Redwood City might have been known as “Mezesville” forever if not for a group of rebellious squatters who refused to recognize the name of the first development plotted in the mid-1800s.
It was here that landowner Simon Monserrate Mezes attempted to found a town bearing his name after acquiring the property from the powerful Arguello family as payment to help them prove their legal ownership of Rancho de las Pulgasa 35,240-acre Mexican land grant that confirmed lands used by the Arguellos under Spanish rule and encompassed present-day San Mateo, Belmont, San Carlos, Atherton, Menlo Park, Redwood City, and eastern Woodside.
Mezes, a well-connected lawyer who spoke fluent Spanish and English, represented the Arguellos and their enormous rancho at a time when American law began to replace Mexican law when the new government took power. It was Mezes’ job to protect the Arguellos’ property not only from squatters, but also to defend their legal claim to the Spanish land grant before the United States Land Commission.
It took several years, but Mezes eventually won his case on behalf of the Arguello family, and their Pulgas Rancho claim was patented in 1856. As payment for his services, the Arguellos gave Mezes approximately 5,000 acres, including including present-day Redwood City, an area of approximately 5,000 acres. on the edge of the bay with a port for shipping redwood lumber to San Francisco.
Mezes evicted all the squatters from the area and mapped “Mezesville”. He allegedly planned to divide the land allocated to him into plots and sell them to squatters for $75 each. This did not please the squatters, who disliked Mezès to the point of refusing to accept the name of the town. In 1867, the city was named Redwood City and became the seat of the new San Mateo County.
Although no town bears his name, Mezès became one of the main players in land deals on the peninsula. By selling to developers, settlers and land speculators, Mèzes became very rich.
And we cannot forget that it was his vision of “Mezesville” that laid the foundation for Redwood City, which today celebrates a long and storied history as the oldest city on the San Francisco Peninsula. Some of the oldest homes and oldest architecture on the peninsula can be found in the city’s neighborhoods. Here are some highlights:
Lathrop House among the oldest on the peninsula
Benjamin G. Lathrop, the first county clerk, recorder and assessor, was among the first to purchase town land in 1858 on what is now Broadway. He built an elaborate 11-room neo-Gothic mansion in the steamboat stylea design meant to resemble the steamboats found on the rivers of the Mississippi and Ohio Valley in the South.
The house, which was completed in 1863, has two tall, narrow gables at the front and several more around the perimeter roof, all with lance-shaped finials, originally serving as lightning rods. Over the decades, the Lathrop House has passed through many hands and many places. It now serves as a museum at its current location behind the county courthouse at 701 Hamilton Street. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the oldest homes on the peninsula.
Mezesville, the historic district
Although there is no town of Mezesville, there is a neighborhood in Redwood City bearing Mezes’ namesake: The Mezesville Historic District, located in the Centennial neighborhood west of Brewster Street, has streets named after the Mayflower Pilgrims and several streets dating from before 1906. Queen Anne cottages. The houses here were built by carpenters and feature asymmetrical facades topped with steeply pitched, gabled roofs. Some of the Queen Annes in this neighborhood were built in the Eastlake style with added flourishes of intricate lathe details and saw-shaped wood.
The home of Joshua L. Snow, a brick mason, was among the earliest homes here. He purchased land on the corner of Howland and Arguello Streets in January 1866 and built his house a year later. The large two-story house, which has since been modified with two entrances, was designed in the Greek Revival style. It has an imposing temple-shaped gable with a pediment at the top. The house is known as the “Jewel House”, named after its second owner, local farmer Henry Jewel, who purchased it in 1883.
There are also small cottages in this neighborhood that feature single-story front gables with various embellishments. The cottage located at 235 Samson Street is an excellent example of the Queen Anne style. Built in 1902, the house has a semi-hexagonal bay window with a large fish-scale shingle gable and a deep porch. The same pattern repeats itself in the 1902 cottage at 828 Hopkins St.
The Stambaugh-Heller Houses
The Stambaugh-Heller neighborhood, with its tree-named streets, is located south of downtown, off Middlefield Road, which was the main thoroughfare in the 1850s. As a result, you’ll find a few houses built in the mid-19th century. One example is the house at 1018 Main St., near the intersection of Middlefield Road, that owner George Heller, after whom the neighborhood is named, built in 1857. Heller operated a livery stable and worked as a driver diligence. The house was later occupied by John Offerman, a German who operated two stores and a brewery, and who also served as county treasurer.
The most ornate house in the neighborhood is at 446 Heller St. Built in 1885 by Christian Jansen Hynding, owner of the former Redwood City Hotel, the house is one of the most elaborate Queen Anne cottages and features Victorian, two-story tower and other ornately decorative trim at the bay window, main entrance and second-story terrace.
The neighborhood was also home to two brothers from Ohio: Solomon Shultz Stambaugh, who was a doctor, and Wilson Franklin Stambaugh, who worked as a saloon owner and later as a grocer. The neighborhood also takes its name from them. Dr. Solomon Stambaugh built the house at 427 Stambaugh St. in 1875, according to San Mateo County historical data.
Stambaugh Street itself has several addresses listed as built before 1906 (and note that county data regarding construction dates does not always match real estate listings). The Queen Anne theme, consisting of asymmetrical one- and two-story designs with gabled rectangles, is prevalent in the neighborhood.
These pre-1906 homes located in Redwood City neighborhoods north and south of downtown are representative of their era, featuring generally simplified structures with just enough touches of exterior detail that the era demanded.
Parts of this story are taken from “Panel of contributors: Simon Monserrat Mezes, a major player in the first land exchanges in Atherton” by Nancy Lund appeared in the Almanac in 2003 to commemorate Atherton’s 80th birthday.