William F. Chipman, first owner of the home at 1290 Weber St. and son of Alameda co-founder William W. Chipman, continued to see success in his career into the 1920s and 1930s. Newspaper ads from the time show his company selling both empty lots and finished homes in what were then known as the Bay Park and Encinal Park tracts of Alameda. These tracts spanned parts of today’s Gold Coast, reaching as far as Washington Park to the west. During this period, Chipman lived in San Francisco with his wife and three children, and maintained offices there and in Alameda.
End of the line for William F. Chipman
On November 28, 1938, an announcement appeared in the Stockton Daily Record with the headline, “Son of Alameda’s Founder is Dead.” After a long illness, William Farragut Chipman died on November 26, aged 72, at Stanford Hospital. His residence at the time was 1100 Union St., San Francisco, where he left behind his widow, Bernice Chipman. William F. Chipman was remembered as a member of the California Historical Society, a long-time businessman in the real estate field, a member of the police and fire commissions, a member of the California Militia, the Sons of the American Revolution, and perhaps most importantly, a good father and husband.
A large age difference and a son from Russia
In Part 2 of this series, we learned about the wedding of William F. Chipman and his bride Bernice Grace Harrell in 1911. What wasn’t mentioned in that story, however, was the age difference between the two. At the time of their marriage—William’s second and Bernice’s first—he was 49 years old and she was 24. That age difference was a contributing factor in her living 29 years beyond his death, until 1967. They had three children: Bernice, Frank, and William, born in 1912, 1915, and 1916, respectively. There was something interesting about Frank that I noticed when looking at the genealogy records, though. Frank, listed in the records as Frank DeForest, was born in Russia in 1915 and immigrated to the United States in 1917. His status with the Chipmans is listed as a guardianship, a legal term separate from adoption but assigning parental responsibilities. Not much more is known about Frank, other than the fact that he is now deceased. But how he came from Russia and into the lives of the Chipmans is another intriguing mystery of this deep dive into the Chipman family history.
Another Chipman steps forward to make a bold land claim
In 1961, Carol Heche (Tripp), granddaughter of William W. Chipman and niece of William F. Chipman, started what newspapers called a “Giant Land Battle” when she laid claim to the landfill created by the Utah Construction Company at South Shore and by the U.S. Navy at Alameda Point. Carol Ely Tripp Heche (1894-1985) was the daughter of Joseph Tripp and Elizabeth Worthington Chipman, who was the daughter of William W. Chipman and Caroline Chipman. Carol first married Roscoe B. Hamilton, and after his death, Arthur Heche. In 1954 Carol wrote a letter to the Oakland Tribune speaking out against plans to fill in the South Shore area, extolling the virtues of Alameda’s natural curved waterfront and casting doubt on plans for an artificial straight beach. In the end, she lost that battle and South Shore was built, with the Utah Company’s dredges pouring millions of cubic yards of sand out into the bay to create land where none existed before.
The stage is set for battle
A March 2, 1961 article in the Oakland Tribune, headlined “Giant Land Battle Set in Alameda,” featured a picture of Carol Heche holding an 1851 document she claimed gave her family rights to the landfill newly created at South Shore. In addition, real estate broker Elinor E. Petersen, as probate purchaser of the estate of the descendants of Alameda co-founder Gideon Aughinbaugh, was also making her own claims on the infilled land. Both women were relying on the 1851 documents showing the purchase of the Encinal de San Antonio by Chipman and Aughinbaugh from Antonio Maria Peralta for $14,000. The central argument of this claim was that the original 1820 Peralta land grant from the King of Spain was bounded on the southwest by the sea.
“In Spanish laws, the lands bounded by the sea are lands that extended to the deep navigable waters of the sea,” Petersen wrote in a court filing in January 1962. At stake in this battle was a 400-acre plot worth hundreds of millions of dollars. As the Utah Company vowed to fight back, several title companies got busy looking into the complicated legal documents that dated back to California’s Spanish colonial period. Did Chipman and Aughinbaugh’s land grant actually extend out into deep navigable waters, or were they limited, as some claimed, only to the ordinary high tide line? While the Utah Company claimed that a land survey showed a line drawn at the high tide line, Mrs. Petersen contended that the map showed a “meander line” at the bay shore, because the government did not expect its surveyors “to go out in the water and drown.”
Yet another complication emerges
As if these title claims weren’t complicated enough, when officials were poring over maps in the wake of the Heche and Petersen suit, a new revelation came to light. It turned out that 38.91 acres at the west end of the Naval Air Station actually belonged to San Francisco. Alameda, and later the Navy, had been filling in parts of the west end for decades, creating airports, train depots, ferry terminals, and finally, the Alameda Naval Air Station. At a certain point, though, the fill crossed over the invisible line into San Francisco territory, which extended unusually far out into the bay. So now, in addition to the 400 acres at South Shore being claimed by Heche and Petersen, the City of San Francisco also had a claim on a part of the Naval Air Station. Of course, as descendants of the holders of Alameda’s land grant of 1851, the two women felt they had a claim on all filled lands, including Alameda Point. At the same time, the City of Alameda was considering annexing the small sliver of disputed land for itself. The 1961 Oakland Tribune article quotes Mrs. Carol Heche calmly saying, “I really didn’t realize there was going to be such an explosion about this. I guess I’ll have to get an attorney now.”
The court speaks
The cases made their way through the courts for a few years, but ultimately Heche and Petersen did not prevail. In 1963, Federal Judge Alphonso J. Zirpoli ruled that an 1874 patent clearly drew Alameda’s boundary at the high tide line. It was true that Spanish law may have originally extended property out into deep navigable waters, but by 1874, with California part of the United States, Peralta’s original grant—part of which he had sold to Chipman and Aughinbaugh in 1851—was superseded by a later agreement called a patent. The judge found that the 1874 patent explicitly described the southwest border as, “…along the Bay of San Francisco, at the line of ordinary high tide.”
The women vowed to appeal this ruling, and still hoped to get $700,000 for the land at Alameda Point, as well as more for the land at South Shore. Then, in January 1964, a three-judge panel of the U. S. Court of Appeals ruled against Heche and Petersen in their suit against the U.S. Government for the piece of land on the Navy base. Though the judges found the women’s presentation “interesting and enlightening,” the court ruled that the meaning of the grant was changed when a new patent was issued in 1874.
A year later the federal government cut a check to the state of California for $13,619 for the submerged land it had claimed in 1956. The recipient of these funds was likely the San Francisco Port Authority, a state agency. The final nail in the coffin was a November 1964 U.S. Court of Appeals ruling on the disputed lands at South Shore. The court ruled in the same way and for the same reasons as in the Alameda Point case. Carol Heche and Elinor Petersen walked away empty-handed, but their case helped to clarify the law regarding 19th century Mexican-American land patents and land/sea borders, as well as the small section of Alameda residing in San Francisco County.
A legacy of Chipman moxie
In Part 2 of this story I noted, “During his life, William F. Chipman wasn’t shy about asking for what he wanted,” and gave a few examples. Obviously some of that assertiveness was inherited by his granddaughter Carol Heche, who put up a years-long fight to lay claim to what she rightly believed was hers, as a descendant of an Alameda pioneer. She may have lost that fight in the end, but the story is an interesting chapter in Alameda’s history, and an unexpected discovery in our look at 1290 Weber St. That’s the thing about looking into our Alameda Treasures. You never know what you’re going to find when you go down that rabbit hole, but the rabbits that pop out are usually pretty interesting.
There may yet be another rabbit or two popping up, but next time we should be able to complete the story of 1290 Weber St. by finally introducing the Hodges family. They’ve been lovingly caring for and restoring the historic former home of William F. Chipman for over 50 years. Look for Part 4 next week in the Alameda Post to learn how Terry and Lynn Hodges came to own this home and what it took to bring it back to the condition it’s in today.
For more on this strange chapter in Alameda history, see the KQED Bay Curious episode, “Why Is Part of Alameda Island in San Francisco?”
Contributing writer Steve Gorman has been a resident of Alameda since 2000, when he fell in love with the history and architecture of this unique town. Contact him via [email protected]. His writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Steve-Gorman.