Thursday, August 27, 2015

The New Alfred F. Smith Collection at UCD Special Collections: A Trove of Historical Material on Stonegate and Later 20th Century Davis (234)

1. Stonegate looking northeast, c. 1977

Alfred F. Smith, the developer of Stonegate, died in 2008 and his heirs donated his papers to the UC Davis Department of Special Collections. That department recently completed the inventory and box storage of those documents and the corpus is now available to the public (image 3).

Mr. Smith appears to have been something of a pack rat (aka hoarder) and his collection is quite amazing. It fills 265 storage boxes and the list of files in those boxes runs 163 pages (image 4).  That list can be viewed or downloaded here.

The purpose of this post is to draw attention to this extraordinary new source of information on the development of Davis after World War II. These 265 boxes contain detailed records on Mr. Smith’s various completed and proposed but never built Davis developments and, as important, a wide range of information on development in general in Davis over the 1960s-90s.

2. Stonegate looking southwest, c. 1977
I very much appreciate Kara Brunzell alerting me to the existence of this collection. Under a contract with the City of Davis, she is conducting a major update of historical/cultural resources in our community and she discovered it in the course of her inquires.

The collection is obviously complex and it presents the additional complexity of being physically stored in a UC warehouse in Richmond. To see any of it, one must approach the desk in the Shields Special Collections reading room and ask for a specific box or send an email to with a request.

At this time, I have examined, in a preliminary and survey way, 16 of these 265 boxes.  Here are a few impressions.

One, the great bulk of the files deal with the construction and financial details of Smith’s developments in Davis and elsewhere. Perhaps the largest portion is on Stonegate and adjacent or nearby areas (images 1 and 2).

Two, many files are about proposed developments that were never built. Of particular note, a research farm about the same size as Stonegate was projected to be sited just to its west. That area is still open land, so it obviously never happened.

On another dimension, he was interested in developing housing for senior citizens and at one time tried to enlist Kaiser health units in the effort. A form letter he sent to Kaiser officials regarding this contains information on his biography as well as detailing his senior living ideas. I thought it might be of interest, so I reproduce here as items 5a and 5b.

Three, Smith followed land developments in Davis and Davis land use affairs in general. There are dozens of files on these topics. For example, he collected material on and by Covell Village. The files include lists of names of and other information on that proposal’s opponents and drafts of opposition letters that imply he was in alliance with them. (One opposition form letter accuses the Covell Village partners of wanting to be Davis housing “Czars”--to have total control of housing for decades to come.)

So, above I provide a little information on the Smith collection. It is a history explorer’s possible delight. (But, I somehow suspect that virtually no one will ever go and examine it in any detail.)