Coney was an incessant dreamer, and with so much acreage he couldn't restrain himself
Annadel was once
the private reserve of Joe Coney, one of those audacious entrepreneurs who concoct grandiose schemes and amass fortunes only to lose them. One of the prizes he lost was the property that is now Annadel State Park.
Coney founded the Hillcone Steamship Company with Stanley Hiller, Sr. of Hiller Helicopters, and went on to build a fleet of oil tankers. With the profits he acquired gold, tungsten and silver mines, along with an inconceivable 3.5 million acres of mineral-laden ridges in the Andes, and in the 30's he acquired (and then lost) the fishing rights for all of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Coney bought the oak woodland tract near Santa Rosa, then 3,200 acres, for $177,000 in 1934. As soon as the deed was signed, he scarfed up adjacent ranches until his acreage topped 8,000.
Then the real planning kicked in. Coney was an incessant dreamer, and with so much acreage he couldn't restrain himself from fulfilling fantasies designed to bring him money and prestige. He put in 100 acres of hops and built great stone hop kilns, with a special press to bale the hops for shipment to Germany and Australia. The scheme might have yielded great profits if Uncle Sam hadn't slapped a limit on export of hops. Coney also planned to mine Annadel's perlite deposits for use in lightweight aggregate for construction, but a U.S.-German treaty following World War II quashed that scheme, too.
A magnanimous squire, he allowed the public onto his land
saw Annadel more as a personal estate than a money-making arena. He hosted lavish house parties and three-day hunting trips for his cronies. Coney also created an exotic bird farm with thousands of pheasants, quail and Indian chukar for hunting. He imported prize-wimning Black Angus and then added shorthorns, first he bought some prize bulls from Scotland, then purchased the entire ranch of the Prince of Wales in Calgary. Always one to diversify, Coney bought the Prince's draft horses, too: six Clydesdales and four Percherons -- horses "so well trained that when they grazed, they grazed in pairs," Coney told one interviewer. He rounded out his stock with 70 thoroughbreds, polo ponies, quarter horses and Morgans. But Coney's enthusiasms tended to deflate to disenchantment, and he eventually gave many of the horses away.
In the role of magnanimous squire, he allowed the public onto his land -- blind Boy Scouts from Berkeley learned how to camp there, Marines went on maneuvers, the California High Way Patrol and FBI set up pistol ranges and dog clubs held retriever competitions. Joe and his brother Herb created Lake Ilsanjo (named for Joe and his wife Ilsa) and stocked it with black bass so people could fish there for free.
Coney designed an an amphitheatre for the Boy Scouts and dream house with a shooting gallery, gymnasium and indoor pool, but those never got built. In the 1960's the land was reassessed for potential subdivision, and suddenly Coney's taxes shot up 700 percent. He sold off outlying tracts to pay the bills, then put up the remaining 5,100 acres for sale. A couple of sales fell through and then the state, with a match from local financiers and public donations, dug up the money and Annadel became a park.
And Coney, now 100 years old, lives in modest splendor on the shores of Oakland's Lake Merritt.
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