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Publication Date: Friday, November 15, 2002

Happy Birthday, Kottinger Barn Happy Birthday, Kottinger Barn (November 15, 2002)

Old adobe structure still stands proud, sturdy and useful after 150 years

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

The historic Kottinger Barn reopened last spring with a new shop - luckily for anyone who may want to stop in to say Happy Birthday. The adobe turns 150 this year, built in 1852 by John Kottinger, who served as Justice of the Peace and used the barn as a jail.

The new tenant is Terri Carlson, who for 10 years owned Mother Nature's at Mission Plaza. Her new shop is called Milfleur and offers dried floral pieces and an intricate array of appealing home accessories.

Carlson said she loves her new location. "I'm very appreciative of the building," she said. "It's a space but it's a special space. It has good energy."

Historian Charles Huff notes that the old Kottinger Barn has long been known for its ghosts, which perhaps goes along with its history of housing banditos. He said that a coldness prevails in the corner that served as a jail and people have reported hearing voices and the rattling of chains. Also birds trapped in the building often go into that corner to die.

Carlson is not bothered by this reputation. She is comfortable with spirits although she does not give any credence to the dying birds theory - she says they are just trying to get out the same way they got in. But she has her own tales to tell.

"I was up on the ladder, here by myself, when I felt someone touch my hair," she said. "First I felt it, then I saw her and asked who she was. She had on like a prairie dress and her hair was in a bun. She said she used to feed the people here." Carlson thinks the woman was touching the back of her head to check out the hair clip she was wearing.

Carlson said that when she moved in, 22 beings were stuck in the barn. "They were lots of vortexes of energy, little energy lights," she said. She asked if they needed help to leave but apparently they departed on their own.

She is not the only one to see spirits in the shop. "One day a little girl said, 'Mommy, there's a ghost in here,'" she recalled.

Carlson has had to bone up on her Pleasanton history because so many people ask her about the barn's past. "Hundreds and hundreds of school kids come through with their teachers," she said. "Some kids sang to me about Joaquin Murrieta - it made me cry it was so sweet."

She pointed out the original shutters on the deep windows, and the front entrance's heavy wooden doors that close on the inside and the outside, and have hand-wrought hinges. She has plans to develop the yard on the side of the barn into a garden patio in the spring.

The old Kottinger Barn is in Adobe Plaza, at 200 Ray St., and sits at an angle to the other buildings. This is due to the Spanish custom of building adobes at a 45-degree angle to the north-south orientation so each wall gets equal sun after a rain.

Stand inside the old adobe barn, near the deep windows where you can see the 24-inch-thick walls, and close your eyes. Imagine that outside the barn it is 1852, not 2002. Nearby, toward Main Street, is the home of John Kottinger (1819-1892), an immigrant from Austria, and his wife Refugia Maria Agosta Bernal. Their nearest neighbors are at the hacienda of her uncle, Agostin Bernal, on what is now Foothill Road.

Life moves slowly, with people going only as quickly as their horses can carry them. The indigenous peoples are gradually making way for the Spanish and now the Americans. Some were awarded land grants by the Mexican government, including brothers Agostin and Juan Pablo Bernal, and the area is known as Valle de San Jose.

The population increased rapidly after gold was discovered in the Sierra foothills in 1849 and California became a state in 1850. During the Gold Rush, travelers passed through the area on their way to the gold fields and the rancheros prospered by supplying them with meat, according to "The History of the City of Pleasanton," written in 1994 by Herbert Hagemann Jr., a great-grandson of John Kottinger.

John Kottinger applied for American citizenship in New Orleans in 1846 and became a citizen in San Francisco in 1850. He was the first American in the Amador-Livermore Valley and he married Refugia, the daughter of Juan Pablo Bernal, and settled down to raise cattle. In 1851 he built his house in the settlement known as Alisal on 4,500 acres of land that had been his wife's dowry, and built the adobe barn behind the house.

By 1853, a bridge was built across the Arroyo del Valle, opening the area for stagecoaches. Kottinger saw the prospects for a town to develop and opened a supply store in a low frame building at what is today the corner of Main Street and Ray.

When California became a state, Alisal was in Santa Clara County. Alameda County was formed in 1853 and that same year Murray Township (now Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore) came into being. Alisal was the county seat and Kottinger, who had a legal background, was appointed Justice of the Peace. While he served in that capacity, trials were held in his home, and his barn doubled as a jailhouse.

A tunnel led from his house to the barn, so an outlaw could be transferred from the "courtroom" to the "jail" without his cohorts interfering. Joaquin Murrieta is the most famous bandit of this era and is said to have spent time in the jail, as did "Three Fingers Jack Garcia." The tunnel also doubled as an escape route for Kottinger in case someone came to his home seeking revenge. He was shot at least once, according to Hagemann.

Joshua Neal meanwhile had married Angela, a daughter of Agostin Bernal, and they settled south of the Kottingers. The two men subdivided some of their land and formed the town, making a survey of the streets, lining them up with the planned railroad. Kottinger sold parcels of his land in 1863, according to "The Amador-Livermore Valley: A Pictorial History" by Bob and Pat Lane. He drew up a map in 1867, renaming Alisal after the Union general of the Civil War, Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, whom he admired, although a postal clerk in Washington, D.C., changed the spelling of the name.

John Kottinger followed many pursuits. He planted sugar maple trees, which did not succeed due to the climate. He then sent to his native land for grape cuttings - this crop did very well and he turned his "sugar building" into a winery.

In 1869 the railroad through town was completed, and commerce began to grow. Kottinger built the Farmers Hotel near his residence, which is now the Pleasanton Hotel. He sold that and built a Pleasanton Hotel on the corner of Main and St. Mary Street. Pleasanton became incorporated in 1894 with a population of about 500.

Through the 19th century to the 20th and on into the 21st, the Kottinger Barn remained standing. Kottinger sold his house and barn in 1870, when he retired as Justice of the Peace, and the old Kottinger home was torn down around 1930.

By the 1970s, the barn was in pretty bad shape. Bob and Elaine Koopmann bought the property and began a historically sensitive restoration. He also worked to get it placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings, the only one in Pleasanton listed. A plaque on the front by the Native Sons of the Golden West in 1987 recognizes the Kottinger Barn as Pleasanton's first jail.

Near the old barn toward Ray Street is a plaque by E Clampus Vitus dedicating it as a Pleasanton Heritage Site on July 27, 1980, inlaid on a monument made of cobblestones taken from the barn's patio.

Bob Koopmann is descended from old settlers - his grandparents moved to Dublin in the 1870s. He was born in his family's house on Pleasanton Avenue 75 years ago and lived here until he moved to Murphys 16 years ago. He said that when he was growing up he knew the barn was there, with stables and a hayloft on the second story.

"It was kind of secluded back there, all overgrown with trees," he recalled.

He and Elaine lived on nearby Walnut Drive and had a linoleum business in town for 27 years. The barn meanwhile was being used for a sort of machine shop. The Koopmanns were interested in it as commercial property and bought the barn with an acre and a half.

"The barn was a junkyard that was falling apart," remembered Elaine Koopmann. "My husband spent I don't know how many months cleaning it up."

"Our first idea was to build a shop in front of the barn but then we got to realize how old it was and decided to try to preserve it," she added. "We had a structural engineer draw plans to have it earthquake proof."

Bob Koopmann went about collecting old adobe bricks that were the same size as the originals in the barn to use in the renovation. He said that the floor was partially just earth but half of it was covered with redwood that was still like new.

"The ceiling is the original cross bridging," he said. "We had to patch a hole in the middle where they used to pitch hay, and there was a step ladder." A hayfork swings outside the second-story window.

Koopmann added a staircase at the rear of the interior, and plumbing and electricity. He left parts of the old adobe exposed, including a spot near the staircase where the bricks are worn to a reddish color from a century-plus of horses rubbing against it. The renovation was completed in 1985.

"The original Stony Ridge Winery was the first tenant," Koopmann said. "They wanted to use it for wine tasting, but they were only there for a few months. Next was a series of antique dealers. Then the decorator."

The barn not only serves today as a sturdy and comfortable space for its tenant - it is also a lesson in adobe construction and the era in which it was built.

Happy Birthday to the Kottinger Barn.
J. W. Kottinger's Barn

John W. Kottinger (1819-1892) was Murray Township Justice of the Peace from 1853 to 1870. His home was the seat of justice for the township. The northwest corner of this adobe barn was used to jail prisoners. A frequent visitor here was Joaquin Murrieta. On one occasion he was distracted by Mrs. Kottinger's bountiful table thus allowing Kottinger to make a hasty trip to a San Francisco bank. The bandit was deprived of the pleasure of relieving Kottinger of a large gold deposit. -From the plaque near the barn dedicating it as a Pleasanton Heritage Site on July 27, 1980, by E Clampus Vitus, Joaquin Murrieta Chapter 13

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