Rengstorff House


Besides being the son of the infamous importer of garden snails (AKA escargot) from France, Delphin Michael Delmas was a nationally famous attorney and a shipper of products through Rengstorff's Landing. The recently restored accounting record of shipments from the landing includes the June 1880 entry, "Shipped per Schooner Mountain View ... 53 sacks of Delmas & Briggs barley and 100 sacks of [their] wheat."

Delphin Delmas, farmer, dam builder, district attorney, defense attorney in the "Crime of the Century," Regent of the University of California, presidential nominator, was born in France in 1844. He came to California at the age of 10, settling in Santa Clara County, joining his father, Antoine the escargot gourmet, who had preceded the family by five years. By 1858 Antoine owned vineyards with 350,000 vines of 105 wine varieties.

The son Delphin came to own 600 acres of Mountain View (now Sunnyvale) farmland near El Camino Real and Bernardo Avenue and built the Delmas Dam on Stevens Creek near Fremont Avenue. He graduated from Santa Clara College in 1862, received a law degree from Yale in 1865, was elected District Attorney of Santa Clara County in 1867, later carried on a private law practice, was known as "The Napoleon of the Western Bar," was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in St. Louis in 1904 where he gave the nominating address for William Randolph Hearst for president.

One of the most formidable lawyers of the age, he was selected as the defense attorney for the 1907 New York trial of Harry K. Thaw, wealthy playboy, for the murder of Stanford White, renowned architect. Witnessed by scores of onlookers at the Madison Square Garden roof theater, Thaw fired three shots into White's face, instantly killing him. The motive was Thaw's fury over the earlier, long term dalliance between White and Thaw's new wife Evelyn Nesbit, artists' model and Floradora girl, who became known in the tabloids as the "Girl in the Red Velvet Swing," named for the device installed in White's opulent apartment and used by Evelyn starting at age 16. This reference to her became the title of the 1955 motion picture detailing the crime and the trial. Delmas's defense of Thaw was temporary insanity and was supported by medical testimony claiming that Thaw's fulmination was the result of a "brain storm," thought to be the first time that expression had been used. It became an instant catch word during the trial and ever thereafter, although the meaning has morphed from violence to whimsy. The trial ended with a hung jury; in the second trial Delmas got his client acquitted on grounds of temporary insanity.

Regarding the importation of vermin, early day snail experts speculated how the invading vegetarians spread to many parts of Northern California. If any investigatory brainstorm resulted in allegations that the pests had stowed away on Rengstorff's shipments of Delmas barley, we can assume that Mr. Delmas stood ready to provide an expert legal defense.