Saturday, January 7, 2017

William Gilliat Thornally Jr. (1875-1944) – Part 2 Civic Life

Will Thornally Jr.
Will got involved in civic affairs as a young man and continued to be very actively engaged in public service throughout his life. His civic activities began on April 9, 1901 when, at the age of 26, he was elected as a trustee for the Fruitvale Fire Department. At that time fire protection was provided by volunteers who lived in the community.

The Oakland Tribune reported on August 2, 1907 that Will was Sargent-at-arms of the Bridge Club - an organization supporting W.B. Bridge for judge in the Fruitvale District. Bridge had been a school trustee and had two schools built in Fruitvale. As a county supervisor he was known for being “an aggressive worker for public betterment”.  (reference: “Greater Oakland” by E. Blake)
Historic photo of the Fruitvale fire station from Google

On September 3, 1903 Will was a member of a jury that sentenced Victor Walkirez, an African American man who murdered Elizabeth Leroy, to life in prison. This was a high-profile and controversial case of the times – many felt the defendant deserved the death penalty but one juror believed Walkirez was insane when he committed the murder, so after two weeks and three ballots the jury agreed on a sentence of life in prison.

Will’s life-long involvement with the Free Masons began in 1903 when he was 28. On December 23rd he was installed as a Junior Warden of the Fruitvale Lodge of Masons. The news clip from his election provided the following information: "Fruitvale Lodge of Masons installed the following new officers last night: Worshipful Master, Andrew Frost; Senior Warden, Hugh Frazer; Junior Warden, William G. Thornally; Secretary, Henry Tyack; Treasurer, P. H. Blake Sr.; Senior Deacon, E. Spence de Pue; Junior Deacon, Cornelius Carew; Marshal. George E. Lund; Senior Steward, Arthur P. Snow; Junior Steward, Charles Hughes; Tyler (sp.), John McArthur.”  San Francisco Call, Dec. 23, 1903.
An architectural detail of the Mason symbol on the
Fruitvale Scottish Rite building built by Will.
I’ve tried to learn more about Will’s involvement with the Masons without success. I toured the Masonic Temple around 2008 and was told that they were happy to share historic information about their members. Twice I have reached out to the Masons and provided them written background material on William Sr., Will Jr, Harry and John Thornally who were all members, but I’ve received no response. I do know from other news articles that Will continued as a Free Mason and rose in their ranks – more on that below.

The Fruitvale Board of Trade appointed Will to the organizing committee on June 6, 1904. At their first meeting they were making plans to send delegates to the statewide trade convention in Sacramento. The Board of Trade was a civic organization similar to the Chamber of Commerce or Rotary. That news piece read as follows:
“The spirit of progress is abroad in all of the different communities on the eastern Bay Shore. District organizations for advancement of the county at large and sections in particular are being formed where none have existed before, and old ones are being resurrected into new life. The people of that delightful section known as Fruitvale are the latest to organize for the development of a district that has many natural advantages and needs but to be advertised to be appreciated. The Board of Trade of Fruitvale has been formed, with Adolph Lorsbach as president……”     San Francisco Call, June 6, 1904

On June 9, 1904 the following news item appeared in the Oakland Tribune. I am not sure what it means.
“At the conclusion of the 2nd meeting of the Fruitvale Board of Trade W.G. Thornally presented the board with a unique emblem in the shape of a substantial hammer to be used in hammering down and exterminating jointly and individually all knockers found on the streets of Fruitvale or vicinity. The gift was accepted and placed in a conspicuous place. 10 new members were taken into the organization. The meeting was then adjourned until next Thursday.”                           Oakland Tribune, June 9, 1904 p. 8

Will was appointed Deputy Constable by Constable Thomas Carroll on July 27, 1904 when he was 29 years old. His appointment came about after two other constables were dismissed after engaging in a battle with two burglars who were trying to rob the Sather Station. This was reported in the San Francisco Call.

On March 6, 1905 the Tribune reported that Will was running for a clerk position on the Melrose Sanitary District board. His father was the Sanitary Inspector for Fruitvale from 1903 to 1910. Melrose was another community similar to Fruitvale. Eventually both were annexed into Oakland.

On January 17, 1906 the Tribune ran a story headlined “Worshipful Master W.G. Thornally”. The story was about the planned construction of a Mason Building in Fruitvale. The headline suggests that Will was now a leader in the Oakland Masons. Another news piece published in August of 1906 reported that Will was a candidate to be a delegate to the Republican County Convention representing the 15th District of Oakland. The article did not say if he was elected.
Will's Worshipful Master pin
from the Masons

In January of 1910, Will was on the executive committee of the Eastside Improvement Club of Greater Oakland. The club's mission was to advocate for "trade at home, adequate fire and police protection in the outlying sections, better lighting facilities, reasonable street improvements and just and able representation on the City Council”. In July of that year he, and a group of men, founded the Young Republican Club – a group that would endorse and support candidates for office. Will was selected as the first club President.

Young Republicans in Annexed District Form New Alliance

OAKLAND, July 12.— With an initial membership of 280, the Young Men's republican club of the annexed district has been organized in Fruitvale with the following officers: William Thornally Jr., President; Bill- Hackett, First Vice President: George Zimmerman, Second Vice President; M. E. Jacobsen, Secretary  and treasurer. An executive committee, "composed of Hackett, Zimmerman, T. Rossi, William McKeon and Edward Lemieux, was also appointed. The new political organization will meet every Friday night in Lund's Hall, above the Fruitvale post office, until the election in November. Candidates will be invited to address the club at each meeting. No candidates will be endorsed until a few days before the election.                              San Francisco Call, July 13, 1910.

A year later, on March 11, 1911 a Tribune article identified William G. Thornally as president of the Representation Club of Greater Oakland. I suspect this was the same club begun in 1910 with a new name because the story was about their meeting to endorse Peter C. Frederickson – a candidate for Commissioner of Oakland. Harry Thornally was also mentioned in the article as being a member of the executive committee. The Tribune ran a full page political ad for a few days in May of 1911 that was paid for by the Oakland Progressive Club. It listed the names of all who were endorsing Frederickson. William Thornally Sr. was among the group.

The Native Sons of the Golden West was another active organization in Oakland at this time. According to Wikipedia, “The Native Sons of the Golden West is a fraternal service organization founded in 1875, limited to native born Californians and dedicated to historic preservation, documentation of historic structures and places in the state, the placement of historic plaques and other charitable functions within California.”  In February of 1912, they were planning a street fair and carnival that was to be held in Fruitvale. Will was mentioned in a news clip and identified as a member of the finance committee for the fair. The event was planned for April 29th to May 4th and would take place on the Derby property located between Fruitvale Avenue, E. 14th Street, East 12th Street and Sausal Creek. 

1912 was an exceptional year for Will. He was 37 years old and made the news frequently. In my research I found several articles about his myriad civic activities. It is also the year his company built the Saint Joseph’s Home – an entire campus of impressive brick buildings that still exists today. See the following post about Will’s professional life.

Will and Agnus with sons Ralph (standing) and George. From Ralph
Thornally's collection.
In July of 1912, the Representation club hosted a barbeque to promote candidates. The event was hosted by Mayor Frank C. Mott. He and several others spoke including State Assemblyman Frank M. Smith. The event took place at Leona Heights and consisted of “athletic events, speeches and general merry making” according to the news report. Will was part of the committee that planned the event.

Also in July of 1912, Will signed a petition as Vice President of an anti-recall group. The group was planning an event to support Mayor Frank Mott. It was to be held in conjunction with a suffrage event at MacDonough Theater. The news article summarized all that had been accomplished under Mott's leadership, including construction of the 12th Street dam that created Lake Merritt.  About 100 years latter my firm help lead an effort to reconfigure 12th Street which I renamed Lake Merritt Boulevard on our illustrative drawing. The name stuck and it is now known as such.

William J. (sic) Thornally Jr. was one of a very long list of Oakland residents that signed a petition against the recall of Mayor Frank Mott and two City commissioners. The Industrial Workers of the World or I.W.W. had mounted a recall campaign as part of their advocacy for workers to take over their work places “using any means possible”. This would have been a very controversial issue of the day. The headline read: “Solid Citizens of Oakland Out With An Appeal” and the story began …

“OAKLAND, Aug. 2.—A final statement to the men and women who believe in good government and the triumph of law over disorder and anarchy was issued today by the Citizens' Municipal Committee. Attention is called to the pernicious doctrines of the I. W. W., who are the prime movers in this recall election which has been instituted against Mayor Frank K. Mott and Commissioners F. C. Turner and W. J. Baccus. ……

The statement is as follows: TO THE CITIZENS OF OAKLAND: On August 5. 1912 There will be held in this city a recall election initiated by members of an organization known as the Industrial Workers of the World, and commonly known as the I. W. W. The pretended justification of this election is to recall certain officials of the city of Oakland, and elect their successors. The real object, however, is to demonstrate to the people of Oakland and to the country that the I. W. W. and their sympathizers control the city of Oakland and cannot be interfered with, no matter what they may say or do.

"The question for you to decide is before you, and as you have determined so must you cast your ballots. You may vote for the recall of the mayor and two commissioners because they enforced the law of the city that prevents the use of vulgarity and profanity in the public streets. You may vote against law and order and the right of the police department to enforce the laws on the city statute books. "On the other hand, you can vote against the recall and to retain the city officials who put a stop to the vile and filthy attacks that were being made on all forms of religion, decency, public morality and the flag of the nation. You can enlist under the stars and stripes or under the red flag of anarchy."

As one of Oakland’s business and civic leaders Will signed the petition and was actively engaged in opposing the I.W.W.
William Knowland
In August of 1912, William was elected as a Vice President of the newly created Knowland Club. The purpose of the club was to get William F. Knowland re-elected to congress. Knowland was the son of Joseph R. Knowland – publisher of the The Oakland Tribune and as such probably the most powerful man in Oakland. William F. Knowland was appointed to the United States Congress in 1945 to fill a vacancy created when Hiram Johnson died. He served in the US Senate until 1959. Previously he was a California Assemblyman from 1933-35 and a state senator from 1935-39. In the 1950s Knowland was considered as a possible running mate for then President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s second term.

The 1914 directory listed Will as Vice President of the General Contractors Association of Alameda County.
A group of business men from Ralph Thornally's collectioin.
Will Thornally back row 3rd from the left.
Ten years later in August of 1924, Will announced the start of construction of a new building that would house the California Builders Exchange and noted that California was the only such group to own their own building. The cost to build the building was $150,000. This announcement was made at a barbeque held at the newly constructed sanatorium in Livermore – built by Will’s company.

Will’s obituary noted that he was a member of the Sequoyah Country Club and the East Bay Breakfast Club. His niece Lottie Thornally was grateful that her uncle Will arranged for her wedding reception to be held at the Sequoyah Club. The Breakfast Club still exists today.
One of the buildings on the Sequoyah Country Club campus

The obit also noted that Will was a member of the Aahmes Shriners – a group associated with the Masons. Today, this group of Shriners is still active and is now located in Livermore. Their website tells us that, “The earliest records show that the idea for a Shrine Temple in the East Bay first materialized around 1907. The Shriners Imperial Council granted the charter on July 12, 1911 with the name Aahmes, which means "the moon is born.” The Aahmes Shriners Temple was first located in Oakland in a series of temporary locations until the organization purchased a property known as the Defenders Club at 13th and Harrison Streets. The first meeting was held in that Temple in April 1920.”  The Shriners' official philanthropy is their Shriners Hospitals for Children including a 22-hospital pediatric healthcare system specializing in orthopedics, burn injuries, spinal cord injuries, cleft palate surgery, and medical research.
Interior shot of the Sequoyah Country Club

So, in summary Will was a member and leader in the following groups:

Aahmes Shriner, member
California Builders Exchange, Vice President and President
Deputy Constable for Fruitvale
East Bay Breakfast Club, member
Eastside Improvement Club, member of the executive committee
Free Masons, Junior Warden, Worshipful Master
Fruitvale Board of Trade, member of the Organizing Committee
Fruitvale Fire Department, Trustee
General Contractors Association of Alameda County, Vice President
Knowland Club, Vice President
Native Sons of the Golden West, finance committee member
Oakland Builders Exchange, President
Oakland Progressive Club, member
Representation Club of Greater Oakland, President
Republican County Convention, delegate candidate
Sequoia Country Club, member
W.B Bridge Club, Sargent-at-Arms

I too have chosen to be involved with a number of civic and professional groups and know from experience that each demands time and commitment. For every event that was reported it is likely that Will attended numerous meetings and spent hours planning and preparing for these events. Like Will I own a business in Oakland but I have three business partners that help me manage and operate that business. Will had a business partner very early in his career but mostly we worked independently and with great success. Clearly, Will played a key role in helping Oakland become a great City – he was a leader and a builder. I admire his efforts and accomplishments and know that my mother held him in very high regard. The post that follows this one describes the buildings that Will’s company built in Oakland, Alameda and in other nearby cities.
"Cheaper Gas Aids Builders, 22 May 1938". Will, President
of the Builder's Exchange, on left

Will’s wife Agnus died in 1934 when he was 59. After her death he continued to live in their home on Paramount Road in Oakland but by 1940 he had moved to Berkeley and was living in a nice Mediterranean-style apartment building at 1700 LeRoy Street.

Will died on February 16, 1944 from a heart attack. The newspaper reported that he collapsed on the sidewalk at 15th and Franklin, very near my office which is on 17th between Broadway and Franklin. He was taken to Highland Hospital where he died. At the time of his death he was living at 377 Lenox Avenue in Oakland. The funeral was held at the Clarence N. Cooper Mortuary and Chapel at 15th and Fruitvale Avenue. Will was buried with his wife Agnus at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland.

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