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Toasting Pinole Valley - The best green deal in the city’s history

By George R. Vincent, Co-founder Pinole Historical Society


I-80 freeway collapse in Pinole 5-12-69

Are you new to Pinole, or have you been living here with no time to delve into its rich history?

History can easily become a casualty of our hurry-up society of texting mania and drive-through fast foods. When your kids ask for homework help with a Pinole history assignment, do you embarrassingly have to tell them to go ask mom or dad, or grandma or grandpa? Well, help is on the way. This historical tour will give you a thumbnail introduction to one of our community’s historical pillars. Perhaps it will even give you a more satisfactory mental high than your Starbucks Espresso Macchiato.


Pinole’s roots extend in many directions. However, to appreciate the town’s beginnings and growth, we must look to the rural Pinole Valley hinterland.

An 1880s history book described Pinole as “The little hamlet by the pebbly bay, located at the mouth of the beautiful valley by the same name.” By the 1920s, a local contest officially nicknamed Pinole “The Sunkissed Gem by the Bay.”


The San Pablo Bay and Pinole Valley were to figure prominently in Pinole’s population growth and attraction of residents. Pinole’s yawn time as a sleepy village and the rural face of Pinole Valley both ended with the opening of the I-80 freeway in the late 1950s.


The freeway surgically cut Old Town Pinole from its supporting farms and ranches. The new roadway provided job links to nearby work locations, and almost overnight transformed Pinole into a suburban community with an explosive population increase.


Cattle-grazing lands and tomato fields were replaced by tract homes, as displaced ranchers sold to developers.


The Samuel Tennent family had laid out the town of Pinole in blocks and lots in 1887.ˇHowever, large subdivisions were a phenomena in Pinole.


In 1954 and 1955, Normandie Acres was developed near the bay. Tara Hills began in 1951 and grew until the 1960s. By 1955, Pinole Valley’s turn came.


Building took off between Pinole Valley Road and Pinole Creek with the new Pinole Estates and long roads called Estates Avenue and Ramona Drive.

By 1967, an even larger development of swank homes called Silvercreek made the scene, having the unbelievable price tag in the mid $30,000 range.


Frances Ellerhorst School was built in the valley in the early 1960s to accommodate the influx of new children. In 1967, the new Pinole Valley High School was built on the site of the old Rose Ranch.


The old downtown Pinole School on the Hill, built in 1906, served as the new junior high and was bursting at its green seams with students.


Pinole Valley’s real claim to fame was its deserved recognition as the starting place of Pinole’s history. The valley’s first subdivision of sorts was actually a large rancho. Its name, Rancho El Pinole, baptized the 18,000 acres in 1823 with a lasting name.


The area then was described as a wild and dangerous place, with marauding Indians, deer, elk, and huge grizzly bears. Don Ygnacio Martinez was granted the land for his 41 years of service as a soldier on the California frontier.


The rancho was named after friendly Indians fed Spanish soldiers in the region a mush-like mixture, a gruel made of grains and acorns the soldiers called “Penole.” The food stuck to their insides and the name stuck to the site.


Don Ygnacio built an adobe home in the valley in 1836 and brought his wife, Maria, and his large family there from San Jose. His family was to number 13 in all, with nine daughters and two sons. For protection, a brass cannon was mounted by the home.


Eventually, two more smaller adobe homes were added when sons Vicente and Jose de Jesus were wed. Wedding fiestas and bullfights lasted for days.


The area now had a new name: The Three Adobes of Pinole Viejo (old Pinole).

Early Spanish-speaking Californians called Californios were devoted to their Catholic faith. Every home had an altar with a patron saint figure. Even though the Martinez daughters dutifully said their prayers each evening, legend has it that they were also expert horseback riders and roped grizzly bear for sport.


In 1849, the beautiful Rafaela Martinez married Englishman Samuel Tennent. After 10 children and her passing in the 1860s, Dr. Tennent donated the downtown block in the center of Pinole to Saint Joseph’s Church in her honor. In 1881, Pinole’s first Catholic church, Saint Joseph’s, was built.

Today, the Pinole Valley corridor on both sides of the freeway acts as the economic engine for Pinole’s business development in much the same manner as when it was responsible for the city’s boom in the 1950s and 1960s.


On the south side, the imposing new Pinole Valley High School nears completion. Nearby, the Pinole Valley Shopping Center anchored by Trader Joe’s bustles with auxiliary shops.

North of the freeway, small businesses have sprung up around the big-named places of Kaiser, Sprouts, and Starbucks.


But Pinole Valley still holds a secret to remember. Under the dark adobe soil deep in the valley lies the limestone foundation of the home of the valley’s first Hispanic residents. They, too, found it to be a desirable place to live.


Long ago, they were the pioneers who set in motion the gold rush of development that turned Pinole’s reputation from a largely ignored small cattle-and-saloon town into a prosperous

modern city.

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