Pliny the Gardner


January, 2005

Remember Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger, the famous Roman statesmen of the first and second centuries? Well, in Homestead Valley we had Pliny the gardener in the 1920s and 1930s. Actually his name was Plinio, which is how one spells Pliny in Italian. In Latin it’s Plinius. In French it’s Pline. Our Pliny came from the Italian speaking region of Switzerland. Curiously, he claimed French as his mother tongue as did his parents.

Plinio Perucchi was born on May 15, 1894 in Origlio Switzerland, near Lugano in the Ticino, close to the Italian border. He passed through Ellis Island on October 4, 1912 at age 18 and went to San Rafael to live with Michele Lucchini. He was 5’6″ tall and in good health.

In 1922 he married Amalia who had immigrated in 1921. She was also born in Switzerland and claimed French as her mother tongue as did her parents.

The 1930 census found Plinio, Amalia and their one-year old son, Plinio. Jr. living on the Theuriet estate in Homestead. Plinio listed his profession as groundskeeper. The Theuriet estate consisted of 2.21 acres located between Ferndale and Ridgewood. Léon Theuriet, his wife Suzanne and a boarder named Remy Tafuri lived in the large three-story house. Léon and Suzanne were French and Remy was Italian. Léon was a famous diamond cutter. His employees manufactured jewelry in a small house on the estate – Remy was the foreman. Plinio and his family lived in the gardener’s cottage (later the residence of Colonel Canlett). Also on the estate was a three-car garage, originally a carriage house.

Plinio reportedly raised 105 different types of flowers, an important feature of the parties that the Theuriets held for wealthy and the famous visitors who came to order or pick up jewelry that Léon designed especially for them.

In the 1920s, a teenager named Ivan Kompf who lived on Janes St. had the job of sweeping out the small house where the jewelers worked. He also had to clean up after the Theuriet parties. He reported that some of the parties were for Hollywood stars such as Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Maurice Chevalier. Pliny provided the flowers.

If you have comments or questions about this article or other topics
pertaining to the history of Homestead Valley,
please feel free to e-mail Chuck Oldenburg.