Ye Olden Oakland Days

(Contributed by Oakland Pioneers - No. 47)



On the site of what is now the St. Mark Hotel there once stood a famous boarding school, the College of California then commonly called the Durant College - known to every old-timer as one of the pioneer educational institutions of the state.

It was the foundation and forerunner of the present State University, and its early history should be interesting to the present generation as well as to those who were here during those early days.

The four blocks of land bounded by Franklin, Twelfth, Harrison and Fourteenth were purchased by Henry C. Durant for a college site about the year 1859. Previous to this Durant had established a school on Broadway and Fifth streets called the Villa House, which he rented and with a half dozen pupils laid the foundation for the California State University. In 1860 the first buildings were erected on the college site with Henry Durant as president, I. H. Brayton as principal and Fred M. Campbell as assistant

At first the growth of the school was slow, but as soon as the reputation of the college and its teachers became known pupils poured in, not only from this state, but from other states, necessitating the construction of larger and more commodious buildings. One by one the old oaks were removed and a new building took their place until four large buildings with accommodations for fifteen professors and teachers and an attendance of two hundred and fifty pupils in the year 1868. From this college school graduated some of the most prominent men of this state who received their diplomas from the hands of Dr. Brayton or F. M. Campbell: State Senator Henry Vrooman, Senator John Beard, Congressman John R. Glascock, Garnier Williams, Charles G. Reed, George Reed, Lowell J. Hardy and a host of others, pioneers in the upbuilding of this city and state.

As an institution of learning the college school was a decided success, but as an institution of pranks and tricks it was a public nuisance - not an orchard, potato, corn or watermelon patch was safe from depredation. Chicken roosts were raided, cows milked before daylight, wagons decorated, the limbs of oak trees, and many the barbecue held on the shore of Lake Merritt at the expense of the farmers of this city.

But the boys met their Waterloo and it took the Irish to do it. St. Patrick's Day was about to come with a grand parade in the morning and ball in Shattuck's hall in the evening, so the college boys decided to celebrate.

They consulted a painter, C. B. Rutherford, whose paint store was located where Al Woods' paint store now is on Broadway and purchased a keg of yellow and green paint and the night before St. Patrick's proceeded to camouflage the town. Doors, windows, fences were decorated a beautiful green; horses, painted like zebras. Not even the dogs escaped them. They virtually painted the lawn green. Even the eyes of the people turned green when they saw what havoc had been done.

The parade had formed on Broadway and Third streets with Ed Kelly as grand marshal, when the sound of a drum was heard and down Broadway, led by Bob Williams mounted on a yellow and green horse, followed by Billie and Johnnie Mack bearing a banner mounted on two poles from which dangled two large gopher snakes, with the words painted on the banner "The Original snakes which St. Patrick drove out of Ireland," came about 700 college boys with plug hats painted green and yellow.

Bob reported to Marshal Kelley for a position in line. Kelly's eyes turned green and so did his followers', and then the fun commenced, as Billy Fire Ball said he had not had so much fun since he left old Ireland. The college boys were routed and Dr. Sanford's drug store reaped a harvest in the sale of sticking plaster and healing ointments.

No. 47
Ye Olden Oakland Days

OLD COLLEGE BOYS AND ST. PATRICK'S DAY By HENRY MALOON No. 47 Ye Olden Oakland Days TO BLOG Sun, Aug 21, 1921 – Page 20 · Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) ·

  1. A longer version of this retelling is here, titled "Do You Remember - Old Durrant [sic] College" Oakland Tribune, 28 Jul 1918, Sun, Page 2