The story of Martinez Street names….

Picking up where Charlene left off

By Harriett Burt


After Thomas Brown completed the survey, streets began appearing on a north/south – east/west grid.  We believe Col. Smith had an ulterior motive for naming the downtown east/west streets after his San Francisco business friends and associates listed above.  He was hoping they would invest in the new town.  Whether any or all did is not clear. 

The north/south streets were named after the husbands of four of his seven sisters-in-laws:

Don Jose de los Santos Berrellessa, husband of Francesca de Martinez; William Richardson,

Husband of Maria Antonia de Martinez; Jose Joaquin Estudillo, husband of Juana de Martinez and Victor Castro, husband of Louisa de Martinez.  Regarding Berrellessa, the Spanish pronunciation would sound like Berryessa as the double ‘l’ has a ‘yuh’ sound.  In Martinez, the double ‘l’ has been retained but not the pronunciation.  Lake Berryessa to the north, however, is spelled and pronounced in English. 

An exception to Smith’s plan was to name two east/west streets for women.  Susana Street honored his wife, an amazingly strong and sensible woman who will make an appearance in Our Town in a future edition.  It is memorialized in the Susana Park, which was called the Susana Street Park per City naming practices when it was constructed in the 1930s.  After considerable discussion a few years ago when the Park was being upgraded and modernized, the name was changed to Susana Park in her honor.  Smith named the street on the north side after Susana’s close friend, Henrietta Tennant.  525 Henrietta Street is the official street address of Martinez’ city government.

Smith named what became the principle north/south street after himself, a founder’s prerogative, one supposes.  It also became the principle north/south street of Martinez’ downtown to Highway 4 partly because of geography.  The other notable reason was that the original Benicia ferry that took gold seekers from the Santa Clara Valley and Monterey  closer to the Sierras and thus put Martinez on the map in essential ways, landed at a makeshift wharf at the end of what is now Berrellessa Street.  The ferry wharf on Ferry Street was built in 1854 when the first ferry vessel built specifically for that purpose, a paddle wheeler named “Carquinez” was built in an eastern shipyard and shipped around Cape Horn as ballast in a sailing vessel and reassembled here according to “Martinez: A California Town”.  

It is not clear why Smith Street became Alhambra Avenue in 1924 although it makes sense on two counts: it was the major connection of the town and county seat to the Alhambra Valley and Franklin Canyon parts of greater Martinez and to communities in every direction from the  county seat.  Secondly, El Hambre Creek was a rather negative name for an up and coming community.  Hambre means hunger in Spanish.  Spanish and later Mexican soldiers chasing miscreants from the Bay settlements found the area very arid in the summer when the creek which started in springs in the Alhambra Valley hills could dry up and plants and animals to eat were scarce.  So its starting point was named Canon del Hambre or Canyon of Hunger not to mention thirst and the creek, quite impressive and occasionally dangerous in the winter, became El Hambre Creek.  Hardly fit for a Chamber of Commerce slogan

Louisana Strentzel challenged the name of the creek in the late 19th century because she thought it was totally unsuitable for the Alhambra Valley and surrounding locations  which had become a major and bountiful ranching and orchard area.  She recalled reading as a child Washington Irving’s popular book about the Spanish castle, “The Alhambra”.  His vivid descriptions of its beauty enthralled her.  So she proposed the name of El Hambre Creek and its valley be changed to Alhambra Creek and Alhambra Valley to reflect the beauty and bounty of greater Martinez.   The Chamber of Commerce won.

To this day, most of the city’s streets are named by the developers and/or property owners, often using themes as in Virginia Hill that result in a streets named Appalachian and Blue Ridge for example.  Or they may use family names such as Gordon and Millthwaite, a development in Alhambra Valley during the 1950s.  Often,  a developer will choose a theme to supply names.   A local example is the main thoroughfares of Virginia Hills (Blue Ridge, Appalachian and Roanoke Drives.  The best known is the large  Gregory Garden development in Pleasant Hill which in the 1950s used women’s names.  It even has a Harriet Drive although in this writer’s opinion, it is misspelled.

Street names can also reflect the purpose or main uses on the street or even the end destination of the street.  Ferry Street is so named because it was the direct north/south street to the Ferry Wharf during the years of Martinez history before the Southern Pacific railroad bridge and the Benicia Bridge (George Miller, Jr. bridge officially) were built.  Shell Avenue obviously has its name because it was the most direct east/west route from Alhambra Avenue and points west of Martinez to the Shell Refinery.  A street name can also reflect an especially nice view such as on parts of Marina Vista entering the city or the Carquinez Scenic Highway, the route from Martinez to Crockett and Sonoma County through the hills above the shoreline until a large landslide closed it for good in the 1980s.  It is now the George Miller Recreation Trail and a prize scene for walkers, hikers and bicycle riders.

Today, according to Public Works Director Dave Scola and City Planner Corey Simon, the only City requirement on naming is that each new development have a street named after a former Mayor and that names don’t cause confusion for emergency vehicles.  A Martinez development using a state name theme would not be permitted to use Maine as a name because it could be confused with Main Street.  

Occasionally a single street name is created.  The most recent case was the naming of Sabral Circle where D Street becomes Shell Avenue.  Barbara Kapsalis and her  family requested the naming because the short street which has several residential buildings on it has been owned by members of the Sabral family for decades.  Barbara’s grandfather, a Portuguese immigrant bought the land in the 1930s and the family has resided on it since.

A map of the city including Mountain View, an unincorporated  residential section of Martinez,  shows how the rectangular survey of the Ordinance of 1787 can exist next to a street layout that follows the contours of the land.  On the hilly portion, street names vary between names of people such as Potter and Leslie and names of fruit trees, Orange, Lemon, Olive, Peach, Orchard Lane all referring to orchard fruits which were such a large part of the local agricultural economy over a century ago.  Streets named after cities such as Monterey, Pomona and, of course, Martinez curve around the hilly area next to Bella Vista, Magnolia and Crest.  On the southern end of Mountain View, the rectangular survey reappears with east/west streets showing no particular pattern. But R.R. Veale, county sheriff for 40 years around the turn of the 20th century, got his named street next to a variety of names ranging from Vine to Delancy, Plaza and Santa Fe, of course  named after the nearby train tracks.





Martinez Historical Society

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