Tracy History

East 9th St. -1901

Tracy: a gateway city
By Sam Matthews, Publisher Emeritus, The Tracy Press

Tracy's geographic location has long influenced the area's history and development, even before there was a Tracy.

Located on the southern edge of the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and at the base of the Altamont Hills, Tracy is a gateway between the Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area. In fact, this area has been a crossroads and transportation hub for the native American Indians, Spanish explorers, Mexican ranchers, European settlers, railroad workers and highway travelers.

First inhabitants
For centuries before European settlers came to Central California, native Americans, mostly Yokuts Indians, camped in villages on the edge of Delta marshlands during the summer. They retreated to higher ground near the foothills during the winter and spring, when Sierra snows melted and vast areas of the San Joaquin Valley were flooded.

A Yokuts burial ground was unearthed in the late 1930s near the Holly Sugar factory. Indian artifacts were recovered as evidence of the lives led by these peaceful hunters, gatherers and fishermen who were among the half million natives of California.

The coming of Spanish explorers and missionaries, many traveling over El Camino Viejo through Corral Hollow Canyon as early as 1767, spelled doom for area natives. Beginning in 1810, many natives were rounded up for work and conversion at the missions across the hills to the west. Europeans brought diseases that decimated the native population within several decades.

Explorers followed
Explorers and trappers from the early United States followed. After California became part of Mexico in 1822, a few Mexicans and Americans purchased land from the Mexican government or were awarded land grants.

One such grant was El Rancho Pescadero (''ranch of the fisherman'' in Spanish), awarded to Manuel Antonio Pico. The southern boundary of the 35,000-acre parcel is now Grant Line Road. Pico later was forced to sell half of his property to John C. Fremont, an American general and explorer, and the other half to Henry M. Naglee, a lawyer from Santa Clara.

Following the Mexican-American War of 1848 and admission of California to the Union in 1850, river landings were established at Wickland and Mohr's Landing northwest of Tracy and at San Joaquin City (near Durham Ferry Road) to the southeast.

Miners heading to the Mother Lode gold diggings crossed the San Joaquin River at Mossdale. A stage station established nearby became Banta when purchased by Henry Banta in 1864.

Pioneer dry-land farmers, including John Chrisman from Pennsylvania, Henry Bird from England and George Kasson from Connecticut, settled east of Tracy. Many of the settlers to the west and south were from the plains of northern Germany, where wheat and barley were grown. They included Frederick Von Sosten, Peter Hansen, Martin and Dietrich Lammers, George Thoming, George Steinmetz, Henry Fisk, Freny Huck and Thomas Ohm. Some left their names on Tracy area roads, and their descendants still live in Tracy.

Railroad arrives
In 1869, Tracy's geographic location came into play again. The Central Pacific Railroad completed its line over the Altamont Pass, connecting with tracks laid south from Sacramento. Completion of the railroad bridge at Mossdale in 1899 was actually the last link in the trans-continental railroad, not the gold spike at Promontory, Utah.

After the tracks were laid, a coaling station named Ellis was established on the Altamont line, just west of Corral Hollow Road. Locomotives to help trains over the hills were added to westbound trains and removed from eastbound runs. Houses, hotels and saloons all built of wood sprang up at Ellis.

In 1878, a new Central Pacific line extending south from Martinez along the west side of the valley intersected the Altamont line some three miles east of Ellis. In September of that year, most of the wooden buildings in Ellis were loaded onto horse-drawn wagons and transported to the new junction, and Tracy was born.

The name of the new town was given by J.L. Stewart, the project's Central Pacific construction engineer, in honor of Lathrop Josiah Tracy, a grain merchant in Mansfield, Ohio. Lathrop Tracy was part owner of the Sandusky, Mansfield and Newark Railroad, where Stewart had once worked. Apparently, the younger Stewart admired Tracy so much that he named the new town for him. Ironically, Lathrop Tracy never saw the town in faraway California that was named for him.

For years, there was some conjecture that the city of Lathrop also was named for Lathrop Tracy. A more-likely explanation is that the town was named for the family of Jane Lathrop Stanford, wife of Leland Stanford, one of the Central Pacific's ''Big Four'' owners who established Lathrop as a railroad center.

Streets laid out
Tracy's early businesses were stores, hotels and saloons on Front Street (now Sixth Street). SP engineers designed the city in a grid from 6th to 11th streets. Business buildings were rebuilt after major fires in 1898 and 1911.

Tracy became a free-wheeling and somewhat bawdy town with card rooms, slot machines, Chinese lotteries and several brothels, including the famous ''Hazel's.'' Some called Tracy ''Poker City.''

With its economy rooted in the railroad and dry-land farming, Tracy continued to grow.
In 1894, the roundhouse at Lathrop moved to Tracy. In 1910, Tracy became a division point where crews of the railroad (renamed Southern Pacific) changed.
Toward the end of the 19th century, coal was mined at Tesla in Corral Hollow Canyon. Later, a brick and pottery works was built at Carnegie, farther east in the canyon just west of Site 300 using clay from the Tesla mine.

The canyon's population ballooned to nearly 2,000 residents before the brick works, which produced many of the bricks that rebuilt San Francisco after the earthquake and fire of 1906, was closed just before World War I.

Tracy became an incorporated city on July 10, 1910, following a bitter incorporation campaign spearheaded by the Tracy Board of Trade, now known as the Tracy Chamber of Commerce. Abe Grunauer, a partner in the Fabian Grunauer Co., Tracy's leading mercantile and grain-trading firm, was named the first mayor. The first City Hall, now Fire Station No. 1, was completed in 1917.

Schools opened
In 1912, Willow School gave way to Tracy School (later Central School) on Central Avenue. That same year, the West Side Union High School District was formed (later to become Tracy Joint Union High School District). The high school's first building, now the West Building, was completed in 1917, and the campus has been expanded several times since.

The face of dry-land farming (wheat and barley planted in the early winter and harvested in May and June) began to change in the years before World War I. Water from rivers began to be pumped into canals for irrigation.

The Naglee Burk Irrigation District north of Tracy became the first in the Tracy area in 1912, followed by the West Side Irrigation District in 1915 and Banta Carbona Irrigation District in 1921.

Larger acreages that had been used to produce non-irrigated wheat and barley were split up into smaller farms, and sole reliance on grains gave way to raising dry beans, alfalfa, hay, corn, sugar beets and even some tomatoes. Dairies, many operated by new arrivals from the Azores, started producing milk for creameries, including Dairy Maid in Tracy.

Holly Sugar built

In 1917, what is now the Holly Sugar factory was built. Increased plantings of apricots, almonds and walnuts continued, and tomatoes developed into a major crop.

In the 1920s and '30s, highway travel became a burgeoning mode of transportation, and again Tracy's geography, as it was in the heyday of the railroad, was a factor in Tracy's growth. The road over the Altamont Pass was widened and named Highway 50, and Highways 33 and 132 came into existence, connecting Tracy to the West Side and Modesto.

As highway travel increased, restaurants, service stations and motels began cropping up on 11th Street. Between 11th Street and the SP tracks, Central Avenue became Tracy's busiest business street. In 1927, a campaign of selling stock in the Tracy Hotel Corp. to residents resulted in completion of the Tracy Inn at Central Avenue and 11th Street.

War boosts railway

The coming of World War II boosted activity of the Southern Pacific, and in 1942, the Tracy Sub Depot of the California Quartermaster Depot 12 warehouses and other buildings was completed on a 448-acre triangular-shaped piece of ground southeast of Tracy.

The depot became a major employer, and, after becoming Defense Depot Tracy in 1963, it was renamed Defense Distribution Region West, Tracy Depot. It is Tracy's single-largest employer, but in 1997, officials announced a major layoff, because they are consolidating services at a new personnel headquarters in Ohio.

In 1945, the H.J. Heinz Co. factory was built, going into full production in 1946 as tomato-growing blossomed in the Tracy area. The factory was expanded, and when the Berkeley factory was closed in 1956, the Heinz West Coast headquarters was moved here. Expanded warehousing facilities and tomato-processing capacity were added, and the Heinz plant celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1996. In April of 1997, Heinz announced its decision to close its Tracy plant, citing the higher cost of producing a bottle of ketchup in Tracy and plant inefficiency.

The Tracy Pumping Plant and Delta-Mendota Canal of the Central Valley Project were placed into operation in 1951, and the pumping plant and California aqueduct of the California Water Project were dedicated by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, in 1967.

As agriculture continued to develop and diversify, other employment bases began to be developed in the Tracy area. Deuel Vocational Institution and American Reinforced Paper Co. (Fortifiber) were opened in 1953.

Glass plant opens
The closing of the SP roundhouse and shops in the late 1950s after the switch from steam to diesel locomotives was offset somewhat by the opening of the Owens-Illinois (now Owens-Brockway) glass-container plant in 1962. Laura Scudder's snack-food factory was opened in 1964 and closed in 1989.

Leprino Cheese Co. was opened in 1975 to become the largest cheese factory in California, specializing in mozzarella cheese, and Owens-Illinois opened a corrugated-box plant in south Tracy in 1980. It is now operated by Inland Container. Celotex opened its sheathing plant later in 1980.

Warehousing and distribution operations have been major industrial growth elements in the Tracy area in recent years. Yellow Freight opened its regional terminal in Tracy in 1991, the same year that Market Wholesale began operations at his new Tracy facility, complete with refrigerated and freezer facilities. After Orchard Supply Hardware opened its Tracy distribution center, Safeway's Northern California distribution center, with an under-roof area the size of 19 football fields, opened in 1992 at Schulte and Hansen roads west of Tracy. Cosco opened a warehouse nearby later in the year.

Tracy Community Memorial Hospital, constructed with contributions from Tracy residents, was opened in December 1948. It has undergone several major expansion programs, including a multi-story expansion project. In 1993, the hospital affiliated with Sutter Health of Sacramento.

The City of Tracy, which annexed Parker Acres the area from Eaton Avenue north to Grant Line Road in 1944, adopted the council-manager form of government in 1954. The city used old Central School on Central Avenue as a City Hall from 1947 to 1961, when the building was condemned as an earthquake hazard. World War II housing units in Wainwright Village were used for city offices until the present city hall was completed in 1973.

The city faced major sewage-treatment problems in the late 1960s and early '70s and passed a $2 million bond issue used with federal and state funds to build a new sewage-treatment plant in 1977. The plant had to be retrofitted, and then it was enlarged again in 1987 to accommodate additional growth.

After contracting with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for water to augment water pumped from wells, the city constructed a water-treatment plant at Tracy Municipal Airport in 1979. A new city corporation yard, Boyd Service Center, police facility and community center also were constructed during this period.

In 1996, Tracy's new police facility opened in its new Civic Center on 11th Street.

Freeway triangle built
A new dimension to Tracy's transportation tradition was added in the 1960s and '70s when major stretches of interstate freeways were completed, forming a freeway triangle.

The first leg completed was Interstate 580 along the foothills, placed into service in 1964. Interstate 205 originally called the ''North Tracy Bypass'' was completed in 1970, and Interstate 5 east of Tracy became the triangle's last leg in 1971.

Over the years, more and more Tracyites have driven to jobs in the East Bay and South Bay, using the eight-lane Altamont Pass section of Interstate 580 as a pathway. Again, Tracy's location was a major factor. With Bay Area housing costs among the highest in the nation, more and more families sought affordable housing in the Central Valley. First stop: Tracy.

Housing booms
In 1984, the City of Tracy embarked on a major program of planning and financing the infrastructure needed for residential, commercial and industrial growth.

What came first was the 84-1 assessment district covering 1,400 acres of residential property and 700 of industrial land to finance expansion of the sewage-treatment plant . It was followed by an assessment district to pay for expansion of the water-treatment plant.

Development fees for city facilities and a Mello-Roos assessment district, paid by homeowners, were added to the package to provide $150 million in public improvements, including the financing of new schools.

In 1988, the build-out of housing units in some 18 subdivisions started at a rate of 1,200 units per year, scheduled to add 7,100 housing units and some 20,000 new residents over the six years. The housing slump that developed in 1990 reduced the pace of home-building in Tracy, but there are now signs of a comeback.

Tracy's population was estimated at 33,558 in the census of 1990, an 82 percent increase over the 1980 census figure of 18,428. In 1992, Tracy's population was estimated at 38,000 by the state Department of Finance. Latest figures place Tracy's population of 46,047.

Tracy Public Schools, which once was the joint administration of the Tracy Joint Union High School District and Tracy Elementary School District, was established in 1962 and has been working at keeping pace with growth. New schools include Monticello in the Jefferson School District, and in the Tracy district, Villalovoz Elementary, Earle Williams Middle School, Jacobson Elementary, Poet-Christian Elementary, Bohn Elementary, West High School and, most recently, Wanda Hirsch Elementary. Voters approve unification of Tracy Joint Union High and Tracy Elementary school districts, effective in 1997.

Development of the 825,000-square-foot West Valley Mall, which opened in 1995, is the centerpiece of the Interstate 205 Corridor Project in north Tracy. Sears, the mall's newest anchor store, opened in 1997.

The Tracy Outlet Mall opened in 1994 at Interstate 205 and Grant Line Road and now is fully occupied and awaiting construction of a second phase.

Looking to the future, Tracy is poised for growth. Its Urban Management Plan, charting Tracy's growth during the next quarter century, foresees Tracy's population increasing to 162,345, with six major community areas that will be the nucleus of growth along with contiguous growth outward from Tracy.

At the same time, plans are moving forward for a new town just west of Tracy. Mountain House is scheduled to include more than 4,000 acres of land between Patterson Pass Road and the Alameda County line.

From the Tracy Press, April 1997 (reprinted by permission)