The Shell Western States Federal Credit union was born over 70 years ago in Martinez, the Contra Costa County Seat. Over the years the county has grown significantly, with Martinez maintaining its leadership role in addition to its colourful history. The city was named after Don Ignacio Martinez de la Vega, who received land grants from the Mexican government for his military service. His long and eventful career started as an officer of Spain and ended as Comandante of the Presidio at Yerba Buena (aka San Francisco). His career also included Mayor of San Francisco, Mayor of San Jose, the Mexican officer who established the Sonoma Mission (San Francisco de Solano), who decommissioned the Mission of San Rafael, and who laid out the town of San Rafael. His Rancho el Pinole stretched for 17 miles, from the present-day towns of Pinole to Pacheco. Over the years, the county evolved from slow-paced Californio ranch luxury to hectic Westward expansion, the Gold Rush madness, agricultural centre with wine growing region, industry growth, and finally to suburbs with a significant commuter activity.
Martinez and County roots in history are well documented as evidenced by the samples below.
- Three Alhambra Valley farmers, neighbours, and friends, all named “John”, who were destined to become giants in each of their respective fields.
- John Muir, the Scottish born naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, botanist, zoologist, glaciologist, and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States of America. Sometimes described as a “hippy” who befriended the American President and became Father of the National Park system. He also founded the Sierra Club and the National Audubon Society.
- Dr. John Strentzel, the Polish born physician who came to America to avoid the Russian draft and gained fame as an experimental horticulturalist. He became recognized as the Father of California Horticulture. He was also John Muir’s father-in-law.
- John Swett, the New Hampshire teacher who was lured by the Gold Rush and stayed to become Father of the California Public School System. He promoted free public education and founded the California Teachers’ Association.
- Joseph Walker was one of the most noted Mountain Men in American history. He guided the first wagon train over the Sierras and is reportedly the first Anglo-American to view Yosemite Valley. He retired to his family base of Manzanita Ranch in Contra Costa County and is buried in the Martinez Pioneer Cemetery.
- “Joltin Joe” DiMaggio, one of the most famous baseball players in American history, was born in Martinez. Many family members, old friends and his boat are still in town. He is enshrined in Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Coopersville and still holds the record for most consecutive hits. He is also famous for his “off the field” moves with wife, Hollywood Legend Marilyn Monroe. His namesake, “The Joltin Joe”, that sleek pleasure boat gifted from New York Yankee fans can still be seen at the Martinez marina.
- Tree City USA: In sync with its agricultural and deep naturalist roots, Martinez qualified and was included into The Arbor Foundation’s National “Tree City USA” program. Also, note that its geographic location in Contra Costa County is fairly surrounded by water and/or regional open space. e.g. Martinez Regional Shoreline on the North; Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline stretching West; Water bird Regional Preserve and McNabney Marsh bordering Martinez to the East; and Briones Regional Park bordering the Alhambra Valley to the South. The county is dominated by Mount Diablo State Park, often reputed to have one of the largest viewsheds in the world. More than half of the County is under environmental protection.
- Cheers: Martinez is recognized as the birthplace of the martini. As one story goes a thirsty goldminer wanted to celebrate his goldmine success with a bottle of champagne. Because the saloon had no champagne the bartender, Julio Richilieu, offered to fix a “Martinez Special.” Gin, Vermouth, bitters, and an olive. Another story claims it was a newsman who spread the word and shortened the name to Martini.
- Bocce Ball: Martinez is the Bocce Ball capital of the United States, home to the largest bocce federation in America.
- Transportation: Martinez from the earliest days was a centre of transportation and communication. It built the first ferry in the West and the biggest in the world at the time. Many ferries followed because it was a “commuter” seaport of note for over 100 years. It was also a pony express, and a stagecoach stop. Once the parallel Carquinez bridges were built, the ferry was replaced by heavy freeway and train traffic.