The first known inhabitants of the Walnut Creek area were the Bolbones Indians. In March 1772, the first Spanish explorers arrived to the region. California became a possession of Mexico following the Mexican Revolution in 1821. To encourage settlement in its newly-acquired territory, Mexico made large land grants, four of which were in the Walnut Creek area. A grant of nearly 18,000 acres in what today is the Ygnacio Valley was made to Dona Juana Sanchez de Pacheco, whose husband, Miguel, had been a war hero for Mexico. She deeded her property to two grandsons, Ygnacio and Ysidro Sibrian. Ygnacio Sibrian, the namesake of the Ygnacio Valley, built the first roofed residence in the valley around 1850. Following the Mexican-American War, California became a United States territory and subsequently a state in 1850.
From a Crossroads to a City
San Ramon Valley Bank was built in 1910 at the corner of Main Street and Walker Avenue (now Duncan Avenue). It was Walnut Creek's first bank. The idea of building this institution came from local merchant Joseph Silveira, who ran the Valley Mercantile at Main and Cypress streets. The bank building was razed in late 1998 for the Broadway Pointe project.
Walnut Creek was first known as "The Corners" -- where the two roads leading from Pacheco and Lafayette converged. Today those "corners" are at the intersection of Mt. Diablo Boulevard and North Main Street. The area's first settler was William Slusher, a squatter who built the first roofed abode on the bank of what was then known as "Nuts Creek" in 1849 (in the area of Liberty Bell Plaza).
The oldest commercial structure still standing in Walnut Creek is the Albert Sherburne store, built around 1863 at the corner of Main Street and Oakland Road (now Mt. Diablo Boulevard). It was partially destroyed by fire in 1879 and rebuilt the following year. This photo shows the building around 1881. Over the years the building has housed several businesses, most notably Arthur's Liquors (1935-1973), and today is occupied by La Fogata Mexican restaurant.
In 1855, Milo Hough of Lafayette decided to develop The Corners and built a hotel called the "Walnut Creek House." A blacksmith shop and a store were soon built nearby. A year later, Hiram Penniman (who would later build the ranch house now used as the Shadelands Ranch Historical Museum) laid out the first town site and realigned what is now Main Street.
The Walnut Creek Meat Market as it appeared around 1900. It was built by Arthur Williams on the east side of Main Street, about 150 feet south of Bonanza Street. He sold it to Concord butchers Foskett, Ellworthy and Keller, who in turn sold it to Jesse Lawrence around 1910. Lawrence's son, Fred, built a new brick meat market that same year. The family continued to operate the Walnut Creek Meat Co. out of the building until 1987, when they moved the business to Alamo. The family still owns the brick building and rents it to Crepes A Go-Go.
Continued growth led to the establishment of a U.S. Post Office in December 1862, around which time the community was renamed "Walnut Creek." The downtown street patterns laid out by pioneer Homer Shuey in his two original subdivisions in 1871-72 can still be found today.
Front page of the Contra Costa Courier on Oct. 22, 1914, announcing Walnut Creek's birth as the eighth city in Contra Costa County. The actual date of incorporation was Oct. 21, 1914.
On Oct. 21, 1914 the original town and surrounding area, comprising 500 acres, were incorporated as the eighth city in Contra Costa County. The City Council was originally called the City's Board of Trustees and its president was Harry Spencer. In 1928, state law was changed to allow cities to call their boards "city councils." On July 6, 1927, the first reference to a mayor of Walnut Creek was made for Mayor James F. Mauzy. On April 16, 1928, the Walnut Creek Board of Trustees officially renamed itself "Board of Councilmen", and on June 21, 1928, it became simple the "Town Council." However, the earliest reference to "City Council" was in the minutes of the Oct. 25, 1929 meeting.Early Transportation
Growth in Walnut Creek accelerated with the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1891. By March 1913, regular passenger and freight service was operating between Walnut Creek and Oakland. The popularity of train travel waned quickly, however, and as a result, regular commuter railroad service ended in 1934.
Dealing with Growth
The City of Walnut Creek as it looked in 1932 from Terrace Road.
Walnut Creek entered its modern era of growth in 1951 with the opening of the Broadway Shopping Center, the first major retail center in Contra Costa County. Taxable sales skyrocketed from $9 million in 1950 to $20 million in 1955. The City's population also experienced a boom - from 2,460 in 1950 to 9,903 in 1960.
Walnut Creek's first fire station, located on Bonanza Street, was used by the Central Fire District (later the Contra Costa Fire Protection District) from 1926 to 1965. It cost $3,000 to build, and the first fire engine, a LaFrance pumper, cost $7,000. Today the building is occupied by the Havana restaurant.
Until the mid-1950s, the City Council administered the City's small staff and operations. However, by 1956 the fast-paced growth dictated a change in how the City was to be run. The Council hired its first City Manager, Ira Gunn, and shifted to a Council/Manager form of government. Also in 1956 the Council adopted a "Little Master Plan" that analyzed the community's transportation problems and the need for street improvements. This effort resulted in a $2 million street improvement program that included the construction of Broadway and California boulevards. In anticipation of more commercial and residential growth, the City adopted its first General Plan in 1971. The formation of this important document was assisted by the formation of a citizens' advisory committee, the 100-member Citizens Committee on Goals and Objectives. This committee, appointed by the City Council in late 1969, met from January 1970 through 1974, at which time the Core Area Plan was adopted to regulate downtown growth through 1985.
Legendary entertainer Bob Hope (second from right) opened the Regional Center for the Arts on Oct. 4, 1990 with singers Vic Damone and Diahann Carroll and emcee Joel Grey (left).
The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, approved by Bay Area voters in1962, returned train travel to Walnut Creek, where a BART station was established at Ygnacio Valley Road and Interstate 680 in 1973. The block of 146 small, post-World War II houses to the north of the BART station was gradually converted for mid-rise office buildings and became known as the "Golden Triangle." By 1985, one million square feet of new office space had been constructed in this area. Residents' concerns over accelerated growth and traffic congestion prompted the formation of a grass-roots group, Citizens for a Better Walnut Creek. This organization sponsored successful voter initiatives in 1985 which placed limits on building height (Measure A) and on most large development until traffic levels are reduced (Measure H). In February 1989, the City Council updated the General Plan and in August placed Measure H into the General Plan. However, the California Supreme Court ended five years of litigation over Measure H in December 1990 when it ruled the initiative was invalid. A City Council growth limitation proposal, Measure O, was rejected by voters in November 1991.
The City opened the Regional Center for the Arts on Oct. 4, 1990 with a benefit starring Bob Hope, Vic Damone, Diahann Carroll and Joel Grey. It included the 800-seat Hofmann Theatre, named for benefactors Ken and Jean Hofmann of Lafayette, the 300-seat Dean Lesher Theatre, and the Bedford Gallery, named for benefactors Peter B. and Kirsten N. Bedford of Lafayette. The Center was renamed for late Contra Costa Times publisher Dean S. Lesher, the first major private benefactor of the Center in October 1995 after the Dean and Margaret Lesher Foundation made an additional $2.8 million gift to the City. A third 130-seat theater, the Knight Foundation Stage 3, was opened April 2, 1998. The Dean Lesher Theatre was renamed the Margaret Lesher Theatre on May 18, 1998.
Several major quality of life projects for Walnut Creek were completed in the 1990s. To ease parking congestion downtown and to enhance the retail atmosphere of Locust Street, the City opened its third public parking structure on June 30, 1994. The 257-space South Locust Street Garage has ground floor retail space leased to two businesses. An ambitious effort to beautify the historic downtown section of Main and Locust streets was completed in 1997 with the installation of 117 old-fashioned streetlights and decorative benches and waste bins.
City officials, recognizing the need for more indoor recreational facilities for youths and adults, built two community gymnasiums in partnership with other agencies. The Foothill Community Gymnasium was opened on Oct. 9, 1994 next to Foothill Middle School. The City contributed $1.8 million toward construction and the Mt. Diablo Unified School District provided the land an $900,000. A second facility, the Tice Valley Community Gymnasium, was opened on May 3, 1998 next to the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center on Tice Valley Boulevard. The $4.7 million gym was built with City funds on land donated by the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay.
On May 16, 1998, City and East Bay Regional Park District officials dedicated the Iron Horse Trail Overcrossing at Ygnacio Valley Road. The $2.1 million pedestrian and cyclist bridge was financed with federal, state, City, and park district funds. An estimated 1 million persons are expected to use the overcrossing annually.
City Soars Into Cyberspace
Joining other cities and governmental agencies, the City of Walnut Creek launched its own website on the Internet on Feb. 6, 1996. It was judged one of the best among cities in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Chronicle.