Samuel Leask

In this second part of the interview with Haswell Leask, Haswell tells stories about his father, Samuel Leask, and gives background to his father's memoirs, published privately.

The illustrations are linked to short articles and larger illustrations.

Linda: Your father and Will Netherton were friends. They were both mentioned in Miss Forbes's book about the Seabright. Did you know Miss Forbes?

Haswell: I knew Miss Forbes very, very well. Let me tell you a story about Miss Forbes, that I well remember hearing her tell. She is a great friend of my mother's. One day I happen to be around–I must of been quite young kid–and she laughed and told my mother about the fact that she had only been proposed to once. But the next morning, the man came around and apologized and said he'd been drunk.

Linda: Miss Forbes's book about the Seabright mentions that Sam Leask and Will Netherton and some other people met at the Netherton home because William was sick, to discuss plans for the water company.

Haswell: They were both interested in getting water to Seabright. [Water politics of any California town at the turn of the century is always an interesting story.)

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[Haswell is showing me the book of his father's memoirs. I don't have these photographs, they belong to the Leask family. Samuel Leask memoire, "Some memories of an uprooted and transplanted Scot" is available at the Santa Cruz public library.]

Haswell: That was taken on his hundredth birthday. This year's my hundredth.

Linda: Congratulations!

Linda: What clock is he winding?

Haswell: The clock was in the room, in the little shack in Scotland where he was born, when he was born. That's over on Green Street in the Leask home, there now.

That's the house he was born in. That's him, at an early age. His father and mother. Here is some of his handwriting at a late age. He went to school about three years in his life. This is an early store.

That's a picture of my mother, and this picture was taken at 9:00 the night before she died. She was with a lady who took care of her. And she was perfectly well, and she died the next morning.

There's the four boys. My older brother, Jim he passed away; my brother Bob, and next to him is Sam, he also passed away. My father, my sister.

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Linda: Tell me the story of how your father started the library.

Haswell: My father was a great reader. And he was interested in everything, all social subjects says of various kinds. As soon as he came to Santa Cruz he became, naturally, interested in the library, which was practically nonexistent at that time. And it wasn't long before he became a library trustee. And they wanted a new library. So he encouraged them to try the Carnegie people for grant. Which they did and which was granted. When it was granted, they surveyed the financial situation and what they could add to the grant as it wasn't enough money. So he volunteered to go to New York to consult with the Carnegie people. The idea was that they could increase the grant. And they wouldn't. He was given an interview with the man who handled it for the Carnegie Foundation. He laid out the situation. When it was over, the man said that he regretted the situation in Santa Cruz, the size of the town, and this situation the town faced, but they couldn't increase the grant according to the formulas they had, for any more money than they'd given.

When my father came to this country, one of the first things he was determined to do was lose his Scotch dialect. And he did very successfully. He wanted to be American. He got up to leave, and of course, the man he'd been talking to was a Scot. He turned to leave and thanked the man. He turned on his broad Scotch Aberdeen dialect, and asked him what part of Scotland he was from. The man said "My God, you're a Scot !" "Oh, yes." "Well, come and set down." He left with the grant that built the original Santa Cruz library.

Will Netherton went back with my father to New York once to get the city out of a jam. Santa Cruz had waterworks. And they issued negotiable bonds. And somebody stole the bonds. [Tape ends; the rest of this paragraph from my handwritten notes.] The bonds were held by people all over the world. People were going to foreclose on stolen bonds. My father and Will Netherton went to New York to consult with the bankers. My father spent six weeks in New York and spent his own money, which is typical of how he volunteered for Santa Cruz.

Haswell: Didn't I tell you about the Boardwalk stock that my father had at that time? My father was -- any money that he accumulated he put back into the business. And he was never interested in stocks or business operations that were different from his own. Well, you've heard about the famous Santa Cruz character named Fred Swanton who was a developer. Never made a penny out of anything he ever started; everything he was involved in went broke and he did it all on other people's money–though he lived in pretty high style. Well, he had a great reputation in Santa Cruz. He was important because he started things. They were all failures.

The Casino, the Santa Cruz Seaside Company, went bankrupt under Swanton and the greatest debtor was the utility company, the gas and electric people. At that time it was called the Coast County Gas and Electric. The Boardwalk used tremendous amounts of power. The man that constructed the Coast County firm was Waldo Coleman. Waldo Coleman's family were early Californians and they had a very successful gold mine up near Auburn. And my grandmother was probably the first school teacher in Placer County and she was a friend of the original Colemans. [mother's mother.] Waldo Coleman was some of these people, and the families had always been friendly but not too closely involved.

Well, Waldo Coleman was stuck with this place in Santa Cruz and didn't know what to do it. He came to my father and asked if he would become a director. And of course it was an important thing in Santa Cruz. He wanted to see if they couldn't pull it out. And he was interested in getting his money back. Well, they did, and then management that they utilized, I don't know who they were, but they were very successful right from the very beginning.

But father remained a director in the business although he had absolutely no interest in that sort of thing. He remained a director for 50 years and finally he made them let him out at 90. Eventually he died. We, in going over his effects, we discovered some Seaside Company stock. Evidently he thought that if he was going to be a director that he ought to have a little stock. Well, I can imagine that he hated to buy it, because he never went into anything of that sort. And then it developed, that he had purchased the stock at $6 per share. He bought it right at the rock bottom. At that time we ask what the stock was worth. It developed it was worth about $700 a share. What would we do with this stuff? We can't sell it because it would all go to taxes. You know, capital gains. The family pondered about it, and we made up our minds. We will try the use this up for things that my mother and father would appreciate spending the money for. So, as Edna said, the first thing was the carpets at Dominican Hospital. We took some of the rest of it, and we bought some acreage of redwood land and added it Big Basin Park. And then, eventually, it was getting down to where there wasn't much left. My brother Sam, who was in Los Angeles, wanted to do something for a library down there, so he suggested that we divide it up. So he took his share and put it into the library. We all had a few shares left, so I took mine and used it for a memorial park for my wife Hazel over in our town of Waterford. Margaret still has hers. She'll have to find something.

Of course, he had a pass to the Boardwalk. He never allowed his sons or daughters to use that pass. He said if you want to go for that foolishness you earn the money. Well, that was the case, we never used the pass. But when the grandchildren came along, why boy, he'd ask my mother "Where's that Seaside pass? "

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Linda: I was interested in the story about the school board election and then what happened when the high school burned down.

Haswell: Oh yes, I was in school at that time, 1912. I don't remember much about it. For years we lived across from the school on Walnut avenue. But we had moved over to Green Street before the school burned down.

Linda: I liked the story about the controversy over where the new high school should be built.

Haswell: That was a bitter blow to him. You know where the football field is now, at the high school. Did you understand from what he wrote–I don't know what detail he went into. He was opposed to relocating the high school where it now is, and where it had been, because he looked forward to the fact that the school was going to be greatly enlarged, and it wasn't adequate. Of course, you look at it now and it has grown full of buildings. At that time, he wanted to buy the football field, and the slope that goes up. At that time he wanted to buy the whole ledge from Walnut Avenue to Laurel Street and have the buildings of the high school scattered on that flat . Of course, it would have been a wonderful set up according to him and time is sure proof of that.

 

A. A. Taylor was opposed to it because his home was there and would have been taken. It was on Taylor street. Taylor was there and his home would have been consumed in the school developments. There were lots of people, their children had gone to the high-school on Walnut avenue in there was a lot of sentiment on that. But my father lost that one.

A . A. Taylor–I worked for him. I had a paper route for years. Taylor was a dwarf, a very small man. And my father always had a high opinion of him because he was a thinker and there were a lot of things about A. A. Taylor that my father always admired. He was very friendly with him. But they differed on this one. [the school site controversy.]

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Linda: Did your father belong to a political party?

Haswell: When he was a young man growing up, after he finished his apprenticeship, he went to work in London. And he became associated with his inquiring mind–he was a radical and he became associated with a group of English Socialists who had been famous for the new thinking that they brought into England. He was is very much interested in those people and he was acquainted with a great many of the people who– the names are very, very famous over there. But as time went on, he began to question a good many of the things he had been very enthusiastic about and eventually ended up a real conservative.

Linda: Your father mentioned that he thought in the best of cases unions were unnecessary.

Haswell: He wanted the independence of running his business and he always had a good relationship with his employees. Most of those people are gone now, but we constantly run across people who worked in the store and I always speak about what a wonderful place it was.

Linda: They're building a new movie theater on the land with the store was. What do you think of that?

Haswell: I'm glad to see it used for something. The downtown area of Santa Cruz, I think, is hopeless with little dabby things. Nothing sturdy or strong.

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Linda: Did you go church?

Haswell: For short time my father and mother were interested in the Unitarian Church and I was subjected to Sunday school there. I had a pretty good time, but my father, of course, was raised in a very strict Scottish Presbyterian atmosphere. But he became dissatisfied. He had a roving mind, and questioned everything and there were things he was never able to accommodate himself to. So we were never encouraged or urged to take an interest in religion, and I never did. I have four daughters, and they were treated just the same way. And three of the four daughters eventually became involved with various churches and I think it has been good for them. The other daughter married a Jewish boy, who isn't religious and she's agnostic, kind of like I am.

The Nethertons, they showed an interest in the Unitarian Church about the same time my parents did. They were friends and my mother and Mrs. Netherton belong to women's [group] and it was a social thing in a mild away and they enjoyed it.

 

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Linda: Did your father belong to fraternal organizations that people were supposed to belong to?

Haswell: He was an Odd Fellow. And there was a great similarity between the two of us. He was an Odd Fellow. I'm a member of the Elks. I remember one evening over at the Green Street place. A couple of men came, picked up my father and he drove off with them. It developed that he was going to the Odd Fellows to get his fiftieth-year pin. As he left, he told me "This is the second meeting I've attended."

My father was not a joiner. But I joined the Elks as soon as I came to Santa Cruz, because my wife Hazel had lived in an orphanage for several years. She was a lonely little girl. I think I've told you about her association with the Elks? There was one great day every year, when they would line up the kinds of the orphanage in Vallejo for the Elks' Christmas party that they would give these kids from the orphanage. And it was a thing that stuck with her as long as she lived. She talked about it many times. It was a wonderful occasion. But the thing that impressed her was not the Christmas tree and the gifts and so forth. It was the one fact that there were nice men that would bring her over, sit down next to her, and talk to her, and hug her. And she never forgot it.

So I thought about it and she'd tell her kids about it. I was thinking about it when I was working somewhere on the ranch. And I thought those Vallejo Elks should know what they did for this little girl. So I went home and wrote them a letter and told them what had happened to her, that she had grown up, and some of the things that she had done. And I wrote them a check and said I'd appreciate it if they could find a girl, who needed a lift, and do something for her. You did it once so I know you can do it again.

And I didn't hear anything from the letter. After about a month the telephone rang one night and I answered the phone, and the guy identified me. He said "I got your letter, and it was read, and some of the men asked for copies of it. And some of our wives were interested in this girl, and we want her to come up on any weekend that you can make it in August.

Linda: They knew her?

Haswell: This was the sons and nephews. It was 65 years later. We drove up, and they treated her like a queen. When we came to Santa Cruz, the first thing we did was join the Elks.

Read more of the interview: The Riverside House and the Nethertons, and more stories of old Santa Cruz
Riverside Home| The Lot | Nethertons | The Duplex | The Eudemons | The Boutelles | The Friends | The Rosewoods | The Neighborhood