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Today’s Alameda Treasure – 1717 San Antonio Ave. – Part 2

The adventures of Captain Charles Lutjens and his Schooner Kate and Anna.

Alameda Post - Detail of 1717 San Antonio Ave.
Current photo detail of 1717 San Antonio Ave. Photo Steve Gorman.
In my last installment, we learned how my own house at 1717 Grand St. is connected to the house at 1717 San Antonio Ave. by a common house number and a clerical error by a census taker in 1940. But that error was a bit of serendipity, since it led me to explore the interesting history of 1717 San Antonio Ave., and the 123-year legacy of the Lutjens family there.
Alameda Post - San Francisco Call article from Oct. 6, 1899
San Francisco Call article, dated October 6th, 1899, describing the gas explosion at 1717 San Antonio Ave.

In Part 1 of this story, I hinted at a harrowing incident at this home that could have destroyed the house and ended the life of Charles Lutjens right then and there. According to an October 6th, 1899 San Francisco Call newspaper article, the Lutjens family had moved from San Francisco to Alameda in early October. A plumber had been working on the home and had evidently left a gas pipe uncapped in the basement. Later, an odor of gas prompted Mr. Lutjens to investigate the situation by entering the basement holding a candle—with predictable results. As the article reports, the kitchen was largely destroyed by the blast and even rooms upstairs were damaged. Three other family members were uninjured, but Mr. Lutjens was badly burned and lost nearly all of his hair in the explosion. Had the gas been allowed to accumulate even longer though, who knows if the house and its occupants would have survived at all. Thankfully, they did survive, and the house still stands today, perhaps a testament to the quality of building in those days.

The Schooner Kate and Anna

Another interesting aspect of this 1899 story is that Captain Lutjens is described as a “retired seafaring man,” and yet he died in May, 1913 while on a voyage in Nushagak, Alaska. Perhaps, as a lifelong sailor he couldn’t retire fully, and embarked on voyages occasionally? Or maybe the damage from the gas explosion required expensive repairs to the house, and Capt. Lutjens needed to work full time again. In any event, that 1913 voyage was his last, and the home he bought for his family at 1717 San Antonio Ave. fourteen years earlier would remain their home for generations to come.

Alameda Post - The schooner Kate and Anna
Rare photo of the schooner Kate and Anna, beached on San Miguel Island in 1902. Photo courtesy the Rawlins family, who were living on San Miguel at the time.

Captain Lutjens and his schooner the Kate and Anna were no strangers to adventure, tragedy and intrigue on the high seas. At various times his ship was suspected of smuggling Chinese immigrants and opium, accused of hunting seals without permit, a drunken sailor once drowned attempting to swim ashore, and there was even an attempted murder-suicide on the vessel. It was in January, 1901 that seaman Miguel O’Brien attempted to kill Captain Charles W. Walker—an employee of Capt. Lutjens, stabbed the cook, and then turned the knife on himself with fatal results. The captain and the cook survived, and an inquest followed. In another incident at sea, in 1892, Captain Lutjens’ vessel was detained by the Russian naval cruiser Zabiaka and charged with seal hunting near the Russian coast. His catch was confiscated, and he was let go with a warning. Captain Lutjens disputed this confiscation and later was awarded compensation by the Russian government after official legal proceedings in a U.S. Court.

The Final Voyage

The final voyage of the Kate and Anna was in 1902, when the schooner had been out from San Francisco since January 20th hunting seals and otters. On the afternoon of April 9, Captain Lutjens sailed the Kate and Anna into Cuyler’s Harbor, on San Miguel Island, part of California’s Channel Islands, to escape a particularly nasty nor’wester’ storm. Before long, the anchor chain broke, and, while trying to avoid the rocky shoals, the ship was driven up onto the beach. The six-man crew escaped, soaking wet, and were given shelter at the island home of Captain W. G. Waters. The Kate and Anna was pounded by surf for hours, filling the boat with sand and causing irreparable damage. Captain Lutjens estimated his losses at $2,000 on the schooner, and about $1,000 on the equipment, plus three lost fur seal skins. The long, adventurous and productive life of the Kate and Anna (1879-1902) was over.

Captain Lutjens would continue his expeditions for the next eleven years until the final voyage in 1913 ended his life too. The life of a sea captain can be adventurous and lucrative, but it can also be dangerous—something Captain Charles Lutjens knew all too well. Click for more pictures and information on the adventures of Charles Lutjens’ schooner the Kate and Anna.

Alameda Post - Death notice for Sophie Lutjens
Sophie P. Lutjens (wife of Charles Lutjens) death notice from 1941.

After Charles’ death, the Lutjens family was left financially secure enough to remain living in the large family home; his wife Sophie remained there for the next 28 years until her passing in 1941. A death notice in the newspaper describes her as a native of Germany and a “pioneer” resident of Alameda for 42 years. After Sophie’s passing, her daughter Alaska Blair inherited the house, along with her husband James Bennett Blair. He was a Tennessee native, and a chemist who worked for the Paraffine Paint Company in Emeryville. The company made not only paint, but also roofing materials.

Alaska and James would have a child, Jane Blair, in 1938. James lived until 1993, and Alaska lived just one more year, passing in 1994. Jane remained living in the house at 1717 San Antonio with her husband Ernest Petersen all the way up to her passing in 2019—Ernest passed in 2018—though there was a 20-year period when she and Ernest lived mostly abroad, working in various developing countries for the State Department.

In my next installment of the story of 1717 San Antonio Ave., we’ll learn more about Charles Lutjens’ granddaughter Jane, how she met her husband in India, and what they did overseas for 20 years. Jane continued her career after returning to Alameda in around 1984 as executive assistant to the Chairman of the Board of Bank of America, and she was also a longtime member of the American Association of University Women. There’s more to the story too—a long-time neighbor and friend of the Blair’s contacted me after reading my first installment to share further details of the Blair-Petersen family and the house on San Antonio Ave.

The story of an old house is not just the story of the wood, plaster and glass, the architectural style, or even the architect and builder. It’s the story of the people who have lived their lives in these houses over the generations. The marriages, the births, the deaths, the whole spectrum of human experience. It’s that hidden history of each and every home that fascinates me, and getting a glimpse into this hidden history is all part of the search for our Alameda Treasures.

Special thanks to Kate McAnaney for archival newspaper article research.
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/.

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