Local History and Genealogy Notes

  • Chris Beck and Others photo

    Chris Beck and Others

Who Were the Becks?

An application to demolish a home that was once owned and occupied by Chris and Lucille Beck was reviewed by the Petaluma Planning Commission meeting on March 25, 2014. The house is located in an area known as Cedar Grove Park which is bound by Petaluma Boulevard North to the west, the Petaluma River to the northeast and Lakeville Street to the south.IMG_0109

During the meeting the question of when the house was built was discussed. An evaluation prepared in 2002 states that "the single story hipped roof house appears to have been first constructed in the 1930s." A planning commissioner as well as a member of the public stated that the house was more likely constructed in the teens or early 1920s. Further research is needed to determine whether or not that is the case. Meanwhile, knowing a bit more about Chris and Lucille Beck may be of interest.


I first came across the name Chris Beck while gathering information on the Sonoma County Fair back in 2011 in preparation for a 75th anniversary museum exhibit. Chris Beck joined the Sonoma County Fair Board in 1949 and replaced Joseph T. Grace as president in 1956, the same year he was killed in an airplane crash. The plane was piloted by Mr. Beck and his passengers Louis Basso, a Sonoma County Fair concessionaire, and Kenneth J. Carter, Sonoma County Fair manager also perished. Beck Arena at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds was named in honor of Chris Beck.

Chris Beck was born in Petaluma in 1905 and was the son of Christian H. Beck and Elise Bahr Beck, natives of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. According to the census Chris was living on Magnolia Avenue with his parents, maternal grandfather and two young cousins: Sophie Bundesen and Edna Prizgint in 1910. Chris Beck, Sr. operated a poultry ranch.


Lucille, Chris’ wife, was born in 1903 in Nevada to Julian and Veronica Birdart Giraud, both of whom were French. In 1910 the Giraud family, which included Mr. and Mrs. Giraud; Lucille and her two sisters: Eugenia and Dorothy and brother Julian, were living in Battle Mountain, Nevada where Julian, Sr. raised sheep. The family later moved to Petaluma and resided on Gossage Avenue. Julian died in 1928, the same year that Lucille and Chris Beck married.

In 1930, Chris and Lucille Beck resided with Chris' parents at 827 B Street. The census for that year lists both Christian H. Beck and his son as livestock dealers. Lucille is employed as a merchant working at an art goods store. According to voter registration records Chris and Lucille remained at 827 B Street through 1938.

In April of 1940, when the census was taken, Chris Beck owned and occupied a home on Cedar Grove Park along his wife and two lodgers: August Lauritzen and David Pepper. The census taker valued the house at $4,500.

According to city directories, Chris, Lucille and Veronica Giraud were still living at Cedar Grove Park in 1950; however, at the time of Chris' death in 1956 their residence was 40 La Cresta Drive.

Petaluma Argus Courier articles from November 1956 tell of how Chris Beck, Louis Basso and Kenneth J. Carter had flown to Wilcox, Arizona in Mr. Beck's Beechcraft Bonanza, a single engine plane. Mr. Basso owned a cotton ranch near Wilcox. Rather than flying back to Sonoma County, the men decided to fly first to Los Angeles where they planned to spend a day or two. After taking off from Wilcox the plane reached an altitude of about 500 feet when it suddenly dove straight back down into a field, exploding as it struck the ground.


The same articles describe Chris Beck as one of the West's best known livestock buyers who owned a wholesale meat business in Petaluma for many years, was a part owner in the Petaluma Livestock Commission and retained extensive ranching interests in Sonoma and Marin counties. In addition, Mr. Beck was a member of the Petaluma Elks Club, Odd Fellows, Eagles, Optimist Club, Sonoma County Trail Blazers, Cow Mountain Hunting Club and the Petaluma Golf Club. Mr. Beck was survived by Lucille (1903-1989) and their sixteen year old son, Chris Hansen Beck (1940-2012).

Then & Now

It's been nearly two months since my last post. Believe me it hasn't been for lack of subjects. I probably have an idea a day for a blog post. Time of course is an issue. I'm challenged in that I find so many things that interest me. Working here at the Sonoma County History & Genealogy Library means I'm constantly coming across photos that literally call out to me begging for further research and sharing. As many of you know I'm not one to just look at an image. I have to investigate it for all the stories it may be able to tell. That investigation often leads to "field visits."

I had an appointment at 9 AM on B Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets in Petaluma which ended at 10 AM. Not having to be at work in Santa Rosa until 12 PM meant I had time to check out a couple of buildings on Kentucky Street that I'd been thinking would be good candidates for a then and now feature.

The results of this mornings sleuthing and an hour worth of research, writing and formatting (believe it or not!) are below. Of course I'd love to share the history of each building - things that can be learned here at the Library, but thought I ought to just get this published and hopefully peak your interest to not only visit the Library, but to take a walk. Be sure to view the rear of 147 Kentucky Street from Telephone Alley.



Then137 Kentucky Street, Petaluma - 1914. SCL Photo No. 35200.

Happy Thanksgiving - Max Poehlmann

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I thought something on Max Poehlmann, who not only hatched chickens, but also turkeys at his Petaluma Boulevard North facility, was in order.

Max W. Poehlmann was born on June 16, 1890, in San Francisco. His parents were Frank and Bertha Poehlmann. When he was 10, Max moved to Petaluma where his father established the Poehlmann Tannery on Wilson near Jefferson Street.

The family lived at 744 B Street and as a teen, Max was employed at his father's tannery, but by the time he registered for the draft in 1917 he was residing in Seward, Alaska working as a fisherman.

According to Ernest Finley’s History of Sonoma County, Max also did a bit of mining and prospecting as well as railroad work while in Alaska.

When Max returned to Petaluma after serving in France during World War I, he joined his parents in their newly established hatchery business at 620 Main Street (now 620 Petaluma Boulevard North).

In 1921 Max married Nell Jones, a native of Texas. A year later his father passed away leaving the hatchery to be run by Max and his mother. The business prospered and in 1927 the Poehlmanns hired Oscar Johnson, a local contractor, to build a new hatchery.

By 1937, the hatchery had a capacity for 250,000 eggs at one time and was producing up to one million chicks per year. This same year, Max and his partners: brother-in-law, Nathan C. Thompson, and William H. Warner, a poultry specialist associated with Utah State agricultural college, purchased the Yolupa Ranch located on Carriger Road in El Verano where they raised broad-breasted turkeys.

Poehlmann was apparently successful enough in the turkey hatching industry to be hailed as a pioneer by Petaluma Argus Courier in their 1941 85th Anniversary Edition.

In 1948 the El Verano ranch consisted of 650 acres dotted with dozens of 20x20-foot pens, each housing 400 baby turkeys, and heated by 20 Jamesway butane gas brooders.

In addition to the El Verano ranch and the Petaluma hatchery, Poehlmann Hatchery, Inc. (incorporation occurred in 1953) had a plant in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Several sources state that the Poehlmann Hatchery closed in 1970 when Max Poehlmann retired. Not clear is whether this included the El Verano ranch and the Salt Lake City plant as well or if those two properties ceased operation prior to 1970.

I may just have to drop Keith Poehlmann, surviving son of Max and Nell, a note. According to a directory, Keith was vice president of Poehlmann Hatchery in 1965 and by performing a simple Google search it appears that he currently lives in the City of Napa.


Biddle, George, ed. Western Poultry History. First Edition. Privately printed: Pacific Egg & Poultry Association, 1989.

Finley, Ernest Latimer. History of Sonoma County. Santa Rosa: Press Democrat, 1937.

Lowry, Thea, ed. Petaluma Poultry Pioneers Recall the Heyday of Chicken Ranching. Ross: Manifold Press, 1993.

Lowry, Thea. Empty Shells: The Story of Petaluma, America’s Chicken City. Novato: Manifold Press, 2000.

Petaluma Argus Courier. May 5, 1980, page 3A – “Max Poehlmann, Early Name in Poultry, Dies.”

Petaluma Argus Courier. May 9, 1941, Section B, page 5 – “Poehlmann Pioneered Turkey Hatching Here.”

Petaluma Argus Courier. February 17, 1939, page 8 – “Mrs. Bertha Poehlmann, Loved Petaluma Pioneer, Called to Rest Following Illness.”

Petaluma Daily Courier. June 23, 1927, page 4 – “Mechanic Dies as Trusses in New Building Collapse.”

Polk, R. L. and Company. Petaluma Directory. Montgomery Park: R. L. Polk & Co., 1965.

Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino Counties Telephone Directory. 1955










A Visit to Cypress Hill Memorial Park on Veterans Day 2013

Last Monday I walked to Cypress Hill Memorial Park for no particular reason other than it is a great destination walk and only about a mile and a half from my house.

I enjoy checking out the different styles of tombstones and reading the inscriptions. One of these days I’d like to organize a tour that highlights not only the history of the cemetery and those buried there, but the architecture and symbolism of the grave markers themselves. The Sonoma County Library has a great book on the subject called Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography written by Douglas Keister that I’d reference.

This tour might include the grave of Albert Frederick Adams which caught my eye on Monday, perhaps because it was Veterans Day.


At first glance one might think that since the year of death on this headstone is 1924 that that is when the stone was made. Not true.

Jess E. Dabner of the American Legion, Post 28, applied to the War Department for the headstone on January 24, 1939. It was shipped to the cemetery on March 16, 1939.

Born on February 16, 1896, Albert was a Petaluma native. His parents were Robert S. and Amelia Adams. Robert Adams was Petaluma’s fire chief at the time of his son’s death. Albert and his brother, Robert, Jr. grew up in the family home at 2 Keller Street, which was located where a portion of the A Street parking lot is today.

Prior to enlisting in the United States Navy, in July of 1917, Albert worked for Jack Morris on Western Avenue as a shoe maker.


Albert was discharged from the Navy on October 2, 1919, having served as a Pharmacist Mate 2nd Class.

Despite his medical training, Albert continued in the shoe business when he returned to Petaluma. According to the Census, he worked as a salesman at a shoe store in 1920.

The California Death Index states that Albert died in San Francisco where he may have been living. San Francisco city directories do list an Albert Adams, shoemaker, residing at 3551 24th Street in 1921 and 1923.

On July 17, 1924, the Petaluma Argus reported that “all of the city offices of this city will close at noon tomorrow as a token of respect to Fire Chief Robert S. Adams so long and so prominently connected with city affairs and the flag at city hall will fly at half mast out of respect to Albert Adams. The young man’s father has been for many years the efficient chief of the fire department and the dead youth was born and reared within the shadow of the city hall.”

The funeral took place at the John C. Mount parlors under the auspices of the Odd Fellows.

No cause of death is specified in any of Albert’s obituaries. A death certificate would provide that information and because Albert died in San Francisco, that is where I’d need to go.

For $16, and a visit to the San Francisco County Clerk, I could discover what took the life of this young World War I veteran. In the meantime, I’m happy to have learned a bit more about those who occupy Petaluma’s past.

Research for this article provided by Sonoma County History & Genealogy Library volunteer, Barbara McFarland.







Beautification Project at 330 Western Avenue, Petaluma, CA

Plans are underway to spruce up the old gas station at the corner of Western Avenue and Howard Street that was most recently occupied by the Cotija Restaurant.

I’ve often dreamed of purchasing this building and fixing it up. I think it would make a great spot to operate an ice cream shop, sell pizza by the slice and the like. Such a perfect location being across from the very active St. Vincent’s Parish Hall and just down the street from City Hall.

Apparently I am not the only one with a vision for this site. Marla Pedersen, a St. Vincent’s High School art teacher, has already begun working with her students to beautify the gas station that has sadly become an eye sore and graffiti magnet as it sits year after year vacant and waiting to be purchased.

Ms. Pedersen’s students are painting murals and doing a bit of landscaping. The Howard Street façade will include a tribute to the history of the building as a gas station which as far as I can tell dates back to the late 1940s when it was first operated by brothers, Clyde and Ted Zimmerman, as a 76 station. Later, Harry Park established a Richfield Service Station and then an Arco Station at this location.

The gas station was converted to a restaurant around 1979 when Pete’s Steak Sandwich moved in. Later there was the Rib Station and then of course Cotija Restaurant (sources: 2008 Phase I Environmental Site Assessment prepared by ECON, obit for Clyde Zimmerman, PAC 1/25/60, obit for Harry G. Park, PAC 7/19/82).

The work being conducted by the St. Vincent’s students is terrific and if you’d like to support their efforts please contact Marla Pedersen at mpedersen@svhs-pet.org.

With improved curb appeal the chances of a sale will hopefully increase. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that someone with a lot of spare cash will be inspired to invest in the property and follow the example of Brian Noyes who converted a 1921 Esso filling station located in Warrenton, Virginia into the Red Truck Bakery.

Meanwhile I’ll keep buying those lottery tickets!