|Text||As you drive to Santa Rosa and back, look up over the homes of Oakmont and enjoy the pristine view of the hills behind, the hills and forest and lakes that make up Annadel State Park. What few people know is that the entire area could have been covered with up to 4,000 homes, a hill-top golf course, and shopping center. Thanks to one man, it is today a jewel of a park, open to hikers, horses, mountain bikes, and anyone who wants to enjoy its native beauty.
If you’ve lived in the area for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of Henry Trione. Son of a Humboldt baker and self-made millionaire, Henry Trione returned his good fortune to the county and people who made his lifetime adventures possible, ensuring that at least one corner of the Valley of the Moon remains undeveloped and accessible.
A little history is in order, here. Annadel sits at the northwest corner of the Valley of the Moon and was part of the Rancho Los Guilicos created in 1837, a sprawling 18,800-acre tract of wild oaks, savannah and mountains once populated by Wappo and Pomo tribes. The rancho ran southeast from Annadel to the marshy lowlands that are now Kenwood. It was first granted to Juan Wilson, who married a widowed sister-in-law of Gen. Mariano Vallejo, the first governor of Northern California for the Spanish crown.
Wilson’s neglect led to squatters setting up on the Rancho as settlers and fortune seekers poured into California in the 1840s. Sea Captain William Hood wound up sole owner of 18,000 acres, including livestock, for $16,000, a low price even then. A 15-year struggle for recognition from the new state authorities left Hood with about 1,800 acres, covering what is now Annadel, Oakmont and Wild Oak, a gated community just above Oakmont.
In case you think industrial wine production is a recent addition to Sonoma, by the 1860s Hood had planted 225 acres of vines, had built a winery capable of producing 250,000 gallons of wine a year, and was producing 5,000 gallons of brandy a year from a distillery built near the Sonoma Creek by Adobe Canyon. By the 1870s, Hood’s wine and brandy were sold throughout the U.S. and Europe.
The area continued to prosper as railroads were built to haul stone out of the valley’s quarries, including two in Annadel, to build booming Bay Area cities.
Samuel Hutchinson acquired 3,600 acres of the Rancho and named his house “Anne’s Dell” after his daughter Anne. A neighbor named his winery “Annadel” and the name stuck.
Hutchinson’s son did little with the property and the value of the quarries dropped as San Francisco’s demand tapered off. Asphalt replaced stone for roads as the automobile began to dominate the transportation industry. In 1934 he wound up selling 3,200 acres to a young firebrand entrepreneur, Joseph Coney, for $177,000.
Coney, a geologist and businessman with vast properties in Argentina and a steamship company with a fleet of oil tankers, couldn’t spin off ideas fast enough. Annadel became his hunting retreat and party place. The single-story home he built is now the Saddle Club at Wild Oak’s polo grounds. He kept prize Clydesdales and draft horses, along with dozens of riding horses which he and his friends used to traipse around the hills and trails of the mountain.
Not one to stand on privacy, Coney set a precedent for public use of the land, inviting Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to regularly camp and fish on the property. The park’s most popular lake was named after Joseph and his wife, Ilse, to become Lake Ilsanjo. Even so, Coney was a businessman and had dreams of developing homes and quarrying perlite, a specialty mineral found only at Annadel. The mining plans ultimately failed due to regulatory issues.
By the 1960s, property taxes were beginning to take their toll on Coney’s tolerance for the property. He sold off his hops fields along Highway 12 to Fairfield Homes, Inc., which soon became Oakmont. That success led Coney to consider his own subdivision, with a golf course around Lake Ilsanjo surrounded by 4,000 or more homes. A huge mortgage payment forestalled those plans and he put 1,500 acres up for sale. He sold a $500,000 option to another frisky entrepreneur, Wayne Valley, who owned Lakeworld Development Corp., and the football team that would become the Oakland Raiders.
Henry Trione was a limited partner in the Raiders from the early 1960s until the middle 1980s and was prepared to work with Valley to acquire the Annadel property when the time came.
Santa Rosa’s city manager, Ken Blackman, ultimately froze Valley’s expansive development plans. Trione bought the 440-acre Coney home ranch, and deeded it to his sons Victor and Mark Trione, who used it to develop Wild Oak, a gated community of expensive homes that includes a trail rider’s club and polo grounds.
Working with William Penn Mott, the first chairman of the then brand new State Parks Foundation, and with the financial backing of Joe Long (of Long’s Drug Stores), and many local businesses, Annadel became the first park acquired by the state through the foundation. Trione donated $300,000 to make it happen.
Trione has loved the land since he first came to the area.
“During World War II, I was reassigned to the Naval Air Station in Alameda and managed to come up here,” the 87-year-old Trione reminisced at the Saddle Club recently. “I always admired Mt. Hood and I wanted to buy that Gray ranch. Right after the war, I wanted to move up to Humboldt where I went to high school, but I had a connection to insurance for mortgages. The place to be in 1947 was Sonoma County.” While Trione and his wife Madelyne lived at the end of Brush Creek Road in Santa Rosa for many years, “I always did want to live here,” he said, nodding to the magnificent view of Hood Mountain from the front porch of the Saddle Club.
A chance meeting with Robert Walter, owner of the Kentucky Derby second place winner, Cavonnier, led Trione to a life-long love of horses, polo, and riding anywhere when he could find the time, including Annadel. He was inducted into the Polo Hall of Fame in Florida earlier this year.
Even today, when he could be safely resting on his laurels, Trione is actively involved in Annadel Park, having funded the new Visitor Information Center. And he’d like to set up bus availability for Oakmont’s residents to be able to enjoy the higher reaches of the park that forever keeps their back yards full of deer and wildlife.
I wish to acknowledge Simone Wilson’s fine history, “Wild Oak, Past and Present,” prepared for the Wild Oak Homeowner’s Association in 2003, which formed the basis of research for this story – JG.
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Photo by Jay Gamel
Henry Trione sitting on the front porch of Wild Oak's Saddle Club.