Published May 18, 1999
Volume 7, Number 5

Pleasanton's Historic Heritage is Evident from Architecture, Landmarks, Place Names

The former town hall now houses the Amador-Livermore Historical Society Museum.

June 12 and 13 are the dates for Pleasanton's annual Heritage Days celebration. Pleasanton's historic downtown will be filled with arts and crafts vendors from around the Bay Area, along with dozens of food booths and three beer and wine gardens. With entertainment on two stages and fun events like a beard growing contest and a baking contest, a fun time will be on tap. 

With over 200 years of recorded history and archaeological evidence indicating thousands of years of settlement, there's plenty of heritage to celebrate in Pleasanton.

A Long History
The first people known to inhabit the area were Native Americans called the "Costanoans" (coastal people) by the Spanish. A peaceful people, they were also nicknamed the Digger Indians because they ate only wild foods, among them the roots of many plants. Artifacts discovered near Alamo indicate that they were present here as long as 4,000 years ago. 

Their settlement was called "El Alisal," or "The Sycamores," by the Spanish. 

Pleasanton's recorded history dates back to 1772, when Captain Pedro Fages found the Amador-Livermore Valley when he was searching for appropriate sites for Spanish missions. He and a small group of soldiers camped at the base of the hills near the current location of Castlewood Country Club. 

In 1797, Mission San Jose was opened and given jurisdiction over the area, which became the principle pasture for thousands of cattle. 

A half-century later, the first settlement was brought to the area by Jose Maria Amador, for whom Amador Valley is named. Amador, a majordomo for the mission, used the aid of the Indians to manufacture blankets, plows, harnesses, and other items needed by settlers, starting in 1826.

In 1839, Governor Juan Alvarado gave grants for the northeastern part of the Mission San Jose lands to four men who had been soldiers in the Mexican Provincial militia: Antonio Mario Pico, Antonio Sunol, Juan Pablo Bernal, and Augustin Bernal. 

Juan Pablo and Augustin used their grants as ranch land, until their daughters married Joshua Neal and John Kottinger. In 1850, Augustin built his adobe, which still stands today on Foothill Road. A fancier of horses, he raised them on his property and built a race track as well.

Hub of Activity
After his marriage, Kottinger built a general store down the road and this site became the center and hub of activity for the town of Alisal. 

Main Street 11853 saw the formation of Alameda County and Kottinger's home was designated as the seat of law and order for Murray Township. He became the first justice of the peace and his barn, parts of which still stand on Ray Street, was used as a jail. 

The Old West was alive and well in Pleasanton at the time. Bandits had earned Alisal the title, "The Most Desperate Town in the West," and shootouts on Main Street were reportedly not uncommon. Chilean desperado Joaquin Murrietta, who robbed prospectors returning from the gold fields, was a frequent "guest" of Kottinger's. Kottinger even built a tunnel between the barn and his nearby home for easy escape from any criminals who sought revenge on him. 

There was progress as well. The village's first public school was built in 1864, where the current Pleasanton Elementary School now stands. Kottinger added the title of school board president to his lengthy resume. In 1868, Kottinger and Neal began subdividing lots for sale, in preparation for the arrival of new settlers.

The Railroad Comes to Town
The course of the town's development changed dramatically when the Central Pacific Railroad laid tracks through Pleasanton in 1869, bringing new residents and providing local farmers with a way of transporting their crops to market.

Agriculture primarily in the form of horses, cattle, and barley had long played a part in the fledgling town's economy. The first hops crops were planted in 1885 and proved an immediate hit, as the brewing grain was exported abroad to places like Ireland's Guinness Brewery. By 1901, local growers were shipping nearly 200 tons of hops. 

A New Name
The 500 residents of the town voted to incorporate in 1894, with 123 votes for and 46 against. Kottinger, still a community leader, applied for a post office and gave the town a new name, Pleasonton, in honor of Civil War hero General Alfred Pleasonton. A postal clerk misspelled the town's name on the application but the new name Pleasanton stuck. 

The town's good fortunes continued. A landowner drilling a well in 1897 hit an aquifer, and the abundant water from this artesian well supplied the whole village. 

One of the largest employers of that time was Remillard Brick Company, which employed 130 men. Their bricks were used in many local buildings as well as Bay Area landmarks such as the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco. 

In 1899, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, grandmother of publisher William Randolph Hearst, moved into the Hacienda del Pozo de Verona, her manor on the ridge west of town. Today, the structure houses Castlewood Country Club. 

Pleasanton made its movie debut in 1913, when "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm," starring Mary Pickford, was filmed here. Local children were paid $2 per day as extras. Films starring Lillian Gish, Tom Mix, and Buster Keaton were also made in the area. 

Main Street 21914 saw a lot of activity as well. Main Street was paved and a new Town Hall constructed at 603 Main, which now houses The Museum of the Amador-Livermore Valley Historical Society. 

The town was still small, however. Pleasanton's population didn't reach 1,200 until 1930. About that same time, Henry J. Kaiser established his sand and gravel operation, a presence that remains to this day. 

In 1936, Jackson & Perkins Rose Growers leased land for the growing and hybridization of roses. They grew successful, shipping roses around the world, and are currently the largest producer of roses anywhere. An interesting historical note is that Jackson & Perkins is now owned by the same parent company as the Shaklee Corporation, which is currently building its headquarters in Hacienda. 

The rose growers grew so popular that the First National Bank of Pleasanton started an annual Mother's Day Rose Show in 1938, which exhibited roses of all sorts. 

The original Bernal race track went though several owners and eventually became the centerpiece of the Alameda County Fairgrounds. The town continued its role in the movies when Abbott and Costello filmed "It Ain't Hay" at the Fairgrounds in 1941. 

Agriculture plays a less prominent part in the Tri-Valley today, but local wineries are a constant reminder of both the area's history and its future. 

Today, Pleasanton offers a rare combination a cutting-edge business community with a picturesque, historic environment. With events like Heritage Days, the past will always be remembered. 

(For more information on local history, visit The Museum of the Amador Livermore Historical Society, open Wednesday through Sunday. Call (925) 462-2766 for information. Our special thanks to Charles Huff, AIA, for his assistance and the use of his historic postcards.) 


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