Near the Burlingame main library, on a tree-lined street and down a long driveway, there lives a man who knows a lot about the Bay Area’s history.
Carroll Schmitz remembers the last time we had an epidemic, and people were wearing face masks. Even though he was only a child, he understood the times were unique.
Life was different 100 years ago.
“Burlingame Avenue was lined with trees where hoards of black birds used to nest in,” Schmiz said. “They came down from Millbrae dairy.”
And the Peninsula was rural.
“It’s very much an urban area now,” he said.
On Tuesday, Sept. 7, Schmitz turned 105. He spent it like any other day — at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church with his wife Charlene and their family.
After the midday Mass, Father John Ryan and the church hosted a COVID-safe birthday party for Schmitz in the church’s flower garden. Many people walked up to Schmitz, greeted him with praise and gifts as he sat on his electric scooter in front of mylar balloons and a personal cake, lit with sparkling candles.
“He’s been an inspiration to myself and so many others in this community,” said Father Ryan who spoke about how long Schmitz has lived in his childhood home. “He is part of this community forever.”
The mass was extra special because upon request his favorite cantor, Eric Ribero, came to sing at mass for Schmitz’s birthday. Ribero has known Schmitz since around 2003.
“He’s in the Burlingame library archives, they have a film of citizens being interviewed and telling the history of Burlingame and he’s part of that,” he said.
For the past 99 years Schmitz has lived in the same house in which he was raised.
“It’s probably some kind of record,” his daughter Elaine Graves said.
The front portion of the house dates back to 1907 and still has the original single-paned glass windows in the living room.
“Everybody had chickens, we had chickens in our backyard,” Schmitz said. “We had them running around our backyard like pets, we not only ate the eggs we ate them too.”
When he was 9, his father died tragically in a hit-and-run accident in San Francisco. With little options to support her family, his mother decided to rent rooms out of the house, while Schmitz and his brother lived in the backyard, in a homemade shed they had built.
He attended Burlingame High School, and graduated in 1935.
“There was no high school there, I saw them build it, I saw everything go up around here,” Schmitz said.
In 1954, he met his wife Charlene in San Francisco’s Old Saint Mary’s Church. It was at the church-group dances where they first found an interest in each other.
“We just hit it off right away,” Charlene Schmitz said.
After dating for only a few months, Schmitz proposed and the couple got married on Feb. 12, 1955, at Mission San Miguel. The foundation of their marriage is based on their commitment to the Catholic faith.
The couple decided to stay in the family home to help care for his widowed mother.
“I wanted to take care of her the rest of her life so I built the back portion so I could have an independent house and still be with her,” Schmitz said.
From the exposed wood ceilings down to the wiring job, Schmitz prides himself on what he has accomplished over the years. His 99 years of residency hasn’t always been easy. In the late 1920s, Schmitz received requests to sell his property to the city of Burlingame.
“They wanted to make more parking to attract people to come shop in Burlingame,” Schmitz said. “I fought them on it. ... We had worked so hard to get this place and keep it, it just would have been cruel to dump us out of here.”
However, Schmitz’s dentist was also the Burlingame mayor at the time. It was at a dentist appointment where Charlene Schmitz was informed by the mayor that the city was offering the couple $28,000 for a house he claimed was worth at least $42,000 at the time.
“It’s worth a lot more now,” Schmitz said.