History

From the time of the first Native American inhabitants to today, Walnut Creek has been an area rich in history. Today’s Walnut Creek reflects the influences of those first Native Americans as well as Spanish explorers and the first Mexican and the first American settlers.

Explore the pages of this section to learn about Walnut Creek’s history – from the first inhabitants to changes of the last decade – and about Walnut Creek’s founding families, leading citizens, and local historical landmarks. And, be sure to share your own stories and images from your own collection of "great moments" of our history.

  • On Oct. 21, 1914, Walnut Creek incorporates as Contra Costa County’s eighth city. The city comprised 500 acres. A primary initiative for incorporation was the desire of downtown businesses to pave Main Street, which was finally accomplished in 1921. Harry Spencer is elected first president (mayor) of the Board of Trustees. The Board was renamed the City Council in 1929.

    Population: 500

  • With a grant from the Carnegie Library Foundation, Walnut Creek’s first library opens at Main and East (now Giammona) Streets on land donated by Robert Noble Burgess. The grant was initiated through an application from the Women’s Improvement Club. The Carnegie Library served the community until 1961, when a new library opened on North Broadway.

    Population: 520 (est.)

  • The City finally completes the paving of Main Street. Subsequently, Main Street is designated a State Highway, doubling as sections of Highways 21 and 24. By the 1950s, Main Street traffic is often at a standstill on weekday afternoons and Saturdays.

    Population: 580 (est.)

  • Contra Costa County forms the Central Fire Protection District with Walnut Creek as its hub. The first fire station opens on Bonanza Street. Guy Ray Spencer, who had been the volunteer fire chief, is appointed the first fire chief of the new district.

    Population: 800

  • Walnut Creek celebrates the first Walnut Parade and Festival. Two years later, the Walnut Festival Association incorporates and makes this annual fundraising carnival a signature event in Walnut Creek.

    Population: 1,350 (est.)

  • Screen legend Harpo Marx appears in two shows at the official opening day festivities of the Broadway Shopping Center. The new center features 38 stores and 1,500 parking spaces.

    Population: 2,500 (est.)

  • The first major residential subdivision project in Ygnacio Valley gets underway when the Eichler Company develops an orchard tract south of Ygnacio Valley Road across from the western edge of the Bancroft Farm. It is later named Rancho San Miguel.

    Population: 6,100 (est.)

  • On April 2, downtown Walnut Creek suffers a major flood that causes more than $3 million (equivalent to $22.5 million in 2010) in damage. Within a few years, the creeks that run through downtown are "channelized" (redirected through underground concrete channels) in order to prevent future flooding damage.

    Population: 8,000 (est.)

  • Walnut Creek’s downtown traffic jams are in the past when the new I-680/Highway 24 interchange opens. Costing $15 million, the freeway eliminates the need for Main Street to serve as part of the state highway system. Two years later, the City widens Ygnacio Valley Road to four lanes to accommodate increased traffic.

    Population: 9,903

  • Rossmoor, a gated retirement community, opens on a 2,200-acre property in Tice Valley. On the first day, 111 units are sold. A rotating steel globe marks the entrance.

    Population: 17,500

  • Boundary Oak Golf course opens on 135 acres of land off Valley Vista Road. It is originally called the Walnut Creek Municipal Golf Course, but later is renamed after a large oak tree in the middle of the golf links.

    Population: 36,606

  • Heather Farm Park opens on Ygnacio Valley Road on a 100-acre site previously owned by John Marchbank. Marchbank had named his farm after his champion horse, Heather King. Two years later, the new swim center is dedicated in memory of former mayor Benjamin E. Clarke.

    Population: 39,844

  • BART arrives in Walnut Creek, bringing a 10-year commercial building boom encompassing more than 6.5 million square feet of office space in the Golden Triangle and along California Boulevard. Worried about traffic, local voters approve two growth-control measures in 1985, including a building height-limit measure that is still in effect today.

    Population: 41,550

  • Local voters approve a $6.75 million general obligation bond measure to purchase and preserve as public open space more than 1,800 acres of undeveloped hillsides, ridgelines, and park sites. Over the next 35 years, the City expands its open space lands to more than 2,700 acres – the second largest per capita in the State – in four parts of the city, Lime Ridge, Shell Ridge, Sugarloaf, and Acalanes Ridge.

    Population: 44,250

  • U.S. President Gerald R. Ford visits Walnut Creek on May 25, during which time he dedicates Liberty Bell Plaza in honor of the nation's bicentennial.

    Population: 48,125 (est.)

  • Macerich Company acquires the 34-year-old Broadway Shopping Center, renames it Broadway Plaza, and gives it a multimillion-dollar makeover.

    Population: 56,200

  • The city builds a gazebo in Civic Park that becomes the center of many annual holiday and musical events. Civic Park was established in 1949 as the city’s first park on the grounds of an old sewer farm that closed when the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District took over sewage operations.

    Population: 59, 600

  • On October 4, a gala ceremony with Bob Hope, Vic Damone, Joel Grey and Diahann Carroll officially opens the Regional Center for the Arts, a regional performing arts center that replaces the old "Nuthouse." In 1995, the Center is renamed the Lesher Center for the late Contra Costa Times publisher Dean S. Lesher, a major private benefactor of the Center. Today the Lesher Center hosts nearly 900 events each year with 250,000 visitors.

    Population: 60,743

  • The Alexander Lindsay Junior Museum (now the Lindsay Wildlife Museum) moves into spacious new quarters in Larkey Park. The museum, founded in 1965, was originally housed in an abandoned Municipal Utility District pump house in the park.

    Population: 62,322

  • On Memorial Day, the City dedicates Veterans Memorial Plaza adjacent to City Hall, a park-like monument to the sacrifices of local veterans. The Memorial honors all five branches of the military – Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Air Force.

    Population: 66,000

  • In July, more than 8,500 community members celebrate the opening of the new Walnut Creek Library. Located on the same site as the library built in 1961, the new library is funded with significant private contributions, including more than $5 million raised by the Walnut Creek Library Foundation and a significant contribution from the Walnut Creek Women’s Club, in keeping with its tradition of helping to fund all four libraries in Walnut Creek’s history.

    Population: 64,173

  • In October, more than 5,000 community members of all ages celebrated at the Centennial Birthday Festival at Shadelands Ranch and Museum. Party-goers enjoyed live music, local artisan booths, activities and crafts for children, tours of the historic Penniman House, and special exhibits by local community groups. And the day culminated with a group sing of "Happy Birthday" and birthday cake!

    Population: 66,183