The story of the Springs as we know it, is a story of real estate. And it’s a sometimes confused and confusing story, because it starts after a war and involves many people and many conflicting land claims. But in California before European contact, the native peoples lived for over 10,000 years. You would think that that would give them some ownership rights, but the Spanish saw only empty wilderness, there for the taking. The original people were dispossessed. That deserves our deeper study.
What we call the Springs is a part of the Rancho Agua Caliente, which was the Mexican land grant from 1836 that stretched from Agua Caliente Creek all the way to Glen Ellen. It was originally granted to Ignacio Pachecho, who deemed it unsuitable for farming. Pachecho gave the land back and parts of it passed to Lazaro Piña, M. G. Vallejo, and many others.
One of the earliest chapters involves one Andrew Heoppner, the music teacher to MG Vallejo’s children. In 1846, Vallejo granted Hoeppner 1000 acres of the Rancho to Hoeppner in exchange for music lessons. Hoeppner was the first person to commercialize the hot springs, in 1847. Later, it came into dispute whether Vallejo held title to that land at the time.
But cloudy titles never slowed down the market in those days.
In 1849, Thaddeus Leavenworth, Mexican war veteran and prominent land swindler in San Francisco, moved to the Rancho, possibly escaping his angry victims in the City.
There he laid claim to 300 acres of land, which encompassed the present day Springs, plus Maxwell Farms. MG Vallejo also claimed this land, so they went to the Land Claims Commission, set up after the war to adjudicate such matters. Leavenworth won, according to historian Robert Parmelee, because he “ had better appearing forged documents…” This was in 1855.
(To make the story even more confusing, Hoeppner was reported to have sold his land to Leavenworth, in 1873!)
In 1882, along came a pair of innocents by the name of Henry and Antoinette Boyes, English gentry. Wishing to establish themselves in Sonoma Valley, they bought 110 acres of Leavenworth’s claim, without making the most basic check of the title. The land already had several owners, and years of law suits followed. The ending was happy for the Boyes, of course. They went on to establish the resort and town that bear their name, but they didn’t get clear title until the mid 1890s.
You can’t sell lots without subdivisions. By 1927 there were twenty subdivisions in the Springs, including the town sites of El Verano, Verano, and Agua Caliente.
Boyes Springs A was subdivided and amended 3 times in 1913
Boyes Springs B Sonoma Highlands-1914
Boyes Springs Hotel Grounds-1916
Fetters Springs Terrace
The Oaks Park
Agua Caliente Park
Town of Agua Caliente
Baron’s Villa Tract
El Verano Villa Assoc. Tract
Sonoma Vista Tract
Creek Front Addition
In 1996 a house sold in Boyes Springs A (bounded by Central and Calle del Monte).
It came with a tattered copy of the bill of sale for the land, which reads in part: “This Indenture, made the 17th day of the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and eighteen, between Boyes Springs Park Co. Inc. and L B. Richards, that the said party of the first part for and in consideration of the sum of ten dollars gold coin of the United States of America, to it in hand paid by the party of the second part, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, has granted bargained, and sold, conveyed and confirmed, and by these presents does grant, bargain and sell, convey and confirm, unto the said party of the second part, and to his heirs and assigns forever all the certain lot, piece or parcel of land, situate, lying and being in the County of Sonoma, State of California, and bounded and particularly described as follows, to-wit: Lot number six in block number twelve, subdivision A in Boyes Springs Park…” That’s interesting, but imagine the buyer’s disappointment when reading on…
“…the said party of the second part, his heirs, executors and administrators, tenants or persons claiming or occupying under them, or either of them, said land or premisses or any part thereof, shall not use or employ nor directly or indirectly suffer, allow or permit any other person or persons whatever, to use or employ said land or premises or any part thereof, for the purpose of carrying on or conducting any species of card or dice playing, gaming or gambling or an notorious or immoral house, or for any other purpose whatever, except solely and exclusively for the purpose of a private dwelling; or use or employ directly or indirectly suffer, allow or permit any other person or persons whatever to use or employ said lands and premises or an part thereof for the purpose of selling, exchanging, bartering or dealing in spiritous or malt intoxicating liquors, wine or cider, nor for any mercantile or manufacturing business.”
Not even cider!
This buyer’s happy ending, of course, was, 1996 was just about the bottom of the market.
Another interesting story from the early days has to do with the subdivision known as the Boyes Springs Hotel Grounds. This subdivision entailed all the land around the present day Sonoma Mission Inn from Northside St. on the north to opposite Calle Del Monte on the south, and from the creek to the highway.
In 1922, Sam Ganos, a Greek immigrant, bought a lot on the highway, possibly with a building, from the Hotel Corporation. On the recorder’s map, this lot is labeled as “grill.” His restaurant, Sam’s Grill, operated until the 1950’s. In 1923, when the terrible fire swept the valley, Sam saved his building by pouring the waters of the hot springs on it, according to the Index Tribune. The building still stands and now house the Taqueria La Hacienda. This blog published an article about Sam and his building previously. A few years ago, his grandson found it and contacted the author, giving him a deeper knowledge of the family history. Todd Ganos:
“My earliest memory is that of being in the restaurant and looking up at my grandfather. They also owned the Big 3 grocery store.
“(My dad was born in 1915.) Our old family friend, Gus Kapranas, … told us that my dad’s birth mother was a young waitress that worked for Sam and her name was Clara. She was born in the US and was supposedly of German and Irish descent. Gus Kapranas said that Sam refused to marry her and she committed suicide when my dad was a year old or perhaps younger. Clara’s parents did not want the child and gave my dad to Sam. According to Gus Kapranas, Sam could not initially care for my dad so he put my dad in an orphanage in San Francisco. My dad spoke of Father Lawry as the Catholic priest who ran the orphanage…At some point, Sam removed my dad from the orphanage and began to raise my dad himself (with Uncle Gus). Gus Kapranas said that people objected to a child being raised in a restaurant without a mother. As a result, Sam, Gus, and my dad moved to Boyes Hot Springs. I believe the timing would coincide with my dad being about 5 to 7 years old, which would be 1920 to 1922.”
He said that Sam Ganos brought Mendel — his stepson — on board at the restaurant and eventually turned it over to him. He said this occurred in the early 1950s perhaps. He seemed to think that Sam’s Grill was renamed to Mendel’s Cafe at that time.
L. E. “BUD” CASTNER
Real estate man and insurance agent L. E. “Bud” Caster held forth from his office in Boyes Hot Springs for over 50 years. Not incidentally he was a director of the Golden Gate Bridge and Transit District for 40 years, which is the longest tenure of any director.
Castner started working life as a logger in Mendocino County, became a doorman in San Francisco, and a collections agent, finally founding his own collection agency. After WWII he moved to Agua Caliente to take up chicken farming, but couldn’t stand the smell. The natural progression was to insurance. (Pause for laugh). He went into business with an established firm in Boyes Hot Springs. Taking over the business when the owner died, he also acquired a partner, Bill Downey, who soon became a judge. Court was held in the back of their building on the highway. Castner leased some of the space in his building to the first doctor, the first dentist, and the first pharmacy in Boyes Hot Springs. (Dr. Michael Makita, Dr. Holly Christenson, and Pine Wagner, pharmacist.) Castner was a Regent of St. Mary’s college in Moraga, which would have been his alma mater if he had graduated. According to Bill Lynch, “The veteran Golden Gate Bridge director was best known for his short fuse, his long friendships, and his devoted service to the bridge district…” L.E. “Bud” Castner died in 1992.