Growth. It’s been the story in Davis for more than 50 years. From the late 1950s to 1970, the population of Davis tripled. Since 1970, it tripled again.
Yet, if you look at the first 50 years of Davis history, the surprising truth is that our town was born a runt and would not grow.
Davisville was founded by real estate investors in 1868. It was well-situated at the junction of an east-west rail line running from Sacramento to Vallejo and a northbound spur heading to Marysville via Woodland and Knights Landing. The area was full of world-class farm land. The state capital was only 15 miles away.
The five speculators who invented Davisville — from today’s B Street to J Street and from First Street to Fifth Street — were partners in the California Pacific Railroad.
Despite its promise, the Davisville map never changed from 1868 to 1913. In 1905, three years before the university opened for business, the population was just 750. Many lots created by the railroad had never been developed.
But then local businessmen — led by a former state legislator named George Washington Pierce Jr., who farmed land west of town and was in the second graduating class at UC Berkeley — convinced the state to situate its agricultural school here, and everything changed.
Davisville became Davis. William Scott, the owner of The Enterprise, decided to drop the suffix, because he believed -ville signified a small, unimportant town, and Davis was going to be big! It also cleared up confusion with Danville in Contra Costa County.
In 1908, classes at the university farm began. Five years later, the Davis map finally grew.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Bowers Addition, also known as Old North Davis. It covers the blocks from Fifth and B to Seventh and G. In February 1913, the first sidewalks were laid. By July, the first house in the first subdivision was completed.
According to the city’s 2003 Historic Resources Survey, there are five bungalows remaining in Old North built in 1913 (602 D St., 612 D St., 616 E St., 618 F St. and 631 G St.). However, resident and historian John Lofland, in his 1999 book, “Old North Davis,” lists later dates of construction for some of those buildings.
The Bowers Addition took its name from a prominent Davis resident and investor in the subdivision, Charles William Bowers. Lofland interviewed “Will” Bowers’ granddaughter in 1997, and she described him as a born salesman, someone everybody trusted.
“He always wore a suit and a dress fedora,” Lofland wrote, “even when he was training and competing with large teams of draft horses, an activity he loved.” (Lofland recently told me that Bowers died during a race in his late 60s, when he was run over by a team of horses.)
In the Feb. 1, 1913, edition of The Davis Enterprise, Scott headlined his lead story, “Bowers Sub-Division Has Awakened Civic Spirit.”
Scott’s excitement at the prospect of a growing Davis was evident in every story he wrote. In addition to running this newspaper and other jobs, including serving as a justice of the peace for Davis, Judge Scott was also involved in selling the Bowers Addition.
“In exactly four days after the sub-division was opened, one-fifth of the lots were taken,” Scott wrote.
The lead partner in the Bowers Addition was A R. Pedder of the Mount Diablo Realty Company. Pedder’s Davis office was inside The Enterprise building at 303 G St.
On Jan. 18, 1913, Judge Scott introduced Pedder to his readers. “He comes to us one ripe in experience, successful in the line of work he is undertaking.
“Realizing the promising future which Davis has before her, as evidenced by the great demand for homes and improved lots,” Scott wrote, “A.R. Pedder of the Mt. Diablo Realty Company of Martinez and Concord has come here and located and secured twenty acres of the C.W. Bowers tract, north of the city, and intends to open it up immediately, selling improved lots, 50 by 112 feet for $250.”
Pedder’s advertisement proclaimed, “Cement sidewalks, curbs, rocked streets and ornamental trees, all free. All lots with fifteen foot alleys and facing an eighty foot improved street.”
In mid-February, when the first sidewalks were poured, all of Davis was atwitter, according to Judge Scott.
“Every day sees the walks promenaded by persons desiring to take a short stroll and at the same time a comfortable one,” Scott wrote. “The week has seen the small stretch around the first block extended the whole length of the addition, and by the middle of next week, one will be able to enjoy a stroll from Olive (now G Street) to Ash (now B Street) on a cement walk, something which has never been possible in the past.”
Despite the excitement of 1913, it took decades for the Bowers Addition to be fully built out. Davis grew slowly until the end of World War II.
Once the university reopened — it closed during the war — and the soldiers returned with the G.I. Bill, Davis began its long, sustained period of growth into the city we know today.
— Rich Rifkin is a Davis resident; his column is published every other week. Reach him at [email protected]