The known history of Burlingame begins when the first recorded contact was made by Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza. Before his expedition, not much is known about Burlingame’s background. While other Spanish expeditions are known to have passed through the area, de Anza was the first European to camp where the city now resides and even refers to the Burlingame creek in his diaries. It is after this point that the history of Burlingame, CA truly begins, as the land was soon after developed by missionaries as farmland to support their San Francisco mission.
Burlingame, CA Background
In 1822, California was still part of Mexico, and Mexico gained its independence from Spain at this time. Power shifted from the missions to powerful ranchers and secular governors. The power shift saw the transference of mission lands to these groups. The land that is now Burlingame became the property of Governor Pio Pico, who included it in a gift to Cayetano Arenas, his secretary. However, the land did not remain in his hands for long. After the exchange, there was an uprising in Sonoma that then led to the founding of the Bear Republic. The formation of this republic, now canonized on the California state flag, caused Cayetano to turn his land over to Howard & Mellus, a San Francisco mercantile company.
William Davis Merry Howard bought out his partner and enjoyed the ownership of the land after he retired and moved to the country with his wife. After Howard’s death in 1856, the land was sold to William C. Ralston, banker and founder of the Bank of California. Ralston, who had already gained possession of a large portion of land north of the current town of Belmont, acquired the land as a part of his vision to form his own “sacrosanct colony.” He liked the peninsula for its mild weather, rolling hills and oak trees nestled between the Pacific Coastal Range and San Francisco Bay.
One of Ralston’s first visitors to his land was Anson Burlingame, President Lincoln’s appointee as the United States’ Minister to China. While visiting, Ralston showed the land to Burlingame and explained his vision of selling off the land to wealthy friends. The land and vision impressed Burlingame so much that he bought a 1,100-acre portion of it for himself and named the town site after himself. However, Burlingame never developed the land, dying on a trip to Russia in 1870. The land reverted back to Ralston, who subsequently died in 1875. The land then passed to Ralston’s business partner, William Sharon, and later his son-in-law, Francis G. Newlands, who orchestrated the establishment of Burlingame Country Club in 1893, which then built a railroad station in 1894.
The new Burlingame town centered around this station, spreading outwards after the arrival of streetcar service in San Mateo from San Francisco. In 1901, the first two stores opened for business in Burlingame Square, and it slowly grew for five more years. Then in 1906, the San Francisco earthquake hit and fires sent hundreds in search of new homes. Many chose Burlingame as their new home. With its proximity to the San Francisco, they could enjoy many of the benefits of the big city without living there. With its sudden growth, Burlingame chose to use the original site that was laid out by Ralston in 1868, which worked so well that the Burlingame was incorporated in 1908 on June 6. In 1907, the new city established a volunteer fire department, and in 1909, a library.
While the city has grown since then, Burlingame has still retained many of the features that endeared it to residents in the beginning of the 20th century.