Cohen-Chrisman-Vecki House

169 Front Street

 

This early home was constructed by the Howard brothers in 1866 for the Cohen family and is the oldest original building in downtown Danville. Michael and Matilda Cohen emigrated from France and their three children were born in California. Their cook was Chinese. Michael Cohen was the Danville Postmaster from 1865 to 1886 (with a one-year break in 1877). They ran a general store in Danville’s early years.

The Howard Brothers, who also built the Grange Hall, Osborn House, and White Gate Farm House. A mirror image of the Osborn House, this home was originally a Italian Gothic style with a steeply pitched roof, wooden board and batts siding, and gingerbread trim. The front center second story window which extends into the gable has a rounded rather than the usual Gothic pointed arch.  The home was built using lumber that was brought around the Horn.

It was purchased in 1888 by local businessman John P. Chrisman who passed away in 1906. Dr. Victor and Claire Vecki and family left San Francisco for Danville as refugees after the great earthquake and fire and moved into the house on November 17, 1906. The family lived there until the 1930s while their daughter Isabel and Son Victor attended local schools.  Dr. Vecki was the first dentist in Danville and for many years he was the only dentist in the valley, maintaining his dental parlor in the house. The property included a large almond and fruit orchard and garden area to the rear.

Drawing of the original home by Chris Arnott in the Valley Pioneer
Drawing of the original home by Chris Arnott in the Valley Pioneer

The early movie, “Once to Every Woman,” starring Dorothy Phillips and directed by her husband, Alan Holubar, was filmed in Danville. The movie included shots inside and outside the Vecki home. The Vecki children and other neighborhood children were also used in the film. A silent film released September 6, 1920, it also featured Rudolph Valentino. No negative or print materials of this film are known to exist.

The Vecki family and two mothers-in-law about 1910
The Vecki family and two mothers-in-law about 1910

Isabel Vecki had a dance and piano studio there for a time. The house was also used by the Pentecostal church and then became office space. Insurance broker and photographer Bill Hockins used it for his office for many years.

Today it is a two-story stucco structure with steep cross gables, and Greek revival style moldings.  The original wooden board and batts have been covered by stucco and the gingerbread trim has been removed. Evidently when this work was done to the house, an addition was built to the rear and a foundation placed under the house. It had a small, somewhat awkward parking lot between the house and the street. In 2002, the current owner Kim Williams picked up and moved the structure forward, closer to Front Street and a significant addition was built to the rear of the property.

As the oldest intact building in Old Town, it was recognized by a SRV Historical Society plaque on November 20, 2009. Tours always stop to admire the restored house and remember the families who lived there.

Beverly Lane 2019

 

Sources:  Museum archives, Virgie V. Jones’ Historical Persons & Places in the San Ramon Valley, Be It Ever So Humble