The Coburn Mystery
By June Morrall
In the early 1880s several young Frenchmen, known as the “Levy brothers,” moved into the village of Pescadero. They were talented, energetic and aggressive businessmen, with money and time invested in the general store and stage business.
Joseph was appointed Pescadero’s postmaster in 1885, Armand played the piccolo in the town’s cornet band, and Ferdinand, along with Joe and Armand operated the lucrative Pescadero and Half Moon Bay Stage Company.
The Levy Brothers had opened their first general store in Half Moon Bay. It was located in a brick building off Main Street, a big success, encouraging them to open a second store down the coast in Pescadero.
Of the trio, Joe, the postmaster, became best known in town. The new Levy Brothers General Store opened up in the old McCormick Building, once known as “the attraction on the road,” across the way from the Swanton House. This was an excellent location with a saloon around the corner.
Under one roof there was a drug store, Wells Fargo, Western Union, and, of course, the post office. Like all businesses in the 1880s, the Levy Brothers store closed at 8 p.m., except on Sunday when it was shuttered all day. The brothers hired 30-year-old “JC” Williamson to juggle the roles of druggist, telegraph operator and clerk. “JC” was married to the highly respected private school teacher, Hattie Honsinger. In his spare time, he was also the Pescadero correspondent for the San Mateo Times & Gazette.
The Levy Brothers wanted to have their fingers in every pie. You couldn’t begin a sentence without the name of a Levy in it, usually doing something new. They introduced a new “electric light” in their store to replace coal oil. They built a new stable and planned to introduce a rival transportation line running between San Mateo and Pescadero. [Remember, Loren Coburn was also in the stable business.] They bought a timber tract on Butano Creek and said they were going in the mill business.
Joe, Armand and Ferdinand met Loren Coburn, the South Coast’s big landowner, when they rented land for a new 600-cow dairy operation near Pigeon Point. There they installed the latest steam-powered cheese making equipment. Of the three Levys, Joe was the one most likely to have a volatile run-in with Loren, the man everyone in town took to calling, “Moneybags,” and later “the judge,” because he always settled his legal troubles, easily, and out-of-court.