Here’s a riddle for you: A man built his first home in Spain, his second home in Mexico, and his third in the USA, and yet the three houses were constructed only a few feet from each other. How could this be? The answer to this riddle lies in the story of the Peralta family and the Rancho San Antonio.
The man in this riddle is Antonio Peralta, one of the four Peralta brothers who shared the Rancho San Antonio. Antonio’s section of the rancho was located in what is today Oakland, California. In 1775, the King of Spain sent soldiers to settle California as part of the Spanish colony of Mexico; so when Antonio built his first house in 1821, it part of the Kingdom of Spain. In 1823, Mexico gained independence from Spain; so when Antonio built his second house in 1840, it was part of the nation of Mexico. And in 1848 the United States took California after defeating Mexico in the Mexican-American war; so when Antonio built his third house in 1870, it was on U.S. soil.
The Rancho San Antonio once spread out across nearly 45,000 acres the along eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay, covering land which now includes the cities of Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville, Piedmont, Alameda, Albany, and part of San Leandro. This huge parcel of land was granted to Antonio’s father, Luis Maria Peralta, in recognition of over 40 years of military service rendered to Crown of Spain. It was one of the largest parcels ever granted in Spanish or Mexican California.
Luia Peralta never lived on Rancho San Antonio. Instead. He divided the land among his four sons. Antonio was first to settle on the ranch, near the west bank of Peralta creek in what today is Oakland’s Fruitvale district. Antonio’s section of the ranch continued to be known as Rancho San Antonio. Vicente, the youngest son, was next to settle. Vicente’s part of the land grant became known as Rancho Temescal, and extended from what is now Lake Merritt in Oakland all the way to the current Berkeley border. The third brother, Domingo, moved onto the land next, and his Rancho Cordonices included all of today’s cities of Berkeley and Albany. Finally, the oldest brother, Ygnacio, moved onto the southern fourth of the land grant, naming his portion the Rancho San Leandro.
The Peralta brothers and their families lived and worked on their portions of the rancho for many years. It was estimated that the brothers’ herds at their peak totaled 8,000 head of cattle and 2,000 horses. But eventually, the Peraltas lost most of the land to American settlers who came to the San Francisco Bay during the California Gold Rush.
Since that time, the landscape of the San Francisco Bay area has changed so much that it seems to have little in common with the tranquil rural paradise the Peralta brothers called home. Today, amongst the freeways, shopping centers, and busy urban neighborhoods, we can see only shadows of the Peralta legacy in the bay area, primarily in the names of local streets, parks and schools. But the story of the Rancho San Antonio, the land it occupied, and the people who lived there, is a fascinating and important part of understanding the place we live in today.
Peralta Hacienda State Historic Park now stands on the site of Antonio Peralta’s Homes. It offers informative exhibits about the Peralta Family and Pre-Goldrush California History, as well as fabulous hands-on school field trips and special events. To visit it’s excellent website Click Here.