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Livermore History - Ravenswood

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More Ravenswood Photos:

Previous Page     Historical Photos
Page 1:  The Property and Description
Page 2:  Cottage & Carriage Barn
Page 3:  Main House
Page 4:  Winery and Vineyard Workers
Page 5:  Family Portraits

Ravenswood Events Calendar
    Current Photos
Page 1:  Outside views of the cottage and house
Page 2:  Inside the cottage
Page 3:  Inside the cottage, continued
Page 4:  Inside the house
Page 5:  The Carriage Barn and Winery
Page 6:  Ravenswood Ice Cream Social
Page 7:  Docents on Niles Canyon Railway
Page 8
:  Victorian Storybook Tea
Page 9:  Ice Cream Social 2005
Page 10:  Ice Cream Social 2005: Victorian Games
Page 11:  Ravenswood Victorian Yuletide

Next Page


Historical Photos of the Property
See Ravenswood Description below.

The Livermore Heritage Guild has several publications about Christopher Buckley and Ravenswood available.  See the Publication List.


Ravenswood Main House and Cottage. One of the Redemptionist Father's is standing in the center. The Fathers took over in 1931 - naming Ravenswood "Villa San Clemente"


Buckley Estate. From Alameda County Illustrated, Oakland Tribune, 1898.


Probably in the 1940s.


Ravenswood, looking South at the main house.  On the right is the Carriage Barn

 

The following Ravenswood description was supplied by the Ravenswood Progress League.
Used by permission

Christopher Augustine Buckley, Sr., the man who built Ravenswood, was born on Christmas Day in New York City, the son of Irish immigrant parents. He lived from 1845 to 1922. He moved to San Francisco with his family at the age of 17 and became a bartender--a "mixologist" he liked to call himself--in the City's financial district. Later, he used contacts made behind the bar to enter the wide-open world of 19th century politics and mastered the art of back-room wheeling and dealing. Known as the "Blind Boss" of San Francisco, his own saloon, the Alhambra, was nicknamed "Buckley's City Hall" He had gone blind at about age 30, probably from the effects of untreated glaucoma. Despite the blindness, and though he never held elected office, he ruled the Democratic Party in San Francisco, and the state, for almost two decades.

His political power made him wealthy, and in 1885, he bought 100 acres in the Livermore Valley to build a summer home for his bride, Elizabeth Hurley of Boston. The Buckleys traveled frequently from their San Francisco home to Livermore, and to Europe where the Boss consulted eye specialists in an on-going effort to regain his eyesight. When they were at Ravenswood, they gave literary parties and dances that were faithfully reported on the local Society Page.

The Cottage. Widowed in 1889, the Boss married Elizabeth's cousin, Annie Marie Hurley, in Boston in 1890. Their only child, Christopher Augustine Buckley, Jr. was born in London, England in June, 1893. This new, expanded Buckley family called the turreted building their Cottage. The architectural style is Queen Anne, it is approximately 40 by 50 feet, is built of redwood and has the typical Victorian floor plan of a central front-to-back hall and four main rooms.

The Main House was built in 1891 at a cost of $8,000 and provided expanded space for the Buckley’s frequent entertaining. The Main House appears to be two-story, but in fact has only one floor, with a high attic and a Billiard Room in the basement. It is Queen Anne style, with Eastlake influence, is approximately 50 by 80 feet, and contains two main rooms -- the Drawing Room and the oak-paneled Dining Room -- a butlers pantry, kitchen, and a bath and servant's room.

In the Drawing Room is an enlargement of the only known photograph of the interior of Ravenswood. Published in January, 1896 by the Livermore Herald, it shows the opulence and clutter that was fashionable in the last years of the 19th century. The carpeting was teal blue and gold, to match the window seat cushions, and draperies were gold and maroon. As a guest of the Buckleys, you could sink into an over-stuffed, tasseled Turkish Chair and put up your feet on a fur-covered footstool, while one of the house waiters brought your refreshments. Victorian luxury!

Downstairs is the Billiard Room, which was finished in the fall of 1896. It originally contained the Boss' Brunswick billiard table. During the time the Redemptorist Fathers lived here, this room was used as a library.

The Gardens. Ravenswood in the 1890's was famous for its beautiful grounds. The original landscaping was done by a French landscape architect and included extensive rose gardens--an early description speaks of "Happy and rose-embowered Mr. Buckley..." One hundred years ago, the privet-like euonymous near the gravel paths were probably hedges, not the sculptured trees you see today. Also original are the Canary Island date palms on the north side and across the front of the Main House.

The Carriage Barn, has yet to be restored and the cool, dark interior is as it was in 1885. The Buckleys, because of their frequent house parties and guests, owned more than the usual number of carriages and this building is considered large for rural carriage barns of that time. After crossing the Bay by ferry, then south by train and through Niles Canyon, family and friends would arrive at the 1892 Livermore Southern Pacific depot and make the two mile trip to Ravenswood by carriage. Originally, there was a shed on the right side of the building for horse stalls and the coachmen and stable hands lived upstairs.

Somewhere near the barn would have been the corral for Ephraim, the Buckleys' famous boxing donkey. Trained in the art of prizefighting by Alex Greggains, the Boss' bodyguard, aide, and lifelong friend (and a former heavyweight himself), the donkey was "the sensation of the Livermore valley." Ruthless in the boxing ring, Ephraim was nevertheless gentle enough for 4-year-old Chris, Jr. and his young friends to ride at a children's party on July 10, 1897.

The Tank House was a necessity of any rural Victorian home. With its redwood tank on top, it was not only the estate's water system, but also housed servants' quarters upstairs and a summer kitchen downstairs, presided over by the Buckley’s Chinese cook, Hee Gong. The well and windmill which supplied the water was located to the south of the Tank House. It is depicted in an 1899 sketch, along with two more windmills and water tanks, one by the Carriage Barn, and one near the winery.

Buckley's Winery was built in 1890 and a brandy distillery was added in 1897. When the Boss became a winemaker, he researched grape varieties that were resistant to phylloxera, the root mite which, combined with Prohibition, almost wiped out the early wine industry both here and in the Napa valley. In 1891, he was growing twelve grape varieties--including Zinfandel, Folle Blanche, and Muscat de Bordelais--all sold and shipped in bulk. Buckley was one of the founding members of the original Livermore Valley Winemakers and Grapegrowers Association.

Irish whiskey may also have been to the Boss' taste.  In May, 1931 when the Redemptorists took possession of Ravenswood, they noted finding "about 100 old whiskey barrels"; six months later, Federal prohibition agents appeared at Arroyo Road and "ordered the old whiskey still demolished."  The Fathers quickly complied.

The Redemptorists.  In 1931, Chris Buckley, Jr. sold Ravenswood to a Roman Catholic order; known as the Redemptorist Fathers, the order's proper name is The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.

The order was founded by an Italian priest, Saint Alphonsus Liguori, in Naples in 1732.  Its purpose was missionary work among rural people.  Spreading through northern Europe in the 18th century, the order was brought to America in 1832.  By early 1900's, the Redemptorists' West Coast headquarters were in Oakland.  Their juvinate, or seminary, was over-crowded and Ravenswood, renamed Villa San Clemente, was purchased as the site of the new college for the priesthood.  For financial reasons, this never occurred.

The approximately two dozen fathers who made Villa San Clemente their home in 1931 had dwindled to 3 or 4 by 1965, at which time the community moved to San Francisco.  Today, the order concentrates is missionary work in inner-cities and third-world countries.  It's Western Province headquarters are located in Denver, Colorado.


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