Updated: Apr 5, 2019
By Stella Faria, Pinole Historical Society
After the death of my father in a February 1929 explosion in the nitroglycerine plan at the Hercules Powder Company, my mother was forced to move from the company-owned house in the village, which had been in our home for about two-and-a-half years.
We moved to a rental house at 621 Quinan Street, in Pinole. It had only two bedrooms, but one was large enough to hold two double beds, which accommodated four young girls under the age of ten. We had discussions about who slept with whom and whose turn it was to make the bed or tidy up the room. Otherwise, we settled into our new home quickly.
At a Pinole Historical Society meeting on May 4, 2018, I finally found out where the Quinan name originated. Mr. Quinan was a superintendent at the Hercules Powder Company and a close friend of the very influential Edward M. Downer.
Mr. Downer served on the Pinole City Council from 1903 until his death in 1938. Mr. Downer founded the Bank of Pinole and later purchased controlling interest in Mechanics Bank. It may have been Mr. Downer who submitted Quinan as a street name.
Quinan Street is parallel to Tennent Avenue and is only one block long from Tennent Avenue to Park Street. It was just a little street in downtown Pinole, but it is now one of the highlights of Old Town Pinole. Many of the original houses have been restored and some are now small businesses.
In the early 1930s when I was a child everyone was beginning to suffer from what to become the Great Depression. There were at least 20 children from modest families living on that short block. I would like you to know something about the families to which they belonged.
On a corner of San Pablo Avenue and Quinan Street lived Sterling and Mary Kelley and their son, Sterling Jr. Mr. Kelley had a job with Remington Rand; Sterling was an only child so he always seemed to have all the latest and best toys on the block.
The Sassone family lived next door. They were Sterling’s grandparents, since Mary Kelley was a Sassone. They had a son, Arthur, who was a quiet, studious person, so we did not see him very often.
John and Antonia Bispo and their son, Joseph, lived next to the Sassone house. Mrs. Bispo was a very protective mother, so Joe was usually the first one to be called in from our evening street games.
Louis and Maria Marieiro and their son, Armando, were one of the three Portuguese families on the block. Mr. Bispo and Mr. Marieiro were always trying to outdo each other when it came to who had the best, most-productive vegetable garden. Armando had a movie projector and a few silent black & white films, so he provided some occasional entertainment for us in his basement; the price of admission was a safety pin or a penny, if we happened to have one at the time. We left feeling like we had been to a movie in a real theater.
The Manning family, with son, Melvin, and daughter, Leslie, lived in the next house. They had a garage behind their house with a second-story loft, where we held shows and carnivals with games and prizes. We would all dress up in costumes to make the events more colorful.
The Biffords, William and Florence, were the last family with children on that side of the street. Mr. Bifford worked as an accountant for Union Oil Company.
Their children, William (Billy) and Ruth, seemed to have everything a child could wish for. They did not have a car, so Mr. Bifford converted their garage into a completely furnished playhouse, the envy of every girl on the block.
Ruth had a collection of dolls and a fancy buggy in which to show them off. She had everything we needed to go into our make-believe world. We would dress up in hand-me-down ladies’ clothes, high-heeled shoes, gloves, hats and purses, and pretend we were very rich ladies going out of town. I remember our purses had play money and makeup, and we even had those little candy cigarettes, which we felt were a necessity, as very rich ladies surely smoked.
Across the street was the home of William and Josie Hansen, who had three sons: Melvin, Jack, and William (Bee). They were a bit older and spent most of their time building cars. We all looked forward to the completion of their latest car project so we could watch them race it down the stretch of Tennent Avenue to the bay. More often than not there was a crash, which meant going back to the drawing board.
We lived next door to the Hansens. The Freitas girls were Arlette, Celeste, Stella (me), and Beatrice, who lived with our widowed mother, Anna. We all attended the old school on the hill, and usually hurried home for lunch so that we could catch the next episode of “Stella Dallas” on the radio.
We took a bag lunch during the rainy season and sat on the basement concrete floor to eat our lunch and play Jacks or other board games. We all looked forward to playing with our neighbors in the evening after dinner.
The Flores family lived next door to us on the other side. They had a daughter, Katherine, and a son, Louis. Katherine and Celeste became best friends. Mrs. Flores taught them the lyrics and dance steps to “La Cucaracha” and outfitted them in authentic Mexican his-and-hers costumes. They performed at several events in the area and once in Oakland, for which they were highly praised.
On another corner of San Pablo and Tennent lived a single mother with a daughter, Betty Hayes. Arlette and Betty were the same age, so they enjoyed playing together. They lived in an upstairs apartment that was probably connected to the Wilkes Garage property on San Pablo Avenue.
We all have fond memories of living on Quinan Street. Fortunately for my mother, she married a very nice man who became a wonderful step-father who raised me and my sisters as his own. He was always proud of his four girls.
We moved across town to a home on a corner of Peach and Willow streets, where we all lived until we married. It would be nice if every child could have special memories of growing up in a happy, loving place like Quinan Street.