The Museum of the San Ramon Valley is set to highlight five historic local buildings in a month-long exhibit opening in downtown Danville this week.
"Historic Icons of the San Ramon Valley" will profile the Danville Hotel, San Ramon General Store, Tassajara Grammar School, Southern Pacific Depot and Diablo Country Club's Red Horse Tavern.
The exhibit opens this Saturday (Jan. 23) and runs through Feb. 28 at the museum, 205 Railroad Ave. Each building will be featured in a separate Saturday morning talk, starting Jan. 30.
The showing is underwritten by Linda Gossett, museum officials said.
The museum is open Tuesdays to Fridays 1-4 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Sundays 12-3 p.m. For more information, call 837-3750 or visit the museum website.
Below are descriptions of each building, as written by museum officials:
A Danville Hotel has been significant from the beginnings of American settlement.
When Henry Harris opened the boarding house in 1858, other stores were established to serve the rural population. Harris became postmaster of the first Danville post office in his hotel in 1860. The building became what all these early post offices were: The center of town, a place where people gathered ostensibly to get their mail and actually to catch up on their world.
When the first hotel burned down in 1873, it was quite a loss. The post office shifted to one or another of the general stores along Front Street for the next decades.
The second Danville Hotel was built after 1891 across from the new railroad depot to serve passengers arriving in the village from the Southern Pacific Railroad. Run by the McCauley family (who baked renowned pies), it symbolized the growth of Danville as the center of the San Ramon Valley.
As Danville's main street shifted from Front Street to Hartz Avenue, the hotel moved there in 1927. In the 1930s, the hotel became a restaurant with fine dining, drawing patrons from far beyond the valley; quite an extraordinary enterprise during the depression years. It finally closed in 1952.
The new owner, Russel Glenn, painted the hotel red, built a Ghost Town patio and facades and opened the development as a Western-themed tourist attraction. A decade later he purchased the entire block, added shops and introduced live entertainment. The Silver Dollar Room, which accommodated banquets of 300 people, was added in 1965.
In 1976 Jerry and Aileen Carter remodeled the property the Silver Dollar became the Danville Hotel Restaurant and Saloon. They named the block the Danville Hotel Territory. The restaurant was a popular one and the saloon became the location for the county supervisor's monthly community meetings.
Forty years later, in 2016, the Danville Hotel and adjacent block is entering yet a new phase, with retail shops on the first floor and residences on the second. Now called the Danville Hotel Town Center, it symbolizes a 21st-century effort to modernize Danville's old town, yet retain its historical connections.
San Ramon General Store
Unlike the other icons featured in this exhibit, the San Ramon General Store (along with all buildings in the original San Ramon village) is no more. However, for nearly a century, it was a significant San Ramon location and the classic 1911 photograph of the store shows owner Henry Hurst standing in front.
The store was first described in a Contra Costa Gazette article on San Ramon from March 9, 1880: "Our next is a new store under the firm name of Glass & Ivory (good material in the name), Mr. Frank Glass, a son of Mr. David Glass, and Mr. E. Ivory, who is well known throughout the country, are the partners."
According to Henry Wiedemann, the store was owned by Frank Glass, C.C. Lewelling, Henry Hurst, his son Harry Hurst, and William C. Fereira.
Fereira purchased the store in 1924 (for $2,750, according to a saved receipt), managed it and served as San Ramon postmaster for nearly 40 years. It was the place to go to find out what was happening in San Ramon. Poker games lasted well into the night and folks were always welcome to drop in. He added gasoline service to the store as a growing number of cars began to travel State Highway 21.
The store was burned down as an exercise for fire fighters from the new San Ramon Fire Protection District in 1963. The older Fereiras had moved out of the building and, when there were discussions about occupying it again, the necessary re-wiring and other county code requirements were cost-prohibitive. So the new San Ramon Fire Chief Bill Fereira (William's son) ran a practice fire on the building. Preservation efforts were still in their infancy in the '60s.
Tassajara Grammar School
The Tassajara Grammar School at 1650 Finley Road was the second school in that community, and what a beauty it still is. There were six grammar school districts in the greater San Ramon Valley, and only this 1889 schoolhouse from any district remains.
Today it is owned by the Museum of the San Ramon Valley and hosts a popular living history program for third-graders from the San Ramon Valley's school district.
It schooled Tassajara students for over 50 years, drawing many Portuguese and Danish children to learn their basic education. For most, it was all the schooling they received. It closed in 1946 with the remaining students traveling by bus to the modern Danville Elementary School. For decades it was used for meetings, as a polling place and for annual community picnics.
The Tassajara community, led by Rasmussens and Reinsteins helped save the school house in the 1960s and 1970s, by putting down a foundation and a constructing a new roof. Other improvements were made by the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District (an owner for years), Shapell Homes and the museum. Picnic tables surround the school and ancient walnut trees (many planted by the children) grace the property.
In 1891, Southern Pacific built four of its "decorative" two-story combination depots along the San Ramon Branch Line. Only the Danville depot remains as a restored building and is now home to the Museum of the San Ramon Valley. The Concord and San Ramon depots are gone and the Walnut Creek depot is a restaurant on Broadway near the Iron Horse Trail.
The current exhibit will focus on the period when the depot was owned by Joe Ramos Sr. and Jr. They purchased it from Helen Benn as the Danville Feed and Grain store in 1951 and leased the land from Southern Pacific.
Then the Ramoses added suburban products and renamed it the Danville Feed and Garden store, selling such products as oak firewood, sacks of coal, pool supplies, burlap bags and straw. They painted three of the sides red but didn't bother to paint the west side which kept its original gold paint.
Dick Dowell rented the upstairs apartment from Joe Ramos Jr. from 1970 to 1983. An antique collector, skilled carpenter and bachelor with lady friends, he obtained the Baldwin Ranch water tank and reassembled it as a hot tub accessible from the second floor. We will tell some of these stories at one of the Saturday 10:30 a.m. talks during the exhibit's run.
Red Horse Tavern
The historic Red Horse Tavern is a prime example of the way Robert Noble Burgess chose to develop his Mount Diablo Country Club beginning in 1912.
He employed architects and other designers to plan the Club and managed to get the new electric railway from Saranap to the Club, helping to put Danville, trips to Mount Diablo, and the new club on the map.
Needing room and board facilities for non-club members and living quarters for employees, Burgess moved an 1881 carriage house and employed architect Arthur Benton to design a public tavern with rooms. It opened in 1917, was named the Red Horse Tavern, and featured a carousel-sized horse's head hanging inside. The tavern building is still in its original location and can be compared with the original drawings.
The museum borrowed the Red Horse head from a Diablo Country Club lounge (now called the Red Horse Tavern). Original dishes from the tavern are on display. There are also programs and coins from the Pan Pacific International Exposition, an event in 1915 which Burgess took advantage of to draw people to Mount Diablo and his new club.