The Howard Family

The Howards at El Cerrito, circa 1864

The Howards and guests on the front porch of El Cerrito circa 1864.  Image courtesy: Howard Family Collection

As the first family to build a large estate on the mid-Peninsula, the Howards laid the foundation for local social life and philanthropy. Today, the Howard family’s most enduring legacy is the lush landscaping for which the area is known. The stately eucalyptus, redwood, Monterey pine and other mature trees one sees throughout San Mateo Park, Hillsborough and Burlingame were all planted under the direction of the Howard family and their Scottish gardener John McLaren.1 Another important Howard legacy is the founding of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, an important community asset—then and now.

St. Matthew's Episcopal Church by Moon Light

St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church by moonlight.
Image courtesy: © 2006 Steve Whittaker

At the end of the nineteenth century, the second generation of Howards left their own legacy: The Burlingame Country Club and the stylish train station at the foot of Burlingame Avenue that was built to serve the club’s members. The property on which the station sits and the station’s unique design were both supplied by Howard family members.2 Two of the area’s other architectural icons—the Kohl Mansion and the building that now houses the Hillsborough police department—are also Howard designs. Howard Avenue, named after this family, is located in downtown Burlingame.  (The Howard family that is described in this exhibit is not related to Charles Howard, the owner of the racehorse Seabiscuit.  Charles Howard moved to Burlingame-Hillsborough in the 1920s).

Burlingame Train Station

Completed in 1894, the distinctive Mission Revival style of the train station provided a fashionable welcome to Burlingame Country Club for guests arriving by train. In 1971, the station became California State Historical Landmark #846.  In 1978, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Howards’ original Peninsula property, the 6,500-acre Rancho San Mateo, stretched from Sanchez Creek in the north (near Sanchez Avenue in modern-day Burlingame) to San Mateo Creek in the south (near modern-day Mills Hospital in San Mateo) and from the San Francisco Bay through the hills of Hillsborough to the modern-day 280 freeway.

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1For nearly 15 years, from 1873 until 1887, the Howards employed John McLaren (later the park superintendent of Golden Gate Park) as their personal gardener. McLaren and his staff planted thousands of trees on the Howards’ huge property, as well as on the Ralston, Easton, and Mills estates. In the mid-1870s, these estate holders jointly hired McLaren to line the County Road (also called El Camino Real) with trees that provided both shade and a windbreak.
2William H. Howard was a founder of the Burlingame Country Club. When the club members decided they needed a suitable train station to welcome their guests to the club in proper fashion, William stepped forward and donated the land. His half-brother, architect George H. Howard, provided the distinctive mission revival design for the new train station.