The City of Pleasanton has been nationally recognized over several years for its quality of life. One key component of that quality of life is Pleasanton's historic downtown. In 2000, Pleasanton joined the ranks of certified California Main Street Communities. Pleasanton is an active member of California's Main Street Program, which is now overseen by the Office of Historic Preservation (OHP). A lively, engaging historic downtown such as Pleasanton's leads to many benefits for residents, say OHP officials.
"The California Economic Strategy Panel found that quality of life was one of the key public policy issues that profoundly affect the capacity and prospects of California's businesses to prosper and the economy to grow," according to OHP. "A thriving downtown or neighborhood commercial district is a paramount component of each community's quality of life. It provides a central gathering place for entertainment, civic life, and commerce. It supplies a focal point for community identity and pride. It offers a sense of place, connectivity, integration, and cohesion for residents. It attracts visitors and projects a healthy community image upon which industrial investors rely in part to make their location decisions. It provides small business ownership opportunities, jobs, retail sales, and property tax revenues."
Downtown Pleasanton is the historic district of business and residential properties located in a relatively small area in the southeast corner of the city, spreading on either side of Main Street and running roughly from just south of Del Valle Parkway to Bernal Avenue. As noted by the Pleasanton Downtown Association (PDA), the charming buildings in the area display a variety of historic architectural styles from Victorian, Italianate, Richardson Romanesque, Mission Revival, and Colonial Revival to Craftsman, Art Deco, and Moderne. "To walk through downtown Pleasanton is to take a walk back in time," notes the PDA. "Each building has its own story to tell. Some tell stories about Mary Pickford, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, Abbot & Costello, presidents, and the famous racehorse Seabiscuit. Others tell of lawless bandits like 'Three Fingers' Jack Garcia, bank robbers that got away, a speakeasy shut down by Earl Warren, a brothel or two, and a Prohibition-era racketeer named Paul 'Bouquet' Cohn."
Thanks to the Museum on Main, individuals can learn more about the history and architecture of downtown Pleasanton through two walking tours. If These Walls Could Talk: Exploring Downtown's Historic Homes is a tour on August 10th that will explore the many beautiful historic homes along Railroad Avenue, Second Street, and Neal Street. Participants will learn about the families that occupied those homes, their contributions, and how they lived their everyday lives. A Storied Past: Exploring the Buildings in Downtown Pleasanton is a tour on September 14th that will cover how the land along Main Street was used and developed over time. Participants will learn about early settlements, the local railroad, Pleasanton's early entrepreneurs, and the town's agricultural bounty in the 1890s. Both tours start at the Museum on Main building. The tours are free of charge but limited to 25 people; pre-registration is required.
Pleasanton's historic downtown offers much more than a charming portal to the city's history. Downtown Pleasanton offers a variety of annual events. They include the St. Patrick's Brew Crawl, the Bubbles & Bacon self-paced tasting experience, the Pleasanton Wine Stroll, the Easter Bunny Hop Scavenger Hunt, and a host of summer-related concerts and other activities for residents and visitors alike. The many events and activities that take place downtown are no accident. They are the result of hard work on the part of many dedicated volunteers in addition to the PDA, city officials, local business owners, and other community leaders.
"As a staff of three people, we couldn't pull off the number of events that we do alone," says Laura Olson, who has been the PDA's Executive Director for nearly 10 years. "We have a stable of fifty to sixty amazing volunteers who work throughout the year. A woman named Pat Lane, for example, has volunteered and manned the information table at our Saturday morning Farmers' Market for probably twenty years now. She was instrumental in the beginning of the Downtown Association, and she has stayed involved well into her senior years. She is just phenomenal. People like that don't always get acknowledged, but we would not be the downtown we are without them."
Some readers might be surprised by the variety of services, shopping, dining, and recreation opportunities available downtown, according to Olson. From therapists to law firms to hair and nail salons to neighborhood grocery markets, the area has many things to offer. "You really can find most of what you need right on or near Main Street," notes Olson, who encourages residents to shop downtown and "keep our dollars where our hearts are."
Olson is hardly alone in her appreciation for the downtown area. "Historic downtown Pleasanton provides the community with a desirable place to gather, shop, work, and dine-in short, downtown is the heart of the city," says Gerry Beaudin, Director of Community Development for the City of Pleasanton. "Concerts in the Park and events at the Firehouse Arts Center create entertainment opportunities that are uniquely Pleasanton. The downtown business community, including retail, offices, and restaurants, is thriving. And when we combine those elements with the historic residential neighborhoods that surround the downtown, Pleasanton's traditional character and small-town ambiance is on full display."
As the City of Pleasanton celebrates its 125th Anniversary this summer, Olson is optimistic about the future of its downtown as well as the city itself. "It almost comes naturally to our community to gather and be drawn into our downtown," she says. "It has been that way for decades. Because of how much our community loves downtown, I have a feeling it will stay that way."
For more information about the City of Pleasanton's historic downtown and the Pleasanton Downtown Association, please visit pleasantondowntown.net.
For more information about the Museum on Main, please visit www.museumonmain.org.