A History of the Livermore Area

This is a draft of my introduction for my Public History Project titled Livermore 1930-1970 Any comments of suggestions on how to make this a better piece of public history would be most appreciated. Thank you all for your input.

Livermore Growth and Development


(Above) An Ariel View Of Livermore c. 1960- Just as development was beginning in earnest.


Between about 1930 and 1970 Livermore went through a whole host of changes; some of these changes are still visible and some are not. The boom in population was visible during this period of time while the long term impact of the explosion in Livermore was not as visible. In 1930 the population of Livermore reached a little over 3,000 residents, by 1950 the population jumped to about 4,300, and following in 1965 Livermore had 25,300 people within approximately 25 square miles. So what are the origins of the citys unrelenting growth and what did it mean for Livermore?

What Drove Growth?

There are several explanations for Livermore’s growth spurt and subsequent “Baby Boom”. The most often cited explanation is the arrival of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and the Sandia Corporation in the early 1950s. These two institutions brought employees and their families into Livermore’s housing developments, public and private schools, and forced the expansion of everything from the police force to the sewer system. However, even before the 1950s Livermore was growing. In other words, the laboratories and the subsequent baby boom were not the real beginning or even close to the end of Livermore’s population growth.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) Projects of the 1930s did much to revitalize Livermore’s infrastructure and attract residents. Moreover, the 1940s saw growth in Livermore’s businesses with the help of the naval personnel passing through the town on their way to and from the


Livermore Air Navel Station (the future home of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory) while awaiting deployment overseas during World War II. In short, Livermore was consistently growing (albeit much slower) prior to the post-war suburbanization of California and the Tir-Valley area.

Livermore The Paradox

Today, Livermore is larger and more diverse in its economy and culture than it once was. But what is the significance of these changes? Livermore is actually quite the paradox. Livermore has the charm of a small town complete with small businesses and a yearly rodeo and as well as a performance theatre, arts association, and a population with an above average level of education according to U.S. census figures. This diverse group may have came to Livermore during its postwar population boom, but the laboratory pioneers and subsequent arrivals built and have sustained an upper middleclass community and guided its policy of responsible growth since the early 1950s.


Simultaneously, there are many successful ranchers that are at the forefront of their industry and enjoy the same hills as the ranchers who called Livermore home prior to the postwar boom or even before California was a state. Moreover, there is a long history of wineries and viticultural families with wine labels still bearing their names. It seems as though the period between the 1930s and the 1960s cemented the seemingly paradoxical nature of Livermore. On the one hand you have a rural lifestyle with ranching and viticulture tradition—always with a nod to tradition and local history—though on the other hand you have a metropolis city—a city that has track homes, numerous shopping centers and a school system that grew to accommodate the 1950s American Dream and beyond. Looking in from the outside it seems odd and we start asking what kind of place is Livermore?

The Goals of a History Via Images

The goal of this work is to recount a partial history using images from Livermore’s storied past. Within each chapter there exists both a modern city and a small town that slowly takes the form of the city we know today. More importantly, as each image passes, it becomes apparent that there is no need to reconcile Livermore’s transformational paradox between 1930s and 1960s. During one of the most unprecedented population booms in American history, Livermore embraced the past and looked forward to a progressive future. Arguably and ironically, Livermore’s long time residents embraced the coming changes, while new suburbanites wanted to buy into Livermore’s romantic past and protect it by enacting development laws. In short, seemingly opposite generations and ways of life have grown Livermore as a community while still paying respect to the past that exists in the schools, civic institutions, and fraternal clubs (just to name a few) of the city.

Between the 1930s and 1960s Livermore grew at an unforeseeable pace. However, in this book we see that when Livermore’s history is broken into the historical fragments of these photographs a much more nuanced impression of the areas growth appears. Instead of looking back holistically, these images allow both a peak into the past as well as Livermore’s future.

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