In Honor of the Life of A. F. Bray

In Honor of the Life of A. F. Bray

A. F. Bray, Sr.

NOTE: The following article is reprinted from the January, 1987 special Memorial Bulletin of the Contra Costa County Historical Society.

Contra Costa County lost one of its most distinguished citizens upon the death of retired justice A. F. Bray at his home in Martinez on New Year's Day, 1987. Judge Bray had lived in this county seventy four of his ninety-seven years.

Born in Butte, Montana, Absalom Francis Bray came to California in 1904 in order to attend Mt. Tamalpais Military Academy, San Rafael. Although he received an appointment to West Point, it was found that he was just short of meeting the height requirement. Rather than entering that institution when he gained his full height, Bray then registered at the University of California. There he chose a legal career instead of a military one. Upon graduation he studied at Hastings College of the Law, receiving his degree in 1910.

Justice Bray was an active supporter of the University, holding the record for Big Game attendance. According to his son Frank, he missed only one such contest from 1906 to 1982. He was a past president of the U.C.-Berkeley Alumni Association and chairman of the board of Hastings College of the Law. In 1976 he received the University of California Medal as the outstanding living alumnus of Hastings.

After receiving his law degree, Bray practiced in San Francisco for two years. He then moved to Martinez, joining the firm of J. E. Rodgers, later Rodgers and Bray. In 1914 he became an assistant district attorney for Contra Costa County. He also served as city attorney for Martinez, Concord, and Pinole.

In 1913 Bray married Leila Veale, daughter of Richard Raines Veale, the highly respected sheriff of Contra Costa County known throughout the Pacific Coast for his firmness and courage. Leila Veale herself had been the first editor of the Alhambra High School Torch in 1909. She maintained her interest in literature and child welfare throughout her life, being active in the Well Baby Clinic and founding the first P.-T.A. in Martinez. She and Judge Bray both had a great impact on their community. They were married seventy years. A. F. Bray is survived by his son, A. F. Bray, Jr, of Martinez, three grandchildren, and four sisters.

Justice Bray. In 1935 Governor Merriam appointed Bray to the Superior Court of Contra Costa County. He served until 1947, when Governor Earl Warren named him Justice of the District Court of Appeal in San Francisco. He became presiding judge in 1959. Bray was president of the California Conference of Judges in 1951 and 1952, a member of the Justice Council, and member of the Committee on Juvenile Justice.

Although he officially retired in 1964, Justice Bray remained active, serving part time both the appellate court and the Supreme Court until he was ninety-three. His friend Wakefield Taylor of Martinez, also a retired appellate court justice, has said Bray was one of the state's finest trial judges: A "tremendous individual:' not "flamboyant:' he "did his homework. He wrote many significant decisions."

Spending seventy years in the field of justice did not prevent Bray's becoming a leader in civic and philanthropic organizations in Martinez and beyond. Associated with: the Boy Scouts, Salvation Army, California Public Health Association, Martinez Community Hospital, Martinez Masonic Lodge, Commonwealth Club, and Richmond Elks, he received many honors.

A. F. Bray, Promoter of Bridges. judge Bray was instrumental in having the first two bridges built across Carquinez Strait. From the 1880's on, the federal government had opposed attempts to bridge San Francisco Bay and adjacent navigable waters because of the engineering problems involved. Since· bridge collapses were not uncommon, there was fear that structures with long spans required to cross strait would be dangerous and excessively expensive.

However, Bray thought otherwise. Certain that a bridge was necessary, Bray, at the time attorney for the American Toll Bridge Company, traveled to Washington, D.C, to convince the authorities the technology to build one was available. Military necessity, he argued, made a connection necessary. In the event of war, Mare Island and conceivably the northwestern United States could be isolated. The War Department agreed.

Therefore, construction began on a cantilever-type span over Carquinez Strait between Crockett and Vallejo. This was to be the most ambitious bridge-building undertaken by a private enterprise. Piers were sunk in deep water having a heavy current. In 1927 the Carquinez Bridge was completed. Two 1,100-foot cantilever spans crossed the strait. Now it was recognized San Francisco Bay proper could be bridged safely. Remarkable for its engineering, the Carquinez toll bridge also was a financial success. Its cost was repaid in 1945, five years after it was purchased by the state.

The second span was the low-grade Southern Pacific railroad bridge connecting Martinez and Benicia, replacing the famous train ferry. Over the water gap extended this 5,603-foot-long structure with seven 526-foot steel trusses and a 328-foot vertical lift span, the longest and heaviest railroad bridge west of the Mississippi. In recognition of his contributions toward this achievement, Bray, the Southern Pacific's local counsel, was master of ceremonies at the dedication of the bridge. The governor, other state officials, and notables from San Francisco were present at this official opening of the last link to provide total railroad transportation from coast to coast. Thus were Bray's goals realized.

Judge Bray, Supporter of Historical Societies. Not only did Judge Bray help make history. He recognized the importance of preserving records of our past. In 1950 Bray was Landmarks Committee Chairman of the Contra Costa Development Association, which he had founded in 1936. He named Fred Confer of Martinez to meet with directors of the Contra Costa Horseman's Association and the Art and Garden Club to determine whether they had space available for permanent county exhibits of historical interest. Apparently this was Bray's first publicly expressed concern for historical exhibits.

On November 17, 1950 the Landmarks Committee asked Aubrey Drury, Secretary of the California Historical Society, to confer with them about forming an historical society. By-laws were discussed the following January; the group was dedicated to saving landmarks, artifacts, and historical papers and monographs about historical subjects.

By April 1951 Bray initiated an organization meeting of the Contra Costa Historical Society at Nick's Place in Martinez. Dr. C. L. Abbott, County Coroner, was the speaker. Elected first president of the Society, A. F. Bray served for thirty years, handing over his office to Carol Leland in 1981. As President he indicated that "the organization was to preserve for future generations the intensely interesting history Of our County and the many articles of Contra Costiana which otherwise would be lost."

In two years' time members of the Society received copies of a new printing of Illustrations of Contra Costa County - Historical Sketch (1878). In February 1956 Bray wrote an article for the Bulletin, which had begun publication in 1951. The article, "Early Courts," mentions that dueling, contemptuous language, and prize fighting were early crimes in the county. Bray commented that judges were not required to be lawyers but were required to have all proceedings held in English.

As president of the Contra Costa County Historical Society, Bray also helped to save the Fernando Pacheco Adobe, the Vicente Martinez Adobe, and the John Muir home. In the 1950's while attorney for the Henry Cowell Lime and Cement Company, Judge Bray persuaded it to preserve the famous John Marsh home. In 1960 the S. H. Cowell Foundation deeded the Stone House and land surrounding it to Contra Costa County. Now it is under state ownership and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Bray remained on the Board of Directors of the Contra Costa County Historical Society until 1985, achieving a full and impressive career with that group. In 1985 he spoke at a meeting of the Society during which he told several of his famous jokes. Although his voice was not strong, he was delightful to hear.

Bray also helped organize the Martinez Historical Society (1973). He frequently served on the Board of Directors and was a Supporting Director at the time of his death. He was a member of the California Historical Society, the California Heritage Council, E Clampus Vitus, the Pony Express Centennial Celebration Committee (1960) and the County Bicentennial Committee (1976).

With his keen intellect, spirit of service, and breadth of interests, A. F. Bray led a wonderful life. There is no doubt he left his mark on Contra Costa County.

The Justice A. F. Bray Memorial Library

The Contra Costa County Historical Society by action of the Board of Directors meeting on January 12, 1987, designated as a memorial the Justice A. F. Bray Memorial Library to be a section of the History Center. The History Center is a living archive which includes the valuable and extensive collection of over 40,000 historical papers, publications, and photographs dealing with Contra Costa County gathered for forty years by Louis Stein. The Center continues to expand through donations of historical materials and funds given by interested citizens.

The Justice A. F. Bray Memorial Library will be a growing collection of books dealing with the history of Contra Costa County. It will be a component of a working facility "preserving for future generations the intensely interesting history of our County," as Frank Bray had urged be done thirty-five years ago.

Brays at Adobe
A.F. and Leila Bray at the Martinez Adobe

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