This letterbox commemorates the Rancho Cordonices, owned by José Domingo Peralta in the years that California was part of Mexico, prior to the California Gold Rush . While looking for this letterbox, try to imagine the landscape of Rancho Cordonices, and how different it was from what you see today. The area was primarily covered in grasslands – no houses, no streets, and very few trees. The land sloped gently towards the bay, providing an unobstructed view of its sparkling water from almost anywhere you stood. Rancho Cordonices was primarily a cattle ranch, and at its peak, between 1,500 and 2,000 cattle grazed on the property, as well as several hundred horses. Can you imagine how this area must have looked when herds of cattle and horses roamed the grassy plains of Rancho Cordonices?
Domingo’s first home on Rancho Cordonices was an adobe homestead built in 1841 on the south bank of Cordonices Creek. It was the first non-native dwelling in what is today Berkeley. In 1851 Domingo built a new house a short distance from the original adobe. The new home was the first frame dwelling erected by any of the Peralta brothers. While searching for this letterbox, you will visit the sites of both of Domingo’s homes.
Here are the directions for finding the letterbox: Begin in front of the Immanuel Southern Baptist Church at 1505 Hopkins Street in Berkeley. This was the site of Domingo’s frame house. The house was two stories tall, with a long porch facing the west. A family garden and an orchard were to the west of the house. In 1876 the house was sold moved by the new owner to a site a few hundred yards south of the original site. In 1924 the house was again sold, this time to the University of California. It seved as a storeroom and tool shed until August 1933, when the whole building was torn down and the lumber was used to erect a garden house on the same site.
Now walk west on Hopkins Street until you reach Albina Street. Turn right on Albina and continue until you find 1304 Albina. This is the site of Domingo’s adobe home, built in 1841. It was a small one story dwelling, perhaps 30 x 18 feet, with a a tile roof and dirt floor. Next to the driveway on this lot, you’ll find a stone marker with a plaque commemorating Domingo’s home.
After reading the plaque, continue on Albina Street until you reach the entrance to Saint Mary’s College High school. The driveway to the school crosses over Cordonices Creek. Walk over this driveway and then veer to the left, following a paved road which runs in the same direction as the creek. A wooden fence borders this road on the left. Look for an opening break in this fence with a dirt path leading steeply down to the creek. Follow the path until you reach the creek. Turn left and walk about 15 feet. There is a big Eucalyptus tree on your left. Just beyond the Eucalyptus there is another tree that leans out over the creek. Search around the base of this tree for the letterbox.
When you find the letterbox, be sure to read the passage written on the first several pages. It explains how American migration during the gold rush era brought an end Rancho Cordonices.
When you are done, please return the contents to the letterbox, carefully seal it, and return it to where you found it, hidden from view.