The First Black Family in Glen Park

One of a series of articles about the Poole-Bell House in Fairmount Heights, San Francisco.

In researching the real history of the Poole-Bell house in Fairmount, I discovered an untold chapter in its story. In 1918, after Teresa Bell moved out of her “gloomy old house,”[1] she rented to a family named Tyrrel. They turned out to be the first African-American family in the Glen Park-Fairmount district.[2] They stayed for three decades, finally settling in a house on Chenery.

Their lives tell us something of what it was to be black in San Francisco in the decades before WWII. Fortunately, the family archivist has shared with me many photos of the Tyrrels, some of which were taken at the Poole-Bell house, as well as family stories. The Tyrrels were in the public record for their church and fraternal group activities. These fortunate gifts have made it possible to tell a story of the family.

Bertram and Frances Tyrrel moved to the big house at the corner of Laidley and Fairmount Streets during the last years of Teresa Bell’s ownership. They had two children still living with them, Irma, then 22, and Wendell, 21. Frances also had two older children from a previous marriage who had both since started their own families: Pearl Hinds, who had three small daughters and kept a farm in Tulare County with her husband; and James Barber, who had a wife and young daughter in San Mateo County.

The family was very close, including Frances’ sister’s and brother’s families. Photographs during these years bear out the family’s sense of belonging and their pleasure and pride in their shared lives.

1920c. Group photo in front of the Laidley Street house. From left: Bertram Tyrrel, Irma Tyrrel, Marjorie Lake with Eleanor Hinds, Harriet Cady Lake in back, and next to her Frances Tyrrel, and Wendell Tyrrel with Marian and Frances Hinds in front.
1920c. Group photo in front of the Laidley Street house. From left to right: Bertram Tyrrel, Irma Tyrrel, Marjorie Lake with Eleanor Hinds in front, Harriet Cady Lake in back, and next to her Frances Tyrrel, and Wendell Tyrrel with Marian and Frances Hinds in front. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.

1919. (L to R) Irma Tyrrel, Bertram Tyrrel, and an unidentified woman on the hillside in front of the Laidley Street house. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919. (L to R) Irma Tyrrel, Bertram Tyrrel, and an unidentified woman on the hillside in front of the Laidley Street house. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919. Group photo taken in front of the Laidley Street house. (L to R) Harriet Cady Lake, Marjorie Lake, Malvern Lake, Irma Tyrrel, Horatio Cady (?), Bertram Tyrrel, and Frances Tyrrel. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919. Group photo taken in front of the Laidley Street house. (L to R) Harriet Cady Lake, Marjorie Lake, Malvern Lake, Irma Tyrrel, Horatio Cady (?), Bertram Tyrrel, and Frances Tyrrel. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.

The Bell in Poole-Bell

Previously, Teresa Bell had bought the house in October 1906 from Annie Poole. Her choice of this district removed her some ways from the Bell children, many of whom she disliked and all of whom she disowned, and the hothouse social pressures of upper-crust San Francisco society—at least for a while.

1957. The Poole-Bell house. Photo: Russell Leake. San Francisco History Center, San Francisoc Public Library.
1957. The Poole-Bell house. Photo: Russell Leake. San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

When she died in 1922, the fight over her will would go on for years, dragging out every sensational tidbit from the previous decades.

Although there were periodic newspaper rehashes of the highly dysfunctional and wealthy Bell family history during her stay in Fairmount, it was still practically the country, and Bell was happy to be out the spotlight.[3] During those years, 1906-1918, Bell worked hard to manage the financial mess she had inherited. With luck and diligence, and some good advice, she did an excellent job of rebuilding the estate, and by 1917, her fortune was back in the millions.[4]

In early 1918, she moved out of the house to an expensive, newly purchased pile on Buchanan Street, but she didn’t allow the property on Laidley to go vacant. The result was the tenancy of this African American family from 1918 to 1921. There is no direct evidence that the Tyrrels knew Bell or any of Bell’s servants or workers, many of whom were black. But as the black community in the city at this time was relatively small, it is likely they did have some connection to Bell. Bell would have only let to someone known to her or upon the personal recommendation of someone she trusted. (Mary Ellen Pleasant, Thomas Bell’s business partner, had died in 1904, and so she has no direct role in this story, nor did she have anything to do with the house on Laidley, despite decades of amateur historians proclaiming otherwise.[5])

In the 1920 US Census, the Tyrrels are one of only two such families in the census district covering Fairmount, Glen Park, and the south part of Noe Valley. The other black family soon moved away. In the 1930 and 1940 US Censuses, the Tyrrels were the only African-American family in the district.

1919. Group photo in front of Laidley Street house. (L to R) Harriet Cady Lake, Marjorie Lake, Horatio Cady, Irma Tyrrel, Bertram Tyrrel, Frances Cady Tyrrel, and Malvern Lake. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919. Group photo in front of Laidley Street house. (L to R) Harriet Cady Lake, Marjorie Lake, Horatio Cady, Irma Tyrrel, Bertram Tyrrel, Frances Cady Tyrrel, and Malvern Lake. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.

African American San Francisco, circa 1900

As well as the unique particulars of this family, their lives tell us some interesting things about the experiences of African Americans in San Francisco during the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.

First, a brief sketch of the black population in the San Francisco Bay Area during these years. Until World War II when the Great Migration began to bring large numbers of African Americans to the Bay Area, largely from the American South, their percentage of the general population was very small—about a half a percent. To be black and live in San Francisco was a very different experience in 1900 versus later in the century. Many things a person might associate with African American culture in the Bay Area, such as a flourishing blues and jazz music scene, had yet to arrive. However, there were two long-standing African American institutions, the church and the fraternal organization, that were already strong here by 1900, and they played a big part in the lives of the Tyrrels, as we’ll see. First some background.

California Dreams

Bertram Tyrrel was born in 1867 in Demerara, British Guiana (now Guyana), on the north coast of South America, where some of his ancestors had been slaves brought from Africa to work in the sugar cane fields. The British government abolished slavery in its colonies by 1838, so perhaps his parents were born free.

Location of Guyana. OpenStreetMap.org.
Location of Guyana in South America. OpenStreetMap.org.

After abolition, freed Afro-Guyanese slaves shunned work in the sugar industry there, because of both the low wages and the low status of the work. Plantation owners there coped with labor shortages first by importing indentured workers from Portugal, then China, and then India. Understandably, most of these immigrants got out of that work as soon as possible. Each successive wave of new immigrants became part of the larger society there, and so Guyana then was an intensely multicultural place, bustling with trade.[6] In 1823, Demerara was the site of an historic slave revolt involving 10,000 slaves. Even if Bertram’s grandparents may not have been old enough to remember this event, community stories of such an important happening would have been a major part of the social fabric of the Afro-Guyanese world in which Bertram was raised.

This etching of a street scene in Demerara was made at the time Bertram was a child there.

1876. Etching of street scene, Demerrara, British Guiana. From inmotionAAME.org.
1876. Etching of street scene, Demerrara, British Guiana. From inmotionAAME.org.

There was a steady but not large immigration of Afro-Caribbean people to the US all through the 19th century, and especially after the American Civil War (1861-1865). Bertram Tyrrel immigrated to the US sometime before 1889, the year he enlisted in the US Navy at Norfolk, Virginia.[7] He became a US citizen in 1894 in San Francisco, registering to vote there in 1898. Race was not a category on the Voter’s Register, although skin color was; the choice was light, dark, fair, ruddy, and florid, and many of Bertram’s white neighbors got the same designation of ‘dark’ skin that he did.

Working in the Heart of the City

When they moved to the Laidley Street house in Fairmount, Bertram Tyrrel was in his early fifties and employed by the Board of Public Works (now the Dept of Public Works) at City Hall. In one respect, his work there as a messenger was typical; the overwhelming majority of African-American men (and women) in San Francisco worked in the services industry, until manufacturing jobs began to open up in the 1930s. “Before 1930, San Francisco did not have a single black bank teller, public school teacher, policeman, fireman, bus driver or cab driver who worked for a predominantly white company.”[8] That he was later promoted to clerk was exceptional for the time.

Working at City Hall, Bertram Tyrrel would have known the major political figures of the day by sight and likely to speak to, such as Mayor ‘Sunny Jim’ Rolph. Tyrrel was an ambitious and thoughtful man, but as an African American he was himself excluded from holding office; nonetheless in this job he saw and heard a great deal of the workings of power, elected and otherwise, in the course of his decades of work inside City Hall.

The Palace Purges

To go back a few years in Bertram’s life, it was not the first time he found himself working in the midst of the powerful and the moneyed of San Francisco. After he arrived in the early 1890s from Virginia, he got a job as a porter at the famous luxury hotel, the Palace. Soon he would marry Frances Cady, a woman with two young children. This job was a good one, given what was available to him as a black man; it paid well, with the additional benefit of good tips. It promised a good start for his young family. Then in 1896, he became one of the victims of a well-publicized incident of discrimination involving mass firings at the Palace.[9]

Previously, in 1875, the hotel, in a radical move, had hired hundreds of African-American service workers, many recruited from East Coast hotels. Black porters, waiters, bellmen, and chambermaids earned excellent wages and even renown at the Palace for many years. Individual porters and waiters had what might be called fan followings, and were known by name and reputation.[10] The workers were recognized for their professionalism, efficiency, and style, in a city that was still pretty rough around the edges of urban refinement. These were still service jobs, essentially the only work open to blacks then, but they were the best of that sector.

1882. Black service workers at the Palace Hotel. FoundSF.org.
1882. Black service workers at the Palace Hotel. FoundSF.org.

However, in 1889, under pressure from exclusionary white unions, the new manager at the Palace was induced to fire all the black chambermaids and waiters, and hire white workers who were willing to work for lower wages. Alleged theft served as a rationale for some of the dismissals. The porters and bellmen stayed on, forming a much reduced number of black workers at the Palace. It was this group that Bertram joined as a porter by about 1893.

In 1896, Tyrrel and 27 other workers became casualties of the second mass firing. The white unions, behind closed doors, had again put pressure on the management to fire the black workers just before an election. Strikes by white unions in recent years, during which black workers had been hired to replace striking white workers, had further divided ranks, and increased resentment and enmity.[11] Without labor laws or unions, the black workers at the Palace “depended solely on their ability to please customers and on their good standing with management. When whites desired their jobs, the unions exerted pressure and got the blacks dismissed.”[12] Alleged theft as the excuse reared its head again, but the Chronicle reporter interviewed one of the fired workers, who made it clear that the pass keys that made theft possible could be found in the pockets of a great many other (white) workers at the hotel as well.[13]

SF Chronicle, 3 Nov 1896.
SF Chronicle, 3 Nov 1896. Bertram Tyrrel’s name marked. View entire article. 

Coming as it did when Bertram was a newly married man, with a new baby in the house and two small children as well, it must have been a terrible blow to the family. But he found his feet again, and worked as a porter elsewhere for a time, then as a janitor, until he was hired at the Board of Public Works about 1902.[14] There he held his position as a clerk for many years—all through the upheaval of the 1906 Quake and Fire, and into the 1930s. The board became increasingly important as the city rebuilt, and the role of government in city planning was strengthened.

Pioneer Daughter

The woman who married Bertram in 1895, Frances Cady, was a native Californian and the daughter of pioneers. Her father Horatio W Cady was from Louisiana and her mother Frances Merry Cady was from Tennessee. They immigrated to California in the early 1850s; California had been made a free state in 1850, and held promise for them and many other African Americans. Their story, whether of being slaves who had bought or been given their freedom, or perhaps escaped their captors, is lost to us now.

Horatio W Cady worked as a barber in Sacramento all his life, reaping the steady rewards of serving the needs of goldminers and other opportunists, rather than seeking prosperity sparkling in the bottom of a pan—although there were many black miners then. At some point in the early 1890s, Frances moved from Sacramento to San Francisco with her sister Harriet.

When she met Bertram, Frances had previously been married to a man named James A Barber and already had two children, Pearl, born 1888, and James, born 1889. After marrying Bertram, they had a daughter, Irma, in 1896, and a son, Wendell, the following year. The family always lived in San Francisco, in a variety of neighborhoods, from Nob Hill to South of Market, to Pacific Heights, to the Mission District.

A Different Time

Before 1940, the African-American population of San Francisco was very small. The year the Tyrrels moved into the Poole-Bell house, the number was just 2400 people. As California urbanites, the Tyrrels were among a small minority of African Americans who lived in cities in the US in these years. At the turn of the century, ninety percent of American blacks lived in the South, and most of them in rural areas.[15]

As a result of the small size of the community in the city, there were no neighborhoods with large numbers of African-American residents until after WWII. According to one chronicler of black San Francisco for these early years, outdoor street life did not present barriers; you were free to walk where you liked without fear of attack, or use public parks or beaches as you liked. [16]

1920. An outing to
1920. An outing for the Tyrrel family to “Ingleside” which was a public playground at the beach end of Sloat Blvd then. (L to R) Irma Reid, Frances Hinds, Marjorie Lake (cousin) Marian Hinds, Pearl Hinds, and Eleanor Hinds. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1920. A visit to Ocean Beach, San Francisco. (L to R) Frances Hinds, Eleanor Hinds, Marjorie Lake (cousin), Marian Hinds, and Irma Tyrrel. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1920. A Tyrrel family visit to Ocean Beach, San Francisco. (L to R) Frances Hinds, Eleanor Hinds, Marjorie Lake (cousin), Marian Hinds, and Irma Tyrrel. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919. An outing to Muir Woods for Irma Reid (second from right) and members of her extended family. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919. An outing to Muir Woods for Irma Tyrrel Reid (second from right) and members of her extended family. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.

California was a free state without discriminatory laws in general, but individual lives were impacted by discriminatory decisions by landlords, employers, and shopkeepers. Organized racism by whites then in California tended to be directed toward Asian immigrants and Asian Americans, who by their greater numbers were felt to be a greater threat to whites. The situation was very far from just, but it was a better experience for many African Americans than in other US cities at this time.

The Great Migration, from 1916 to 1970, saw the relocation of many to cities in the North. The biggest jump in the African-American population in California was during and after WWII. Before 1940, the portion in San Francisco was less than one percent; by 1950 it was 5.6%; by 1970 it reached a peak of 13.4%. Even in 1990 it remained above 10%. The current number is just over 5%, the result of soaring housing and living costs.

The huge uptick in black residents during and after WWII changed the city and the experience of any given black person there. The Western Addition became a residential and cultural center—only to subsequently suffer the upheaval of mass eviction, housing demolition, and redevelopment in the 1960s and 1970s.

Networks of Belonging

The city’s black community in the pre-War years 1900 to 1940 was tightly knit by church and fraternal organization membership, and in this way the Tyrrels were typical. They belonged to the Third Baptist Church, one of the three most important African-American churches in San Francisco. They were members during the construction of the church building at Hyde and Clay in 1909.

1946. Third Baptist Church at Hyde and Clay, built 1909. San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.
1946. Third Baptist Church at Hyde and Clay, built 1909. San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.
Cover of Arcadia picture book, African Americans of San Francisco by Jan Batiste Adkins, showing the Third Baptist Church at Hyde and Clay in the 1910s.
Cover of the Arcadia picture book, African Americans of San Francisco by Jan Batiste Adkins, showing the Third Baptist Church at Hyde and Clay in the 1910s. In theory the Tyrrels should be in the group photo, but I’ve been unable to spot any of them. Googlebooks.

The original church was founded on Telegraph Hill in 1852 and there is a plaque that marks its first location there.

Plaque for California Historical Landmark No. 1010, Third Baptist Church, at the church's first location, Grant and Greenwich in North Beach. NoeHill.com.
Plaque for California Historical Landmark No. 1010, Third Baptist Church, at the church’s first location, Grant and Greenwich in North Beach. NoeHill.com.

Bertram Tyrrel was the choir director for the church for decades, and he presented speeches at various events. In Oct 1921 The Western Outlook gave notice that he was presenting a talk on the value of music in churches.

Solidarity and Support

Both Frances and Bertram Tyrrel belonged to the Masonic and Odd Fellows fraternal orders. The role of these organizations was central to their lives, and their names are prominent in what records remain in the black newspapers of San Francisco such as The Western Outlook, the California Eagle, and the Spokesman. Bertram joined the Masons in 1903, shortly after beginning work at the Board of Public Works. It may have been as a direct result of this job that he was invited to join.

22 Oct 1922. Front page of The Western Outlook, one of San Francisco's black newspapers. Marked area is news about fraternal organizations. TexasHistory.UNT.edu.
22 Oct 1922. Front page of The Western Outlook, one of San Francisco’s black newspapers. Marked area is news about fraternal organizations. TexasHistory.UNT.edu. View larger. 

The prominence of black churches in the fight for civil rights is well known, but fraternal organizations played an important part that was not generally understood by historians until the end of the twentieth century. These organizations were critical networks that provided social, economic, and political support for the African-American community during these years.[17] They were especially important in an age before civil rights laws and access to insurance protection or union membership. They remained relevant through the 1960s, as they provided support for the fight for civil rights in the form of money, leadership, and clear messaging to communities.[18]

Americans are a “nation of joiners,” as has been famously observed over the centuries, but African Americans have historically been “more likely than whites to join voluntary associations and participate in many kinds of civic activities.”[19] For example, in the early twentieth century, 6% of white men belonged to the Odd Fellows, whereas 11% of black men did.[20] The pursuit of association in these groups promoted “social capital,” which went some way towards remediating the damage that slavery had done over the centuries. “Slavery was a system designed to destroy social capital among slaves and between slaves and freemen.”[21] The end of the Civil War saw a big increase in participation.[22]

“Fraternal orders played a crucial role in African-American civil society, with vast networks of lodges forging vital links among African Americans in different states and regions. Bringing together individuals from diverse class and regional backgrounds, fraternal orders provided venues in which men and women gained civic and leadership skills, stressing the value of communal solidarity and citizenship.”[23]

There were separate parallel lodges for African-American men and women. The first Masonic order for blacks was established in Boston in 1775, the Prince Hall Masons, just forty years after the white order had been established there. [24] The white Independent Order of Odd Fellows was founded in Baltimore in 1819, and the black Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was established in New York City in 1843. In both cases, charters had been initially denied to the black groups by the white American groups, and so petitions had been made to orders in England, who granted the black groups their charters.[25]

In a time where official positions were largely closed to African Americans, fraternal orders provided titled officerships and committee positions in large numbers to their members, giving direct experience of leadership within an institution. It was customary that very nearly every single member in an order was given a titled position of some type. This meant the chance to gain skills—to lead meetings, keep records, organize events, run committees with a wide variety of responsibilities, visit the sick, and select new members. Indeed, black men who could only ever find work in service jobs had the opportunity to exercise leadership and authority during their time with a lodge. [26] [27]

Black women’s auxiliary groups followed soon after: The Order of the Eastern Star (OES) was founded in 1874 (Masonic), and the Household of Ruth was founded in 1857 (Odd Fellows). There were many, many other African-American fraternal organizations, but it is these two that featured in the Tyrrels’ lives.

Women’s Fellowship

Frances Tyrrel belonged to The Order of the Eastern Star (OES) and her local group was Naomi Chapter No.2. She served as the Grand Secretary for many years. Bertram served for a time as the Grand Patron, a kind of male guide for the women’s group.

From the front page of The Western Outlook. 1 Jan 1927. Frances Tyrrel is listed under OES as Grand Secretary. TexasHistory.UNT.edu
From the front page of The Western Outlook. 1 Jan 1927. Frances Tyrrel is listed under OES as Grand Secretary. TexasHistory.UNT.edu

“By 1907 the women of the [Order of the Eastern Star] had clearly come into their own, and they formed a national-level body, the Supreme Grand Chapter of the OES, ‘to encourage the organization of chapters, that they might cooperate in the great labors of Masonry, by assisting in…the cause of human progress’.”[28] By 1925, the OES had 350 chapters and 400,000 members, from Canada to Africa, as well as the US.

Frances also belonged to the Household of Ruth. “By 1893 there were 800 Households, with 40,000 members.”[29] During the 1910s and 1920s, the number grew to 140,000, and it boasted membership as a percentage of the black female population twice that as the white chapter, the Daughters of Rebekah.

Frances’ obituary lists her service to these two groups, but also says she belonged to “other fraternal orders.”[30] She was a member of the Madam CJ Walker Club, where she served as Financial Secretary.

“Sarah Breedlove (1867–1919), known as Madam C. J. Walker, was an African-American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and a political and social activist. Walker was considered the wealthiest African-American businesswoman and wealthiest self-made woman in America at the time of her death in 1919.”[31]

[Update: Madam CJ Walker’s story is now a movie. Read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2020/apr/01/self-made-the-banker-netflix-apple-tv]

Madam C J Walker. Wikimedia.org.
Madam C J Walker. Wikimedia.org.

Clubs formed in her name all over the US; the SF club was founded in 1919 and had a community center in the house at 2066 Pine Street, famous for service to girls in need.[32] The club had a range of pursuits, from fashion shows to political activism.

Madam CJ Walker Fashion Show, Frances Tyrrel, chair. The Spokesman, 6 Apr 1933. Archive.org.
Madam CJ Walker Fashion Show, Frances Tyrrel, chair. The Spokesman, 6 Apr 1933. Archive.org.

In 1933, the Madam CJ Walker Club wrote to the governor of Alabama to ask for “the unconditional release of the Scottsboro Boys,” in concert with the NAACP. Frances’s name appears in the letterhead.[33]

1933. Letter from The Madam CJ Walker Club of San Francisco to Governor Benjamin M Miller of Alabama, asking for the unconditional release of the Scottsboro Boys. From ScottsboroboysLetters.as.ua.edu.
1933. Letter from The Madam CJ Walker Club of San Francisco to Governor Benjamin M Miller of Alabama, asking for the unconditional release of the Scottsboro Boys. From ScottsboroboysLetters.as.ua.edu.

Brother Tyrrel Speaks

Bertram Tyrrel believed in the power of the fraternal orders to better the lives of African Americans. In 1933 he gave a talk at the Third Baptist Church entitled “Odd Fellowship and Fraternalism, a Contributing Factor in the Progress of the Negro in the United States.”[34].

In 1928 he celebrated his twenty-fifth anniversary of membership with the Odd Fellows.

The Western Outlook, 17 Mar 1928. Bertram Tyrrel celebrates an anniversary. TexasHistory.UNT.edu.
The Western Outlook, 17 Mar 1928. Bertram Tyrrel celebrates an anniversary. Watch out for the lemonade. TexasHistory.UNT.edu.

Although he did not achieve another twenty-five years, Bertram had eighteen more years of fellowship, being a member until his death in 1946. In 1943, after Frances’ death, the women of the Order of the Eastern Star, Naomi Chapter No.2, honored Bertram for his service to their order. Read the article here.

Reports of the Tyrrels’ activities, both for their church and for their fraternal groups, are found in the African-American newspapers available online, but the digital record is quite spotty, so I know I found only a fraction of reports of their work.

Family Life

To return to the narrative of the family before they came to Glen Park. At the point of the 1906 Quake and Fire, the Tyrrel family was living in the South of Market district at 416½ Natoma Street, near Fifth. Frances’s sister Harriet Cady lived with them then; she soon met her husband Malvern Lake. The Lakes would later live in Berkeley, and visit the Tyrrels often (as evidenced by the presence of Lake family members in many of the photos in this article).

Their home, along with the rest of the downtown area, burned in the Great Fire, and they moved for a while to the Western Addition, near Fillmore, the temporary new center of San Francisco government and business. Bertram kept his job at the Board of Public Works, now a vital institution for the city as it remade itself—housed in the temporary City Hall in a hotel on Market Street.

By 1909, the Tyrrels had moved to the Mission District. Their daughter Irma was a student at Columbia Cosmopolitan grammar school, a public school on Florida near 25th Street, where she graduated in 1912. She won a scholarship that year from the Hochstadter Fund which was announced in The Western Outlook.

1912c. Irma Tyrrel, around the time of her graduation from Columbia Cosmopolitan grammar school in the Mission. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1912c. Irma Tyrrel, around the time of her graduation from Columbia Cosmopolitan grammar school in the Mission. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.

After the family moved to the Poole-Bell house in Fairmount, their son Wendell may not have actually joined the household until early 1919. In June 1918 he had been living with his stepsister Pearl in Farmersville and attending high school in Visalia while working on her farm, according to his WWI draft card. He was then drafted and entered the military in late August, serving for four months at the tail end of the war and being discharged at the first of the year in 1919.

1919c. Wendell Tyrrel at the Hinds Ranch. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919c. Wendell Tyrrel at the Hinds Ranch. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.

The Heap on a Hill called Home

When the Tyrrels moved to the Laidley Street house, it sat alone on the hillside. The enormous original lot had yet to be subdivided into the current twelve or so separate lots, which happened in the 1930s. The building was not yet partitioned into separate units as it is now, but was simply a big house with three floors. It had servants’ quarters and a kitchen on the first floor, elegant, high-ceilinged rooms on the middle level, with attic rooms on the top floor. Teresa Bell had added the additional story about 1910.

The house would have been a drafty, aging heap by then, with only gas and no electricity. Although, then as now, the Tyrrels enjoyed the wonderful view of the city, which was captured in this photo in 1919.

1919. The view of San Francisco from the Laidley Street house during the time the Tyrrels lived there. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919. The view of San Francisco from the Laidley Street house during the time the Tyrrels lived there. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919. Irma Tyrrel in the garden behind the Laidley Street house. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919. Irma Tyrrel in the garden behind the Laidley Street house. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919. Bertram Tyrrel in front of the Laidley Street house. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919. Bertram Tyrrel in front of the Laidley Street house. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919. Frances and Bertram Tyrrel at the Laidley Street house. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919. Frances and Bertram Tyrrel at the Laidley Street house. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919. Irma Tyrrel with her cousin Marjorie Lake and her future sister-in-law Alberta Reid. Location unknown. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919. Irma Tyrrel with her cousin Marjorie Lake and her future sister-in-law Alberta Reid. Location unknown. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919c. Eleanor, Marian, and Frances Hinds, granddaughters of Frances and Bertram Tyrrel, in front of the Laidley Street house. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919c. Eleanor, Marian, and Frances Hinds, granddaughters of Frances and Bertram Tyrrel, in front of the Laidley Street house. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.

In Their Care

The 1920 US Census shows the family also had an elderly man named James Barraud living with them. Barraud had worked as a butler, and later as a janitor. He was an active member of the Third Baptist Church as they were. He came to San Francisco in the 1870s from Norfolk, Virginia, which is the same place that Bertram Tyrrel enlisted in the US Navy in 1889. Barraud also served in the Navy, enlisting just after the Civil War, in 1865.

So Bertram Tyrrel and Barraud may have known each other for some long time, despite being of different generations. Barraud had recently lost his wife, and lived with the Tyrrels until his death in 1921. I like to think of him sitting and enjoying the view in his last years of life, a man born into slavery, now looking out on the city from a mansion house in the company of his caring adoptive family.

A New Family

In November 1919 Irma married Charles R Reid of Berkeley, the second child of a large and talented family, which is chronicled here online. Charlie’s maternal grandparents had both come to California from Norfolk, Virginia, like Irma’s father Bertram. And like Irma’s maternal grandparents the Cadys, they came as pioneers in the early 1850s.

They made a beautiful couple, radiant with life and love.

Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.

Charlie Reid was a star pitcher for the semipro West Coast Negro League, having an athleticism he shared with many of his siblings. He was the photographer for many of these family images.

1902c. Charles R Reid Sr. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1902c. Charles R Reid Sr. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1918. Charlie Reid with his mother and baby sister Virginia, Berkeley. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1918. Charlie Reid with his mother and baby sister Virginia, Berkeley. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919. Irma Reid visiting her Aunt Harriet Lake's family in Berkeley. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919. Irma Reid visiting her Aunt Harriet Lake’s family in Berkeley. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.

Although Irma and her husband Charlie lived in Berkeley in 1920, by 1921 they had moved back to San Francisco, to Fairmount, close to her parents. They lived at the cottage at 116 Fairmount Street, where their first child, Bertha, was born in October 1920.

2019. Cottage at 116 Fairmount Street, San Francisco. Where Irma and Charlie Reid lived 1921-1923. Google streetview.
2019. Cottage at 116 Fairmount Street, San Francisco. Where Irma and Charlie Reid lived 1921-1923. Google streetview.
1921. Irma Reid with the newborn Bertha, at 116 Fairmount Street, San Francisco. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1921. Irma Reid with the newborn Bertha, at 116 Fairmount Street, San Francisco. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1922. Charlie Reid with Bertha, SF waterfront. He worked as a longshoreman at that time. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1922. Charlie Reid with Bertha, SF waterfront. He worked as a longshoreman at that time. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1921. Grandmother Frances Tyrrel with baby Bertha Reid, at Laidley Street house. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1921. Grandmother Frances Tyrrel with baby Bertha Reid, at Laidley Street house. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1922c. (L to R) Eleanor Hinds, Frances Hinds, Charlie Reid, Bertha Reid, and Marian Hinds. Giant Oak, Tulare County. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1922c. (L to R) Eleanor Hinds, Frances Hinds, Charlie Reid, Bertha Reid, and Marian Hinds. Giant Oak, Tulare County. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.

In 1922, Donald Reid was born.

1922c. (L to R) Marian Hinds, Eleanor Hinds, Bertha Reid, Irma Reid, and Donald Reid. Location unknown. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1922c. (L to R) Marian Hinds, Eleanor Hinds, Bertha Reid, Irma Reid, and baby Donald Reid. Location unknown. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.

Irma and Charlie then moved back to the East Bay by 1924, close to Charlie’s large extended family.

1923c. Irma Reid (center, in white shirt) looking a bit unhappy at a gathering of her husband's large family. Berkeley. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1923c. Irma Reid (center, in white shirt) looking a bit unhappy at a gathering of her husband’s very large family. Berkeley. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.

Easter Observance

Easter was an event with primary importance for the family. Bertram, as choir director for their church, was always deeply involved with annual preparations. In 1933 it was reported in the Spokesman:

“The work on the Easter Cantata is progressing quite rapidly and Mr BL Tyrrel, the choir leader, and Mr LW Cage, the president of the organization, expect to present a production which will merit the best efforts of every participant.”

Easter 1919. Bertram Tyrrel with his granddaughters Frances Hinds, Marian Hinds, and Eleanor Hinds. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
Easter 1919. Bertram Tyrrel with his granddaughters Frances Hinds, Marian Hinds, and Eleanor Hinds. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1924, Easter. Donald and Bertha Reid with two Reid cousins. (L to R) unidentified boy, Donald Reid, Mel Reid, and Bertha Reid. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
Easter, 1924. Donald and Bertha Reid with two Reid cousins. (L to R) unidentified boy, Donald Reid, Mel Reid, and Bertha Reid. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.

A Close-Knit Family

The San Francisco contingent made frequent trips to to visit their daughter Pearl Hinds and her family at the Hinds Ranch in Farmersville (in Tulare County near Visalia). The Hinds had three adorable daughters who were always perfectly turned out for family events (as in previous photos).

Location of Visalia, Tulare County, California,, where daughter Perl Hinds had the family farm. OpenStreetMap.com.
Location of Visalia, Tulare County, California,, where daughter Perl Hinds had the family farm. OpenStreetMap.com.
1912c. Irma Tyrrel at the Hinds Ranch in Farmersville. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1912c. Irma Tyrrel at the Hinds Ranch in Farmersville. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1913c. Frances Tyrrel in Farmersville. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1913c. Frances Tyrrel in Farmersville. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1915c. Irma Reid in Farmersville. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1915c. Irma Tyrrel in Farmersville. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919c. Frances Hinds, Irma Reid, Marian Hinds, and Eleanor Hinds, Farmersville. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1919c. Frances Hinds, Irma Reid, Marian Hinds, and Eleanor Hinds, Farmersville. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1923. The Hinds Ranch, Farmersville. Left to right: Marian Hinds, Frances Hinds, Donald Reid, Eleanor Hinds, and Bertha Reid in front. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1923. The Hinds Ranch, Farmersville. (L to R): Marian Hinds, Frances Hinds, Donald Reid, Eleanor Hinds, and Bertha Reid in front. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.

A House of Their Own in Glen Park

Bertram and Frances moved out of the Laidley Street house in about 1921, having purchased a house nearby, at 558 Chenery Street—the first house they bought, I believe. Wendell, then 24, continued to live with them.

558 Chenery Street, before the garage addition at street level, as it would have looked when the Tyrrels lived there, 1921-1947. Zillow.com.
558 Chenery Street, before the garage addition at street level, as it would have looked when the Tyrrels lived there, 1921-1947. Zillow.com.
2019. 558 Chenery. Google streetview.
2017. 558 Chenery. Google streetview.
Today at 558 Chenery. Zillow.com.
Today at 558 Chenery. Zillow.com.
Today at 558 Chenery. Zillow.com.
Today at 558 Chenery. Zillow.com.

They also bought the lot directly behind, fronting Laidley Street (present address 561), which was vacant at least until 1948 (despite the SF Planning Dept’s date of 1910 for the current house). The Sanborn maps (1915 and 1950) and aerial photos from 1938 and 1948 show the lot is vacant, and that the Tyrrels kept a large tidy garden here during their years in the house.

1948-AERIAL-10263083_558Chenery_marked

Buying this house meant the family was committed to living in the Glen Park-Fairmount neighborhood, despite the distance from other African-American families and their church in Nob Hill. Their new house was less eccentric and more suitable than the big old gloomy mansion house. It was also a substantial size—ten rooms according to sales ads later.

Unfortunately, Irma and Charlie’s marriage dissolved shortly after this. By 1926 she had moved back to her parents’ house on Chenery Street with her children Bertha and Donald, where they lived all together through the 1940s.

1924c. Bertha Reid and Donald Reid on the back patio of 558 Chenery Street. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1924. Bertha Reid and Donald Reid on the back patio of 558 Chenery Street. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1927c. Bertha Reid and Donald Reid on Chenery Street near their home at 558. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1927c. Bertha Reid and Donald Reid on Chenery Street near their home at 558. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1928c. Donald Reid and Bertha Reid at Lake Merritt. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.
1928c. Donald Reid and Bertha Reid at Lake Merritt. Courtesy Charles Reid/Ivy Reid Collection.

Between 1920 and 1945, Wendell Tyrrel worked alternately as a draftsman in an architect’s office and as a sheet metal worker in an iron works—depending it would seem on what work he could get in any given year.

Frances Tyrrel passed away in 1938. The house was put in Wendell’s name after that.[35]

Frances Tyrrel's obituary, SF Examiner, 27 Sep 1938.
Frances Tyrrel’s obituary, SF Examiner, 27 Sep 1938.

The Last Years on Chenery Street

Bertha Reid attended Mission High School, graduating in 1937.

1937 Mission High School yearbook. Irma Reid's daughter Bertha Reid (bottom row center). Ancestry.com
1937 Mission High School yearbook. Irma Reid’s daughter Bertha Reid (bottom row center). SFJC mentioned in her entry was San Francisco Junior College, soon to become City College of San Francisco. Ancestry.com

That same year, one of the Hinds girls came to stay with the Tyrrels on Chenery Street. Marian Hinds was living with the family in order to take the examination to become a certified beauty operator.

1937-Marian-Hinds-King-beauty-operator-license-s
1937. Marian Hinds (1916-2011), cousin of the Tyrrel children. From her application to take the beauty operator examination. Ancestry.com.

As shown in the 1940 US Census, the Tyrrel family consisted of Wendell, then working at an architecture firm; Bertram, retired; and Irma Reid, not working outside the house. Also living with them were her daughter Bertha, 19 years old, who worked as a portrait painter, having earned $109 in the last year, and Donald, 17, who was not yet employed.

Bertram Tyrrel passed away in 1946.[36]

Wendell Tyrrel, who never married, sold the house on Chenery Street in 1946 after his father’s death. He was only 50, but I believe he retired from city life then to join his stepsister Pearl Hinds on her ranch in Tulare County.[37]

Irma Reid remained in San Francisco, marrying a man named Stanley Wetz, and then divorcing him in the 1950s. Her ex-husband Charles Reid worked as a recreation director in Richmond for many years, and the Shields-Reid Community Center was in part named in 1971 in honor of his dedicated work.

Irma’s son Donald Reid served in the military, and then raised a family in Berkeley. I’ve been unable to find out what happened to Irma’s daughter Bertha Reid, the artist. Reid family members of Charlie’s generation always believed that Bertha disappeared by passing for white and cutting all communication with her family members, but that cannot be confirmed.[38]

Conscious Community

The choice the Tyrrels made to live in a neighborhood for nearly three decades where there were no other African-American families was not especially unusual in those years. The black portion of the city’s population was very small then, and there were no real physical centers of community. The Tyrrels had their extended family and their intentional communities of church and fraternal organizations, which provided the chosen focus points of their lives, and which did not need close physical proximity; the automobile made short work of distance. Given the demographics of being black in the city then, a sense of difference from the people around them would have been part of their consciousness wherever they lived.

In one sense, they lived then as many urbanites do today, without much regard for the accidental community of neighborhood—although now the workplace forms the center of many people’s lives—not church and fraternal organizations.


People mentioned in this article:

  • Bertram Louis Tyrrel (1867 Guyana – 1946 SF)
  • Frances Cady Tyrrel (1867 CA – 1938 SF)
  • Pearl Barber Hinds (1888 CA – 1977 CA)
  • James A Barber (1889 SF – 1929 CA)
  • Irma Tyrrel Reid (1896 SF – 1985 SF)
  • Wendell Bertram Tyrrel (1897 SF – 1984 Alameda)
  • Charles R Reid Sr (1898 – 1979 CA)
  • Bertha Reid (1920 SF – unknown)
  • Donald Charles Reid (1922 SF – 2007 CA)
  • Teresa Clingan Bell (1845 – 1922 SF)

Many thanks to Jesse for generously sharing with me family photos and stories, and for shaking the dust off my text.


ENDNOTES

  1. “Widow Tells Story: Bell ‘Mystery’ Kept Fresh by Suit,” SF Call, 28 Jul 1912. The myths around Bell and Mary Ellen Pleasant will have to wait for another post.
  2. There were no black residents in the Glen Park/Upper Noe/Fairmount district as reflected in the 1900 and 1910 US Census data. The Tyrrels moved to the house with the historical address of 198 Laidley St (now 192-196) in 1918. There was another African-American family, Lottie and Frank Bartlow and their six children, who moved to Randall Street in 1920 (and they were in the Census that year), but they moved away shortly afterward, according to SF Directory listings.
  3. Bell’s diaries in the Holdredge Collection at the SF History Center record a single sentence for many entries during 1906-1908: “No one came.” But it is not at all clear she finds this distressing. One Sunday she glories being left alone in the house, at last, by her servants, who are both out at activities.
  4. “The administratrix, with the aid or her attorney, has finally brought the estate to the condition that it will pay all of its creditors and leave something substantial for the heirs.” From: “Rehabilitates the Bell Estate: The Widow Proves an Excellent Administratrix of the Properties,” SF Chronicle, 16 Feb 1908, p28.
  5. For an excellent account of Mary Ellen Pleasant’s life, see Lynn Hudson’s The Making of ‘Mammy’ Pleasant,’ 2008. Despite decades of association of the Poole-Bell house with Pleasant, she had nothing to do with it, except in as much as Teresa Bell remembered her long, fraught, complex relationship with Pleasant and wrote about it with bitterness and regret in her diaries during these years (available in the Helen Holdredge Collection at the SF History Center).
  6. Sources used in this section: “The History of Afro-Caribbean Migration to the United States” Winston James, Columbia University, accessed Nov 2019. http://www.inmotionaame.org/texts/viewer.cfm;jsessionid=f830173511573124031470?id=10_000T&bhcp=1 ; “British Guiana” at Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Guiana ; and “History of Guyana” at Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Guyana.
  7. Much of the biographical information about the Tyrrels is from Ancstry.com sources, such as census data, as well as directories and newspapers.
  8. Albert S Broussard, Black San Francisco: The Struggle for Racial Equality in the West, 1900-1954, Univ of Kansas, 1993, p51.
  9. “Famous Colored Servants to Go,” SF Chronicle, 3 Nov 1896.
  10. Douglas Henry Daniels, Pioneer Urbanites: a Social and Cultural History of Black San Francisco, Berkeley: UC Press, 1990, p35-40, for background.
  11. Daniels, p36.
  12. Daniels, p39.
  13. “Famous Colored Servants to Go,” SF Chronicle, 3 Nov 1896.
  14. As per San Francisco Directory listings for these years.
  15. Sources used to prepare background for this section: Douglas Henry Daniels, Pioneer Urbanites: a Social and Cultural History of Black San Francisco, Berkeley: UC Press, 1990; Albert S Broussard, Black San Francisco: The Struggle for Racial Equality in the West, 1900-1954, Univ of Kansas, 1993; Jan Batiste Atkins, African Americans of San Francisco, Arcadia Publishing, 2012.
  16. Broussard, p71.
  17. Sources for background of the role of fraternal organizations in the lives of African-Americans: Theda Skocpol, Ariane Liazos, and Marchsal Ganz, What A Mighty Power We Can Be: African American Fraternal Groups and the Struggle for Racial Equality, Princeton University Press, 2006; “Black Fraternal Organizations: Systems, Secrecy, and Solace,” Matthew W Hughey and Gregory S Parks; “A Critical Review Essay of Walker, Corey: A Noble Fight: African American Freemasonry and the Struggle for Democracy in America,” Ariane Liazos; “Hidden in Plain Sight: African American Secret Societies and Black Freemasonry,” Paul Lawrence Dunbar; all three articles contained in: The Journal of African-American Studies, Vol 16, Issue 12, December 2012, accessed at jstor.org Nov 2019. Also, Broussard and Daniels, cited in previous endnotes.
  18. Skocpal et al, p223.
  19. Skocpal et al, p7 – “With controls for income and education.”
  20. Skocpal et al, p64.
  21. Skocpal et al, p7, emphasis in the original.
  22. Dunbar, p629.
  23. Liazos, p723.
  24. Dunbar, p633.
  25. Skocpal et al, p33.
  26. Dunbar, p624.
  27. Skocpal et al, p82.
  28. Skocpal et al, p70.
  29. Skocpal et al, p73.
  30. SF Examiner, 27 Sep 1938.
  31. “Madam CJ Walker” Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madam_C._J._Walker
  32. Oakland Tribune, 25 Nov 1923, p52.
  33. To See Justice Done: Letters from the Scottsboro Boys Trials, accessed 7 Dec 2019. https://scottsboroboysletters.as.ua.edu/items/show/532
  34. The Spokesman (San Francisco), 11 May 1933.
  35. As per Sales Ledger, San Francisco Office of the Assessor-Recorder, for lots 6727014 and 6727030 for 10 June 1938.
  36. There was no obituary for Bertram Tyrrel that I was able to find, which is very unfortunate.
  37. A 1957 Directory listing for Tulare County for Wendell Tyrrel gives the same PO Box as for Pearl Hinds, in Farmersville.
  38. Email conversation, Jesse Allen Taylor, Reid family archivist, 6 Dec 2019.

 

2 thoughts on “The First Black Family in Glen Park”

  1. Can I meet you some day and have a conversation? I’m realizing- now that I have your blog bookmarked, and check for regular updates- that it could be a good thing.

  2. I’m a descendant of a Katie I’m trying to figure out where I can find heritage

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