Sanitarium to treat "nervous disorders"The mansion was originally built by pioneer Dr. Jacob M. Tewksbury for his daughter Eugenia and her second husband, William Mintzer (early President of Bank of America in Point Richmond). Dr. Belgum established Grande Vista Sanitarium, "for the treatment of nervous disorders," in 1914. Local people were, for the most part, kept away from the grounds. Neighbors called it "the crazy house." Mental patients, drug addicts, and alcoholics were among the residents. The well-to-do families of Piedmont and San Francisco would send their relatives to the remote setting to keep them out of sight. The few visitors who were brave enough to sneak onto the grounds and look around reported that beautiful music could often be heard. The residents, after all, were well-educated and cultured people. Miss Belgum, in her later years, would reminisce about the wonderful parties and dances that were held in the home.
Elegant mansion with a farmThe two story stuccoed mansion was ideal for such use. The front door opened into a large entryway with Tiffany chandeliers. The first floor had a day room, library, kitchen, living room, and an enormous formal dining room. The high ceilings, paneled walls, and dark mahogany furniture gave a feeling of richness and spaciousnes. The magnificent curving staircase led to the second floor, which had numerous bathrooms and small bedrooms for the patients and one large bedroom for Dr. Belgum's use.
Doctor Belgum distributed a brochure describing the care patients could expect: "To insure our guests an abundance of fresh, wholesome, nourishing food, so essential to the restoration of health, a select purebred dairy is maintained, also a poultry plan, an apiary, a fruit orchard, vegetable gardens, conservatories, private spring water system, etc."
Dr. Belgum diesThe sanitarium was more like a country club than a hospital in many ways. The patients were not confined, but then that was hardly necessary, as there was nowhere else to go. The isolated location of Grande Vista apparently affected patients and doctors alike, as the years progressed, Dr. Belgum became a recluse. His few contacts with Richmonders were businesslike and aloof. He died November 8, 1948 while fighting a grass fire in the hills behind his home.
Dr. Belgum's brother, Bernard N. Belgum, and sisters, Ida Ruth Belgum and Christine Heiman, inherited the property. They lived in the house for a few years, and although they were not qualified to provide medical treatment, a couple of elderly patients remained with them. Bernard spent many of his days roaming the nearby hills, until his health deteriorated and he was confined to a wheelchair. He died November 24, 1963 at the age of 82. [Note: This was two days after the Kennedy assassination. - CD]
The house stood empty. People who came to the estate sale hoped to see a magnificent house; they found a sadly neglected one. Vandals, who plagued both Hendrick and Bernard, returned. They burned the home to the ground. In 1977, the old barn was burned.
Park District acquires propertyIn 1978 the East Bay Regional Park District acquired the Belgum property and it became part of Wildcat Canyon Regional Park. It takes a careful eye to find the crumbling foundation of the old mansion, visualize where the barn, carriage house, and servants quarters once stood. The water tanks where the local boys dunked in the summer have been cemented over. The chicken coops that the boys raided and threw eggs at before they were chased off with a shotgun filled with rock salt, are gone. But the foundation can be found, the narcisses still bloom in the springtime, and the apple orchards and blackberries continue to reward the summer visitor with fruit.
The approach to the site via the Belgum Trail, with the two palm trees in the background
One of the palm trees