The Spanish had first entered Alta California in force in 1769, gradually moving north from San Diego. Missions were the main colonizing institutions while a few presidios were established. Pedro Fages was one of the officers in the 1769 invasion and was chosen to lead a 1772 expedition out of the Monterrey Presidio.
Capt. Fages was charged with looking for a way around the San Francisco Bay so that a mission honoring St. Francis could be placed on the north shore. He led a 15-man troop, which included "six Catalonian volunteers, six leather-jackets, a muleteer, and an Indian servant," according to missionary Padre Juan Crespi. They skirted the Berkeley hills, traveled next to the strait into Contra Costa, and discovered two huge rivers that fed a huge delta. Then they turned south through the tri-valleys for the return trip to Monterey.
The Fages-Crespi expedition trip was significant because it established the site for both the San Francisco mission and presidio south of the Golden Gate.
Both Fages and Crespi wrote diaries about the 1772 expedition that went through the valley March 31, 1772. Crespi wrote:
".... we entered a beautiful valley of considerable width and good level land, well covered with grass, with good arroyos well grown with alders, cottonwood, laurels, roses, and other trees not known to us ... we came to three villages with some little grass houses. As soon as the heathen caught sight of us they ran away, shouting and panic-stricken without knowing what had happened."
Often the Indians had heard about the Spanish invaders, but evidently the word had not reached the Bay Miwok Tatcans of Alamo-Danville. The Spanish riding on horses and mules must have seemed like bizarre new creatures to the Indians.
On April 1, 1972, the Historical Society recognized the bicentennial of this contact between Spanish and Indians with a big party. An equestrian parade featured the Danville Junior Horsemen dressed in Spanish garb and included two people portraying Fages and Crespi. Franciscan Father Godfrey McSweeney from San Damiano played Crespi. Dr. Wilson Close, a descendant of early Danville pioneer James Close, dressed as Fages and rode horseback to the party. Not a regular rider, he said he ached for days afterward.
Marvja Varges performed a flamenco dance, and Roy S. Bloss, Historical Society president, did the honors as master of ceremonies. The chairman of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, Edmund A Linscheid, read a resolution proclaiming April 1 as Fages Day. The invocation was given by Dr. K. Fillmore Gray, pastor of the San Ramon Valley United Methodist Church.
A bronze plaque was unveiled by Mabel Kuss and was placed on a brick wall at the southeast corner of El Portal and Danville Boulevard, on the Sandkuhle's Sunset Nursery property. The plaque is also California State Historical Landmark, Number 853.
Altogether a fitting tribute to the bicentennial, this first plaque event set a high standard for all future plaque dedications by the Historical Society. The plaque is still in place, and third-graders visit it regularly as part of their Passport program.
Sources: The Fages-Crespi Expedition of 1772; Congressional Record from George P. Miller, May 2, 1972; Valley Pioneer, May 1972