This person is Sacramento native Gail Fernandez Jones, who has a very rich family history in the Pocket, Greenhaven, South Land Park, Hollywood Park and Tahoe Park areas.
Jones, 59, who worked as a dance teacher before beginning a career as an elementary school teacher in the Pocket and Meadowview areas, explained that her drive to preserve her family’s history began as a result of a personal illness that caused her to follow new directions in her life.
“Due to the illness, I had to retire early and I needed something to do, so I decided to research and write my family’s history,” Jones said. “It was something that I always wanted to do. I figured that if I didn’t do it, nobody else would do it and the history would be lost for future generations.”
In addition to her illness, Jones said that she was also motivated to write her family’s history upon the birth of her grandson.
“My grandson was born in 2002 and he was the original catalyst for my project to preserve the family history,” Jones said.
Unfortunately, due to Jones’ health issues, her motivation to gather information and write her family’s history was initially short-lived, as she almost entirely abandoned the project for more than eight years. But reinvigorated by improved health within the past year, she is back on track and working on writing her family’s history at a greater pace than at any time during her entire project.
With Jones’ deep, local roots, the value of her project is much more than a family history – it is also a notable part of the community’s history.
Her grandfather, John Fernandez, who was born in the island of Pico in the Azores Islands of Portugal on Jan. 10, 1887, immigrated to the United States at the age of three with his parents, Manuel and Rose (Jacinto) Fernandez, and at least one of his sisters.
Jones said that John Fernandez had two sisters, Mary, who was born in the Azores Islands, and Rose, who was born in either the Azores Islands or the Greater Sacramento area.
El Dorado Hills aka. Clarksburg
Once arriving in America, the family made its way to the Clarksburg area, where they began a dairy farm.
Through her research, Jones discovered that her grandfather, who completed his education through the eighth grade, began an apprenticeship to learn the building trade, so that he could become a building contractor.
“My grandfather was a very dedicated man,” Jones said. “He asked some builder to take him on as an apprentice at no charge, so he could learn the trade. He then started his own company, Sierra Builders, during the Depression.”
John, who built one of the first cabins in the Strawberry tract along Highway 50 for himself during the 1940s, named his business Sierra Builders due to his love for the mountains.
Jones said that her grandfather began the business with no employees, but eventually took on his five sons – Ralph, Ray, Norman, Jack and Jim – as his employees.
Of these sons, Norman, Jack and Jim contributed the most time to the company, since Ralph began his own building company and Ray apparently died during World War II, as the plane he was flying over Russia went missing and was never found.
The earliest projects of Sierra Builders, which had a large office and lumber yard at 1716 26th St., was the construction of houses in Tahoe Park and the construction and development of sections of Hollywood Park.
One these Hollywood Park area projects, which included both residential and commercial developments, was an early Raley’s grocery store at 2390 Fruitridge Road.
The Raley’s project was part of a retail space that also included The Dance Center, which was owned by “Miss Pennie” Davies.
Jones said that she is quite familiar with this dance center, since she took lessons from Davies at this site and later returned to teach classes at the studio.
With the building boom that followed World War II, Norman, who was Jones’ father, founded the Norman Construction Co. in 1955 and began building custom houses. The majority of these houses were constructed in the South Land Park Hills area.
After furthering his reputation as a quality builder, Norman, who married his accountant’s daughter, Betty Webb, in 1948, was invited to become one of the original 10 builders of Greenhaven 70, a development that was bordered by Riverside Boulevard and Greenhaven, Havenside and Gloria drives.
Jones, who moved from her home in Hollywood Park to South Land Park Hills in 1962, said that she also contributed to the Greenhaven 70 project by handing out brochures for open house events and decorating some of the homes with knickknacks from her own home and furniture from Gabe Silveira’s furniture store, G.L. Silveira Co., which was located at 2100 X St.
“The decorating really helped those home sell,” Jones recalled.
Jones said that one of the more interesting parts of the history of her family’s neighborhood developments was the naming of various local streets.
Among the more prominent of these street names are Johns Drive and Johnfer Way (a combination of John and Fernandez), which were named after Jones’ grandfather, Norman Way, which was named in honor of Jones’ father, and Jacks Lane and James Way, which were named in tribute to Jones’ uncles.
Other street names include: Trudy Way, which was named after the secretary of Sierra Builders, and Benham Way, a tribute to Ben Hammond, the insurance agent for Sierra Builders.
Although John passed away in 1966, his legacy in his longtime trade continues today through the local land developing company, Sierra-Fernandez.
In pondering her project to preserve the history of her family, Jones said that she encourages others to write about their own family history.
“I encourage others to write their family histories,” Jones said. “Start talking to the people who are still alive right now. What I started with were dates and now what I’m really trying to get are anecdotes out of the people who are left. Gather stories, because if you don’t you’ll have nothing.”