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A plaque for the Vecki House

Stepper recounts history of 1866 building

Historians and Danville Town Council members gathered Nov. 19 at the Vecki House at 169 Front St. to dedicate a San Ramon Valley Historical Society plaque at the building, which was built in 1866.

"We are pleased to dedicate the plaque for the Cohen-Vecki home today," said Councilwoman Karen Stepper, who is vice president of the Historical Society. "Thank you first to local historian Virgie Jones, who is here today, for her historical research in her book, 'People and Places in the San Ramon Valley' including her interview of Dr. Vecki's daughter Isabel and her husband Clarence in San Francisco in 1977."

The house was built in 1866 by the Howard brothers, who used limber that had been shipped around Cape Horn.

"The Howard Brothers also built the Grange, White Gate Farm House and the Osborn House," continued Stepper. "The Osborn house is said to be the mirror image of the Vecki house. However, there are differences. If you go see the home at the end of Serena Place just east of the Larsen Center, it is in a lovely neighborhood with homes with large porches. Similarly, the Osborn home has a large side porch.

"The Cohen lot encompassed the land from here past Tiger Alley (now named Prospect) and west to Hartz Avenue, which of course did not exist in 1866. The land was covered with fruit and nut orchards.

"The home was originally set back from the street on the lot. Do you know why? Anyone? Because the horse-drawn wagons had to have a lot of room to turn around.

"Originally, this home was built by the Cohens just a short distance from their Front Street general store. Michael Cohen was also the postmaster from July 3, 1865, to May 15, 1888, except for a nine-month period ending in 1878. It ended in 1888 because the Cohens opened a new store in the Martinez Hotel building.

"The next owner was John P. Christman, whose daughter was the first burial in the Alamo Cemetery behind the Methodist Church.

"In the 1906 earthquake, many chimneys fell down in the San Ramon Valley. But in San Francisco, the severe damages caused many people to come to Danville temporarily, including the Vecki family.

"Dr. Vecki, so the story goes, responded to a tooth problem of one of the customers at the Danville Hotel. Victor's friend, John Van Gordon (Van Gordon Place is just down the road) urged the dentist to move his practice and home from Oakland to Danville - and he did. In November, Victor, his wife Claire, and his children (son Victor Jan and daughter Isabel, named after his mother) bought a barber chair that he placed in the front window for his dental practice, serving as the town's only dentist for a number of year."

The program for the dedication included a photo of the Vecki family.

"Both Isabel and Jan went through high school here through graduation from the San Ramon UNION High School District," said Stepper. "Victor Jan eventually served at the city clerk of Walnut Creek. Dr. Vecki moved is office to Acree's Market in the late '30s.

"As today, many movies are made 'on location' in cities. Pleasanton was the site of several, including 'Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm' with Mary Pickford. And Niles was the site of 'The Tramp,' starring Charlie Chaplin.

"More importantly today, this home in Danville was the site for 'Once to every Woman.' The studio began with outside home shots, but soon expanded to filming the Vecki children, neighbor kids and inside shots.

"Maybe Isabel's theater life began here in the dance and piano studio in this home - or during the making of this film. She eventually was the leading lady in at the Alcazar Theater.

"'Once to Every Woman' was a silent film that was released Sept. 6, 1920," said Stepper, showing a poster for the movie. "The movie starred Dorothy Philips - with no mention of her costar - the new guy on the scene - Rudolph Valentino. There are no copies of this film! But then a family member from a valley family here since 1850s said that high school kids were known to light the film strips in Niles to roll them down the street - highly flammable film strips made with nitrate!

"There were many other homeowners, including Manuel Brown, who removed the gingerbread and wooden batts and then covered the wall with stucco.

"A later family, the Nikersons, rented the home to a Pentecostal Church, that was soon filled with singing.

"But we know the most about the period when the home was owned by the Veckis - so it is fondly referred to as the 'Vecki House' today."

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