Beyond the Curb:  The Process of Street Naming: Part 2

By Harriett Burt

News-Gazette Contributor

Last time we looked at the process for the official approval of the street names submitted by the developer in the final project map. 

How and why those names were selected is an interesting process that has few rules beyond those set by the public agencies responsible for approving them, i.e. no duplications, no unsuitable language, no name that would make it confusing for public safety departments to get to where they are needed.  In addition, some cities such as Martinez require that each new development contain a street named after a former Mayor as in Benson Court or Costanza Drive.

Kristine Solseng, principle planner in the County Department of Conservation and Development (DCD), says developers try to choose “pleasant and inviting sounding names.”  Martinez Public Works Director Dave Scola notes that Mayor J. L. Coglizer (1957-58) has not been memorialized with a street name because his last name would be awkward to say and spell.

“You want friendly names, names that people can spell and pronounce,” says Jim Busby, a local and regional developer with 50 years of experience, much of it in Martinez and neighboring towns. “People who are interested in this history are those who are the stable residents of the region,”  he observes.

Where do the names come from, Busby was asked.  He noted that they could come from history or, as in his case, they could come from a natural feature.  For example, he named Hidden Lakes, a large development in the southern part of the city, because there were two small lakes there that “nobody knew about”.  In fact, he recalls with pleasure, in the early days of Hidden Valley School, teachers would occasionally take their classes there to study nature and get a little fishing in. 

Busby chose not to name streets in his projects after himself or family members or business associates.  “I looked for themes,” he says. When he developed an area north of Center Avenue and across from Hidden Lakes, the land made him think of a meadow so he named the projected development Muir Meadows and used national parks for the street names.  A smaller development next to Muir Meadows that he built later contained three one-block courts off Center he named after flowers, Fuschia, Gardenia, and Begonia Courts.  Stonehurst, a project off Alhambra Valley Road that was recently incorporated into Martinez, was named, according to Busby, for a long-gone title holder of part of the land whose last name was Stonehurst, a most dignified name for a high-end project.  Fountainhead, one of the first if not the first owner-occupied condominium developments in the city, was named by Busby after Ayn Rand’s famous novel because he was “fascinated by the book”.

“(Street) names were always kind of difficult because there were so many of them,” Busby observed while his daughter and office manager, Clarice Hernandez, brought in one of an impressive collection of medium-sized binders measuring two to three inches thick containing all the street names in all his development projects over 50 years…..lots and lots of names!

In some of Busby’s projects, however, he caught a break.  His company, Security Owners Corporation, built about 10 homes on Elderwood Drive after the first houses had already been built by a developer who gave the name for that street and possibly for the several other “------wood” Drives in the area.  In his active career, Busby  never had to provide more than one name for each street.  Other times when he was too busy he would have his engineers take on the task.

Other developers might use family names or a mixture of those with the names of investors, relatives of the developer and the developer him or herself such as was the case in Forest Hills.

Ed Gilbert, descendent of the Gilbert family who farmed the land along what is now Alhambra Avenue and Alhambra Valley Road from Alhambra Way to Gilbert Lane and possibly beyond first developed  some of the property starting in the 1950s with Kim Court, just south of the Alhambra Way intersection, named after his daughter, and later Gilbert Court on the north side of John Swett School and Gilbert Lane on the south side.

The “theme” naming of streets has resulted in several but not all streets in Virginia Hills being named after places or features in the state of Virginia – Roanoke and Appalachian for example.  Other streets in the large development include names such as Francis, Waverly and Sheree, all presumably named after people. 

This writer was sitting on the floor of the Martinez Museum surrounded by maps of the city recently when a visitor, Ralph Endriss, walked through.  We got to talking and when I mentioned my research topic, he immediately had a great story to share.  His father, John K. Endriss, was a salesman for the Zocchi Brothers contracting firm in Concord.  They were developing “Spring Valley” near Elderwood Drive in the 1960s.  When names for the project were being chosen, he offered his own name which was accepted immediately.  When the project was finished, Mr. Endriss bought a house on “his” street where Ralph was raised.  The need for names was great enough that his dad’s middle name, Kenniston, was also submitted on the final project map.  However, somewhere up the review line it was changed to Kentfield with no explanation offered.  Ralph and his family live on Martindale, just a couple of blocks away from his boyhood home (One surmises there was probably an employee or Zocchi family member with that name.)

Sometimes the street name stories come from families who owned the land being being developed as well as one of the homes in the development.  Sandra Hall, who with her husband Frank owns an adobe on Millican Court built by the landowner, removed any mystery about how Millthwaite Drive, Gordon Way, and Millican Court, off Alhambra Valley Road “at the curve”, got their names.

In the late 1930s, Marjorie Thwaites Millican came to California from Ohio with her husband, A. (Alonzo) Millican, when he was hired to work as an engineer in the construction of the Cow Palace in San Francisco.  They lived in Lafayette and purchased some Martinez land to develop from John F. Swett, son of John Swett.  When the development reached the final map stage, the couple combined the two last names, Millican and Thwaites, to create the entry street name, Millthwait.  Gordon Way was taken from Millican’s middle name, Gordon, and Millican Ct. from his last name.  They built an adobe home on the Court for themselves and passed it on to their daughter, the late Lois Millican Peters and her husband, Sherman and their family.  Before he died, Sherm, as he was known locally, told Hall that AG, (Millican’s nickname), was convinced that “all California houses should be made of adobe as it was free and plentiful.”

Finally, there are a few ‘name foul up’ stories out there that may have contributed to the more serious multi-agency check on submitted street names that exists now.

One comes from Cathy Roof, founding executive director of the Early Childhood Center.  She and her husband bought a home roughly 50 years ago on Valley Avenue, off Truitt Avenue about two blocks in from the Alhambra Avenue extension from Alhambra Valley Road.  It was developed at roughly the same time or just a little after the Vine Hill development in the county off Pacheco Boulevard. 

While their house was being built they were told by the realtor that there was a Valley Avenue over in Vine Hill, so their street would be named Valley Street.  However, when the papers were signed, their address was 17 Valley Avenue.  No one could explain it but they were told that since the Vine Hill Valley Avenue houses all had four number addresses starting with the number 4 it shouldn’t be a problem as all the City of  Martinez houses would have a two number address.  However, it has been a bit of a problem particularly now as more and more delivery trucks are in the neighborhoods dropping packages.  When that story was passed along to Solseng, she chuckled and said “that’s probably how the Fire Department got involved in checking final map street names.”

Tahoe Drive, about a block long off Alhambra Way was developed by one company which did not continue the project for a reason unknown to this writer.  Another developer picked up the project which then circles about a quarter mile or so around back to Tahoe Drive.  The street sign for Tahoe Circle is set about 6 houses up the street from the intersection of Calaveras and Tahoe Drive.  Pat Corr, who with her late husband bought the first house at the intersection, 4701 Tahoe Drive, has watched with some amusement as perplexed delivery truck drivers see the Drive sign yet the package says  Tahoe Circle which is just up the street six or so houses. There is a Tahoe Circle sign by the first house but there is no cross street on the east side of the street to cause one to expect it.  But the package being delivered is addressed to say 4819 Tahoe Circle.  What??  How is a poor driver to know about that very unusual street sign  placement and drive on against all logic…another possible reason for Fire Department final plan checks.


Martinez Historical Society

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