Reported in Tri-Valley Herald
March, 2001

Preservation of
Livermore's Past

The Livermore Heritage Guild has a dream - that the city's treasured historic buildings can be preserved to remember our past. Keeping this dream alive is the group's treasurer, Malvern Sweet, whose family moved to Livermore in the mid-1800s, when kids rode horses to school and city streets were just dirt roads. The group's mission is to encourage new growth in Livermore while maintaining the grand old structures that harken back to an age of innocence.

 Heritage Guild preserves city's historic gems

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."


Livermore's past is a sweet treasure for this man

By Beth Jensen

You can't get much more Livermore than Malvern Sweet.

Born in Livermore in 1919, Sweet has experienced a good bit of the history he works to preserve as treasurer of the Livermore Heritage Guild.

As one of the organization's most senior members, he recalls life in a what was then a very small, rural town.

"My father was born in Livermore," he said. "My great-grandfather had come here and settled in 1868 in the Altamont Hills. We lived on Almond Avenue, which was a little dirt lane. East Avenue was an unpaved, tree-lined country road."

Sweet, who would grow up to be a teacher at Marylin Avenue School and a principal at junction Avenue and Sonoma schools, himself attended the Fifth Street School in Livermore.

"As change comes by, we want a balance between saving certain aspects of the past without interfering with progress."

--- Malvern Sweet
Livermore Heritage Guild treasurer

Most of the kids rode bikes to school, he said, but some came by pony or drove horse-drawn carts, stabling their horses in a barn shelter across from the school on Seventh Street.

Sweet joined the Heritage Guild back in the 1970s, partially to share his store of local knowledge, and also to rub elbows with those who shared similar memories."I just had a general interest in the town's history," he said. "Some members of the guild were asking for recollections, and it was interesting. I enjoy recalling things of the past and staying connected to people who are part of my era."

Yet Sweet doesn't focus exclusively on the past. The Heritage Guild succeeds by striking a balance between a preservation of the past and a recognition of the future, he said.

"As change comes by, we want a balance between saving certain aspects of the past without interfering with progress," he said. "We want to give a second thought to destroying things, and maintain the features that are worth preserving."

Both long-time residents and newcomers to Livermore should be interested in striking a balance between new growth and preservation of the city's past, he added.

"(The Heritage Guild) is important for a sense of history and the past, and for people to see how they fit into it," he said. "People who move (have always) had to adapt to new situations, and people already there have to help guide change so both sides, can co-exist."


Heritage Guild to host annual auction
May 26, 2001

The Livermore Heritage Guild will host its annual auction May 26 at the Lincoln Highway (Duarte) Garage, located at North L Street and Portola Avenue.

The evening will also include an auction preview and dinner.

The Heritage Guild meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month upstairs at the Carnegie Building, 2155 Third St. Meetings are open to the public.

The Guild's History Center at the Carnegie Building is open from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Historic photographs, documents and artifacts are featured.

For more information on the Heritage Guild, call 449-9927 or log onto the group's Web site at

March 14, 2001
Update: April 1, 2001