“If you go anywhere, even paradise, you will miss your home.” – Malala Yousafzai
This is the way most of us feel about our homes. They are our refuge, our sanctuary, the place where we always long to return. 2242 San Antonio Ave. has sheltered many people over the generations, and for 130 years has been the place they’ve called home. Whether it was the Fargos, the McCords, the Ashes, the Strubes, the Smallmans, the Layards, or the Lipows, this grand home has held a special place in the hearts of all who have lived inside it. Even family members who have not lived there since the 1950s still preserve precious memories in the form of drawings, photographs and stories about the house and its inhabitants.
Gretchen Lipow becomes sole caretaker
Some former residents left voluntarily—to get married, follow jobs, or seek out greener pastures. In other cases, they left involuntarily, through death. As Gretchen Lipow adjusted to life without her dear husband Arthur, she still had her family beside her, and a large, historic house that needed her as its sole caretaker. Though she was alone in the house, she wasn’t truly alone. She had children living nearby, boarders living upstairs, and a tenant living in the old carriage house out back, known for some time as simply “the cottage.”
Though Gretchen retired from teaching in 2004, she has remained active in the community, including doing some substitute teaching. She and Arthur had founded the Alameda Public Affairs Forum and the Center for Global Peace and Democracy in the 2000s, and to this day Gretchen remains actively involved in local politics. While interviewing her on her porch one afternoon this past summer I noticed a stack of yard signs for candidates she was supporting for local office.
While sitting on that front porch, I learned what happened to Gretchen’s father, David H. Kittridge (1907-1980), after he helped Diego Rivera paint his famous mural at the 1939 World’s Fair on Treasure Island (See Part 11 of this series.) By the time the fair closed in 1940, World War II was well underway in Europe. By December of 1941, the United States would also be fully engaged in the war, and David Kittridge would serve in the U.S. Merchant Marine, ferrying supplies over to Europe—a dangerous mission, with German U-boats regularly sinking Allied ships in the North Atlantic.
After the war, David suffered from PTSD and drifted away from the family, leaving Gretchen’s mother Ella Winifred Nelson (born 1909) to raise the three children alone. Living on Russian Hill, Ella somehow managed to raise her children and send them to college. Gretchen attended UC Berkeley, where she would meet Arthur Lipow, her future husband.
A rich family history
Ella had an interesting life. Her father, Gretchen’s grandfather John Nelson (1863-1913), a native of Sweden, ran his own lumber mill in the Pacific Northwest near Seattle. Ella was one of six children, and she lost her mother Sophia Lindberg (1868-1911) when she was just 2 years old. Sophia died giving birth to her seventh child, who also died. Her father then died just over two years later at 42 years old, leaving Ella an orphan at age 5. The caretakers of the family house looked after Ella at that point, along with other family members.
Ella grew up to serve as babysitter for the caretakers’ children before starting her college studies at the University of Washington. Eventually, the artistically inclined Ella was sent to the Sorbonne in Paris to study art, paid for by family money left from the lumber business. Later, back in the U.S., she worked for Ladies Home Journal magazine, and married David Kittridge in 1935. Gretchen was born in 1936, with a brother and sister to follow.
AAPS memorializes the home
In her 23 years of ownership of 2242 San Antonio Ave., Gretchen Lipow has been faithful to Jim Smallman’s philosophy of “taking care of the historic houses that will outlive us all.” She has preserved all of its historic elements, while making tasteful and appropriate additions. One such addition is a set of railings and balusters for the front steps. In an early photograph, one can see that there was no center railing, and only very minimal side railings. Gretchen restored this grand entry with period-appropriate railings, for both safety and beauty. She also replaced some interior wallpaper with a style that is less dark, while still retaining historical accuracy.
It was also Gretchen who came to appreciate the first owners of this house, the Fargos, and had it memorialized as “The Fargo House” in 2015 with a plaque from the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society. Who knows that the next chapter of this storied home will be, but hopefully Gretchen has many more years left to care for and enjoy living in this home that has seen so much life and history over the generations.
A final chapter
In our next and final chapter, we’ll recap all of the past owners of this home, include a few as yet unseen photos, and bring the story of 2242 San Antonio Ave. to a close, for now. I say “for now” because history never stops. The story of this home goes on, creating new memories and new stories every day.
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.