When he was young, Harry can remember working on his family's sheep ranch located where the entrance to the Tesla plant now stands today. Later he opened up shop as a Pharmacist in Niles until an expectant turn brought him into Real Estate. Looking back on it all, Harry feel the most important things to do in life is to focus on your family and to never stop learning.
Alan: Welcome back I'm visiting here today with Harry Avila, Harry welcome to today's show.
Harry: Thank you Alan, it's a pleasure to be here.
Alan: So Harry, you've been a longtime resident of the Fremont area and I'd like to spend some time kind of reflecting on what you seen over the years. Right now we see starter homes at a million dollars but it wasn't always that way, what was the community like when you first came here.
Harry: Well when I first came here Alan- I was born here, so this was in the 30's. So I've actually spent parts of nine decades in Washington Township: Fremont, Newark, Union City, what it was like was, it was farmland. There were 10,000 people. It was immigrants, primarily Azorean immigrants when I was here particularly in the Warm Springs area.
Alan: Now you ended up going getting an education in the pharmacy area and becoming a pharmacist initially?
Harry: Well you know I started out, Dad had a farm, as a matter of fact the farm is located where the entrance to Tesla is today, my grandfather had bought that back in '89 so when it came time to choosing an occupation I started San Jose State then UC Berkeley then UC Med Center coming out in the early 60's.
Alan: And then and then what was it like trying to develop a career out here I guess, your dad was in the farming industry you mentioned.
Harry: Well you know it was funny because you reflect back Alan and you see that these people were working a strong 40 hours a week and then they would come home and they would do their farming then too. So it was not unusual if you worked midnight or graveyard shift to suddenly come home at 8 o'clock in the morning sleep a few hours and get up and start farming and indeed we raised oat hay in the Warm Springs area and it was really something we struggled to make that extra two thousand dollars a year because that was big money at that time of course.
Alan: So ten thousand people in the community in the early-
Harry: In the entire area, here and now we're pushing three hundred thousand, three hundred and fifty thousand.
Alan: So why did you decide to move away from agriculture as a career.
Harry: Well my mother worked in Milpitas and it was just about the time that the automobile industry was coming into- the Ford factory in Milpitas, General Motors here, and at that point she was working for a physician and I had the ability to go over and sit behind the counter at the local drugstore. Much more interesting than what the physician was doing, the books were a lot better- there were comic books and hence Sell Crackalesi who had the pharmacy and ultimately became a mover and shaker became sort of my mentor. It was an easy decision to go to UC, State of California was superb in the education that it provided me.
Alan: And it still is a great educational system-Superb.
Alan: So you had a fast forwarding up here so the graduation from school was the 50's?
Actually early 60's I picked up my doctorate then and then as I came back to this community and did some relief work, pharmacy work, and then a short stint in the Army- excuse me the Air Force and then the California Air National Guard I came back out and there was a group who were franchising pharmacies at that time looking for young pharmacists to come in and they would give us 50% of the operation to buy out in five years and hence not unlike Rexall and Walgreens at the time I had the opportunity to pick up a pharmacy in the area and in the village of Niles which became my home base.
Alan: Franchising was a new concept back then.
Absolutely, Frank Ferguson and Harry Barrels were way ahead of their times, they had a pharmacist out of the Lafayette area by the name of Bill Haynes who was just a superb entrepreneur and really provided great ideas.
Alan: So how many years did you do the pharmacy for?
Harry: Well I stayed there until about 1968 but at that time, it was an amazing concept because what was happening is that Niles was in one of its typical doldrums going down and Mrs. Grimshaw came up and said, "Harry won't you buy my hotel" and I said I'm a pharmacist I know nothing about hotels. "Oh please buy it Harry, my husband is passed on. So I got three other guys and each of us put in $10,000, we suddenly found ourselves owner of the Niles Wesley hotel, 26 rooms renting out plus about 5,000 square feet below plus back areas to be rented and from there, career in real estate began.
Alan: You know Harry I'm running up against the break but I want to circle back to Niles, the history of Niles because very unique background how it was a movie production area but I need to take a quick break and we'll be right back after these messages. We're busy here today with Harry Avila, a longtime Fremont resident and we'll be right back.
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Alan: Welcome back I'm visiting here today with Harry Avila and Harry in the first segment we're talking about- you landed your first business, pharmacy in Niles, but let's circle back on Niles, how did Niles get its name and and some of the history there.
Harry: Well you know it's fascinating because you look at it today and it's one block long with three blocks deep, the commercial area but you don't really realize significance that when the Transcontinental Railroad 1869 went from California back into St. Louis Chicago that Niles was the last jumping-off point from the bay area before goods were shipped to Chicago. So what occurred was that the Central Pacific Railroad established the new town, the current town of Niles. It ended up that because it was the last stop you suddenly had four large hotels, three-story the venue's on there and with people meeting the 26 trains a day because there was so much traffic and the opportunity to send the agricultural products, the orange trees from the Shinn Nursery, items from the California Nursery, back to the eastern market. Niles was a booming booming town and continued on so because in 1912 Bronco Billy Anderson and George Spoor Essanay developed Niles- saw Niles as the area for the movie industry, So between '12 and '16, '12 and '15 they produced over 375 movies featuring Charlie Chaplin featuring so many of the early movie stars coming out of Niles and what occurred was was at the local people obviously had roles as a either extras or ultimately followed them down to Hollywood when the move occurred. So fascinating area, what occurred subsequently to that on there was that Niles itself began to develop. You had automobile agencies coming in the Giulio Pontiac the Chevrolet agency the Rose Ford agency, So Niles was a booming area because it was on the San Jose to Oakland upper road with a mission Boulevard. So in essence it really went through times and it early on they all wanted to make it the county seat for Alameda County. What occurred after that, obviously the Depression hit, doldrums hit, all sorts of elements. When I came in in the early 60's, we were having one of the down areas which afforded me the opportunity to really get to know the town well. And so as you sat around you saw all of these people who loved the community, we sat down and we said, hey what can we do. One of the my customers came in and said, "why don't we start a flea market". That flea market is still going some 50 plus years later on because each year the community in the last week in August comes together and literally has an entire community day of sales and such, fantastic element. The Niles Christmas parades had it you start much later but yet that continues on so you have a very tight community in which we have six, yes six museums in that town. You say really museums well they're quasi museums but there are amazing areas you know if you go to the bus museum there's thirty buses from antique vintage there, the Niles Essanay theater has over 13,000 films- silent films one of the largest collections of films and obviously there are four other areas that we could go on, hey that's a really a pitch isn't it for the Niles village.
Alan: It is and I think that people often will drive through Niles, they'll see the old structures but they don't understand these history so I appreciate the insight on that. I'm visiting here today with Harry Avila he's a longtime Fremont, resident first business over Niles and Harry I need this take take a quick break and we'll be right back after these messages.
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Welcome back I'm visiting here today with Harry Avila, he's a longtime Fremont resident and Harry in the earlier segments we talked about Niles a place that you had your first business, bought a hotel and there and and then 1960 you transitioned into a different type of career direction what despite you for this.
Harry: California offered so many opportunities for us Alan. What I found was that as you begin to network in the community our community here Washington Township- Fremont- Newark some amazing people so for example in the early 60's let's say about '65 this CPA came into my life. A kid by the name of Bob Demarta who ultimately started a firm called Greenstein Demarta and Rogoff you may be familiar with it. So '65 til today of 2018 my god that's 53 years that I've been associated with your firm on here and wisely so because if one selects the proper CPA, financial people the best attorney you can get, which I had in Harry Shepard and then you also establish relationships with the financial institutions, things can happen and that's indeed what happened because in '68 I saw the opportunity to move out to Dakota Road and Alvarado Niles and we opened up a pharmacy there across from Washington Hospital I had the opportunity to open up Mowry pharmacies and then we began distribution into hospitals and skilled nursing facilities and then there were some pharmacists who simply wanted to sell their pharmacies, I had young pharmacists who were willing to come in and this community provided some superb people who worked for our organization and it came easy. However, as it came on, you suddenly find out that the opportunities in real estate in California were so great that suddenly you said hey, I'm it's really necessary to spend more time. At the same time the education that the University of California had provided me gave me a large background in healthcare and I joined the Washington Hospital Board and spent 20-some odd years as chairman of the board, as development of strategic planning, during a very significant part of the development of Washington Hospita,l that gave me additional education and hopefully helped the community. In the early 80's some of my buddies again having to do with the legal and financial elements as well as the accounting said hey why don't we start some banks. Banking, for me? And ultimately that's where Mission Valley Bank or California banks shares and ultimately U.S. Bank came in when we sold with some 32 units so it's been a fast life Alan, but really California offers these opportunities in particular, Washington Township. You know it's a really an amazing story that a kid comes off the farm and has the opportunity to do all of these things because of the relationships that you develop and the opportunities you have.
Alan: As you reflect back today in fast forwarding into the world today, if you were the young entrepreneur today would you see the same opportunities in place back then?
Harry: Absolutely, but first you know you recognize that it's the extended family that is also so key. You know I had an extended family in the Portuguese community, an extended family in the Italian community and my god they helped me to raise three marvelous kids who had a marvelous mother and you know that's really the life gratifications, but the opportunities, you know in '62 I walked through Frank Gorian 's laboratory in physical chemistry and upon his desk Frank said, "Harry look at this" and I said what is it that you're building doctor. "It's a computer." and he said, "Harry you should really come in as a teaching assistant and join me in the building of this computer." I said, I got to get into retail pharmacy, I don't have time for that nonsense. There are opportunities bypassed, there are opportunities taken, but they are still available today, so many. Aggressiveness, a little risk-taking when you're younger, but they're available to you.
Alan: You know it's amazing how that this whole area has transformed from the farming community into Silicon Valley and now the high rise and the infrastructure is just- housing can't be found.
Harry: Housing is the issue isn't it on there, you know we see it so close to us here right on the other side of Bart with the Gardino property going up and in Niles we see changes, certainly this is an area and I think that we're going to go into an area of very significance because if we do not choose to find affordable housing indeed the economy will lapse because we depend so much on people today, very interesting times and indeed the therein lies the opportunity. My son is involved in marketing- excuse me, in development of homes and already you know you see people going out to the Rio Vista area further on out, so this demands transportation and easy ingress into the Bay Area so what does it hold it holds opportunity to solve these problems.
Harry: That's a very keen observation and I think that we've seen in the San Francisco real estate market the fact that they can't get the workers because it's too expensive live there, they've had to scale back and slow down. That's correct and that well could be the limiting factor and how do you go about attracting people obviously salary is one, but more important is that quality of life and the quality of accommodations that you afford them plus the most valuable thing we have is our time and if we spend it traveling to and from work that not really a proper use of our time.
Alan: So reflecting back, let's start with things that you regret that you wish you would have done in a different way.
Harry: Alan that list becomes so large but as we're talking it's the humorous things that you have that you regret as you looked at coming home from San Jose State, you stopped off every day at a hamburger place and bought that $0.14 hamburger and you knew that that new hamburger place that was selling their hamburgers for fifteen cents was never going to make it, some outfit by the name of McDonald's I think and so you looked at that and laugh. In this 70's people came in and said please can we put in software into your pharmacies and utilize and give you some diversification I said that's ridiculous all the software that's ever been developed has been developed there's no market coming up on there. Alan there are so many areas of regret that you have, the thing to really consider is to keep the ones mind open and to constantly be motivated to go upwards and get additional education so you understand what's going on.
Alan: As we look at the spectrum of life and this is not an easy question but it's one that I have to ask Harry, greatest accomplishments when you look back things that you really are proud of.
Harry: You know, I just spent the weekend with my oldest son and you're looking and you're saying my god that kid is my son. You know you recognize his abilities his intensity he's doing Ironman he's going back to Boulder on June 10th to compete in hopes of going into Kona Ironman championship world championship, his attitude his understanding and as a way to deal with people, Tim my middle son has gone through three startups now and just each one he brings so much skill to, at my point it's almost ridiculous for me to ask him what he's doing because his algorithms are the development of products is really unique and Ginamarie is up in Seattle with Amazon as a vice president now doing so well my god those are accomplishments, perhaps I had a little bit to do with it but it was so much more the extended family that really made a difference. Their mother was superb, and you know Alan that brings up an interesting point because Janet was just as superb superb woman and we let weeds grow in our marriage garden- certainly my fault but everyone's fault, that is one of perhaps not an accomplishment but maybe an understanding now is do not let weeds grow in that marriage garden. Pluck them out, tend to them, put a little fertilizer on them, make sure you take care of this sort of one of the regrets in my life. Other accomplishments you know the work that I've done with the communities in Niles Rotary after 50 years and you see the local the community the national and international effects of Rotary because after all in that organization you get anything done that you want whether it's a breast cancer and program in the Azores or housing and new hospitals in Guatemala or water in Kenya or just a simple local scholarship here and sending a kid back to London for his Master's you can make a difference on there so those are in the Washington Hospital years you know you look now and see how Washington is integrated not only medical care but community public health care and additional sources of revenue for example, the Walgreens development on there is all owned by Washington and came about because of a willingness to step out and perceive a hospital district as more than just delivering hospital bills- health care services. Alan I'm not sure what accomplishments I've had, I did knock my handicap down to a 13 on the golf that's a pretty good accomplishment and hopefully I've made some friends, I know I've got a few that I should patch up but I really had some great relationships in my life.
Alan: You know it's interesting as we go through life managing our day-to-day and in every decision we make has a whole set of consequences. but we learned in the process. So Harry has been a pleasure having you here today.
Harry: Most enjoyable Alan.
Alan: And just getting this little piece of history in Fremont from a lifelong resident and in and it's been a remarkable life and you know and career and also I appreciate that time that we'd known each other, been going on some 30 years now.
Harry: Yes and let's not understate the effect of your CPA in your life, big big things. We can go back to the Lloyd's of London and how Morey, your partner, saved my backside in so many ways.
Alan: Well thanks for being on today's show.
Harry: Certainly my pleasure Alan.
Alan: We've been visiting here today with Harry Avila and thanks for joining us here on American Dreams and join us next week right here on this station.