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News: 02/01/2016

Local History Lesson

The story behind Annadel State Park

By Lou Kinzler, history docent, Annadel State Park

In all high-stakes finance there are winners and there are losers, and this was certainly the case in the creation of Annadel State Park. Leading up to its opening in 1971, Annadel State Park history is shrouded in colorful events which even today read like a suspense novel. Powerful entrepreneurs like Joe Coney, Wayne Valley, and Henry Trione left their mark on Annadel through their big-league investment dealings, their outsized profits and their breathtaking losses, and as a side line to their tax schemes. It is fair to say Annadel State Park more than likely would not have come into being if not for several key business setbacks suffered by Coney and Valley in the 1950s and 60s and Trione’s investment and intervention in favor of the park. In the end, we, the people, gained a treasure of a park.

Prior to 1930

Native Indian tribes had hunted and quarried the Los Guilicos Valley for over 12,000 years before the Mexicans advanced north and displaced them. The Mexican Land Grant of 1837 granted 18,883 acres to John Wilson, a Scottish sea captain, to “engage in the interesting field of agriculture.” And agriculture became a main occupation for the Sonoma Valley until at least around 1880 when stone quarrying became the important business for Santa Rosa. After the construction of the Southern Pacific Rail Road through the valley, millions of granite stones were shipped for road and building construction in San Francisco, Sacramento, Stockton and cities up and down the coast. In this time period, Samuel Hutchison, an Irish immigrant, owned the majority of the valley. By 1913, with the advent of asphalt being used in road construction and rising labor costs by the stone masons, most quarrying came to a close. Agriculture remained the important industry of the region.

The Coney period

Ilsa and Joe
Joe and Ilse Coney, circa 1920. Source: Oakmont in the Valley of the Moon.
Joseph Coney, a young entrepreneur with a background in geology and mining had already made fortunes by age 30, when he met Sam Hutchison around 1930. They hunted together, became friends and by 1934 Coney bought 3,200 acres from Hutchison for $177,000. In the deed, the title “Annadel Farms” occurs for the first time. In the meantime, Coney had increased his wealth into millions of dollars mostly in gold dredges and oil refineries. In a 1979 Sonoma Business Magazine article by Verna Mays (“Annadel: The park that private enterprise built”, Sept. 1979), she reports that Coney “went on to build a worldwide fleet of oil tankers, piling up assets for Hillcone Steamship Company…which included gold, tungsten and silver mines.”
Hunting permission from 1947
A permission slip granting Phil Smith use of Coney’s property for 1947 deer season. Source: Coney Business Files at Annadel State Park
Coney then bought another 640 acres from the Wymore family and an additional 1,800 acres from the Ledson family and J.J. Summerfield, bringing his holdings to 6,000 acres by 1942. Coney was generous with his holdings, allowing use by the Boy and Girl Scouts, the military for maneuvers, the FBI and law enforcement for pistol qualifications, horse and dog clubs, and most anyone who asked him for permission. In addition to his love for the Annadel area, Coney was interested in the natural resources of the land and engaged in hop growing, cattle and horse breeding, bird farming, charcoaling, lumber operations, mining, quarrying, and later real estate development. In pursuit of his many business interests, Coney built several roads into Annadel, and at considerable cost constructed Lake Ilsanjo. Though there were profits and losses in his Annadel Farms endeavors, Coney says he made most of his money from other sources.

Coney’s perlite project

According to John Futini, who wrote two histories on Annadel State Park, during a riding excursion in Annadel near Frey Canyon around 1950, Coney discovered, “A type of obsidian associated with the outcroppings of rhyolite. It was known as perlite because it was composed of rounded gas bubbles trapped in the rock when it solidified upon cooling some two-to-five million years ago.”

The Annadel perlite had certain structural differences to perlite found in other parts of the world and Coney, seeing an opportunity, invested in testing, production and transportation to corner the market. In his laboratory Coney heated the perlite to 2,200 degrees causing it to expand to ten times the original size, similar to popcorn. The product was used during the 1940s as home insulation material. In addition Coney discovered that perlite could be used as a light-weight construction aggregate, as a result of which ten times the amount of concrete building blocks could be loaded onto railroad cars, thus reducing transportation costs. By 1953, Coney envisioned huge profits and invested heavily in laboratory, bulldozers for open pit mining and plant equipment.

There are two versions as to why the Annadel perlite project failed in the end. Version one (by Futini): “…he learned that his chances of changing the manufacturing laws which prohibit the use of materials other than standard sand and gravel in all construction aggregates were slight.”

Version two, by Mays: “…Herb Coney (his brother) says the U.S. Government foiled Joe Coney again. During the war, Herb says, the United States had seized the patent rights for processing perlite from Germany. After the war the Germans asked for the patent rights back. JFK and Robert Kennedy made up the papers, which neglected to stipulate that people already using the patents would be protected against lawsuits. So the Germans got an injunction against Schundler – the man with whom Coney had contracted to provide for a perlite manufacturing plant in Michigan. Coney was out of business.”

Hop farming

Sam Hutchison had been farming hops along Highway 12, particularly in the area that is now Oakmont. After Prohibition, Coney is known to have continued hop farming and undoubtedly saw profits in increasing production of the product. Again he ran into government regulations. Futini writes, “…the federal government would only allow one hundred acres to be used for the purpose of growing hops, and because a satisfactory profit could not be realized from this, Coney stopped growing this product after 1950.”

Annadel Country Club

In perhaps his grandest undertaking at Annadel, Coney started construction on a lake he named Ilsanjo (for Ilse, his wife, and Jo, for Joseph) in 1953 to capture run-off water. Again there are two versions of why he built the lake and both are true. Coney entertained quite a bit for his friends and hunters and it is said he built the lake to add the pleasures of fishing and boating to these outings. The other version is that Coney needed a reliable water source for building a country-club-style golf course surrounded by up to 5,000 pricey homes. Engineering drawings for the Annadel Country Club Estates were completed in 1957.

Business setbacks with the perlite, hop farming and overseas projects may have delayed Coney from moving forward on the country club. Coney had invested in a large ranch in Argentina and some issues over the property developed with the Argentinian government causing him to lose his investment.

At about the same time, taxes on his California holdings rose by 700 percent and Coney began to sell Annadel Farms as an investment opportunity, leading to the sale of 1,200 acres to H.N. Berger to build Oakmont. In the mid 60s, a real estate appraiser placed a market value of $9 million on the remaining 4,100 acres of Annadel Farms. Professionally prepared prospects and tours of the property were offered to potential buyers. Still strapped for cash, Coney was forced to mortgage the remainder of Annadel Farms and he sought someone to partner with. He found Wayne Valley. In Henry Trione’s memoir Footprints of the Baker Boy, he writes that Valley “…took a half-million dollar option on the land, allowing him to buy the entire 5,100 acres if Coney couldn’t pay the mortgage.”

Wayne Valley’s Lakeworld

According to Trione, Valley, a “prominent home builder in the San Francisco Bay Area” did business with Sonoma Mortgage (Trione’s company) in the 1950s. Around 1960, Trione joined Valley in an investment in the Oakland Raiders and they became close friends. Trione was very familiar with Annadel Farms and Coney’s desire to sell. Writes Trione: “Valley formed a corporation he named Lakeworld and visualized a subdivision there with some 5,000 homes for 15,000 to 20,000 residents. He would offer 1,500 acres of open space, he said, three lakes, equestrian trails – all the amenities of Lake of the Pines, a similar community he had built in the Sierra foothills.”

In 1969, Coney defaulted and Valley became sole owner of the property. Valley’s Lakeworld Development Co. planned for a second-home community called Santa Rosa Lakes, with a value estimate of $160,000,000, a project estimated at $50,000,000, 1,472 acres of recreation and open space, 3,238 residential acres with 4,721 homes, three lakes with beaches and boating, an equestrian ring, shopping and services, water supplies for the Santa Rosa aqueduct, two sewer treatment plants, and a population increase for the Santa Rosa area of 10,000 to 20,000 people.

The project failed over the opposition by the conservationist movement and Santa Rosa City Manager Ken Blackman who, referring to Lakeworld, is said to have exclaimed, “Over my dead body!” The city objected over issues with sewer, water, utilities, and the related cost of installation as well as police protection and other city services. Another setback was that conservationists were able to stop the planned extension of Highway 12 from Sebastopol to Kenwood through parts of Spring Lake Park, which would have been necessary with the addition of up to 20,000 people in the area. Suddenly, Valley’s grandiose project was deemed a white elephant. Trione writes, “With the imposition of requirements for underground utilities, lighting and sewer, Valley forfeited his option money on the ranch and abandoned the project.”

Trione’s deal

Henry Trioni at the Saddle Club
The late Henry Trione sitting on the front porch of Wild Oak’s Saddle Club in 2008. Trione played an integral role in the process of turning Annadel Farms into Annadel State Park. Photo by Jay Gamel.

Henry Trione, the influential mortgage banker, financier and deal maker, who knew all the major players was uniquely qualified to ride to the rescue on his white horse. With the drastic drop in market value for the property from $9 million to $5 million, Trione and others came to the rescue by starting to push the idea for a state park. Trione’s personal donation of $450,000, his complicated financial dealings in selling parts of the land to obtain government contributions and organizing other contributors and citizens committees well earned him the Ranger hat he was so proud of.

According to Mays, Trione, while working hard to make the park a reality, also benefited from the situation: “Trione was a friend of Wayne Valley and eventually purchased the 4,000-acre home ranch from the Singer Corporation for $400,000, then deeded it to his sons Mark and Victor. It is now the Wild Oak Saddle Club.” By pushing the Annadel State Park idea, Trione also gained a 5,000-acre “back-yard for horseback riding and fishing.” But Trione was able to rescue the park one more time in 2012. When California state parks experienced money problems and was ready to close Annadel, Trione donated another $100,000 of his own funds “that was matched and more by private donations.”

In the end, we, the people, who would have been largely excluded by the Annadel Country Club project or other grandiose plans for the land, are the beneficiaries from the wins and losses in Annadel’s history. Today hundreds of people, many from afar, come every day of the year to horseback ride, bicycle, jog, hike or simply enjoy the beauty of Annadel State Park. Says Mays, “on the 35 miles of winding trails made and named by Coney, millionaires, office clerks and kindergartners have the same rights – and pleasures.”

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