When local historian Mary-Jo Wainwright was asked to help the Museum On Main in publishing a book about the history of Pleasanton, she was already well versed in the subject. A resident since 1991, she also completed three papers about the city's history in her pursuit of a master's degree in East Bay history. Yet she was still surprised by delving even deeper in her research.
The first came in how the downtown stayed so well preserved. She said she assumed that there was an ordinance to preserve the historic characteristics, but she found nothing to support that assumption.
"The fact that they maintained it shocks me when all other cities didn't," she said. "The city council and the community became focused early on. A lot of people faced making [development] decisions, but people didn't come in and rip up the downtown."
She added that the downtown's success may have been planned, but it's also debatable as to whether luck helped with today's "commercial bonanza."
It appears that small-town feel of downtown was cherished for so long because it took a while for Pleasanton to develop a hearty population.
"Timing is everything," Wainwright said.
That last part rings true when looking at the development of neighboring cities like Livermore and Dublin.
"Pleasanton benefited from being slightly off the beaten track," she said.
The bulk growth didn't take place until after World War II, but the biggest spike in population was the addition of freeways after the Federal Highway Act of 1956.
"There are still quite a number of residents who have descended from the [pioneer] families," she said. "What I've seen develop is the character of Pleasanton, but it's because of the slow growth."
As many residents know, Pleasanton was primarily agricultural through the 1960s. In fact, what is now the Hacienda Business Park was once a swamp. Wainwright said homeowners in the Valley Trails neighborhood might want to thank the developers for helping defer the flood waters.
The biggest shock Wainwright encountered was the city's biggest gem almost kept the city from existing. The deep valley and underground aquifer made this land very attractive to thirsty San Franciscans. They purchased the land in the 1930s with the intention of damming the valley for drinking water. Instead, they dammed Hetch-Hetchy in the Sierra Nevada, and Pleasanton acquired some of the land for the to-be-developed Bernal Park.
In all, she admits that the book is not an "extensive history, but it's a start." The focus was on development and much of her research was also dependent on local experts.
These local experts include Otis Nostrand, owner of The Hop Yard Alehouse, who is an expert on--you guessed it--the hop fields that used to cover parts of the city; a descendant of Phoebe Apperson Hearst; and Andrew Galvan, a descendant of Ohlone Chief Tarino.
Also surprising to Wainwright was the amount of time and effort it would take to compile the information. Working closely with Terry Berry, former director of the Museum On Main Street, the book came together in six months. With over 200 images, it begins with Ohlone speaking Native Americans, looks at the addition of freeways and ends a then and now photo comparison.
Wainwright said an important part to include was the stress on survival of the Native Americans here. Many of them were killed, she said, but there are also many who survived and continue to contribute to Pleasanton's story.
Wainwright hopes the community will cherish the history found in the book.
"Especially in a place like Pleasanton, old timers and newcomers want to know about where they live," she said. "Knowing the history, they can be engaged more in what happens in the future...and they'll be far more likely to protect and preserve it."
This is Wainwright's first book. She continues to research on the Bay Area's Peralta family and hopes to gather her findings in another book. That's the end of her book writing plans, she said, but she doesn't want to rule anything out, adding, "I didn't know I'd be writing this one!"
Celebrate the book launch
"Images of America: Pleasanton" will be launched at a party hosted by the Museum On Main Street at 7 p.m. Oct. 19. Wine and dessert will be served and author Mary-Jo Wainwright will give a brief talk. She will also be donating a portion of book sales to the museum.
Books can be preordered through the Museum On Main Street Web site or by calling Arcadia Publishing at 888-313-2665. They can also be purchased at the book launch party for $21.75, including tax.
More about the author
Mary-Jo Wainwright grew up in Hayward and has lived in Pleasanton since 1991. The local historian holds a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's degree from Cal Sate East Bay. She has taught at Las Positas College and currently teaches history at Imperial Valley College in Imperial, Calif. (about 30 minutes north of the Mexican border). She comes home to Pleasanton as much as she can to spend time with her husband and daughter.
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