Presenting the Past: 'Where the Hell Is Danville?' | March 27, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - March 27, 2009

Presenting the Past: 'Where the Hell Is Danville?'

by Beverly Lane

Where the Hell Is Danville?

This little phrase appeared in newspaper articles, on Silver Dollar Banquet Room napkins and in advertisements during the 1960s. It was one way promoter Russel Glenn told the world about his retro buildings and new restaurant near the old Danville Hotel.

Glenn was a driving force behind several Danville-promotion efforts, including the Danville Confederacy in 1958, which called for downtown-wide improvements using a frontier theme. Another Confederacy phrase tossed around was "planned retrogression."

Danville and San Ramon Valley residents were eager to see the new interstate freeway come through the valley because traffic on the boulevard was constantly bumper to bumper. When I-680 opened from Walnut Creek to Sycamore Valley Road (in 1964) and to Dublin (in 1966), there were parades and celebrations. However, as a consequence, drivers did not drive through Danville regularly.

Glenn worked hard to remind people that Danville offered a special experience in dining. He built western-style stores around the block of Hartz, Prospect, Railroad and Short streets and embellished the hotel's north wall with an old spiral staircase rescued from the Union Bank building in Oakland.

In 1965, he opened his signature restaurant, the Silver Dollar Banquet Room, on Railroad Avenue. It could accommodate about 300 people.

According to DeWayne Ryan, who grew up in town, Glenn even put "Where the Hell is Danville?" on a billboard in San Francisco.

Here is the 1970 version of Glenn's answer to his own question:

Where the Hell Is Danville?

In almost the center of the greenest, prettiest, most peaceful valley in the world!

The San Ramon Valley, which includes Alamo, Danville, Diablo, Tassajara and San Ramon, stretches from the Alameda-Contra Costa County Line to the south, to past Alamo to the north, and is encompassed by the virtually unspoiled wilderness of Las Trampas Ridge on the west, and the rolling Tassajara hills on the east.

Danville is 112 years old. She boasts a colorful past and looks to a bright future.

Free from smog, city traffic, industrial activity and other by-products of metropolitan centers, she enjoys the proximity of the big cities while maintaining a country aloofness.

One can drive from the choked, smoke-filled streets of San Francisco, and in less than a half hour, be riding along a narrow, bucolic country road, replete with grazing cattle, rustic farmhouses and tired windmills ... a century away from the city grind.

The pace here is unhurried, the merchants friendly and the service a noticeable step above that usually received in the large commercial complexes.

Folks here like to talk, are eager to know where you are from, what you think of our Valley, and they are quick to point out its many assets.

Danville, thankfully, has been able to cope with growth without sacrificing character and atmosphere. Dedicated people are constantly seeking ways to improve or preserve her appearance.

As the years pass, she ages gracefully and with dignity.

Where is Danville? You might say it's smack in the middle of tranquil living ... where the pursuit of happiness and concern for one's fellow man are still in style ... where one can stretch without feeling hemmed in, or can ride a horse, walk a dog, peddle a bike ... or anything else he wants to do ... in a relaxed, secure uncrowded environment.

THAT'S where it's at.

Sources: "Vintage Danville, 150 Years of memories"; Museum archives; Danville Hotel brochure produced by Nearon Enterprises

Beverly Lane is curator of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley and co-author of "San Ramon Valley: Alamo, Danville, and San Ramon" and "Vintage Danville: 150 Years of Memories."