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Walnut Creek Magazine

Majestic Trees Tell Stories

Mar 26, 2016 09:42AM ● By Pam Kessler

Walnut Creeks’ first settlers came to the area in 1849 from other states with a spirit of adventure. For the most part, they were farmers. Gold would come to them from planting wheat, oat, fruit and nut trees, and vineyards in the lush soil of the area. During the 1920s-50s, Walnut Creek was an important center of California’s agriculture. Principle crops were pears, walnuts, and exceptional grazing land for cattle. The farmers also planted trees on the sparsely populated land — majestic oaks, palms and walnuts. Some of these trees, along with their stories, remain today. 

The Dewing Home 

 Once a huge ranch owned by an early settler named John Jones, the land was purchased around 1905 by Stephen and Eva Lincoln Dewing who came to California from Connecticut. (Eva Lincoln was a direct descendent of President Lincoln.) Here they raised dairy cows and planted orchards and vineyards. But when their farming ventures did not prove profitable, the Dewings began subdividing their land. Years later their son James Dewing built a craftsman-style house on two-thirds of acre designed by Randolph Hook, an architect who constructed many Walnut Creek homes during the era. Completed in 1915, the “California Bungalow” has been passed through generations of the Dewing family. Carole and Tom Dewing still reside in the lovely old home today that sits under a date palm tree heralding back to 1853 when it was first planted on the Jones ranch. The tree has grown taller than the house and is a landmark in the upper Saranap neighborhood.

The Struby Carriage House 

In 1897, Papinta (Carrie Holpin) bought 162-acres of land where Orchard Estates Drive, Bowling Green Drive, and Burlington Way now sit in northeast Walnut Creek. A famous professional dancer, Papinta performed all over the world including the 1883 Chicago World’s Fair. She danced barefoot in yards of silk creating the illusion of butterflies, birds and flames surrounding her. Through her work as an exotic dancer, Papinta earned the money to pursue her true passion: developing a thoroughbred race horse farm and track, along with a one-acre aviary for exotic birds known as “Euphorbia Gardens.”Across the street from Northgate High School, her “Palm Walk” remains today lining the driveway that once was a carriage lane from her home to the stables. 

Four Winds Farm

In 1935 John and Jerry LarRieu purchased 10-acres of land in the Walnut Heights neighborhood of Walnut Creek to build a country estate known as Four Winds Farms. “Punk” Vaughn, a professor at UC Berkeley, landscaped the property where they raised pedigree chickens, ducks and pigeons. An architect named Valentine designed the home, guest quarters and namesake windmill. It was a “La Jolla” style home with a terra cotta tile roof and brick coated in white paint. A philanthropist, Jerry was a founder of John Muir Hospital and the Lesher Center, and after her death at age 101, she left over $5 million to her favorite charities, which included the City of Walnut Creek, who got her Four Winds Farm estate. While the house is now gone, the trees that grace this Walnut Creek public treasure remain along with spectacular views of Mt. Diablo and the surrounding open space.

  • Sources: “Legacy Homes and Their Stories” by Sally Ingraham- a local realtor for over 30 years and charter member of the Walnut Creek Historical Society.
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