Author on city's history to discuss new book
By Lou Fancher
Everyone knows that things have been shaking in San Ramon. Hundreds of recent small earthquake clusters arriving at a record pace have rattled the community the past few weeks. Looking back in history, U.S Geological Survey reports include 56 small quakes in 2003; eight days filled with 183 tremors in 2002; and a record-setting swarm of 634 shakers in 1990 followed later the same year by 674 quakes in nearby Alamo.
But San Ramon's history of groundbreaking movement is more than geological. Although the city is today most often recognized for its thriving business park, strong schools and safe, family-friendly communities, many residents don't know the zigzag path of San Ramon's past. Without a storyteller, the influence on the area of the Ohlone Indians, Hispanic ranchers and Gold Rush settlers could be forever lost.
Fading memories might erase accounts of early agriculture or post-World War II population expansion that exploded after 1970 to result in the roughly 79,000 people living in San Ramon today. Among them, few would recall that the city once bore the unofficial and unfortunate name "Lynchville," for William Lynch, the village's postmaster from 1876 to 1883. A horse ride from San Francisco before the railroads were built took five hours.
Enter Beverly Lane, the reluctant but perfectly suited author of a new book, "San Ramon Chronicles, Stories of Bygone Days" (History Press). The 192-page volume delves into the city's history in a swift moving tale that mirrors California's development from a Wild West frontier through a sometimes checkered trajectory to vibrant urban and rural communities. Lane will talk about her book at a forum Monday at the Roundhouse Conference Center in San Ramon.
"I didn't really want to write this book," says Lane. "But last fall, seeing there wasn't a full history readily available, I realized I was the one who'd have to write it. I wanted to share what was in my files and my memory. I needed to write it because I had a perspective that was hard-fought."
Lane was the founding president and is the curator of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley. Her published works include books on San Ramon Valley, historic Danville and the area's railroads. The former Danville council member and three-time mayor has served on the board of directors for the East Bay Regional Park District since 1994.
Growing up in Orange County's Santa Ana, Lane read everything she could lay her hands on, especially mysteries and histories. Her favorite escape was straight out the backdoor and beyond a gate, where avocado and orange orchards were her playground.
"I still remember the liberating feeling and being away from everyone," she says. "That must be why I love to hike and ride my bike through our parks. I'll look for activities like the Niles Canyon 'Roll and Stroll.' Riding a narrow corridor, relying only on my bike; that was my star experience in the last couple of months."
Lane's interest in how cities are established dates back to a college course that included history, science, art and politics. Writing "San Ramon Chronicles," she says, took either 30 years or six months, depending on the viewpoint. "I started researching local government in the 1980s, and some interviews were done in the '90s. I pulled the disparate parts together starting last fall."
The city's history isn't "all sweetness and light," she cautions. "Indians were displaced and died of diseases. That happened all over the world. Reading about it gives a broader understanding of how this area relates to the big picture."
And learning of San Ramon's swift transition from a rural to an urban community might lead newcomers and other people to feel a more immediate sense of connection, she suggests. "Reading about the history will help. It could change their actions. Hopefully, they'd read local news, decide to energize and volunteer. That kind of action springs from people who have a sense of community."
Lane says early city planners in the years after 75 percent of the voters approved incorporation in 1983 did "remarkably well" planning parks and school fields. But she says protection for ridgelines and open spaces were not a priority for early city councils. "They were more interested in accommodating the growth that came to them."
Of the challenges ahead, she says the greatest is integrating the two populations that formed as the city grew from its south and north ends. A unified city, she says, will preserve the truth of the local radio jingle printed on the back cover of her book. "Live in lovely San Ramon ... city-close, country-quiet," she sings, admitting she can't recall the exact tune but never forgetting the jingle's message.