Friday, March 3, 2017

The Hermann Mohr House in Hayward - Hidden History Revealed

Hermann Mohr House (Cronin House)
For those who grew up in or around Hayward, there are several historic family names that may be familiar including Meek and McConaghy. While the Meek House and the McConaghy House represent examples of the county's historic past, there is another historic home that has been literally abandoned and forgotten over the years.

The Hermann Mohr House (sometime's spelled Herman Mohr), otherwise referred to as the Cronin House, is situated at 2595 Depot Rd, in a little community known as Mt. Eden within Hayward, California. The home is just a short walk away from Mt. Eden Cemetery, where the real story behind the home starts. The backstory to this beautiful home starts with Herman's parents, Cornelius and Cecilia Mohr.

Cornelius was born on January 8, 1822, in Schleswig-Holstein, which is located at the most northern point of Germany, but at the time it was considered part of Denmark. Born of Danish-German ancestry, Cornelius came to the United States after spending many years working on whaling ships.
The City of Hayward's documented historical papers state that while in San Francisco, Cornelius took up carpentry and then joined a freight sloop at the San Francisco Bay. He later joined a threshing team on the Joel Russell farm in Mt. Eden, which is how he came to the area and worked hard to purchase his own plot of land to farm.

By 1856, Cornelius had purchased 200 acres from Joel Russell in order to raise cattle, horses and also grow barley and wheat. He became so successful in his endeavors he quickly accumulated a vast area of land which spanned from areas in Hayward, Pleasanton, along Niles Road, and all of the land where the Hayward Golf Course sits, too. Wide West Newspaper, dated May 10, 1857, notes the marriage of Cornelius Mohr to Cecilia Toaspern on May 3, 1857, which was officiated by Reverend A. Kellner. Their union produced seven children: Henry, John, Willie, Anna, Paul, Hermann and William.  Sadly, Cornelius and Cecilia would lose their first child at the young age of 8, when Willie Mohr died from what I assume was a childhood disease or illness of some sort in 1869. I could not find an obit for his death so the cause of death is uncertain.

Mohr Family Plot
By 1876, Cornelius had a beautiful Italianate home built on a 280-acre estate. The home still stands today next to Chabot College on Hesperian Blvd. Built with 25 rooms (14 of which were bedrooms), the property also consisted of a carriage house and cottage, stables and other structures. The stables were built to hold up to 32 horses. Among the structures on the property there was a blacksmith shop, a barn and a tank house.  (The size of property itself was reduced after 271 of the 280-acres were seized by way of eminent domain to construct the newer Chabot College in 1961.)

Cornelius Mohr worked hard as a farmer, land owner and a man who helped employ many new immigrants who came to the area looking for work. He also donated land for Mt. Eden Community Church, Mt. Eden Presbyterian Church and Mt. Eden Union Church (Protestant) as well as being a trustee for the Mt. Eden Grammar School District.

The Mohr family along with the community of Hayward suffered a great loss when Cornelius passed away in 1880, leaving a huge fortune behind to his wife and children.  Cecilia  passed away in 1891, and the rest of her surviving children inherited the family estate. Unfortunately Paul and John passed away in 1895, and then Anna passed away in 1897, leaving Henry, William and Herman left to inherit the bulk of the family business and properties to be divided among themselves.

Henry Mohr took the family's 685-acre estate in Pleasanton, including the beautiful the two story English-Mohr house set on the property. He cultivated grain and sugar beets on the land, but also bred Clydesdale horses, too. The home remained in the family's care until his daughter's deaths, after which the home was left abandoned and in a state of disrepair. Unfortunately, by the 1990's neighborhood delinquents burned the house down and the history of the home burned along with it.

William Mohr inherited the family farm on Hesperian Blvd (next door to Chabot College), He is remembered for his love of  hybridizing plants successfully, including iris, lilly, tulips and other species. Unfortunately he met an untimely death in 1923, when he and his wife, along with passengers in their vehicle were struck by a train on the Southern Pacific line just four miles north of Willows, California at a railroad crossing. During adulthood, his daughter Marian later took over the property with her husband and kept the home and farm going until the college was built around the property, leaving just enough land surrounding the home and structures to preserve the Mohr estate, which still remains today.

And finally, Hermann Jasper Mohr inherited a 280-acre estate in Mt. Eden. By the 1900 Census, he is listed as a farmer, but later he decided that he didn't want to continue the family business of agriculture. Instead, he chose to break up his share of the family farmland, subdivide it and sell it, in order to finance his passion in the arts and travel. And that is where the beginning of the story for this house starts.

Herman Mohr was born on November 7, 1869. His 1913 Passport application describes him as being 6 foot 1 inches tall, having blue eyes and light brown hair. He married Louise Katie Behrens in San Francisco on September 25, 1898. The couple did not have children.

Hermann Jasper Mohr House 

History of the Home

Designed by architect Thomas Newsom, the home on Depot Road was constructed for Hermann Jasper Mohr and his wife around 1900, and was nicknamed "The Sea Breeze." The May 23, 1900, edition of the Oakland Tribune mentions the home and states:

"Mt. Eden is a progressive little country town of ancient origin and has as thrifty and well-to-do people as any small town of its size in the State. Diversified farming is carried on here, and as good salt is produced from the salt beds and can be had anywhere. The improvements of the past two years are noticeable to a marked degree, there  have been erected one merchandise store, five as neat cottages as can be found in the county, and two mansions which are a credit to any community, Mr. Herman Mohr's "The Sea Breeze," and Miss Gading's fine two story dwelling. Mr. Mohr's residence is built upon the colonial style, and presents a fine appearance, while it is furnished within with electric lights and all the conveniences of a city residence."---

The 1900 and 1910 census records show the Mohr's residence in Mt. Eden, although their U.S. Passport records show that they also had residences in S.F. and later in Oakland. The couple traveled a lot.  By 1916, Louise's passport application alone states their intention to "travel to New Zealand, Australia, Java, Japan and China" that year. By 1920, their passport applications listed their primary residence in Oakland. That year they listed their intent to visit "Japan, China, French Indo China, India, Siam, Dutch East Indies, Straits Settlements, New Zealand, Australia, Columbia, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Argentine, Uraguay and Paraguay."

Hermann Jasper Mohr

Besides being avid world travelers, the Mohr's were also licensed attorneys (both Hermann and Louise). Hermann was also listed as a "Farmer & Banker." According to California Death records, cross referenced with the Social Security Death Index,  Hermann Mohr passed away on June 22, 1942 and was buried at Cypress Lawn Cemetery in Colma. Ten years later, his wife passed away on February 11, 1952, at her home in Redwood City, California, after suffering from a long illness.  She was interred with her husband.

Louise Katie Behrens Mohr
It seems that at some point during the mid to late 1930s-1940s the home on Depot Road was transformed into a Sanitarium of sorts. Many assume that means that mentally ill people were treated or lived there, but that isn't always the case. Sanitariums during that time period were more like health resorts, while Sanitoriums were usually places for those with extreme illness (fatal to chronic) such as tuberculosis. Asylums were the type of places for the mentally ill.

I could not find any records online about the facility treating the mentally ill, so it is anyone's guess for now. I found several ads for jobs placed in various newspapers listing the facility as the Dar-Dell Sanitarium which was closely associated with the Dar-Dell Lodge in Berkeley. The last ad posted for the location on Depot Road I could find was dated 1976.

It appears that the facility was closed and abandoned either in the late 1970s or around 1980, until Horizon Services purchased the property and built their "Cronin House" facility on the same lot. That is how the name "Cronin House" has become associated with the property. The house has been closed up and dilapidated for many, many years which makes me think the hospital was shut down in the 70s rather than the 80's.

I spoke with someone who was born and raised in Hayward, who explained that he used to roam around the old building in the early 1980's, when his father was assigned to mandatory AA meetings at the newer building on the property. He said that he was very drawn to the old house and even attempted a few times to enter the empty, neglected home just out of sheer curiosity since everyone thought of it as a "haunted house." He said even back then in the early 80's it was in disrepair and forgotten.

It hasn't changed much if you drive by it today. It is very obvious that at some point the exterior of the beautiful home was remodeled, warping the original features of the home's design. The deteriorating rooftop, the peeling paint and dry-rot wood gives off an emotion of sadness. If only those walls could speak to us, and tell us the stories of that home's past.  But now you know some of the history of this property, including some of the Mohr family history as well.

Happy History Hunting!!

A forgotten treasure in Hayward's historic past!
(J'aime Rubio, Copyright 2017--

Photos of House and Cemetery, J'aime Rubio
Sketch of the home (courtesy of R. Boulware)
Herman Jasper Mohr and Louise Mohr's photos courtesy U.S. Passport Applications, 1920.
Thanks Roland Boulware and  John Marshall for your help with this! :-)

Historic Context Statement for the City of Hayward; Social Security and California Death Index;
Family Search;;  Findagrave; Census Records 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910;
California Great Registers; U.S. Passport Applications 1913, 1916, 1920;
"Do You Remember"- by Ann Homan, Independent, April 26, 2007;
Oakland Tribune, May 23, 1900; Feather River Bulletin, September 1972; The Argus, December 7, 1976; Santa Ana Register, July 24, 1923; San Francisco Call, September 29, 1898; Wide West, May 10, 1857; Pacific Rural Press, August 5, 1876; American Iris Society, William Mohr Medal.

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