Reported in Tri-Valley
By Beth Jensen
If all you know about Livermore is what you see today, you don't really know Livermore.
Knodt's Flowers, at Second and K Streets, for example, isn't just a florist shop. It's where brothers Charles and Peter Raboli, around the turn of the century, bottled wine before loading it up in wagons to take to the coal mines on Tesla Road.
The old Duarte garage at North L and Portola Avenues? It's a transportation museum now, but in 1915 it was a much-appreciated way-stop on the Lincoln Highway, which passed through Livermore.
Motorists passing through town could stop at Frank Duarte's place to get gas or a needed car repair.
And how about that old Southern Pacific Railroad depot on South L Street near Railroad Avenue?
Before the train passed through town, goods had to be taken by wagon over the hill to Hayward or the San Joaquin River, a good 20 to 25-mile trip.
William Mendenhall knew a rail stop would bring traffic to the area, and so it did. Livermore was the economic center of the valley for years.
The Southern Pacific depot was built in 1892, but it was its near-destruction in 1973 that galvanized a group of Livermore residents into what is today an organization dedicated to preserving the city's rich history.
The Livermore Heritage Guild devotes itself to making sure the past isn't swept away by the future.
"We've got so many new people in town, and many don't stop to think, 'How old is this community? What does it represent, and what did it represent?' " said local historian and guild member Gary Drummond.
"This community is 125 years old, and until after the second World War it had a total of about 4,000-plus people.'
The Guild, which numbers about 260 members, got its start 27 years ago when resident and history buff Janet Newton took exception to a plan to tear down the Southern Pacific depot to clear space for a shopping center project.
An avid watercolorist, Newton enjoyed painting images of Livermore's old homes and buildings, and spent time researching the structures she painted so she could include the information on the back of her canvases.
As a collector of Livermore artifacts, she opposed the planned demolition and quickly gathered a group of concerned citizens to protest the action.
The actions of Newton, local historian Anna Siig and several others succeeded in saving the structure. They quickly decided to form their own association, separate from the existing Amador Livermore Valley Historical Society.
"The ALVHS was local in its scope, meaning the whole valley, but its main drive was in Pleasanton," Siig said. "We just felt there wasn't enough concern about what was happening, for instance, to that building in Livermore.
"Initially there was a lot of interest," Siig recalled. "I think it touched a nerve with long-time Livermore residents. There were people here in town who just jumped on, both local people who were born and raised here and newcomers."
Today the organization still includes both old-time residents and relative newcomers. Adhering to its motto "Help Save Yesterday for Tomorrow," members work to preserve historic buildings and collect and preserve local artifacts and archives.
Much of the information is housed at the guild's history center, located in the Carnegie Building at the corner of Third and K Streets.
The guild is a unique resource for those interested in the historic value of area structures, whether it's a family or contractor looking for information on a home, or a developer seeking information on an old barn.
Guild members --- often Gary Drummond or history center curator Barbara Bunshah --- also field questions from Livermore's Historic Preservation Commission, which investigates requests by individuals or developers who want to alter or demolish buildings built at least 50 years ago.
"Often with private homes, the property owners will know the history," said commission member Maryalice Faltings. "With commercial or quasi-public buildings, however, we've found the Heritage Guild is a good source. They have records that the city doesn't have."
While the heritage guild and the commission don't always see eye-to-eye, cooperation between the two entities has resulted in the salvaging of items of historic interest.
When the commission recently approved the demolition of two cottages on Maple Street near Livermore High School, the Heritage Guild requested and received permission to remove some windows and other features deemed historically significant by guild members.
When the old brick Crohare Bakery building on North L Street was demolished, guild members went in before the work and took some measurements.
"You can't save everything in town, but you can look at significant structures and significant cultural assets and say, 'That certainly should be saved,"' Drummond said. "(The Historic Preservation Commission) knows our business and we know theirs, and if there are items of interest on either calendar, we'll certainly show up at each other's meetings."
"The Guild's strength comes from its commitment to safeguard Livermore's oldest --- and not always best-known --- artifacts and buildings," said member Jerry Bireley, who was raised in Livermore.
'(The Guild) is the main source of history for Livermore," he said. "There are always people dedicated to the past, who appreciate our history; someone has to keep a watchful eye on what's being torn down and removed and the Guild is doing some really great work on that."
"The group is always looking for new members," said Guild chairman Tim Sage, who added that expertise in local history is not necessary.
Guild activities range from research to public education to hands-on renovation and maintenance, he said.
"I'm no history authority," he said with a laugh. "Originally I just fell in, but now I appreciate the connection to the people here. I know people around town, and I know a little about the town. we'd love to have other people come down, add their knowledge and participate."
"It's satisfying work to preserve the artifacts, archives and buildings that were vibrant parts of the city generations ago," Siig said.
"One of the things that was forgotten in years past is the value of old structures, and what they add to the visual landscape of the city," she said. "Because things move so fast, it's kind of nice to have something that stays the same."
March 14, 2001