The land that eventually became Downtown Redwood City was
once part of a vast Spanish ranchero owned by the Arguello
family used for grazing cattle and horses and for providing
missions in the area with supplies of food and animal hides.
When California became part of the United States, the redwoods
in the Santa Cruz Mountains were logged for construction to
the north in rapidly growing San Francisco.
a deep-water channel off the bay was discovered near what
is now Downtown Redwood City. A wharf or "embarcadero"
was established for shipping lumber to San Francisco. Initially,
the logs, cut from the redwood forests along the peninsula
skyline, were dragged overland by oxen teams. But the availability
of water transport greatly increased the efficiency of the
lumber trade. A small village consisting of the homes of laborers
connected with the redwood trade and supporting business sprang
up around the wharf.
the settlers did not own the land. The land was owned by Simon
Mezes, who had received the land as payment for successfully
defending the Arguello family’s title before the US
Land Commission in 1853. Rather than fight the fact that a
town had sprung up, Mezes ordered surveys and drew up a subdivision
map for a formal town, called it "Mezesville," and
told the people living on his property to pay for the lots
they were occupying or to get off the land and allow others
to buy. The standard price for a lot was $75.
map determined the streets and blocks of Downtown Redwood
City as we know them today. Before his efforts, the settlement
of squatters had been large and without shape or design. His
streets and property lines had to run through or around existing
buildings, but they provided the first orderly way of identifying
property. Although Redwood City has far outgrown Mezes' original
tract, the streets in that central area are still about as
he drew them. In time, the squatters reluctantly accepted
this situation, writing into their deeds such sour phrases
as "the so-called town of Mezesville" or "according
to the Mezesville map." However, they went on calling
their town Redwood, or Redwood Landing, and when they got
a post office in 1856, they called it Redwood City.
Mezes set aside two blocks for public use. One, at Marshall
and Winslow Streets, was called California Square and was
designed for a park. It is now occupied by the San Mateo County
Hall of Justice. The other, at Warren and Standish streets,
is still a neighborhood square, known as Mezes Park. These
blocks are believed to be the first property in California
donated for public use and recreation.
of its large business base, Redwood City was selected to become
the County Seat when San Mateo County was established in 1856.
When San Mateo County needed land for a courthouse, Mr. Mezes
offered to donate any block the county supervisors might select.
The block chosen was on Broadway between Hamilton and Middlefield,
where our courthouse is today. The first courthouse was ready
for occupation in 1858. Over the course of time, four courthouses
would be built on this block, including the current courthouse.
Soon, the town of Redwood City had become well-established.
Shipping activity along the wharf was heavy, mainly with lumber,
but also shingles, hay, and wheat. Other wharfside industries
were shipbuilding, blacksmithing, and later, several tanneries.
Support businesses for the wharf sprang up along what is now
Broadway and Main Streets.
coming of the railroad through Redwood City in 1863 also caused
profound changes. Land values spiraled upward and the Peninsula's
first commuters, wealthy San Franciscans, came south to build
large homes. Many town improvements were made, most importantly
to roads, leading the citizens to petition for incorporation
in 1867. The State of California approved the incorporation,
and Redwood City became the first incorporated city in San
Mateo County on March 27, 1868.
During the latter part of the 19th century, Redwood City
grew slowly. The town was basically self-contained, employing
most of its working populace in a diversity of activities.
The embarcadero remained the center of business activity,
but many of the townspeople also worked in government, education,
and farming. By the turn of the century, the lumber business
had moved out of the area, and other businesses like hotels
and general stores had taken its place.
San Francisco earthquake of 1906 displaced thousands of people,
and Redwood City welcomed them with open arms. Real estate
companies sprang up overnight, much like the shipping industry
had fifty years before. Many of the large estates west of
El Camino were subdivided and homes were constructed on smaller
Courthouse no. 3 had just been completed when the 1906 earthquake
struck. Damage was so extensive that only the dome and rotunda
section could be salvaged. During reconstruction, members
of the local Order of Oddfellows allowed the use of their
Hall on Main Street for county offices and a courtroom. Courthouse
no. 4 opened in 1910 and still occupies the block donated
1920, the population had increased to 5,500 residents, some
of whom were now commuting to jobs outside of Redwood City.
Local industries were still the mainstay of the town's employment,
however, including tanneries, nurseries, small manufacturing
plants, and fruit canneries.
As development continued, the hub of commercial activity
shifted west to El Camino and Broadway. The creek in downtown
silted in and the port of Redwood City was moved further out
towards the bay, to its present location. A deep-water channel
was dredged to serve the Leslie Salt Company, the Pacific-Portland
Cement Company, and the Alaska Codfish Company.
Redwood City exploded in population following World War II.
The town expanded outward annexing territory toward the Bay
and inland toward the Santa Cruz Mountains. As San Mateo County
grew rapidly in population, the county government built many
large institutional buildings in the downtown area. During
the 1980s and 1990s, the community made many civic improvements
downtown. A new main fire station was built on Marshall Street
in 1987, historical Fire Station no. 1 was restored and converted
into the main library branch in 1988, and a beautiful new
City Hall was completed in 1997. The small hamlet of just
a few acres has now expanded to over 19 square miles and over
75,000 people, but Downtown is still the heart of the community.
1. Redwood City Historic Tours, a guide
to Redwood City's most notable historic properties.
2. La Peninsula, Journal of the San Mateo County Historical
Association, May 1967, vol. xiv, no. 2.