Street Names, Street Names!  Everywhere in Martinez a Street Name!

By Harriett Burt

News-Gazette Whatever

Todays column will start exploring the origin of street names south of the Alhambra/Berrellessa merge at the county hospital extending towards Forest Hills. 

But first, one more ‘old town’ street name mystery's solution: the origin of the naming of Duncan Drive that runs south up a hill off the western part of Arreba. Bill Kelleher, AUHS ’59, suggested I talk to Diana Sparacino Johnston Hogan, AUHS ’60.  Sure enough, she had the answer.  The street is named after the father of her first husband, the late Duncan Johnston.  His dad, also named Duncan, was born in Scotland and came to the United States in the 1920s where he worked for Shell.  In 1940 he built the house on property just off Arreba and moved in with his bride in August of that year.  In the 40s and 50s, the road was extended to the top of the ridge and more houses were built.  But as often happens in street naming, whoever was there first, be it as resident or developer, usually provides the name for the entire street that is subdivided later.

Moving down Alhambra, we don’t have information of how Arch, Flora, Wano, Teresa and Alhambra Lane on the east side of the avenue were named but the designation of Alhambra side streets A through K  appear on an 1892 planning map while much of the land was still being farmed.  In fact, Kelleher says that the land where Safeway is now was an open field into the early 1950s when the downtown store moved to its current location.  Soon, Elmquist Ct. appeared connecting E street, the entrance to Alhambra High School with F Street, the northern boundary of the Safeway parking lot.  Mrs. Elmquist, according to Kelleher, was a widow who owned an insurance agency.  As the subdivision of property continued, a street bordering the high school property a block west, was named Ricks Avenue after Realtor, town booster and city council member “Cappy” Ricks.  It extends south from E Street to H Street where it ends at the junction of the one block H street and Canyon Way.

Canyon Way’s name before 1951 was the Franklin Canyon Highway.  It branched off to the right or west of Alhambra Avenue at the “Y”  by turning right on H Street  and curving south after  block to become Franklin Canyon Road, which was then also known as Highway 4 or the Arnold Industrial Highway,  the main route to Richmond and east bay communities and San Francisco.

The other ‘arm’ of the “Y” turned east off Alhambra for a short block then south towards the trestle.  It was named Alhambra Valley Road and proceeded down the segmented concrete road strengthened by applications of tar between each segment.  It is one of the few roads this writer knows of that still exists with this once common highway pavement.  Now named Alhambra Way, it proceeds to the trestle and the Highway 4 overpass where it splits three ways.  Coming from Alhambra Way, to the hard left and up the hill is the narrow, winding Muir Station Road which connected to the Santa Fe Railroads Muir Station, an ‘on demand’ passenger station and major fruit shipping station to the east coast and other locations.  To the oblique left, the road now continues as Pleasant Hill Road East to connect with what is now Alhambra Avenue which supplanted the old Pleasant Hill Road, the southern route to unincorporated Pleasant Hill and thence to Walnut Creek or Lafayette.  To the right, Alhambra Way continues west to intersect with the current Alhambra Avenue.  Alhambra Valley Road begins just a few hundred yards to the south.

 The original plan proposed that Franklin Canyon Highway be retained as the main connection to westbound Arnold Industrial Highway/Franklin Canyon Road even though houses were being built on each side of the road and the Franklin Hills land to the west was being subdivided.  Businessman Bob Hilson, a member of the City Planning Commission, fought that idea very hard according to his widow, Jeanne Hilson.  Since the area was already being subdivided for housing, Hilson thought the amount and the danger of large amounts of traffic made the plan completely unsuitable for a growing residential area.  In the end, the straight extension of Alhambra south to Arnold Industrial Highway (now Highway 4) made more sense for traffic flow and for zoning.

There is a story behind Muir Station Road.  In the late 1890s, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad decided to compete with Southern Pacific for transcontinental passenger and goods traffic.  With its railroad yards now in Richmond, the obvious route east went through Franklin Canyon heading to the Central Valley before turning east to cross the country through Arizona and New Mexico, etc.  Railroad officials also found Franklin Canyon attractive as there was much fruit being shipped east from the Alhambra and Diablo Valleys.   The only problem was that the Franklin Canyon ended at Alhambra Avenue-to-be.  The flat valley ended quickly on the east side at nearby steep hillsides.  Since John Muir owned much of the flat land across the northern tip of the valley starting at the current Franklin Canyon Road, the officials approached him to make a deal.  It was a good one for both sides.  The railroad would build and use the trestle and John Muir and his family would get free passes on Santa Fe for their lifetimes plus construction of an ‘on demand’ station and a spur line down to the valley floor where packing sheds were soon built to fill Santa Fe refrigerated freight cars with fruit from all the Valley fruit growers for the rest of the nation.  Oh, and don’t forget the token payment to Muir of $1. 

Passengers could catch the transcontinental train by making reservations in advance, hence “on demand”.  The late Dunstan Granshaw remembers being taken to see the Grand Canyon on the Santa Fe by his parents in the 1930s.  For years, the railroad bridge over Morello Avenue advertised “The Grand Canyon Line”.  In 1940, the Alhambra Union High School Band rode the Santa Fe from Muir Station down to Southern California for a state music conference where the small high school won top ranking in the state among much larger and much wealthier high schools.

The station burned in an arson fire in 1941.  Due to the war, the expansion of travel by automobile 

beginning of the decline of commercial fruit growing, the station was not rebuilt and all that is left is a small graded area across from Grace Episcopal Church.

Speaking of names, the Frazer family has lived in Franklin Canyon since the 1850s.  George Frazer bought 700 acres of land to raise Durham cattle, hogs and fruit crops.  According to Martinez: A California Town, (1986), Frazer was instrumental in bringing the Santa Fe through by donating a right-of-way and 12 acres of land for a depot and loading station.  The small building this writer remembers was mainly for maintenance, I believe, but the sign, Glen Frazer, remained until the 1990s.  According to George’s great-great-grandson, Julian Frazer, Wikipedia has a small article saying that for a period of time in the early 20th century the area was called Frazerville and at two different times in the first two decades there was supposedly a post office.  Whether that is accurate information or not is in question but, according to Julian, people he knows have told him they are living in Glen Frazer.  Sure enough, Zillow markets homes in the canyon as located in Glen Frazer.  Julian adds that to his knowledge, it was only the name for the railroad facility.  By the way, Wikipedia makes it clear that Glen Frazer is not a real person but the name for a glen (which is a Scottish word for a valley) and that George Frazer also received free Santa Fe passes of which he used only one.

Two last road names as Martinez moved south: Franklin Canyon Road and Arnold Industrial Highway (now Arnold Drive).  Franklin Canyon Road is another example of ‘first come, first naming rights’.  George Franklin was one of several British brothers who arrived in gold rush San Francisco.  His brothers were active in developing post-gold rush San Francisco.  In fact, some suggest that Franklin Street was named after a Franklin brother, not Benjamin Franklin. There is no evidence to prove that.  George bought several acres of land from the Martinez family near the Adobe and farmed here for a few years before joining his family in San Francisco.  Arnold Industrial Highway was at one point the “Highway 4” to east and west county.  When the Highway 4 freeway was built, Arnold Drive became the surface road for access to homes and business on the north side of Highway 4, the John Muir Parkway.  James Arnold was a long-time and highly respected county official in the first few decades of the 20th century.  More information about Arnold will appear in future columns. 


Martinez Historical Society

1005 Escobar Street - Martinez, CA 94553  (925) 228-8160