Concord: Diversity fuels history, spurs economic growth in county’s largest city

By Peggy Spear on April 7, 2014

Salvio looking east_Douglass_for website[Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series on the growth and development of Concord. In this issue we look at its history and economics; next issue we examine the Concord lifestyle.]

If Don Salvio Pacheco stood in the middle of Todos Santos Plaza today, he would not believe what has risen from his 1834 land grant. Residents bustle through the restaurants and shops around the plaza, the hum of BART trains echo in the distance, and silver high-rise buildings glisten in the warm spring sun.

Concord in 2014 is a far cry from the Pacheco 17,921-acre “rancho.” With a population of more than 122,000, it is the largest city in Contra Costa County — and perhaps the most unique. Diversity drives the community, from the make-up of its residents to the businesses represented. And it has weathered economic upheavals and the changing dynamics of the East Bay to evolve into more than a bedroom community for San Francisco, but as a job center, business destination and patchwork community of close-knit neighborhoods.

The Rancho

Don Salvio’s original land grant, the “Monte del Diablo,” covered the Diablo Valley from the Walnut Creek channel east to the hills and generally from the Mt. Diablo foothills westward. (The name “Monte del Diablo” originally had been used by Spanish soldiers to describe a dense thicket — monte — of willows at the north end of the valley. The soldiers believed the thicket was possessed by evil, devilish Man spirits, hence the name “Monte del Diablo” or thicket of the devil.)

Don Salvio’s son, Fernando Pacheco, was sent to occupy the grant and begin cattle operations on the Pacheco’s new Rancho. Don Salvio’s daughter, Maria Dolores Manuela, married Don Francisco Galindo.

For a while, a new town called Pacheco, adjacent to the Rancho, prospered as an industrial center, but it suffered because of fires, flooding and the 1868 earthquake. It was then that Don Salvio Pacheco, his son Fernando, and his son-in-law Francisco Galindo created a new town at the center of their Rancho. They called their new town Todos Santos (All Saints), and, in 1869, offered lots free to the merchants and residents of Pacheco. Its perimeter was marked by Bonifacio Street on the northwest, East Street on the northeast, Contra Costa Street on the southeast, and Galindo Street on the southwest.

However, “Todos Santos” would not be the name for long. Within months after Todos Santos had been recorded as the official name, “Concord” was heralded by the Contra Costa Gazette as the actual name. Fernando Pacheco was not happy with the change.

By 1879, the town had grown to 300, and doubled by 1905, when incorporation of the “Town of Concord” was approved by a local two-vote margin.

That ushered in a sleepy time for the community, which was still an agricultural center. It was a slice of small-town America, and at the start of WWII, featured a high school, a modern hospital, five churches, two railroads, a fine library, a nationally recognized central plaza, two cinemas, a full-service downtown commercial area, tree-lined streets, comfortable homes, and a population of only 1,400.

All that changed during and after the war, with the development of the Concord Naval Weapons Station and Port Chicago, both major hubs. After the war, the population boomed, and by 1948 6,500 people called Concord home.

While that still seems like little more than a mere burg, it heralded the advent of the “new” Concord. Neighborhoods like Holbrook Heights sprung up, more schools were built, and diversity increased. While Concord always had a strong heritage from Spain and Mexico, many residents of Italian, Portuguese and other European decent began to move in, according to Carol Longshore, president of the Concord Historical Society.

“That diversity helped make Concord what it is today,” she says.

The real growth of the city, however, came in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, thanks to visionaries like Dean Lesher who saw the promise of an East Bay lifestyle. Freeways were built, and then BART, and the sleepy little blue-collar community of Concord was connected to the greater Bay Area.

Developers with names like Hofmann and Seeno built up neighborhoods, and the population soared. Some said the result was a hodge-podge, while others said the diversity of the neighborhoods reflect Concord’s strength, according to Longshore.

At the same time, commerce was coming, and coming quickly.

Retail moves in

When Sunvalley Mall was built in 1972, it changed the climate of business in sleepy Concord. While Concord had always been a tradesman town, now it had the opportunity to delve more into retail. When the nearby community of Pleasant Hill balked at having the shopping center, Concord officials annexed the property.

Between Sunvalley and the bustling Park n’ Shop center on Willow Pass Road, retail was becoming a major factor in Concord’s growth. It already was home to some of Chevron’s major offices, and the city’s location lent itself as a strong industrial hub. Meanwhile, its local businesses — the “mom-and-pop” stores supported by the neighborhoods — continued to thrive.

That diversity was a blueprint for the city’s economic success, says Concord Economic Development & Housing Manager John Montagh.

Montagh himself has seen the city weather several economic trials, including the 2008 recession and the loss of redevelopment funds, which had been critical to the city’s revitalization. Now, however, he echoes the words of Mayor Tim Grayson when he says, “Concord is back.”

“Our strength is that we are home to all types of businesses,” he says. “We have retail, industrial, small businesses, larger businesses, home-based businesses…we have something for all walks of life.”

Business is booming

Besides the continued retail success of Sunvalley, he says that recent restaurant openings in that area have opened the eyes of other business owners. “We have BJ’s, Lucille’s and Lazy Dog all doing a booming business,” he says. “Other restaurant owners are taking notice.”

The Park n’ Shop Center — sans a Park n’ Shop — is flourishing, with a diverse array of ethnic restaurants, grocery stores, clothing outlets and Fry’s Electronics, he says.

Meanwhile, smaller shopping centers in the neighborhoods are still enjoying the support of their neighbors, Montagh says.

The one area that is especially thriving is the Monument Corridor, he says, with its eclectic mix of ethnic restaurants and markets, stalwarts like Dolan’s Lumber, and “one of the most successful Costcos on the West Coast.”

Montagh also touts two city-business collaborations that are having a marked success in Concord’s economic vitality: The marketing of local car dealerships, and the creation of a tourism district by local hotels to attract more convention traffic.

“We have it all,” he says. “We have a great location at the junction of two freeways, two BART stations, and a business-friendly local government. Concord is poised to thrive.”

Add to that the development of downtown around Todos Santos Plaza and on the Concord Naval Weapons Station land, and this little Rancho is quickly becoming a world class city.

[Historical information provided by the Concord Historical Society and the City of Concord.]

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