CA Nursery Master Plan

Setting the Stage, continued...

In 1884 a German immigrant named John Rock purchased 463 acres on a site that is today known as the town of Niles in Fremont.  He moved his start-up nursery from San Jose’ and named it “The California Nursery Company.”  Rock set about to create the best known Nursery Company in the State of California and became the premier supplier of fruit and nut trees.  He marketed and hybridized 100’s of plant varieties with the assistance of the famous botanist Luther Burbank of Santa Rosa.  In addition to fruit trees, the California Nursery became known for ornamental shrubs and 100’s of varieties of roses.  Rock is thought to be responsible for introducing more new plants into the State than any other nurseryman.

In 1917 another legend took over ownership of the California Nursery Company, named George Roeding.  Combined with the Roeding operations in Fresno, the California Nursery Company dominated the fruit and nut tree national market at a pivotal time when private agriculture was emerging as large corporate businesses.  By the 1940’s George Roeding Jr. had evolved the company into an enormous retail operation with nurseries and growing grounds from the State of Washington to South America.  All of this was headquartered out of Niles California.

Over the years the grounds of California Nursery were frequented by famous people that were customers or were otherwise associated with the California Nursery.  They include President Woodrow Wilson, Phoebe and Randolph Hearst, Leland Stanford, John McLaren (the first Superintendent of Golden Gate Park), Architect Johannes Reimers, and photographers Andrew Hill and Gabriel Moulin.

Palm trees from the California Nursery became the “Avenue of Palms” at the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.  Plants and Oak trees from the Nursery were used in the 1939/40 International Exposition at Treasure Island.  Innovations in plant shipping were developed in the packing shed on the site. Peach pits from California Nursery were used in gas masks in World War I.  These and many other stories are waiting to be told. 

A few years ago, Dr. Joyce Blueford, of the local Math Science Nucleus, befriended the grandson (Bruce) of George Roeding  Sr.  Through that relationship, and with the assistance of the late Lila Bringhurst, she began a process of slowly uncovering what would later become an enormous collection of artifacts chronicling the history and operations of the once Grand California Nursery Company.  With Dr. Blueford’s assistance, the City began to realize the important story that this site has to tell Fremont residents, the region, and world.  Suddenly, what had been locally regarded as a lovely passive 20 acre site with majestic trees and old nursery buildings, became a historical treasure trove the likes of which are seldom discovered in today’s world. 

The primary purpose of this Master Plan is to tell the story of the California Nursery Company to current and future generations through the sharing of the site’s remaining historic buildings, majestic arboricultural resources, and display of the carefully preserved artifacts and documents.  This Plan seeks to blend this overarching historical theme with the many uses existing on the site today, including educational tours, community gardens, wedding and events, various volunteer efforts such as those that manage the rose garden, and possibly reinstituting a small retail nursery presence on the site.  The plan proposes a thoughtful measured increase in activity to the site, promoting awareness of the stunning community resources present on the site, and to generate modest income to support on-going maintenance and operations for future generations.

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