The Carmel and Thomas Fallon House

The Fallons

Carmel Fallon is believed to have been born in 1827, daughter of Marina Castro and Simon Cota. Martina was a member of the prominent Castro family, and was the first woman in California to request a land grant in her own name. She was the grantee of Rancho Soquel, about 35,000 acres on the coastline south of Santa Cruz.

Portrait of Carmel Fallon, c. 1850 (History San Jose Collection)

Martina divided her land among herself and her children, to ensure it would not go to her third husband, Louis Depaux, on her death.

Carmel married Tom Fallon, an Irishman, in 1848. The Fallon family, including two children, sailed to Texas in 1853. In 1854, they left Texas; while waiting in New Orleans for a ship home, their three children died.

The Fallon family returned to California, moved to San Jose in 1855, and built a home in which they lived for 22 years. Six children were born in the house. In 1876, Carmel discovered her husband and a domestic named Maggie McBride, in “compromising circumstances.” The next day she filed for divorce, after 27 years of marriage, and moved to San Francisco.

Carmel died in 1923, leaving a substantial estate.

Tom Fallon was born in 1819 in Ireland. He apprenticed as a saddlemaker, but later tried fur trapping in the Rockies. He was in Colorado when Colonel John Fremont arrived with his topographical engineers. The surveying party was attempting to discover a better trail to Oregon Territory. Fallon was hired as a hunter and guide, receiving 65 cents a day. From Oregon, they turned south and crossed the Sierra Nevada. He later met Carmel through her Irish stepfather.

Lithograph portrait of Thomas Fallon, c. 1850 (History San Jose Collection)

After arriving in San Jose, the Fallons used the stake of money they had originally taken to start a new life in Texas, and built the grandest home in the county. Tom Fallon started a pear orchard from cuttings from the Peralta orchard, and went back into fruit growing with great success. He also began buying downtown lots for resale and development.

Fallon was active in local politics. His reputation as a hero in the conquest of California, in addition to his personal popularity and expansive personality, made him a natural candidate for political office. He was elected Mayor in 1859 and served one term. He worked to solve the issues of land titles, street improvements, dog licensing, littering of public parks, increasing the police department, regulating cost and operation of city owned Oak Hill Cemetery, paving First Street, and caring for indigent sick.

After failing to be elected to the State Senate, he was elected County Treasurer.

Shortly after his divorce from Carmel, he married 22 year-old Samantha Steinhoff. The marriage lasted 16 months. Six years later he was court ordered to pay $10,000 to a Mrs. Elmira Dunbar for breach of promise.

Tom Fallon died in 1885, leaving a large estate.

The House

The Fallons purchased the parcel of land on which his house sits today in 1854. This parcel was originally owned by pobladore (settler) Manuel Gonzales, who constructed the nearby adobe. Sergeant Luis Peralta gained possession of the property and Gonzales’ adobe house in 1804. The property extended to the Guadalupe River and became known as Peralta’s Orchard.

Looking west c. 1868, with the Fallon House in the center, and the Peralta adobes in front. (History San Jose Collection)

At the time the Fallons settled in San Jose, the town was undergoing a period of rapid expansion. The area east of Market Street and the old pueblo had been surveyed in typical American grid pattern by Chester Lyman in 1847, facilitating the identification of parcels of taxation and purchase. However, the area west of Market Street did not see the same rapid development. Because the old pueblo area was primarily owned by native Californians, it was not included in the early surveys of the city. Moreover, the Hispanic property lines were vague and were undergoing confirmation by the Land Commission established in 1851.

In the 1850s, San Jose was characterized as a service center for the expanding agricultural hinterland, increasing immigration, residential expansion, and the development of urban services and utilities. During the early 1850s, the Fallons’ neighborhood on San Pedro Street probably retained much of the character of the earlier Pueblo years.

Water for domestic irrigation purposes was supplied to residents by the acequia, described as a ditch three to four feet deep and from six to ten feet wide that meandered northward from a pond near Virginia Street through the town between the present Market Street and Almaden Avenue to Taylor Street where it joined the Guadalupe River. As a general rule the pueblo residents built their houses east of the acequia, and the lands west of the acequia were suerte lots used for cultivation. The acequia transected Fallon’s property.

In 1850 the Sisters of Notre Dame acquired the property adjacent to the rear of the Fallons’ land, on the west side of the acequia between Santa Clara Street and what became San Augustine Street. They described the seventy-year old acequia as being lined with willows. After the discovery of artesian water in January 1854, the use of the acequia for household water decreased. However, it served for a number of years as a drainage ditch for the overflowing artesian wells, and for irrigation for the adjacent orchards and gardens, until it was completely abandoned in 1868.

The Fallons’ San Pedro Street property was bounded on the south by land occupied by the daughters of Don Luis Peralta, who lived in several small adobe swellings. To the north of the Fallons were the lands of Louis Pellier, a pioneer nurseryman and horticulturist who started one of the first commercial nurseries in San Jose in 1850 on this property.

An alley, or trail, separated the Fallon property from the Peraltas during the 1850s. This alley was known as Peralta Street in 1850, St. Peter Street in 1852, and St. Augustine in 1853. An 1858 photograph indicates this area was completely fenced on San Pedro Street. San Augustine Street did not become an official city street until 1870. On the northern boundary, Chaboya Alley was a crooked passageway between the original Chaboya and Peralta properties, which in the 1850s separated the Fallon and Pellier properties. The Fallon property extended beyond the acequia to the present Terraine Street which was not opened between Santa Clara and Julian Street until after 1870.

In 1854, with the exception of Robert Livermore’s small adobe, the area west of the Fallon parcel was an unbroken tract of orchards, cultivated crops, or mustard as far as the Guadalupe River. In 1864, the Peraltas subdivided the remaining portions of the “Orchard” between Pleasant Street and the Guadalupe River for residential development, selling the first parcels in 1867. The Sisters of Notre Dame also surveyed their excess property, selling lots for residential development between Santa Teresa Street and Pleasant Street in 1864. Pellier’s property was subdivided after his death in 1872.

The date that Fallon built his mansion has not been determined, but it is believed that the house was completed in the spring of 1855. Fallon later testified in a court case in 1877 that he had occupied the house for 25 years, indicating a construction date of 1852, and that all his children had been born in the house (the oldest was born in 1855).

During the years that the Fallons resided in the house, it was situated in a flourishing pear orchard, surrounded by a garden of flowering plants, making it an early San Jose showplace. The earliest photographs that include the house were taken about 1868, in which the residence stands on the edge of the downtown district surrounded by young landscaping. In later photographs, circa 1880, the house is almost entirely obscured by mature trees. A summer house, constructed after 1868, is seen in this photo, located on the north side of the house.

The circa 1868 photograph indicates the presence of a one-story extension to the rear of the house that probably housed the kitchen and servants’ quarters, as well as a porch. This extension is also indicated on the 1884 Sanborn map on the northwest corner of the house.

There is little in the way of contemporary archival data regarding the interior of the residence. Legal testimony during the 1870s refers to the kitchen, library, dining room (containing a fireplace mantel with a clock and sideboard for liquor), and a small bedroom for the maid. The grounds included a wash house in the back garden.

City Directories indicate that the house remained vacant after 1878 through 1900, while Thomas traveled or resided in San Francisco, and for 15 years after his death. Thomas’ children Anita and Arthur were eventually named his heirs, and around 1900 the property was divided into five lots. The house became part of Parcel C, separated from San Pedro Street by Parcel B, which was subdivided and developed by 1911.

The Italia Hotel

The Fallon residence in 1900 became the Italia Hotel, which since 1897 had been operated at 30 Locust Street near Santa Clara Street. The 1901 Sanborn Map indicates that no exterior modifications to the house had been made at this point; however, the summer house had been replaced by a ball alley on the north side of the house. By 1911 extensive additions had been made on the rear of the house, doubling the size of the structure, and extending it almost to the property line.

During this same period, the combination rooming house/store and a second structure were erected in the hotel’s front yard facing San Pedro Street. At this time the address was changed to 175 San Augustine.

Thomas Fallon House and Manny’s Cellar restaurant, 1987 (Jacqueline M. Schuette, photographer)

The Italia Hotel was one of the most popular Italian restaurants in the Valley. Writers and artists of the area were frequent patrons, among them John Steinbeck, when he was a resident of Los Gatos; Fatty Arbuckle; and Charlie Chaplin. In 1959, the restaurant became known as the Italian Cellar, and then Manny’s Cellar in the early 1960s when it was operated by Manual G. Pereira.

While the hotel itself closed in the early 1960s, Manny’s continued as a popular downtown establishment for more than a quarter of a century, offering lunch, dinner or cocktails. Pereira shut down operations for good in April 1990 after the city acquired the building.