Toasting Pinole Valley
T H E B E ST G R E E N D E A L I N T H E C I T Y ’ S H I STORY
By George R. Vincent, Co-founder Pinole Historical Society
Are you new to Pinole, or have you been living here with no
time to delve into its rich history?
History can easily become a casualty of our hurry-up society
of texting mania and drive-through fast foods. When your kids
ask for homework help with a Pinole history assignment, do
you embarrassingly have to tell them to go ask mom or dad, or
grandma or grandpa? Well, help is on the way. This historical
tour will give you a thumbnail introduction to one of our
community’s historical pillars. Perhaps it will even give you a
more satisfactory mental high than your Starbucks Espresso
Pinole’s roots extend in many directions. However, to appreciate
the town’s beginnings and growth, we must look to the rural
Pinole Valley hinterland.
An 1880s history book described Pinole as “The little hamlet
by the pebbly bay, located at the mouth of the beautiful valley
by the same name.” By the 1920s, a local contest officially
nicknamed Pinole “The Sunkissed Gem by the Bay.”
The San Pablo Bay and Pinole Valley were to figure prominently
in Pinole’s population growth and attraction of residents.
Pinole’s yawn time as a sleepy village and the rural face of
Pinole Valley both ended with the opening of the I-80 freeway
in the late 1950s.
The freeway surgically cut Old Town Pinole from its supporting
farms and ranches. The new roadway provided job links to
nearby work locations, and almost overnight transformed Pinole
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into a suburban community with an explosive population
Cattle-grazing lands and tomato fields were replaced by tract
homes, as displaced ranchers sold to developers.
The Samuel Tennent family had laid out the town of Pinole
in blocks and lots in 1887.ˇHowever, large subdivisions were a
phenomena in Pinole.
In 1954 and 1955, Normandie Acres was developed near the
bay. Tara Hills began in 1951 and grew until the 1960s. By 1955,
Pinole Valley’s turn came.
Building took off between Pinole Valley Road and Pinole
Creek with the new Pinole Estates and long roads called Estates
Avenue and Ramona Drive.
By 1967, an even larger development of swank homes called
Silvercreek made the scene, having the unbelievable price tag in
the mid $30,000 range.
Frances Ellerhorst School was built in the valley in the early
1960s to accommodate the influx of new children. In 1967, the
new Pinole Valley High School was built on the site of the old
The old downtown Pinole School on the Hill, built in 1906,
served as the new junior high and was bursting at its green
seams with students.
Pinole Valley’s real claim to fame was its deserved recognition as
the starting place of Pinole’s history. The valley’s first subdivision
of sorts was actually a large rancho. Its name, Rancho El Pinole,
baptized the 18,000 acres in 1823 with a lasting name.
The area then was described as a wild and dangerous place,
with marauding Indians, deer, elk, and huge grizzly bears. Don
Ygnacio Martinez was granted the land for his 41 years of
service as a soldier on the California frontier.
The rancho was named after friendly Indians fed Spanish
soldiers in the region a mush-like mixture, a gruel made of
grains and acorns the soldiers called “Penole.” The food stuck to
their insides and the name stuck to the site.
Don Ygnacio built an adobe home in the valley in 1836 and
brought his wife, Maria, and his large family there from San Jose.
His family was to number 13 in all, with nine daughters and
two sons. For protection, a brass cannon was mounted by the
I-80 freeway collapse in Pinole 5-12-69