Category Archives: Richmond History

Richmond & the Spanish Flu-October 21, 1918

Richmond & the Spanish Flu

The Spanish Flu raged through the United States approximately one hundred years ago.? Like all small towns in the United States, daily life in the City of Richmond was deeply impacted by the epidemic.

We found these three articles in the museum archives from the Richmond Daily Independent dated October 21, 1918.

Just like COVID 19 today, essential workers were particularly hard hit by the Spanish Flu. The post office was no exception, the article above reporting the mail carrier and several employees had been out sick because they had contracted the disease.

The newspaper article below reported thirteen deaths in the previous 24 hours. The dead included eight males, three females and two of indeterminate gender with an age range from infant to thirty eight. Limited information about the victims are presented including occupation in some cases. The men were employed at Standard Oil Company (now Chevron), Hercules Powder Works and Wells Fargo Express. The last entry in the list is interesting because it indicates local physicians were in high demand and difficult to engage. Pinole resident Manuel Rodriguez, aged 33, died before he had the opportunity to be seen by a doctor.

The final article we have from October 21, 1918 is full of interesting facts demonstrating similarities between the Spanish Flu and COVID19. The State Board of Health issued formal guidance in local newspapers, equivalent to today’s media advisory. Restrictions to curb the spread of the Spanish Flu include social distancing, self quarantine, masks, hand washing and disinfectant. Thankfully, nurses no longer use bichloride of mercury or liquor cresol, because they’re both harmful substances. The scarcity of gauze is another interesting similarity between the modern and historical epidemics.

Introducing Richmond & the Spanish Flu

Richmond & the Spanish Flu (1918-1919)

The Spanish Flu raged through the United States approximately one hundred years ago. The country had just entered World War I and the first cases of Spanish Flu were reported at military camps in Spring 1918.

Spanish Flu Timeline from the Center for Disease Control

We dug deep into our archives to learn more about how the Spanish Flu impacted the City of Richmond. The newspaper clippings files in the RMHC archives are a trusted wealth of information about all major historical events in Richmond. The file on the Spanish Flu in Richmond includes dozens of articles dating mainly from October 1918 to January 1919. The first article in this series includes fun double meaning and references to popular culture of the time.

For the first time in the history of the City,

Richmond is a bone dry town and

for the first time too old John Barleycorn received a solar-plexus knockout

October 19, 1918, Richmond Daily Independent Newspaper.? ? ??October 18, 1918 Richmond Daily Independent Newspaper

My first response to this headline was “Ok, what?!?”

The headline is a metaphor stating the City Health Commissioner had Richmond Police closed down all the bars in Richmond. Apparently, the many saloons in Richmond had ignored the previous health department orders to shut all non-essential businesses. So heroic Dr. Blake had a police officer personally visit and close down every bar in the City of Richmond. More to come about heroic City Health Commissioner Dr. Blake later!

Let’s break down the langue in the headline. John Barleycorn refers to a historical British folk song about barley, the basis for many alcoholic drinks. Solar plexus knockout means a hard punch to the stomach, likely referring to the popularity of boxing in that period. The solar plexus is an anatomical term referring to a bundle of nerves located in the stomach.

The bars refused to abide by shelter in place and boldly remained open? Wow! How would the public have responded if that happened today?


Apparently, there were a lot of bars or saloons in Richmond during the early 20th Century as well. Just check out this partial list of saloons from the 1914/5 Polk’s Directory for the City of Richmond (courtesy of Internet Archive).

The second article in our archives from October 19, 1919 provides more grim details about the Spanish Flu in Richmond. Dr. Blake has closed all the schools, churches and bars, and ordered the community to wear masks in public. He states the apex (or worst) of the flu epidemic is yet to come.? A total of 96 new cases of flu have been reported and four individuals have died in a period of only 24 hours.

Local history is important because it demonstrated people have overcome adversity in the past and inspires people to be strong through their own trials. The City of Richmond has endured epidemics in the past and we will emerge from COVID19 stronger and more resilient.

We hope to bring you more notes from the archives about the Spanish Flu in the City of Richmond. Stay tuned!

St. Paul’s Catholic Church & Cemetery

Always Collecting the Pieces by Victoria Stuhr

St.Paul’s Catholic Church & Cemetery, San Pablo, CA

Whether you’re looking at old photographs of people, animals, landscapes, or architecture, it is often easy to get consumed by a sense of nostalgia or wonder. In my case, it’s a relatively modest, Gothic style parish that ceased existing roughly 80 years ago. Understanding the Old St.Paul’s Catholic Church and Cemetery in San Pablo, California, has been a pet project of mine since 2015? it’s personal. Along with St.Mark’s Catholic Church in Richmond, St. Paul’s played a small part on my mother’s side of the family, who began their establishment in Richmond and San Pablo around 1917.

Relocating photographs of the Old St.Paul’s Catholic Church throughout the Richmond Museum of History and Culture, snippets of it online, or in the books created by the San Pablo Historical Society has been reminiscent of panning for gold and any lead I come across always feels like a “eureka” moment. One might not realize how many events and structural changes to the state of California that had to occur in order for this Church establishment to come to fruition. Some of the facts unearthed either contradict or strengthen the ones found before and I am fairly certain that this pet project will probably continue to be a part of my life for a long time, at least until I finally obtain a sense of clarity.

The Foundation – in brief

By the time Mexico had gained its independence from Spain by the late 1820’s, substantial damage had already been done to the Natives of the land that would soon become California. Contra Costa had been established as an offshoot of San Franciscos Mission Dolores. Its designated use was to raise cattle and cultivate foods for the Mission. The acreage was overseen by Francisco Maria Castro, a corporal connected to the Presidio of San Francisco who had come to the area with his family through the De Anza Expedition in the 1770’s.

After Mexico gained its independence, the changes continued as the new government ordered the Missions and the lands Spain inhabited to be turned over to the state. Massive land grants were then awarded to those who were loyal to the Mexican government. In 1823, just shy of 18,000 acres that comprised Rancho San Pablo were granted to Castro to use and he and his family resided over what would eventually become the cities of San Pablo, Richmond, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, and Pinole.

In 1834, a formal title was finally granted to Francisco Maria Castro by the Mexican government, three years after his death. Castro’s wife Gabriela inherited 50% of the land while their eleven children shared the rest among them. Gabriela would gain an additional percentage of the land after the death of three of her daughters and after her own death, her portion would all go to her living daughter, Martina. This would later on create a legal dispute between the remaining family members and a slew settlers who were trying to establish themselves in the area, many of whom were initially attracted here by the prospect of gold. It would not be until 1894 that a decree would be made that divvied up the land after decades of legal disputes.

Native California born Juan Bautista Alvarado served his role as governor of Las Californias from 1837 to 1842. He married Martina Castro in 1839, bridging a union between the two prominent families. In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed between the United States and the Mexican Republic, ending the Mexican-American War. That same year, the Alvarado family relocated from El Cerrito to the former adobe of Martina’s mother in San Pablo. By 1850, Contra Costa County was incorporated and California became the 31st state of the Union.

The Structure

True to their Catholic faith, the Alvarado family began holding special masses in the living room of their adobe, their piano serving as the altar. Clergy from Oakland and San Francisco would travel to the adobe to lead the services. Still, the growing community was looking for something more tangible.

St.Paul’s Catholic Church and Cemetery

It appears that the original St. Paul’s Catholic Church, located on Church Lane in San Pablo, came into fruition through a brief unity between a community requesting a place of worship and an Archbishop tasked with counteracting the lingering, religiously distasteful effects of the California Gold Rush by creating such establishments. It is also noted in an Oakland Tribune article from 1963 that St. Paul’s was initially founded as a Mission by the Old St. Mary’s Church of Oakland.

Juan Bautista and Martina donated between two to four acres to Archbishop Alemany in preparation to build a parish and on August 24th, 1864, a church edifice was erected where Alvarado previously had a great cross placed. The wooden parish itself was erected between 1866 and 1869, built with $600 raised by the community with Father Gualco as its first rector. In addition to the land, Martina also donated robes, an altar, and a chalice.?

In 1870, the Church obtained a bell, as well as painting of St. Paul by artist Virgilio Tojetti. The painting was delivered via sailboat from San Francisco by the son of Father Gualco and Henry Alvarado, son of Juan Bautista and Martina. These two objects that are still integral pieces to St.Paul’s to this day.

The Old Church’s architecture was not an uncommon design, yet it was still striking. The Gothic structure resembled that of the Old St.Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, as well as the other Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Oakland, all of which take after the cathedrals found in Spain.

Keeping with the old tradition, half an acre of land was dedicated for a cemetery that was used from the late 1860s until the late 1920s.

St.Paul’s Catholic Church, the later days

As the years progressed, St.Paul’s Catholic Church became a hub for San Pablo and the neighboring cities, mostly because it was the only Catholic Church in the area for some years. Festivities and fundraisers were often thrown? and local ranchers contributed live cattle or fresh meats for raffle winners. By 1912, street car services were maintained, with a round trip that transported people the church, down 23rd Street, to Macdonald Avenue, which totaled 20 minutes.

St. Paul’s Golden anniversary was celebrated on 1913. For 49 years, Patrick Fleming, the last remaining member of the original congregation, had passed around the collections plate during every service. He was also known for contributing $25 towards the Church’s original construction.? The next year brought on the Church’s 50th anniversary and all modes of transportation, from the streetcar Key System, to Southern Pacific trains or boats were available to get people to the celebration from neighboring cities. In 1916, St. Paul’s rector Reverend Father Porta helped the church obtain a shipment of Spanish Cedar and tile from Spain despite war blockades in order to build a new altar. Even as the structure started to show its age, it was still a place the community celebrated and utilized.

The Bay Area became a destination for the Portuguese, many of which hailed from the Azore Islands who were commissioned by US whalers and brought to the area after fulfilling their duty at sea. They often earned enough to buy their own land and built up their communities. For a number of years, San Pablo hosted the Azorean tradition of the Holy Ghost Festival.

In 1914, St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery was established on the same street on land donated by the Blume family, becoming the main Catholic cemetery in the area.

By the time the community began pushing for a new Church structure, St. Paul’s was the oldest Roman Catholic Church and Cemetery in West Contra Costa County. A campaign was started by Revered Father Porta and once again, the community helped raise the funds to build the St.Paul’s Catholic Church that you see today. In October 1931, the new building had a dedication ceremony presided by San Francisco Archbishop Edward J. Hanna. Descendants of the Castro’s provided an old fashioned barbecue, allowing attendees to feast on freshly cooked steaks from the Castro Ranch. The current Church quickly became a landmark of its own and it hopefully will continue to strive for many more years to come.

Although it was mentioned in an Oakland Tribune Article from October 26th, 1931 that the original parish was meant to be preserved, it was eventually torn down. The cemetery was also dismantled, making way for St. Paul’s School and a ball field, which would be added around the 1950’s. The Alvarado Adobe was also demolished in the 1950?s to make way for a new structure, but was rebuilt as a museum in the 1970?s. These conditions that surrounding demolition are where that longing feeling comes settling back in.?

St. Paul’s Catholic Church, boarded up

According to a page on the Elk’s Lodge website, in 2012, Richmond’s Elks Lodge No. 1251 worked with parents and teachers of St.Paul’s School to refurbish the baseball field and install new planter boxes. It was noted that the ball field was once a cemetery and that although the remains that had once resided within the hallowed grounds were relocated in the 1950s, several buried stones were encountered? during the clean up process. This instance was not the first time something like that had happened.

The Tie

In the early 1990’s, the Richmond Museum came into possession of the headstone that currently greets visitors by the main entrance. It is a conversation piece, for sure.? A local family unearthed the headstone when they were working in their backyard and the discovery was understandably jarring for them. They searched for any signs of the bodies but only found bricks laid out in the shape of a cross a few feet below the surface.

The headstone belongs to Thomas Tormey and his sister, Mary. They were the children of local pioneer John Tormey, who made his way to California from Ireland and established himself as a landowner, rancher, supervisor, and business man alongside his younger brother, Patrick. The small company town, Tormey, between Rodeo and Crockett is named after them. Thomas and Mary Tormey do have burial records with St.Paul?s Catholic Cemetery, and their headstone had been relocated once the Cemetery was dismantled.

Along with the original church bell, the painting of St.Paul, as well as the rectory house and remnants of the cement and iron gate around the ball field, this headstone is one of the few visible signs of the original St. Paul?s.

The Tether

The Ba?uelos Family c. 1922 – L-R: Juana, Leandro, Joseph, Maria, Victoria, Salom?

My fascination with the original St. Paul?s Catholic Church and Cemetery stems from the time my t?a told me to wave to my great-great grandfather, Melquiades, as we drove by the baseball field six years ago. It was the first time I fully realized the situation concerning him.?

My great-great grandfather, Melquiades Ba?uelos, came to the United States alone from Zacatecas, Mexico, around 1915 byways of El Paso, Texas, with hopes of escaping the Mexican Revolution. By 1917, he reunited with his wife, Maria, and their (at the time) four children. For a short time, they resided at the Southern Pacific Camp in San Pablo, a residence designated for laborers of the Southern Pacific Railroad. By January 1919, his life was cut short as he suffered from the complications caused by the Spanish Flu just nine days after contracting it. Three days later, he was buried at St. Paul?s Catholic Cemetery. To my knowledge, Melquiades is the only person from my family to have been interred there while a large majority of my family is interred at St. Joseph?s. His gravesite location was lost over time. During the Cemetery?s relocation, was he moved at all or was he forgotten??

I grew up frequenting St. Joseph?s Catholic Cemetery, my first experience with it happened in 1996 for the funeral of my grandfather, Miguel G?mez, who immigrated to the US from Jalisco, Mexico. He eventually settled down in Richmond by the early 1950’s when he married Maria’s Richmond-born granddaughter, Mary Rita Flores. I was not yet five years old when he passed away. The Cemetery visits started becoming a weekly ritual for my mom and me. Each visit, she started to remember where our other family members were buried and I slowly started to learn the histories of our rough past.?

Maria Bañuelos, St. Joseph’s Cemetery, San Pablo

My mom taught me about my great-great grandmother Maria, a victim of tuberculosis who passed away at the? notorious Weimar Joint Sanatorium in Auburn, CA. I learned about Maria?s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, her second husband, and in-laws who are buried in different sections within St. Joseph?s gates.

But with this all said, I can’t learn about Maria’s first husband Melquiades because we can’t find him and his stories were not able to be passed down. Personally, I do not have any photos of Melquiades, just a reissued death certificate and a photocopy of his Record of Funeral from Wilson & Kratzer. Both documents prove his interment at St.Paul’s Catholic Cemetery, however the fact of not knowing where he physically is unsettles me. The reason I am a third generation Richmonder lies with him.

A similar situation has happened to another family, as displayed here on findagrave. The is also an incomplete list of the interments posted there as well. Do you know of anyone who may be buried in the cemetery at St. Paul?

Despite how many decades and generations have passed, the value of remembrance keeps our families alive.

If you have any comments or facts concerning the Old St.Paul’s, please feel free to reach out to the RMHC and share!

References and Supplementary Reads

  • Bastin, D. (2003). Images of America: Richmond. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing.
  • Catholic Dignitaries See San Pablo Church Dedicated (1931, October 26), Oakland Tribune. Retrieved from
  • Celebrate 50th Year of Church (1914, August 12), The San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved from
  • Cole, S.D. (1980). Richmond – Windows to the Past. Richmond, CA: Wildcat Canyon Books.
  • Hansen, B. (1999). From a Rancho to a City Called San Pablo. San Pablo, CA: San Pablo Historical Society.
  • House of Faith (1963, October 13), Oakland Tribune. Retrieved from
  • Knave: San Pablo Church Hits of an Alvarado Hacienda (1966, February 7), Oakland Tribune. Retrieved from
  • Passes Church Plate 49 Years: Fleming of Historic Congregation (1913, June 8), The San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved from
  • San Pablo Catholic Fair a Big Success (1912, September 22), Oakland Tribune. Retrieved from
  • Smith, D. C. (2016). Stepping stones: the story of San Pablo, California, the last small town by the bay. San Pablo, CA: San Pablo Historical Society.
  • Wood for Altar Brought From Spain (1916, October 19), Oakland Tribune. Retrieved from

Opening Reception

Between Two Worlds: Untold Stories of Lao Refugees

Sunday March 1, 2020 at the Richmond Museum of History & Culture

Photo by: Lisa Foote
Photo by: Lisa Foote








On Sunday, March 1, 2020, the Richmond Museum of History & Culture collaborated with the Center for Lao Studies of the traveling exhibit,? ?Between Two Worlds: Untold Stories of Lao Refugees?, to host an opening reception unlike any we?ve had. Despite a couple ominous rain clouds that loomed over the museum and gusty winds, the day was bright with a subtle buzz of excitement that connected all staff and volunteers during our final moments of preparations. This was a reception that embraced history and tradition; inviting guests to reflect on the past as a means to see towards the future.?

It was not long before guests started to funnel in through our courtyard gates. All were greeted with a free reception bag and welcomed to enjoy refreshments, treats, and a plate (or two) of food from the numerous large platters of Lao cuisine generously donated by Champa Garden and the Center for Lao Studies.


Photo by: Lisa Foote




Led by our master of ceremonies, Tony Phouanenavong, we officially started our program with a Baci Blessing ceremony; a practice used to call back the 52 different souls that the Lao believe are housed in each of our bodies. The absence of any one of these souls leads to illness, depression and many other ailements. Golden in color, a small altar stood on a mat in our courtyard. The altar was carefully? prepared beforehand; dressed with greenery, dried marigolds and featured bundles of white yarn, fruit, and snacks. As ceremony leader, Mr. Jiangkhamhe approached the altar the audience suppressed their side conversations, bowing their heads in silence. A prayer hummed through all for a calm and still ten minutes. Now blessed and charged, pieces of white yarn from the altar were distributed among guests and tied around wrists. Three days, that?s how long the strings remained on our individual wrists; allowing ample time for all souls to return. The strings bound our newly returned souls to our bodies.?

Representing a brave ancestral warrior, Mr. Alan Keosaeng followed the Baci ceremony with a traditional Khmu* Sword Dance, used to clear spaces of negative energies. With a sword in each hand, Keosaeng gracefully balanced? them above and around him, dancing as he occasionally clashed the two. With the vibrations of each clash, he cleared negative energy through space. [*Lao ethnic group]







Guest speakers of the program included Melinda McCrary (Richmond Museum Executive Director), Dr. Phoumy Syavong (member of the Between Two Worlds curatorial team), Vinya Sysamouth (Center of Lao Studies Executive Director), and Richmond Khmu community member and Asian Pacific Environmental Network organizer (APEN), Torm Nompraseurt.?







Mr. Nompraseurt?s speech which recounts his observations as experiences as Richmond’s first Lao refugee. It did not take Nompraseurt long after arriving in California in 1978 before he began dedicating any free time he had to invest back into his community, both in Lao and in America. Nompraseurt journey made it possible for many more Lao refugees to find a new home in Richmond, California. With decades of community, he is also a long time APEN community organizer working towards equity and environmental justice.

Click here for video coverage of the sword dance and our guest speakers graciously provided by Richmond Pulse.?

?Between Two Worlds: Untold Stories of Lao Refugees? will up until May 29, 2020. Please check our website or Facebook for the latest?updates!?For more photos on this event, check out our Facebook.

The Between Two Words: Untold Stories of Refugees from Laos (B2W) is a project of the Center for Lao Studies. It is made possible with the generous support from The McConnell Foundation,?Turtle Bay Exploration Park,?California Humanities, and?Central Valley Community Foundation.

Honoring Sgt. John Cortez (1923-1944)

Remembering Sgt. John Cortez on Dia de Muertos & Veterans Day

The Museum is honoring former Richmond resident Sgt. John Cisneros Cortez this year for Dia de Muertos and Veterans Day. We chose to honor John because he is one of a handful of Mexican Americans from Richmond that served in World War II. Over the last several years we have used Dia de Muertos as an opportunity to raise awareness about the history of the local Mexican community by creating an ofrenda for a Latino historical figure. A cousin of John Cortez brought us his story earlier in the year and we knew immediately that we needed to share it.

John was born on October 26, 1923 in San Francisco to Jose and Maria Cortez. His father Jose left his home in Morelos, Mexico at 14 years old and entered the United States at El Paso, Texas. Jose made his way to San Francisco where he was worked as a laborer and a fisherman. During World War I, Jose served in the 41st Transportation Company and he was honorably discharged in June 1919. In 1922, Jose and Maria were married. John was born in 1923. They moved to Richmond shortly after and had another son in 1925. Jose applied to be a United States citizen in 1926.

Jose Cortez Petition for Naturalization

John graduated from Richmond Union High School about 1941 and after high school went to work with his Uncle Andrez at Filice & Perelli Canning Company.

John Cisneros Cortez (ca. 1941)

John signed up for selective service in 1942 boldly writing in ?Mexican? as race on his draft card. John enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in February 4, 1943.? John was assigned to the 551st Bomb Squadron, 385th Bomber Group, trained as a radio operator and stationed at RAF Great Ashfield in Suffolk England.?

John survived his first mission on February 3, 1944, targeting Brunswick an important port city in Germany where the deadly German U-boats were berthed. John would not be so fortunate on his second mission to France. On February 13, 1944, John was flying over Calais France in a B17 Bomber nicknamed “Dragon Lady” when his plane was shot by enemy fire. The engines failed one by one as they continued over the English Channel.

Boeing B17 Fortress Bomber with nose art “Dragon Lady”

Heroically, John continued to make distress calls as the plane went down with no regard for his own safety. John was still making distress calls when the air craft crashed into the open water and sunk in the English Channel. John assisted the wounded to escape only to sink with the plane and he was killed in action. John?s unselfish and gallant actions saved the lives of four crew members who were quickly rescued from the water.

551st Bomb Squadron, 385th Bomb Squadron, Heavy

John is memorialized in the Cambridge American Cemetery in Cambridge England. The extended Cortez family continue to live and work in Richmond, California.


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