This is the story of Alvarado. It is told through the use of newspaper clippings and short articles, from published histories and the Internet. It covers the period from 1850 to January 14, 1959 when Alvarado became a district of Union City. It is the story of every day events and people according to the time where they took place. None by themselves are particularly earth shattering or worthy of national attention. But they are the story of Alvarado and if you are not consumed with an overwhelming curiosity of Alvarado's history I would suspect that it would make for very dull reading.

I grew up in Alvarado in the 1940's and I was always filled with a curiosity about what Alvarado was like 100 years before I was born (1941). I was raised on a farm on the outskirts of town near the intersection of Santa Maria Drive and San Rafael Way in the Casa Verde tract. Back then San Rafael Way was known as Fair Ranch Road and it ran from Alvarado Boulevard east to Alameda Creek. But today the only portion of old Fair Ranch Road still so named is between Alvarado Boulevard east to the SP railroad tracks. Santa Susanna Way and San Rafael Way are strips of old Fair Ranch Road renamed.Read More

I remember I could step outside our back door and look for miles in any direction. To the west I could see the strip of Poplar Lombardi trees T. P. Harvey planted along Alvarado-Centerville Road in front of his home. I could also see the Southern Pacific railroad tracks behind the Harvey home as it headed south and then disappeared into the distance at Hall Station as the tracks headed for Newark. I used to like to watch the little steam trains puff along pulling their load. One day I counted over 110 boxcars pulled by a single steam engine.

Looking south I could see the George Harvey home, now a park on Falcon Drive. When I was a young lad I used to look at the tall trees that surrounded the George Harvey home and they appeared about as near to me as the moon. Even when I was at the southern end of our property on what would be today's San Andreas Drive; the Harvey home still seemed far away.

Looking southeast I could see the always-present pall of smoke pouring from the stacks of the steel mill in Niles. In the early 50's smog was a new term to us. Not many people paid any attention to the environment in those days; the steel mill was an important industry in our area and offered good paying jobs.

To the east I could see the tree-lined Alameda Creek from the south near Lowry Road all the way around me northwest to Smith Street with the sugar mill in the background. Perched on a hill due east of me I could plainly see the Masonic Home in Decoto.

To northwest I could see the giant smoke stack of the Holly Sugar mill. I can remember that at about 3:00 pm, if the wind was blowing in the right direction and the sugar mill was working, it smelled like they were making Cracker Jacks. I would stop the tractor or lean on a hoe for a moment and just savor the smell.

In those days homes were sparse in Alvarado except for downtown. The same was true for the rest of Washington Township. Between Tennyson Road to the north of Alvarado south to Warm Springs, all was open farmland or marshes except for the eight towns that made up the township. Over the decades the towns may have grown to some extent, but the farmland density remained almost unchanged. Hence, until the early 1960's the change in population density went largely unnoticed.

Washington Township was comprised of eight sister towns: Alvarado, Decoto, Centerville, Niles, Mission San Jose, Warm Springs, Newark and Irvington. There was also the Alviso District, which was really not a town but occupied a space roughly equivalent to any of the eight regular towns. As separate towns go we were quite close, tied together by two common threads. The first and most important was Washington Union High School where the ten or so elementary schools of the township all sent their graduates. The second reason was subtler; we were a confederation of farm towns in an ever-increasing sea of urbanization, with the metro-plexes of Oakland/Hayward to the north and San Jose/Santa Clara to the south.

The impact of the high school can be shown by its geographical footprint. Washington Union High School served the township south of Rosseau Street in Fairway Park in Hayward to the Milpitas City line and from the foothills to the bay. It did so through the graduating class of 1959 until the opening of James Logan High School in Union City in 1960.

Life was certainly different in the 40's, 50's and 60's (my era) than it is today. Back then Alvarado was lucky to have 1,300 souls. Alvarado grew in small town fashion, that is, if you lived in Alvarado in the 1890's and came back to visit in the 1940's there would be a few more people and some new buildings, but it was still recognizable as Alvarado. Even if the density of people doubled in 100 years, it would be scarcely noticeable because there was still so much open room.

Living on the farm outside of Alvarado brought traveling salesmen to our door. Since a large percentage of farmers were immigrants and their wives did not drive the salesmen were welcomed. Cloverdale Creamery in Centerville delivered milk to our door as did the Peter Wheat Bakery delivered bread and bakery products to our door. Household products were delivered by the Raleigh man or the Watkins man. We had a fish man, a meat man and a guy that brought clothes and miscellaneous goods to us in the back of his panel truck. From him I got the coveralls and high top shoes I wore to school until the fifth grade. Henry Miller Dry Cleaners used to pick up and deliver. Anyone else? Yes, Dr. Guy J. Romito, a young Doctor from Centerville once made a house call when I was very sick in the early 50's. As for groceries my father would drive my mother to Centerville to shop at the Safeway store behind the SP Train Depot on Peralta Boulevard once a week.

If one looks back at old maps of Alvarado you will notice that in a 60-year period up until 1959 only one new street was added to downtown Alvarado. That was Granger Avenue next to Alvarado Grammar School. On the outskirts of town Fair Ranch Road, Hall Ranch Road and Hop Ranch Road were either added to or completed in the 1900's. At the end this preface are two Alvarado Maps dated 1899 and 1959. During that 60 year period there are virtually no changes to downtown Alvarado streets.

As you read through this work you will find recurring themes. One is the sugar mill, the second is the grammar school, the third is water (too much, or too little), and fourth is socializing amongst the people in town. By the time I went to high school in the fifties Alvaradan's were referred to, good naturedly by the denizens of our sister cities, as the "mud hens" or "country hicks."

One final note: The term "Old Alvarado" is often heard in town. What does it mean? Is it a certain decade? After completing this work I have determined that "Old Alvarado" was the town you grew up with. It could be any decade from the 1850's to the 1960's.

Anthony Gualco