By George R. Vincent, Co-founder Pinole Historical Society
The home of one of Pinole’s leading ladies of the past is today a town landmark, which, unlike so many local structures, has withstood the ravages of time and the wrecking ball.
The stately gray and white Pfeiffer House is a main street architectural reminder that Pinole has a prideful history to tell. The old home seems out of place amid its surroundings of the busy buzz of shopping plazas, noisy traffic, and neon business fronts. Built in 1901 alongside Pinole Creek, the originally all-white redwood home today houses the aptly named Pinole Creek Cafe.
Who were the Pfeiffers, who chose this location to begin their new lives in a new community about to enter a new century?
In 1898, eighteen-year old Lottie Race disembarked from Pinole’s Southern Pacific depot in a driving rainstorm. Young Lottie was not at all impressed with her first glimpse of Pinole and felt her stay there to be a short one. Eighty-seven years later, Lottie was still a Pinolean. Her father, Albert Race, found work at the Hercules Powder Company (California Powder Works) and brought his family from Eureka to live in Pinole in 1898. Fast forwarding to 1974 found Lottie Race Pfeiffer at age 94, still living in her home at 2454 San Pablo Avenue.
Lottie remembered Pinole in those early days as having more saloons than houses, no sidewalks, hard well water and always muddy streets. The Races lived on Tennent Avenue, where there were 11 saloons; some of the Races were saloon-keepers.
But the small community also offered Pinoleans fun outlets associated with the many fraternal lodges. Dances with an orchestra were held every Saturday night in the large Foresters’ Hall on Tennent Avenue. It burned down in the large fire of 1908 and was replaced by the Pinole Opera House, which burned down in 1931.
It was at a Saturday night dance where Lottie met George Pfeiffer, one of the many bachelor boarders who worked at the Hercules Powder Company. Lottie was smitten by him and turned down five young men who wanted to escort her to the next dance. Their courtship led to marriage three years later.
During their courtship, the couple would ride into the Pinole Valley in his horse and buggy, have picnics at the old adobes, or stroll on Sundays down Tennent Avenue to the depot to watch the trains arrive to see who was coming and going. George had been a carpenter at Hercules since age 15 and would work there for 48 years. He built their dream home, and the couple moved in on their wedding day, October 23, 1901.
The large home was the most imposing one on San Pablo Avenue. Its unique architectural style boasted five rooms with 12-foot ceilings and a large yard.
In the 1920s, San Pablo Avenue was widened, and much of their front yard was lost. In 1906, the house was knocked three inches off its foundation by the San Francisco earthquake, breaking almost everything in the house and knocking plaster from the walls. Lottie’s grandparents were living in the old Martinez family adobe in Pinole Valley. They had to abandon it when the quake demolished much of the old adobe’s rooms.
Lottie vividly remembered the families and buildings in her town. Pinole’s first bank was next to their home, and her husband built the first vault in the bank. Lehman’s Grocery Store was at the site of the present Antlers Tavern, and the Commercial Hotel and Walton’s Livery
Stable occupied today’s Fernandez Park.
Dr. Manuel Fernandez delivered their daughter, Muriel, in their home. Lottie recalled the doctor laughing, “from just performing surgery on a chamber pot.” A boy from Rodeo had managed to get the pot stuck on his head, and mother and son had walked all the way from Rodeo to have Dr. Fernandez remove the pot.
Lottie’s husband passed away in 1956, and she continued to live in the house for 55 years. In October 1974, Lottie left to live with her daughter, coincidentally on the same date she had moved there when married on October 23, 1901.
Since her departure, the home has been bought by individuals who have preserved its grand exterior. It has been a crafts shop, almost a Vera’s Italian Restaurant, an ice cream parlor, and today’s popular Pinole Creek Cafe. Lottie’s first impression of Pinole in 1898 was an unfavorable one. However, she came to accept and love the close-knit community and the friends she made with early families such as Fernandez, Collins, Barrett, Brandt, Ellerhorst, and Downer.
For those who knew Lottie, her day of departure was undoubtedly a sad one. She had sold most of her treasured belongings of a bygone era and watched them go out her big front door — the same one she had entered 73 years earlier. But Lottie retained the wonderful memories of everything and everyone in her home until her passing in 1985 at the grand age of 105. If a home forever keeps the mannerisms of its occupants long after they have gone, the Pfeiffer house still speaks of Lottie’s presence there. One can imagine her small, delicate figure standing on her broad front steps with a welcoming smile much as she had done on her wedding day so long ago. She was a strong woman of her time and an exceptional homemaker in so many ways. Her marriage ushered in the new 20th century, and her love for husband George and daughter Muriel still prevails within the walls of the old home. If you chance to visit the Pfeiffer House, you just might feel greeted by an unseen hostess of the past escorting you to your dining pleasure in her parlor.res between Pinole and Rodeo.