(The Peterson family was honored at a city council meeting in February, and the owners of the family business addressed rumors that the company .)
Marina Boulevard in San Leandro has become synonymous with car dealerships, outlet stores, waterfront restaurants and a golf course.
But, as San Leandrans cruise down the thoroughfare they may not realize a major piece of San Leandro’s history and a formidable force for its future sits there today on what was once 20 acres of tomato fields.
In 1947 those fields were purchased for $5,000 per acre by a young industrialist, Howard Peterson. Soon thereafter they would become the site of what would grow to be one of the most dynamic Caterpillar dealerships in the country.
Marina Boulevard was called First Avenue back then and it would be nine more years until the nearby Interstate 80 (Nimitz) Freeway would be built. But the foundation for San Leandro’s present-day business base was coming together in the 1940's and Peterson's company became an integral part of it.
Peterson Tractor Co. did not begin in San Leandro. It was founded during the post-depression era of the mid-thirties. It was incorporated on November 16, 1936 as the Caterpillar dealership for five bay area counties (Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa). Howard Peterson acquired the territory by purchaing the area's existing Caterpillar dealership, Robinson Tractor Co. ( which had been located in Oakland and San Francisco), for $150,000.
In 1937 Peterson moved its headquarters to a brand new facility on Watkins Street in Hayward. In 1942 the headquarters moved across town in Hayward to a new facility at the corner of A and Soto Streets in a building spanning an entire city block.
At the end of the 1940’s construction on Peterson’s large headquarters in San Leandro was complete and the business moved into its current location at 955 First Avenue (now Marina Boulevard) where it remains today.
With 19 locations, you can see here , it now has over 1000 employees. Approximately one third of its employees work at the Marina Boulevard headquarters.
Back in 1960, Good Year's BIG Magazine wrote in its February edition that the Peterson facility in San Leandro dwarfed virtually every other equipment dealership in the nation and was functional down to the last square inch. Its expansive showroom area displayed an array of farming and industrial machines offered to customers, housed within a 25,000 square-foot building. Along with the showroom there were sales and administrative offices and a front parts counter. Adjacent to that was a 32,400 sq-ft parts warehouse which backed up to a Southern Pacific railroad spur for easy equipment delivery from the factory.
The largest building on the site, a 42,000 sq-ft structure, housed the main shop with a traveling 3-ton hoist system serving 24 bays, a machine shop with welding and fabrication capabilities and a drafting room. Beyond, stood two smaller utility buildings for the steam cleaner, paint booth, sandblasting area and miscellaneous storage.
Today the San Leandro based company’s emphasis remains on innovation according to the founder’s granddaughter, Eileen Grafton, who serves as Peterson’s Employee Communications Manager and its historian.
Grafton has written one book about the company and is authoring a second one which will commemorate Peterson’s 75th anniversary this year.
“My grandfather really pushed the notion of innovation,” she said, “and he believed in the idea of providing customized service and finding niche markets.”
Another of Howard Peterson’s grandchildren, Duane Doyle, is the current owner and CEO of Peterson Holding Company. He assumed the business from his father, William E. Doyle, Jr., in 1995.
As owner and dealer principal, Doyle expanded his company into Southern Oregon in 2003, re-organizing Peterson into three separate entities under the Peterson Holding Company banner. Peterson Holding Company is the parent company to three subsidiaries today - Peterson Tractor Co, the earthmoving and construction equipment company for Northern California, Peterson Machinery Co, the earthmoving and construction equipment company for Oregon and Southern Washington and, Peterson Power Systems, the power systems company for both Northern California, Oregon, and southern Washington.
Today the company has not only expanded and changed as the market for the products it sells has evolved but it has also been awarded for its environmental efforts. You can read about that here and here.
For a more thorough look the company’s history in San Leandro and the Bay Area, you can visit the extensive archive section of its website here.