Donald Laird Rheem, “father” of the Rheem Valley
Donald Laird Rheem was born in Alameda in 1901. His father, William S. Rheem, was sent to California by John D. Rockefeller to start Standard Oil of California in Richmond. William Rheem was listed as 1st Vice President of Standard Oil, and he later became President of Standard Oil.
Donald attended Grant School in Oakland and University High School. His father died in 1919 when Donald was 18 years old;consequently, he did not go to college but went to work for Standard Oil for one year.
Donald and brother Richard Scofield Rheem opened Pacific Galvanizing in Richmond. By 1930 the brothers had incorporated the Rheem Manufacturing Company.
In 1934 Donald and his wife, Alice, were living in Piedmont, California. By 1935 they had acquired 16 acres in Moraga from Alberta Higgins and Gertrude Malette, two women who build the original Hacienda as an orphanage. Because no male was on site, the County denied their permit to operate an orphanage, and they reverted to ranching. Alice persuaded Donald to buy the peaceful and remote acreage for a summer home. Donald bought a tractor and started remodeling/tearing down out buildings around the original house.
In 1937 Donald bought 12 more acres from Mrs. Lightner across Moraga Road because Alice did not like a pig farm so near her house, and 1,800 more acres from Irvine’s Moraga Company. His brother Richard bought 200 more acres in this area.
This was to become Donald’s “San Simon of Northern California”, and in 1938 construction of the pool and cabana began. Because of Alice’s love for horses, the property also contained stables and a race track. He transformed the three-bedroom home into a lavish, ornate two-story estate.
Roads on the property were built by Al McCosker, an Orinda resident and paving contractor.
By 1940 Alice liked Moraga so much she decided to make the Hacienda her permanent home, leaving Piedmont.
In 1941 Donald bought 14 acres at the Orinda Crossroads and built the Orinda Theater. The Breed family, however, owned most of the surrounding land, and Donald could not develop further than the theater and Wells Fargo bank.
As World War II loomed in 1942, Donald gave the U.S. Navy permission to use the Hacienda pool for training, as the pool at St. Mary’s College had not yet been constructed. By 1944 the Rheem brothers had become shipbuilders.
Around 1948 Rheem Blvd. (then called Irvine Drive), once a mere dirttrail, was privately graded and built by Donald. St. Mary’s College gave him frontage to widen and pave St. Mary’s Road. Donald personally built 10 miles of roads in Rheem and Moraga.
Donald built homes at Rheem Highlands, Rheem Glen and Rheem View Acres between 1949-1952.
In 1953 Donald began grading for his shopping center. With the help of tractor drive Mr. Andreason, he laid the pad for the Rheem Shopping Center and then had Frank Draeger draw the plans. “Events proved that a good shopping center built better than any other will bring the people to it.” Donald changed the name of Irvine Drive to Rheem Blvd. and developed Center Street to 80’ wide, with 18’ sidewalks.
By October 1954, 20,000 sq. foot Clark’s Market opened, the first completely air-conditioned market in Contra Costa.
Sadly, Alice died in 1957!
June 12, 1957 saw the opening of the Rheem Theater with 1,000 loge seats,costing $750,000 to build. Donald wanted to make the Rheem Theater the finest in Northern California.
Donald Rheem Elementary School was built in 1959 on land given to the Moraga School District, thanks to the persuasiveness of Superintendent Charlie Toll.
The lands surrounding the Hacienda began being broken up into developments. In 1961 the Shopping Center contained a bakery, restaurant, barber shop, furniture store, general offices, bowling alley, hardware store, sporting goods store, music shop, plant nursery, real estate offices, service station, dime store, and women’s wear store. There were 4 residential areas, 380 homes and 1,500 potential homesites. The Hacienda was sold to the Christian Brothers.
In the 1960’s, the Rheem brothers lost control of Rheem Manufacturing through an unfriendly take-over.
Brother William Harold Rheem died in 1965.
In 1972 the Hacienda was sold to the Town of Moraga. The Rheems left the Rancho scene with the sale of the Rheem Center to the Dohemann Development Company in 1973.
Donald Rheem suffered a stroke on December 13, 1982 and died January 17, 1983.
Mary Ostrander, Early Archivist
Mary Elizabeth Ostrander was born on September 14, 1914 in San Francisco, California. Her father was a lawyer, and her mother was an Irish School Teacher! Mary’s father left his law practice in San Francisco to become a farmer on his family’s homesteaded property in Dixon, California.
Mary was raised in Dixon and attended their schools, and was involved in the Methodist Church, as well as helping on their farm. She graduated from San Francisco State College in 1936, and became a teacher for the deaf, after a one year’s training in Berkley!
She worked at the Washington State School for the deaf in Vancouver from 1937-1939.
She married Donald H. Ostrander, who became a chaplain in the Navy. She then moved to Los Angeles, CA and taught at Mary E. Bennet School for the Deaf! When the war ended Don became a chaplain for the University of Southern California and LA City College, working with returning vets. Mary and Don had many activities for the vets, their spouses, and families.
Donald was pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church from 1951-1967.
During that time Mary raised their four children. She also volunteered to tutor several deaf students in speech and language. Some of the parents have continued to keep in touch with Mary.
Mary and Don moved back to the Bay Area in 1967 and Don became the minister at Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church.
Mary has delivered Meals on Wheels for 40 years and is still going strong. She also became involved with the Moraga Historical Society about seventeen years ago and volunteered at the Moraga Library. Furthermore, she tutored disadvantaged children once a week through World Impact in West Oakland, was a mother’s aide in Moraga Schools and was very active in MVPC.
Mary “O” met Elsie Mastick in the late 1960’s. Mary’s husband Rev. Don Ostrander was transferred from Los Angeles to Moraga to be the second pastor of the Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church. This was a special day and the beginning of a wonderful friendship between the Masticks, who were charter members of MVPC, and the Ostranders.
At the time, Elsie was working for the Moraga School District and was working at the Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School library. The school opened in the fall of 1967 and had the first graduating class in June 1968. Bruce Mastick, Elsie’s youngest son, was in that class. Mary’s youngest son, Chris, was at JMIS for 6th, 7th and 8th grade. There Elsie had the chance to get to know Chris very well. Later she met Mary’s other children: Susan, Jan and Bill and their families.
Moraga was a growing community and needed volunteers to fill many slots. Mary soon found out that Elsie needed volunteers at the library were Chris was a student. What a perfect place for her to volunteer! At about the same time, the Moraga Historical Society, under the direction of Brother Dennis Goodman and Maggie Skinner, needed help at St. Mary’s College and Mary found another job! As the wife of a pastor of a new church, Mary soon had many duties at MVPC and its Outreach program. However, she continued volunteering at JMIS until Chris graduated.
Elsie’s 92 year old father lived with the Masticks on Schofield Drive at this time and Elsie decided to invite Mary to meet him. Well, before long, they were talking about farming and ranching, As Elsie listened to their conversation, she realized how much they had in common. Both were California girls—Mary born in San Francisco and Elsie in San Rafael. Mary grew up on the family farm in Dixon and Elsie, although living in San Anselmo, went every weekend to Point Reyes where her father had been affiliated with a ranch from his early years in America until after World War II. Both Mary and Elsie love animals—Mary had a pet lamb and Elsie had a cow named Bessie, long before Borden’s famous Elsie the cow. They both learned to drive a stick shift car at a very early age on the ranch where they couldn’t hurt anyone.
Pastor Don died unexpectedly, and Mary and Chris left the church facility and moved to a condo in the Casitas near the Commons and the library. Chris graduated from Campolindo High School, went to college, married and has two daughters. Mary’s other children and grandchildren attended her 100th birthday party at MVPC on September 14, 2014. Elsie and Mary’s family met but all the children are grown with children and grandchildren of their own.
In early November this year Elsie invited Mary to a Mastick family gathering. She was a SPECIAL GUEST and stole the show as Elsie’s sons, granddaughters, and 3 year old great granddaughter renewed the old friendship.
Mary was a dear lady, loving mother, grandmother, friend and a blessing to all who knew her. She is an inspiration to us all!
Mary died peacefully with her best friend Elsie Mastick by her side on December 10, 2018 at 104 years old.
Article written by Bill Lund.