Hacienda has been proud to call Pleasanton, California home for more than 38 years, since the first three Hacienda office buildings were completed in August 1983. While residents and visitors alike enjoy Pleasanton's historic downtown, they may not know much of Pleasanton's early history; a history that also repeatedly tells the story of the deep-seated care and commitment that Pleasanton's residents have always expressed for their community. One notable chronicler of Pleasanton is Ken MacLennan, Curator of the Museum on Main and author of the book Pleasanton, California: A Brief History. Published by The History Press in 2014 for Museum on Main, MacLennan's book offers a compelling glimpse into the city's past.
Pleasanton was named after Brigadier General Alfred Pleasanton, a Union cavalry commander "whose exploits had been well reported (and, according to later historians, rather embellished) in the West Coast press," according to MacLennan. Local lore claims that a Washington, D.C. postal clerk decided to change the spelling of the town from Pleasanton to Pleasanton, and has remained that way since.
The town originally came into being as a real estate project in a "Bay Area backwater conceived to profit from the railroad's advance through the Amador-Livermore Valley," according to Pleasanton, California: A Brief History. Unincorporated from 1862 to 1894, the small area was apparently a lively place at least as measured by retail alcohol consumption. By 1888, six saloons were operating in Pleasanton. A decade later, thirteen saloons were in business; by 1907, the town had seventeen.
History suggests that the first wave of Pleasanton residents and visitors created a strong demand for this component of the beverage business. In 1895, the first year after the town incorporated, 51 establishments paid the new town government for retail liquor licenses. That was roughly one liquor license for every 20 inhabitants, and perhaps a harbinger of the important economic roles that viticulture and related industries would come to hold in the Tri-Valley of the future.
If early residents could have seen into the future, many might have been shocked to discover that their once small and dusty town would eventually become a bustling business powerhouse boasting the highest-level of educational achievement in the entire state of California. But one group would not have been surprised.
In the spring of 1908, a group of prominent Pleasanton women created the Women's Improvement Club. "The club's early activities including pressing the board of trustees for improvements in sanitation, beautification campaigns that emphasized the preservation and planting of trees and fundraising efforts such as street fairs, as well as cultural projects such as maintaining a public reading room and publishing a special 'Prosperity' issue of the Times that aimed to preserve the history of early Pleasanton," writes MacLennan.
The successful Pleasanton that we know today, including its charming downtown, was shaped in part by this club and its members. The women were fiercely devoted to the well-being of Pleasanton, its residents, and its businesses. The club's "signature achievement," according to MacLennan, was its successful campaign to replace the modest reading room at the northwest corner of Division and Main streets with a new town hall and library.
In December 1912, the club offered the land free of charge to the city-if the city promised to fund construction of a new town hall and make space for a public library within the building. In February 1914, a bond was passed for construction. The new town hall and library building opened in January 1915 at 603 Main Street and served the city well for 50 years.
Today the building houses the Museum on Main, part of the mosaic of historic business buildings and residences that draw visitors to downtown. One of the best ways to learn about downtown Pleasanton is to take the museum's Downtown Walking Tour. Over 90 minutes or so, a knowledgeable guide leads walkers around picturesque Main Street. Stops include significant local landmarks such as the Pleasanton Gas Station, the Railroad Station, the Pleasanton Hotel, Kottinger's Barn, and the Pleasanton arch.
The Pleasanton Gas Station-originally the Guanzarolis' Associated Service Station-was one of several family-owned gas stations opened in Pleasanton during the 1920s and 1930s, according to MacLennan. Automobiles began appearing in Pleasanton in about 1900; by the time the gas station at 122 Main Street was built, it was obvious that cars were no passing fad.
One of the most beloved city landmarks is the Pleasanton arch. This neon sign with the city's name was erected on Main Street in the spring of 1932, when the economic hardship of the Great Depression was taking a toll on local residents as well as the entire United States. The force behind this notable landmark was, once again, the Women's Improvement Club, ever working to beautify and boost the city. If city officials were willing to pay for support poles, the club would buy the sign. The sign was dedicated on March 8, 1932 at its new location in front of the city hall, where it can still be seen today.
The Women's Club was just one of the important civic groups of the past that helped build the modern Pleasanton we enjoy today. While the Women's Improvement Club is long gone, the values of its members can still be seen in Pleasanton. Signs of the importance they placed on investing in the community, and on building both structures and institutions that provide value, are evident everywhere. They can be seen in the attractive downtown, in the thriving public library, in the high education levels of Pleasanton residents, in the effective public services, and in the city's booming economy.
For more information about Ken MacLennan's book Pleasanton, California: A Brief History, please visit https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781626193536 .
For more information about the history of Pleasanton, please visit the Museum on Main website at http://www.museumonmain.org .
For more information about the museum's Downtown Walking Tour, please visit http://www.museumonmain.org/adult-programs.html .
For more information about Hacienda's more than 35-year history, please visit https://www.hacienda.org/po-background/background-history .