The first known inhabitants of the Walnut Creek area were Bolbone Indians. In 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. Following the Mexican-American War, California became a United States territory and subsequently a state in 1850.
From a "Crossroads" to a City
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 house on the bank of what was then known as "Nuts Creek" in 1849 (in the area of Liberty Bell Plaza).
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 ranchhouse now used as the Shadelands Ranch Historical Museum) laid out the first townsite and realigned what is now Main Street.
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.
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.
Growth in Walnut Creek accelerated with the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1891. Walnut Creek became a link in the transcontinental railroad line, making it more easily accessible from other East Bay cities. By March 1913, regular passenger and freight service was operating between Walnut Creek and Oakland. The popularity of train travel waned quickly, however, with the emergence of the automobile and the construction of the Bay Bridge and Caldecott Tunnel in 1937. As a result, regular commuter railroad service ended in 1941.
Dealing with Growth
Walnut Creek entered its current 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.
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.
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 1972. 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 Oakville Grocery and Lark Creek Cafe. 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 has been judged one of the best among cities in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Chronicle.