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San Pedro Road - A Historical Look Back

By John McNear with Catherine Newhall

San Pedro Road serves as the primary travel artery for those of us commuting into and out of our beloved Peacock Gap neighborhood each day. Still, many of us may not have stopped to think much about this vital roadway that connects us with the rest of our fair city, and beyond. Though some may not be aware, San Pedro road has a long history—in fact, longer than the City of San Rafael itself. It also owes its beginnings to a family still closely tied to, and living in, our neighborhood today.

In 1868, John A. McNear bought 2,500 acres of land at Point San Pedro, east of San Rafael. However, at that time San Rafael was not yet a city—it was incorporated in February of 1874—but more of a mission. McNear had planned to open a shipping terminal and establish a railroad hub at the site, but lost his financial backing after the Great San Francisco Fire of 1906. He did, however, build San Pedro Road using rock and other material from his quarry to level out low areas along the shoreline. McNear sold the road to the County in 1894 for approximately $150. It may have taken a while (nearly 40 years!), but in 1934, the County Road (or San Pedro Road) was paved. From then on, chuck holes in the road were expeditiously filled—whenever our County Supervisor was up for re-election!

San Pedro Road ran from San Rafael to the tip of what became known as McNear Point. An extension ran north and west to Santa Venetia. Heading east from San Rafael, Third Street became The Embarcadero, by Lowrie’s Yacht Harbor. The road then crossed marsh on both sides until Marin Yacht Club. There was marsh again until the road started up Townes Hill, just east of the golf tract. The east side of Townes Hill, where Loch Lomond is now, was a dairy ranch belonging to Camille Mello. Loch Lomond and its yacht harbor were developed in 1956, and as an aside, when people of the Loch Lomond area refer to “restoring the marsh,” what they mean is the Chicken Point marsh (see location description below), not the marsh where Bonnie Banks Way is now. At the south end of Townes Hill is Lucky Point, or as it became known, Paganini Point. Mr. Paganini was the printer for A.P. Giannini’s Bank of Italy. However, that point is now called San Pedro Cove.

Between Lucky Point (San Pedro Cove) and Chicken Point (the area immediately south and east of the Glenwood neighborhood today) the road had open water on the south side, and marsh on the north. On the north side of the road from Chicken Point is an old subdivision called Bayside Acres.

A unique characteristic often noticed by both residents and visitors alike while traveling along San Pedro Road is that the city limits reappear multiple times. The reason is that the County was more stringent than the City of San Rafael on building codes in the past. For example, the County required greater elevation above sea level and additional setback from the road than did the City. These building code differences motivated developers to swoop out into San Rafael bay and come ashore at Harbor Estates (the subdivision between Marina Boulevard and Loma Linda Road), the marsh across the road from the golf tract (the area around the southeast end of Summit Avenue and west of Sea Way), Loch Lomond, and at Glenwood and Peacock Gap.

The tip end of San Pedro Road was renamed Cantera Way (Cantera is Spanish for quarry), because the roadway used to be the entrance to the quarry, before a slot was cut through the hill and a driveway was created across the marsh. Cantera Way is still very much a part of our neighborhood, and serves as the entrance to present-day McNear’s Beach, one of the County’s most popular parks. Incidentally, L.P. McNear opened McNear’s Beach in about 1930 as a resort—offering picnic tables, barbeque pits, a sandy beach, ice cream, soda pop, beer, and fishing boat rentals.

In the Spring of 1955, The McNear Company unincorporated, becoming a partnership and selling off all land but the brickyard, quarry, and brickyard marshes to Stegge Development Company—approximately 2200 acres in all. That sale paved the way for the development of the Glenwood neighborhood, and eventually, what we know as our own Peacock Gap neighborhood.

More recent history on and around San Pedro Road involves the community uproar that ensued when the road was widened from two lanes to four along the golf tract. The south side—inside city limits—had insufficient setback, while the north side had ample space. The powers that be, unlike Solomon and the baby, did actually split the setback, much to the chagrin of those on the north. When San Pedro Road was widened in Peacock Gap, the seawall was also raised. The residents who lived along Lagoon Road promptly complained of blocked views of the bay as a result of the wall, so the seawall was lowered. Sure enough, a couple of years later there was a storm at high tide that flooded some residents’ homes.

In all, driving San Pedro Road today is enjoyable whether one’s destination is any of our lovely neighborhoods, beautiful China Camp, or other recreation areas—or whether the motivation is simply a relaxing drive down this “memory” lane.


Some additional resources...

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Letter to Marin County Supervisors - 1894
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McNear Family Research - 1936
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McNear Brickyard History - 1993
For the History of Peacock Gap by Mrs. L. P. McNear, see Historical Newsletters numbers November and December 1965

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