La California

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The name Belmont comes from Beaumont. Count Leonetto Cirprini named a province in Italy after California, the place he dwelt. He was the first Italian ambassador and fought the Habsburgs as a Forty-Eighter, who I suspect were going to colonize California. Was Belmont going to be the capital of the Italian Unification, and, this is why Carl Janke brought six portable houses around the Cape? Little Italy?

I am going t establish correspondence, and unite the two Californias.

Jon Presco

“He also describes how he assembled his elegant prefabricated home in Belmont, the first of consequence on the San Francisco peninsula, later to become the Ralston mansion.”

He died May 10, 1888, at age 76, comforted by his family and by the memory of the vast American prairies. It’s very evident that Leonetto Cipriani was part of Cecina’s history just as much as Amerigo Gabbani. Cipriani too owned and managed a hotel restaurant in the main street of Cecina. It’s very comprehensible that Leonetto Cipriani’s love for San Francisco and California prompted him to name the town in the vicinity of Cecina “La California”.

Throughout his travels he encountered local leaders and diplomats as well as other Italians. In Salt Lake City he met Brigham Young and other members of the Mormon hierarchy, with whom he established good relations, as well as an Italian musician named Gennaro Capone. In San Francisco, he was introduced to the French and Austrian Consuls as well as Nicola Lauro who he described as “the richest Italian merchant in the city” and his cousin Ottavio Cipriani. He also describes how he assembled his elegant prefabricated home in Belmont, the first of consequence on the San Francisco peninsula, later to become the Ralston mansion.

His memoirs Avventure della mia vita (pictured above) were published more than forty-five years after his death and were based on a manuscript that is still located in Bastia, Corsica in the original sea chest that he used during his travels. These memoirs were first translated into English by Ernest Falbo and published as California and Overland Diaries of Count Leonetto Cipriani from 1853 through 1871 (Portland, OR: The Champoeg Press, 1962). More recently I had the honor to examine the Cipriani archives in Bastia, Corsica. I included excerpts from Cipriani’s account in my documentary history of European travelers (including other prominent Italians) who visited Utah entitled

– See more at:

The main purpose of this article is to make the people of California, USA aware of the existence of another California, in Tuscany, Italy. “Why” and “when” the new California in Italy was founded and “who” named it La California, it’s a very interesting story. There are two main versions of the story that is about to be unfolded in details. Both versions have been introduced by Marco Andrenacci, an Italian history major so interested in the past, present and future of “La California” that he made it his business to research its origins and its history since he himself has lived most of his life in that town.
Marco Andrenacci was born in Livorno, December 31, 1972, lived in Pisa with his family and in 1997 he received a PhD in Telecommunications at the University of Pisa. Several years ago he moved to La California where he happily lives with Laura, his loyal companion. Together Marco and Laura enjoy the tranquility of the small town, the beauty and the serenity of the sea in a totally relaxed atmosphere.
Marco is presently writing a book, while finding pleasure in a full time job in telecommunication in the nearby city of Pisa. LA CALIFORNIA is a town of circa 1,500 inhabitants, part of the “comune” of Bibbona. Bibbona, population 3,200 near Livorno (Leghorn), is today one of the most sought-after destinations by tourists eager to learn more about the interesting and enigmatic Etruscan civilization.
  La California, frazione di Bibbona
La California is located 3 miles south of Cecina, which is a delightful town of 28,000, a very short distance from the Etruscan Coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. While La California’s origin is rather recent (approximately 150 years), the origin of the area that includes Cecina and Bibbona, is prehistoric and goes all the way back to the stone age and Paleolithic time. Before the founding of this California town, the Bibbona area was under the direct control of the Medici family when the Castle of Bibbona was donated to Eleanor of Toledo, wife of Cosimo de’Medici. But in 1737, after the Medici family died out, the whole area was taken over by the Lorraine dynasty and became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
Thanks to Grand Duke Peter Leopold of Habsburg-Lorraine (1747-1782), several square miles of coast called Maremma (a swamp land infested by malaria) were successfully reclaimed, made fertile and productive. The marsh land had been in a terrible condition of neglect for several centuries, practically since the fall of the Roman Empire (476 A.C.), because the local people, unable to cope with the problem, abandoned the area.
The success in reclaiming the swamp land was extraordinarily achieved by Peter Leopold and resumed a few years later by the Fascist party under the program “Bonifica delle Paludi Pontine”. To the Grand Duchy of Tuscany goes also credit for building new roads along Via Emilia (the road’s name was subsequently changed to Via Aurelia) in addi- tion to new railroads, especially the “Livorno-Grosseto” and the “Pisa-Livorno-Cecina”. The name “California” was given in 1865 to an area that embraced a small group of farm houses near Bibbona; the area included also a few private residences and the “Hotel Ristorante Gabbani”(see photo).
The best known families of this town were the Amerigo Gabbani’s and the Attilio Fabbri’s. In 1865 the name “La California” became definitely official when it was used on certificates and other documents issued by the city hall. From post-cards of the town printed in 1940, it is obvious that, even at that time, the place was known to everybody as “La California”. For a brief period a few local people referred to such a place as Braccio di Bibbona, (Suburb of Bibbona) but afterward the town was officially called La California.
The first managers of the Hotel Restaurant Gabbani were Federico and Amerigo Gabbani. After the Gabbanis, the hotel was owned by the families Demi, Favilli, Pesce and finally by Maurillo Genovese, the present owner. Nobody knows with certainty why the town was named La California and specifically who named it. It seems most logical though, that Amerigo Gabbani and/or his father Federico be given credit for choosing the name. As a matter of fact Federico baptized his son “Amerigo” because of his great admiration and love for America. Furthermore it is rather logical that Federico would use the name of one of America’s most popular states, California, to immortalize his own town, the town where he was born.
  Train to La California (LI) – 28.06.11 by Marco Carrara
Consideration should be also given to the fact that several Gabbanis emigrated to California, USA during the “gold-rush”, as did Gabbani Rinaldo, born in 1888, Gabbani Emilio, born in 1877, Gabbani Maria, born in 1892 and others. A different answer to the question why the town was named California is offered by Leonetto Cipriani, a very interesting man that lived in San Francisco for several years, traveled extensively throughout America and was very fond of the USA.
Cipriani was born in 1812 in the city of Centuri, Corsica and in 1830 served in the French Army with the rank of captain. Transferred to Algiers he met a very attractive girl native of Genoa. A few years later the couple moved to Tuscany, Italy where for a while they seemed well adjusted but suddenly she ended her life leaving Leonetto totally crushed and depressed. Between 1831 and 1834 he traveled to the Antilles, to Central America and to South America. He was one of the first men to cross the continent of North America. His father had been close friend of Simon Bolivar, the hero of South America’s independence.
Cipriani did well and returned to Italy with 6 million gold francs (the equivalent of today’ 18 million euros or 27 million dollars). Being born a French subject he spoke the language very fluently, but having lived several years between Pisa and Leghorn where his family owned land and villas he was always very proud to identify himself as Italian. Back in Italy Cipriani received the title of count by Camillo Benso di Cavour and was made a colonel of the Italian Army.
In 1848, when Italy began its fight for independence, he fought against the Austrians that were defeated at Goito (Mantua). This was a very important victory of the First Italian War of Independence. He became also a good friend of Garibaldi, the great Italian hero, even though he didn’t share his republican views.
He also became liaison officer between Napoleon III and Victor Emmanuel I. Then he returned to Livorno with the title of Special Commissary. In the meantime Leonetto’s father purchased several properties around Cecina, among which the beautiful Villa di San Vincenzino, where he enjoyed relaxing between trips. In 1849 he traveled to France to renew his friendship with Bonaparte III, nephew of Napoleon. Restless, he went back to Italy to fight again the Austrians.
In Italy he accepted the title of Consul of Sardinia in San Francisco, where he became very popular, bought land, cattle and became a prominent rancher after traveling much throughout the States. In 1858 in New York, he married an attractive young lady, Mary Worthington and had a child that he named Leonetto Jr. In the United States as well he made powerful friends. In 1874, at the beginning of the Civil War, he proposed to president Lincoln a plan to kidnap confederate general Pierre Beauregard (also an Italian born, from Parma).
Suddenly his wife Mary died and he went back to Italy in 1865 where he was nominated Senator for life for the Kingdom of Italy and subsequently honorary general. After traveling so extensively for many years, crossing the Atlantic Ocean at least a dozen times, Cipriani finally decided to settle in Centuri, the city in the island of Corsica where he was born. In Corsica he married Maria Napoleoni and had three children.
He died May 10, 1888, at age 76, comforted by his family and by the memory of the vast American prairies. It’s very evident that Leonetto Cipriani was part of Cecina’s history just as much as Amerigo Gabbani. Cipriani too owned and managed a hotel restaurant in the main street of Cecina. It’s very comprehensible that Leonetto Cipriani’s love for San Francisco and California prompted him to name the town in the vicinity of Cecina “La California”.

Victor Emmanuel was born the eldest son of Charles Albert, Prince of Carignano, and Maria Theresa of Austria. His father succeeded a distant cousin as King of Sardinia-Piedmont in 1831. He lived for some years of his youth in Florence and showed an early interest in politics, the military, and sports. In 1842, he married his cousin Adelaide of Austria. He was styled as the Duke of Savoy prior to becoming King of Sardinia-Piedmont.

He took part in the First Italian War of Independence (1848-1849) under his father King Charles Albert, fighting in the front line at the battles of Pastrengo, Santa Lucia, Goito and Custoza.

He became King of Sardinia-Piedmont in 1849 when his father abdicated the throne after a humiliating military defeat by the Austrians at the Battle of Novara. Victor Emmanuel was immediately able to obtain a rather favorable armistice at Vignale by the Austrian imperial army commander Radetzky. The treaty, however, was not ratified by the Piedmontese lower parliamentary house, the Chamber of Deputies, and Victor Emmanuel retaliated by firing his Prime Minister Claudio Gabriele de Launay, replacing him with Massimo D’Azeglio. After new elections, the peace with Austria was accepted by the new Chamber of Deputies. In 1849 Victor Emmanuel also fiercely suppressed a revolt in Genoa, defining the rebels as a “vile and infected race of canailles.” In 1852, he appointed Count Camillo Benso of Cavour (“Count Cavour”) as Prime Minister of Piedmont-Sardinia. This turned out to be a wise choice, since Cavour was a political mastermind and a major player in the Italian unification in his own right. Victor Emmanuel II soon became the symbol of the “Risorgimento“, the Italian unification movement of the 1850s and early 60s. He was especially popular in the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont because of his respect for the new constitution and his liberal reforms.

Maximilian (Spanish: Maximiliano; born Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph; 6 July 1832 – 19 June 1867) was the only monarch of the Second Mexican Empire. He was a younger brother of the Austrian emperor Francis Joseph I. After a distinguished career in the Austrian Navy, he entered into a scheme with Napoleon III of France to invade, conquer, and rule Mexico. France (along with England and Spain, who both withdrew the following year after negotiating agreements with Mexico’s democratic government) had invaded Mexico in the winter of 1861, as part of the War of the French Intervention. Seeking to legitimize French rule in the Americas, Napoleon III invited Maximilian to establish a new Mexican monarchy for him. With the support of the French army, and a group of conservative Mexican monarchists hostile to the liberal administration of new Mexican President Benito Juárez, Maximilian traveled to Mexico. Once there, he declared himself Emperor of Mexico on 10 April 1864.[2]

With a name like Belmont, meaning “beautiful mountain,” and a location that straddled the El Camino Real, and the original canyon road to the coast, how could a city not fail to prosper?

The fact is that Belmont is a city with roots older than the county itself. When California organized its first state government in 1850, San Mateo County didn’t exist, and instead made up the southern portion of San Francisco County.

And in 1853, when the state’s original 27 counties were divided up further, there still wasn’t a San Mateo County, but there was a Belmont.

Belmont Then

Belmont Then

According to Erwin Guddee, author of “California Place Names,” Belmont is a variation of the French “beaumount,” a commonly used place name in America, meaning beautiful mountain, and was first used here around 1850 or 1851 to describe the hillside landmark that forms the city’s backdrop.

The register of California Post Offices lists Belmont as an official place name as of July 18, 1854 – a full two years before San Mateo County was finally carved out of San Francisco County.

Long before that event however, Belmont was at the center of the Rancho Las Pulgas (Ranch of the Fleas), the 35,000 acre cattle ranch granted in 1825 to Luis Antonio Arguello.

Belmont Now
They ran their cattle on the broad plain between the hills and the bay, where Redwood City and Belmont sprawl today. The Gold Rush of 1849 however, turned the Arguello’s lives upside down, forcing them to defend the title to their land in a court battle that took them, and most other California families as well, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Arguellos’ Las Pulgas was among the first ranchos to win their case, but it would cost them; thousands of acres were paid to attorneys, including lawyer-developer Simon Mezes.

The ambitious San Francisco attorney spent most of the 1850s litigating, speculating, subdividing and developing Redwood City. On the 5,000 acre payment he received from the Arguellos, he settled and built a home. In 1853 he sold several acres to his law partner Leonetto Cipriani, an Italian expatriate who built a charming country estate before returning to Italy in 1864. With the creation of the County in 1856, the growth of Redwood City and the increasing traffic on the main San Francisco-San Jose Road, the El Camino Real, Belmont grew.

A roadhouse built in 1850 by innkeeper Charles Angelo where the El Camino crossed the old road to the coast, formed the nucleus of “the Corners,” where small businesses flourished serving the growing traffic of carriages, stage coaches, farm wagons and later, the railroad.

Former Governor John McDougal settled in Belmont and in 1857 merchant Adam Castor built a store across from Angelo’s and later, a wharf for grain farmers.

Soon pioneer Belmont Postmaster John Ellet built a small hotel on land he too bought from Mezes.
In 1864 both the railroad, and the town’s most celebrated resident arrived. William Ralston, president of the Bank of California, charmed by Cipriani’s estate, bought 14 acres near the canyon road that now bears his name, and began transforming the home into a spectacular country villa – Ralston Hall.

The great railroad financier spared no expense – a ballroom, a banquet hall, bowling alley, Turkish baths, stables and a reservoir – the amenities and extravagances were endless.

Ralston’s sudden death in 1875 left his family living in a small cottage on the property as Ralston Hall was sold to partner William Sharon to cover debts. The estate remained a showplace however, passing through several owners, until 1923 when, as a Catholic Women’s School, it formed the beginning of what became today’s highly respected Notre Dame de Namur University.

In the 1880s, another hotel and industry – a sarsaparilla factory – joined the prosperous “Corners” when the Janke family opened the Belmont Soda Works, and followed up on their success with Belmont Park, a picnic park on the south side of Belmont Creek.

Merchant Walter Emmett became a leading citizen, adding a livery stable, saloon and other ventures to “The Corners,” including cement sidewalks and electric lights by 1909.

The 1920s were boom times for the country and the county. Thanks to the automobile, the newly opened Dumbarton and San Mateo bridges, and the piece-by-piece paving of the Bayshore Highway in the 1920s and 1930s, congestion was moved off the three-lane (the middle was for passing) El Camino Real and Belmont started becoming the suburb it is today.

In 1926, it became official when the town was the 11th in the county to incorporate. The Great Depression slowed the growth of the city to a crawl and in 1940, only 1,200 people called Belmont home. World War II saw the city’s population triple, with a 1950 census count of 5,500.

For the last 50 years Belmont has continued to grow and prosper, and it has become an upscale, chic address for some of the Bay Area’s most notable executives, dignitaries and patrons.

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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