Notable People of Walnut Creek
Walnut Creek Founders
Walnut Creek’s earliest settlers – Spanish, Portuguese, and American – made a lasting impression on our community’s early history and progress.
These short histories tell the stories of the early families – from the ranchers and farmers who settled the Ygnacio Valley starting in 1834 to the entrepreneurs, hoteliers, and merchants who, from 1849 to the 1920s, built the town near “Nuts Creek” that evolved to become the community we know today.
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Hubert Howe Bancroft established one of the most successful fruit farms in the state in the Ygnacio Valley in 1885.
Hubert Howe Bancroft, a prominent publisher famous for collecting and commissioning histories of the Western states, established one of the most successful fruit farms in the state in the Ygnacio Valley in 1885.
He and his brother purchased 360 acres in the area surrounding what is now Bancroft Road and between Treat Boulevard and Ygnacio Valley Road. His sons Philip and Paul continued running the farm, followed by his grandson, Philip Jr., and his wife Ruth.
Today, three of the remaining acres of the farm are open to the public as the Ruth Bancroft Garden.
Theodore Berling opened the town’s first cinema, the Ramona Theatre, on Main Street in 1920.
Theodore Berling opened the town’s first cinema, the Ramona Theatre, on Main Street in 1920. The theater made history in 1930 when it debuted its first talkie movie. In 1926,
Berling became the town marshal, and in 1928, the city council appointed him as the first chief of police, a position he held until 1942, when he retired.
Francisco Borges, a native of the Azores, bought 700 acres in the hills just south of Ygnacio Valley and established a cattle ranch in 1899.
Francisco Borges, a native of the Azores, bought 700 acres in the hills just south of Ygnacio Valley and established a cattle ranch in 1899. In 1901,
Borges expanded his cabin and subsequently built a cow barn (1903) and a horse barn (1905) on the ranch, all of which still stand.
Five generations of the Borges family have lived on the ranch.
After immigrating from the Azore Islands in 1868, Antonio Botelho eventually came to Walnut Creek and purchased some 300 acres of land at the southern end of today’s downtown Walnut Creek.
Eventually, he lived in a home near the banks of Las Trampas Creek and today’s South Main Street, where the Broadway Plaza parking garage sits today. He donated land at the eastern edge of his property for a branch line of the Southern Pacific railroad.
He also donated land for St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which sat on South Main Street. An open grazing area on his land, carved out by the coming together of the San Ramon and Las Trampas Creeks, was a popular picnic place and became known as “Botelho’s Island.”
The site today is occupied by Broadway Plaza.
Ed and Guy Bradley
Ed and Guy Bradley’s ice cream and soda shop on Main Street was also the location for the town’s first telephone exchange.
Born and raised in North Carolina, Ed and Guy Bradley opened an ice cream and soda shop on Main Street in 1916. The shop was very popular and the brothers attracted crowds by displaying a large electric ice cream machine in the shop’s front window. The brothers also set up the town’s first telephone exchange at the back of the store.
Ed Bradley was elected to the City Council in 1928 and has the distinction of being the City’s longest-serving mayor; he held the post from 1934 to 1944.
Robert Noble Burgess
Robert Noble Burgess was a successful entrepreneur who opened the town’s second financial institution, the First National Bank, established the Lakewood subdivision, and gave the land for the city’s new library (1916), funded by Andrew Carnegie.
Robert Noble Burgess was a successful entrepreneur who opened the town’s second financial institution, the First National Bank, in 1913.
The distinctive building still stands in the 1300 block of North Main Street. In 1916, Burgess donated a lot at the corner of North Main Street and East Street (now Giammona Drive) for the new library, which was built with funds from a Carnegie Grant.
In 1918, Burgess donated the first sewer line on Main Street. He developed the Lakewood subdivision off Homestead Avenue. He also purchased 15,000 acres on Mount Diablo and built roads to its summit. This acreage was eventually acquired for the State Park.
Winfield S. Burpee
A Main Street business owner, Winfield Burpee was one of the business leaders who spearheaded the effort to incorporate the town and was a member of the first Board of Trustees (City Council).
A native New Yorker, Winfield S. Burpee came to California in 1869 when he was about 18 years old. In the early 1870s, Burpee ran the stage line that ran from Oakland to Concord through Walnut Creek. But, the route was unprofitable, so Burpee opened a saloon on Main Street, which he operated for many years.
He was married to Mary Sherburne, daughter of Albert Sherburne. Burpee was among the downtown business leaders who spearheaded the effort to incorporate Walnut Creek to get the roads paved, and he was one of the first five members of the new town’s elected Board of Trustees – later called a City Council.
George O. Duncan
George O. Duncan was town Justice of the Peace, starting in 1912, and, following incorporation in 1914, his courtroom served as the site for the first meetings of the city’s Board of Trustees (now the City Council).
A native of California, George O. Duncan moved to Walnut Creek in 1907 and went into the real estate business with his brother-in-law, Alfred Ormsby.
Duncan was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1912. The first meetings of the newly formed Board of Trustees (now the City Council) established after incorporation in 1914 were held in his courtroom, which was next to the San Ramon Valley Bank on North Main Street near Railroad Avenue.
Railroad Avenue was renamed Duncan Street in his honor in 1959.
Captain Orris Fales
Captain Orris Fales, a prominent early farmer, was the first school marshal of the newly formed school district, the Central District.
In 1852, Captain Orris Fales purchased 111 acres for farming in the area of The Corners and eventually acquired 300 acres just south of what was to become the village of Walnut Creek and today encompasses Broadway Plaza, Plaza Escuela, and Kaiser Permanente Medical Center.
In 1860, he was appointed the school marshal of the newly formed school district, the Central District. In 1863, he was elected as one of the first trustees of the district.
A member of a pioneer cattle-ranching family from San Ramon, Joel Harlan operated the large livery business at the corner of today’s Main Street and Mt. Diablo Boulevard.
Joel Harlan was part of a pioneer cattle-ranching family that owned a 2,000-acre ranch in the San Ramon Valley. In 1905, Harlan bought the large livery business at the corner of Main Street and Lafayette Road (Mt. Diablo Boulevard).
The business also was “home” for Harlan’s racing horses, which he ran in races around the county. Harlan was married to Ruby Burpee, who was a partner in the town’s funeral parlor, which was across the street from the stable.
Ruby was the daughter of Winfield Burpee and Mary Sherburne. Following Harlan’s death in 1913, Ruby took over the livery operation.
In 1855, Milo Hough built the Walnut Creek House hotel, the possible inspiration for the eventual name of the new community.
Milo Hough built the Walnut Creek House hotel at The Corners in 1855, most likely in the vicinity of today’s North Main Street and Civic Drive. The two-story structure and its flagpole were landmarks of the area for a dozen years. Hough operated a store and saloon out of the hotel and built a blacksmith shop across the street.
Although it is uncertain how Walnut Creek was chosen for the new name of the town, the name may have been borrowed from the only true landmark in the area, Hough’s Walnut Creek House.
James Pomeroy Howe
James Pomeroy Howe, a noted Associated Press correspondent, spent his retirement years at his ranch on Walnut Boulevard, today’s Howe Homestead Park.
James Pomeroy Howe was an Associated Press correspondent who covered the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and spent years reporting from China.
In 1934, Howe retired to his seven-acre estate off Homestead Avenue and Walnut Boulevard, which he nicknamed Gopher Gulch Ranch. The house was originally built around 1876.
Howe devoted his years on the ranch to winemaking, pigeon-raising, and corkscrew collecting. After his death in 1970, the City acquired his property and turned it into Howe Homestead Park.
In 1858, Michael Kirsch established a blacksmith and wheelwright shop that would operate for many years at the southeast corner of Main Street and Mt. Diablo Boulevard.
A Prussian immigrant, Michael Kirsch moved to The Corners from Cincinnati in 1858. Kirsch established a blacksmith and wheelwright shop that would operate for many years at the southeast corner of Main Street and Mt. Diablo Boulevard, providing a wide range of services from horseshoeing to manufacturing agricultural equipment.
He and his wife, Julia, and their four children lived in a stately white two-story home, which stood on South Main Street where it intersects with Olympic Boulevard.
John Larkey was a prominent horse rancher with 730 acres of land in northwest Walnut Creek, 10 acres of which became Larkey Park.
John Larkey was born in Ohio and moved to Alameda County in 1853. In 1857, he purchased 730 acres near The Corners, where he became a prominent horse rancher and breeder.
He and his wife Martha raised six children on their farm. In 1959, the City purchased about 10 acres of the former Larkey property from the East Bay Municipal Utility District to create Larkey Park.
The Lawrence brothers – Fred, Joe, and Harry – established the Walnut Creek Meat Market in 1910 and Joe was elected to the City’s first Board of Trustees (now City Council) in 1914 and served as president (mayor) from 1922-1926.
In 1910, with partner Al Stephan, Fred Lawrence built a brick building on North Main Street for their recently acquired Walnut Creek Meat Market. Fred’s brothers, Joe and Harry, became partners in the business. A fourth brother, Lester, worked briefly for the meat market.
The Lawrence family operated the meat market in the same location until 1986, when they moved the business to Alamo. The building still stands today and is the site of a local restaurant.
Joe Lawrence was elected to the first Board of Trustees (now City Council) in 1914 and served as president (mayor) from 1922-1926.
In the 1920s, Lester Lawrence opened a garage and auto sales business across the street from the meat market where Wells Fargo Bank is today. Lawrence Volvo on North Main Street is owned and operated by Lawrence’s descendants.
In 1928, Fred Lawrence and Al Stephan built the brick building a few doors down from the meat market that served as a post office until 1947. The building has been in commercial use since 1948.
Walnut Creek’s town doctor for 36 years, Dr. Claude R. Leech fought steadfastly to improve sanitary conditions. His wife, Eva, was the first woman to serve on the City Council.
Dr. Claude R. Leech moved to Walnut Creek in 1897 and married Eva Barry the following year. As the town doctor for 36 years, he fought steadfastly to improve sanitary conditions. The city’s first sewer was installed on Main Street in 1918 at his urging and he helped stem the flu epidemic that year.
Eva Leech organized a local chapter of the American Red Cross in 1898 and initiated planning for the town hall building. She was a founding member of the Walnut Creek Women’s Improvement Club, which organized the town’s first library. In 1931, she was the first woman to serve on the City Council.
The Leech home at 1525 N. Main St. served as both their private residence and Dr. Leech’s clinic. The building still stands and is the site of a restaurant.
Dean Lesher was among the most influential of Walnut Creek’s 20th Century business leaders and a significant supporter of higher education and the arts.
A native of Maryland, Dean Lesher initially came to California in the 1930s, buying a newspaper in Merced. After World War II, Lesher sought to expand his business and bought the small Walnut Creek Courier-Journal newspaper, which he eventually renamed the Contra Costa Times to reflect its growing importance as a regional publication.
Over the years, Lesher expanded the reach of the Times newspapers. In 1977, he was named Publisher of the Year by the California Press Association. Following his death in 1993, the business was sold to the Knight-Ridder media organization for $365 million.
Firmly committed to the ideals of higher education, Lesher was a trustee of the California State University system and served on the boards of several colleges. In the late 1980s, Lesher and his wife, Margaret, gave the first private contribution for the construction of the Lesher Center for the Arts.
Lesher’s legacy lives on through the work of the Dean & Margaret Lesher Foundation, which annually contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars to programs that support children and strengthen families.
For 35 years, the Lommel family operated a creamery that was one of the top 5 ice cream businesses in the 11 western states.
Otto Lommel and his son, Richard, moved their families from Calistoga to Walnut Creek in the late 1930s to start a creamery. The business opened on the 4th of July in 1939 and was a local favorite, selling an average of 100,000 milk shakes and 350,000 ice cream cones each year.
After commuter train service to San Francisco was stopped in the early 1940s, Otto Lommel convinced Greyhound to use the family Creamery as the Walnut Creek stop for the Greyhound commuter bus service to San Francisco. Lommel’s Creamery was a popular business until it closed in 1974.
John Marchbank purchased Sulphur Springs Ranch, originally owned by Ygnacio Sibrian, in 1921 to create Heather Farm, a thoroughbred training facility that was to become the most important horse-breeding farm west of the Mississippi River.
John Marchbank, a wealthy gambling hall owner, purchased the Sulphur Springs Ranch (originally owned by Ygnacio Sibrian) in 1921. Marchbank converted the ranch into a thoroughbred training facility that was to become the most important horse-breeding farm west of the Mississippi, raising dozens of champions.
He named his ranch Heather Farm after his champion stallion, Heather King. The Spanish-style mansion he built still stands as the St. John Vianney Catholic Church rectory. The City acquired 50 acres of the farm and combined it with 5 adjoining acres donated by Phil and Ruth Bancroft to create Heather Farm Park.
William Mauzy and his son Frank, who would serve as mayor from 1926 to 1928, moved the family plumbing business from Oakland to Walnut Creek in 1913.
In 1913, William E. Mauzy and his son James (known as Frank) relocated their plumbing business, launched in Oakland after the 1906 earthquake, to Walnut Creek. The business was located on Main Street next door to the Walnut Creek Meat Market for many years.
Frank Mauzy, who ran the business after his father’s death, served as mayor from 1926 to 1928. Frank’s son Elliott ran the business from 1945 until 1975, when his daughter Kay Mauzy Wightman and her husband Earl assumed management.
Pacheco and Sibrian Families
Doña Juana Sanchez de Pacheco and her grandsons, Ysidro and Ygnacio Sibrian, were early Mexican families who settled an 18,000-acre land grant of the Mexican government, which eventually became Rancho San Miguel.
In 1834, the Mexican government granted Doña Juana Sanchez de Pacheco nearly 18,000 acres of land in recognition of the military service of her husband Corporal Miguel Antonia Pacheco. Stretching from Alamo to Clayton and primarily used for cattle grazing, Doña Juana’s ranch was initially named Arroyo de las Nueces y Bolbones (Stream of the Walnuts and Bolbones) and was later renamed Rancho San Miguel in memory of her husband.
Around 1850, Doña Juana’s grandsons, Ysidro and Ygnacio Sibrian, built houses on the land. Ygnacio built his house near a natural sulphur spring and called it Sulphur Springs Ranch. This was the first residence in the Ygnacio Valley and the future home of today’s Heather Farm Park, John Muir Medical Center, and St. John Vianney Catholic Church. Both the valley and the road were named after Ygnacio Sibrian.
The site of Ysidro’s residence is believed to be the east bank of Walnut Creek near the intersection of what are now Ygnacio Valley Road and Walnut Boulevard.
Hiram Penniman came to the Ygnacio Valley in 1852 and established the Shadelands Ranch, a fruit farm, on 370 acres originally owned by Doña Juana Sanchez de Pacheco.
A New York native, Hiram Penniman came to the Ygnacio Valley in 1852 with his brother-in-law, George Potwin. In 1856, the two began farming on 370 acres of land originally owned by Doña Juana Sanchez de Pacheco and sold to them by her daughter.
The Penniman land later became known as the Shadelands Ranch. In 1903, Penniman built his stately home that still stands today. Most of Penniman’s ranch land was sold in the late 1960s by his heirs to create Shadelands Business Park.
Penniman is also credited with laying out the first map of the town and for moving the old county road away from the creek to a new alignment, today’s Main Street.
For 60 years, three generations of the Rinehart family operated a fine jewelry store on Main Street.
Pete Rinehart and his wife, Marie, originally lived in Oakland, where Pete worked for a local jeweler, Davidson and Licht. The Rinehart family purchased a summer home in Walnut Creek in the 1930s, desiring to eventually move to Walnut Creek and open their own jewelry store.
The family opened Rinehart’s in 1947, one of the first fine jewelry stores in the area. Pete was active in local civic affairs, such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Kiwanis Club, the Walnut Festival Association and the American Red Cross. After his death in 1952, Rinehart’s daughter, Nancy, took over the business.
Her son, Mike, joined his mother at Rinehart’s in 1989. Mike closed the store in 2007, a few years after his mother’s death. Mike Rinehart donated the store’s display cases to the Police Department to display memorabilia.
William Rogers opened the Rogers Hotel on Main Street in 1879, and a hotel would stand at this site for the next 80 years.
William Bolton Rogers came to Walnut Creek in 1879 after a stint as a San Francisco police officer, a farmer, and a hotel operator. He opened the Rogers Hotel in 1879 on the northeast corner of Main Street and Railroad Avenue (today’s Duncan Street).
The hotel became a stage line stop in 1880. Business was brisk with visitors from San Francisco and Oakland as well as local residents attracted to its dining room and bar. William’s son, Walter A. (Ott), joined him in running the hotel in 1881. In 1892, Walt took over the operation of the hotel.
Later he expanded it, doubling its Main Street frontage. In 1924, Walt sold the hotel, and it had several different names until it was razed in 1959 for a new bank building.
Albert and John Sherburne ran the Sherburne Bros. & Company store in what is today the oldest commercial building on Main Street.
A native of Bennington, New York, Albert Sherburne first settled in San Ramon before relocating to Walnut Creek in 1871 to assume ownership of a store. In 1872, Sherburne moved the store to Main Street, just north of today’s Mt. Diablo Boulevard, a more prominent location in the commercial district and today the oldest commercial building still standing downtown (site of a restaurant today).
After renting the space to others, in 1885, Sherburne and his brother John ran the store again under the name Sherburne Bros. & Company. Albert served on the Contra Costa Grand Jury in 1896. John was appointed postmaster in 1889, and the post office was operated out of their store until 1893.
Homer Stow Shuey
Homer Stow Shuey was a key figure in the development of downtown Walnut Creek in the late 1800s, developing a number of residential neighborhoods and establishing the street pattern of present-day Walnut Creek.
Homer Stow Shuey came from Quincy, Illinois, to Walnut Creek in the mid-1860s and opened a general merchandise store with his brother Malcolm. He and his wife, Generva Dougherty, raised eight children in Walnut Creek. In 1870, he purchased land downtown from Hiram Penniman and began selling lots.
A year later, he added a larger subdivision, which established the street pattern of present-day Walnut Creek. In 1872, he donated land on Main Street for the Methodist Church and in 1884 land on Locust Street for the first Presbyterian Church.
He built a new general merchandise store in 1879 at the northwest corner of Main Street and Bonanza. Shuey Avenue in the Almond-Shuey neighborhood is named for Homer Shuey.
Joseph Silveira offered Walnut Creek’s first banking services in his Valley Mercantile Company. Fittingly, Silveira became the city’s first municipal treasurer.
After attending the University of California and teaching school, Joseph Silveira purchased a general merchandise business on North Main Street in 1903, naming it Valley Mercantile Company. In 1916, Silveira built a brick building to house Valley Mercantile that still stands at the northwest corner of Main and Cypress Streets.
From his store, Silveira offered the community its first banking services, and, in 1907, he helped to establish the San Ramon Valley Bank. He became Walnut Creek’s first municipal treasurer in 1914.
William Slusher was the first American settler to build a home in what has become downtown Walnut Creek.
In 1849, William Slusher built a cabin on the west bank of a creek known as Arroyo de las Nueces (Stream of the Walnuts), becoming the first American settler to build a home in the downtown area. Slusher’s cabin was near a dirt path called Pacheco Road and was one of only a few residences at the time strung along the path between Martinez and San Ramon.
The cabin was in the vicinity of today’s intersection of South Main Street and Mt. Diablo Boulevard. In 1853, Slusher sold his property and moved out of The Corners.
As president of the Business Men’s Association, Harry Spencer led the effort to incorporate Walnut Creek and then served as the city’s first president (mayor). His sons Raymond and, later, Guy were city fire chiefs.
A native of Maine, Harry Spencer moved to Walnut Creek in 1910. He started his lumber business near the train depot in 1911 and quickly became active in community affairs.
In 1913, Spencer was elected president of the Business Men’s Association, the group that formed in 1912 with the goal of paving downtown streets. Under Spencer’s leadership, the group petitioned the County Board of Supervisors to allow Walnut Creek voters to decide whether to incorporate as a means to get a modern roadway through the downtown.
In October 1914, residents voted to incorporate as a city. Spencer served as the first president of the Board of Trustees (now mayor of the City Council) until 1922. He also served as commissioner of finance. In 1921, Harry’s son Raymond was appointed the first chief of the volunteer fire department.
Raymond was succeeded as fire chief by his younger brother, Guy.
James Stow was a local merchant and real estate developer who is credited with helping to bring the first church, telephones, train service, electricity, and automobile to Walnut Creek.
Born in Bloomfield, Illinois, James Stow came to Walnut Creek in 1865. In 1874, he bought a lot on Main Street, where he opened his own mercantile business. Stow was appointed postmaster in 1877. In 1879, Stow went into the real estate business with Justice of the Peace Milo Turner as Turner & Stow.
He was elected to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors in 1900. In 1903, his company finished the Contra Costa side of the first tunnel through the Oakland hills. In 1910, he built a distinctive building with twin towers and bay windows on North Main Street that was operated as a general merchandise store by E. Ignace & Co.
The building still stands today. Stow is credited with helping to bring the first church, telephones, train service, electricity, and automobile to Walnut Creek.
Stow’s son, Armand, served on the first Board of Trustees in 1914. His son Harry served on the County Board of Supervisors in the late 1920s.
James T. Walker and, later, his son Johnny Walker were cattle ranchers in the Ygnacio Valley.
Upon coming to The Corners in 1853, James T. Walker purchased 1,400 acres of land formerly owned by Doña Juana Sanchez de Pacheco, where he set up a cattle ranch. In 1869, he purchased another 140 acres from Ygnacio Sibrian and built a home off North Gate Road in the foothills of Mount Diablo.
In 1908, the Walker landholdings expanded when James’s son, Johnny, purchased the Sulphur Springs Ranch originally owned by Ygnacio Sibrian. Sulphur Springs was subsequently purchased by John Marchbank in 1921 after Johnny Walker lost the ranch to foreclosure.