Presenting the Past: Russel Glenn and Danville's Planned Retrogression | June 13, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - June 13, 2008

Presenting the Past: Russel Glenn and Danville's Planned Retrogression

by Beverly Lane

In 1952 Russel Glenn came to Danville, sparking all sorts of changes in the quiet burg. Picture the valley that year - small communities in Alamo, Danville and San Ramon with no freeway in place, gas stations dotted along the boulevard, and walnut and pear orchards spreading out across the landscape. The whole valley had only 4,630 people in 1950.

Glenn leased, then bought the Danville Hotel restaurant, painted it red, decorated it with antiques and built a Ghost Town and facades nearby - all with the intent of turning the Danville Hotel Restaurant into a tourist attraction. He was full of ideas about how to improve and promote the entire downtown.

Glenn had been a mechanic, a Marine, a race car driver, sales manager for Duchess Inc. of Oakland, a middleweight boxer and a gold prospector. With his fertile imagination, persuasive words, effervescent personality, willingness to work and way with the ladies, Danville had never seen anybody like him.

In 1958 Glenn spoke to his friends Dr. Tom Ohlson, John May, Bill Hockins and John Roberts about the shabbiness of downtown. Some people had nicknamed Hartz Avenue "Gasoline Alley." Together they talked about "resigning from the 20th century" and proclaimed the "Confederacy of Danville."

Their slogan was "Old Century Leisure - New Century Convenience." They wanted "to retain and enhance the charm and leisurely atmosphere of the San Ramon Valley." Merchants were encouraged to spiff up their businesses, use old-fashioned letters on signs, and put in leaded windows and cupolas. John May's Shoe Stable already had an old-fashioned look; Mildred Fereira and her mother changed the front of their Diablo Beauty Shop to improve its looks; Dr. Ohlson put flowers in an old bathtub in front of his Danville Veterinarian Hospital on Rose Street.

A Declaration was made and newspapers noticed the Danville effort, in particular the San Francisco Examiner. There was plenty of local conversation, with some saying the Confederacy was just a Danville Hotel promotion. Others thought it would improve the historic town. Needless to say, when the county built its modern "space age" library in the '60s, Confederacy supporters were none too enthusiastic.

Glenn discovered that Danville was founded in 1858 and plans for a centennial celebration were soon in place. The Chamber of Commerce with Ohlson as president recruited people to put on a four-day event in September 1958 and the community went all out. What a party! Hay Days provided a carnival, aquacade, bathing suit fashion show, pet and car parades and a barbeque.

The Valley Pioneer published a Centennial Edition on Sept. 4, 1958, which featured letters of congratulations from President Dwight D. Eisenhower and others. This edition had articles on the history of the valley, agriculture, Mount Diablo, schools and pioneer families including Charles Wood, August Hemme, Joel Harlan and R.O. Baldwin. Charlotte Wood wrote a Centennial poem for the occasion.

In 1959, Glenn had 10 decorators redo the second floor of the Hotel and provided public tours. He then moved into the new rooms. He tried to sell the hotel and buildings in 1962, but the transaction fell through. The prospective owners had planned a motel on the site.

Glenn gradually purchased the whole block and, in 1965, built a large new restaurant, the Silver Dollar banquet room. Artist-craftsman Leon Erickson designed the room and adjacent buildings which Glenn called "a genial merchandise center." Local builder Vern Ryan constructed the project.

When the 300-person banquet room opened in June 1965, Glenn touted it as part of "Planned Retrogression To The Lusty Elegance of Early California ... The Ornate New Silver Dollar Banquet Room at the Danville Hotel."

Glenn even put up a billboard in San Francisco which asked, "Where the Hell is Danville?" He wrote a promotional piece with that title in 1970 which began: "In almost the center of the greenest, prettiest, most peaceful valley in the world!"

When Jerry and Eileen Carter bought and renovated the block in 1976, the banquet room became the Danville Hotel Restaurant and Saloon. For many, it is still the symbol of Old Town Danville.

Russel Glenn passed away in 1982 and left $5,000 for a "celebration of life," directing that the invitation state "I hope that my friends will enjoy themselves and accept my gratitude for having made my life a very happy one." One hundred people came, partied and traded stories well into the evening, a fine tribute to Danville's unique spark plug.

Sources: Valley Pioneer Nov. 6, 1968, May 7, 1975; The Silver Dollar Special, June 23, 1965; The History of the Danville Hotel and McCauley House (2004); SF Chronicle, Dec. 30, 1982; Irma M. Dotson.

Beverly Lane, a longtime Danville resident, is curator of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley and co-author of "San Ramon Valley: Alamo, Danville, and San Ramon."


There are no comments yet for this post