Brentwood may look as if it was just put on the map a few years ago with its wealth of new homes and businesses, but as author Carol Jensen can tell you, Brentwood's history is far and wide. Recently, with the help of many longtime residents of Brentwood, Jensen published a book telling all about the city's history and of those who made the town what it is today.
The book, simply titled "Brentwood" and published by historical book publisher Arcadia, offers vintage photography of the best of Brentwood, featured in local archives and individual collections. These images and Jensen's research showcase Brentwood's progression from rural beginnings as an agricultural stronghold to the modern city of houses, shops, schools and places of worship of today.
Jensen, whose family moved to Brentwood in the mid-1950s, was approached by a high school friend, Mark White, who originally wanted to publish a book on the city's colorful past but didn't have time to complete the publishing deadlines.
"Mark had a lot of family archives of images that went back a long way," Jensen said.
Jensen said that White was a great help in getting the history book on the city off the ground since he had great reference material. White, the manager of the Union Cemetery south of town, is the nephew of Edna Hill, who was in the second graduating class of Liberty Union High School and a teacher in Brentwood for 55 years. Hill also has the honor of having a local school named after her. In another interesting connection, Jensen was in the last eighth-grade class that Hill taught before retiring from teaching.
With this information, Jensen was on her way to beginning the 128-page book for Arcadia. She didn't stop there, though. Jensen had connections of her own. At around the time that Jensen was in high school in 1965, she recalled that Brentwood had three ways into of town. Each entrance had a different population sign with a different total number of people living in the town. One said 2,300, another 2,700 and the last said 3,100.
By her estimation there were fewer than 400 dwellings and approximately 3,000 people living in the city limits. Not a small amount of people, but certainly not a great deal.
"It was hard to get away with anything if you were a kid, everyone knew who you were," she said. Families who were farmers and businessmen all knew each other. Her father was a respected man in the community and Jensen's brother was, at one time, mayor of Brentwood.
So when people heard that she was working on a history book and she was interested in photos and stories about the town, she had no trouble finding people who would open up their old photo albums and show her some of the old pictures.
"The secret to success is following up," she said.
Jensen also worked with Liberty Union High School's Gene Clare to get information from the high school district's archives. Jensen said she learned a lot from her research about the high school. For one thing, during World War II when the Japanese were put into internment camps, many students were taken from the school and brought to the
Byron Odd Fellows Hall. At the time, the school's valedictorian was a young Japanese-American woman who, in April of her graduating year, was pulled out of school. The girl never had a chance to receive her diploma.
Years later, Jensen and Clare learned that the school went back to try and find all of those children who were pulled out of the school to give them an honorary high school diploma.
"There were quite a few very important individuals who graduated from Liberty," she said.
Other books have been written about Brentwood's history, but Jensen said that this book has a lot of previously unpublished photos and information. The book has more than 260 pictures from individual and museum collections. The photo on the front cover of the Marsh House is from the Bancroft Library and taken by popular English photographer Eadweard J. Muybridge. Part of Muybridge's fame came from taking pictures of California in the late 1800s.
Jensen has a degree in history from UC-Santa Barbara and is on the advisory committee for historic landmarks. She also serves as the treasurer of the John Marsh Historic Trust. She has written three other books for Arcadia of a similar nature on local history topics, including the Byron Hot Springs, the California Delta and East Contra Costa County.
"Brentwood," which was released several weeks ago, can be found locally at Gabby's Grind, Contra Costa Wine Store, East County Historical Society, Barnes and Noble, Walgreen's and Antioch Costco. There are also copies available via the Internet through Amazon.com. The cost of the book is $19.95.