Mullenâs property, and John Mullenâs son, Bill, aimed at the animal but we donât know if the bullet hit its target.
But the small bullet hole in the fence, and all the possible stories you can imagine leading up to it, has fascinated me ever since.
At left: Pete Douglas (in the back) and his brother, Jack, pose at the Ebb Tide Cafe, the hip coffee/jazz house, surrounded by artichokes and overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Miramar. This was the beginning of the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, today a world-class jazz house. (Actually, recently Pete brought back the flavor of the Ebb Tide Cafe, located in the same little building you see here).
Come to think of it, Miramar Beach (which means to behold the sea) has been the scene of many historic events, paralleling the growth of the Coastside.
(Photo: The first working wharf on the Coastside (built by Judge Josiah P. Ames in 1868) was located at present day Miramar. More than 50 years later, during the latter part of the doomed Ocean Shore Railroad era, the owners of the fabulous Palace Miramar Hotel repaired the rundown pier.)
Tiny Miramar Beach has been witness to the rancheros and the rounding of cattle near Medio Creek, site of the Coastsideâs first working wharf & seafaring community which gave way to construction of the Ocean Shore Railroad and construction of the beautiful Palace Miramar Hotel and restaurant.
Then when Prohibition rolled in, Miramar became a home to the colorful rumrunners, bootleggers and the red-haired madam with her upstairs bordello at the Miramar Beach Inn (not to be confused with the Palace Miramar which was located at the other end of the street where the wharf once was).
(At right: Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Palace Miramar Hotel burned in the 1960s. Special parties organized by the Ocean Shore Railroad stopped here and, later, the hotel became famous for crab cioppino dinners, sometimes these fundraisers for famous politicians such as with famous politicians Richard Nixon.)
The land surrounding the hotels and roadhouses was planted with artichokes by farmers. The chokes were served in novel ways at restaurants in Half Moon Bay and the Coastside was shipping the artichokes all over, even to the East Coast, earning the title of âartichoke capitalâ?.
And when the Ocean Shore Railroad filed bankruptcy, pulling up the rails, the Miramar Beach Inn and the Palace Miramar served customers delicious clam chowder and fond memories of other times. (The Palace Miramar burned in the 1960s but the Miramar Beach Inn still stands).
Representing the beat era spiritually, former county probation officer Pete Douglas inventeed the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Societyâwhich metamorphised from the Ebb Tide Cafe, an intimate, hip coffee house with spontaneous acting-out, but more importantly the beginning of jazz music scene at the beach-this was in the late 1950sâto a bigger world- class jazz house featuring first-rate musicians playing the full spectrum of jazz. Peteâs kept the âBachâ?, as we locals call it, pure. Weâre so lucky to have a jazz house on the CoastsideâI can even walk there from my house.
(Photo: When photographer Michael Powersâ dome appeared in Miramar in the 1970s, the structure became a curiosity piece in Miramar).
In the 70s greeting card photographer Michael Powers built a geodesic dome near the site of the then-gone Palace Miramarâ and behind Powerâs dome is where the future young, intrepid surfer Jeff Clark grew up, the Jeff Clark who, on his Coastside surfing journeys, was to discover and name world famous Mavericksâwhose immense winter waves bring world-class surfers to Half Moon Bay.
(Photo: The cover of âMaverickâs by Matt Warshaw, published by Chronicle Books)
Now weâre up to date.
In Miramar, every historic era of the Coastside is represented, if not still seen, then it must be imagined.