History of the LIA

The History of the Lafayette Improvement Association

The Lafayette Improvement Association started on November 11, 1911.  At that time the Lafayette area had few residents and they lived mostly on outlying ranches and farms.  The citizens then were concerned with many of the same issues as citizens today. One problem, particularly during the winter rains, was the poor condition of the roads.  Parents worried about the quality of education being received by their children.  Other concerns included fire protection, transportation (mostly by the old Oakland and Antioch Railway), and the water supply.  It was decided to form an organization for community betterment. This was first known as the Lafayette Improvement Club, later changed to the Lafayette Improvement Association.

LIA worked to solve unique problems that pertained to our community and worked with nearby communities to solve problems that went beyond city limits.  Lafayette annexed to the East Bay Municipal Utility District to obtain the best possible water supply.  For sewage disposal the residents supported creation of the sanitary district which serves the entire central county area.  They worked hard for the Caldecott Tunnel and for the widening of Mt. Diablo Blvd., which formerly was the State Highway.  The need for recreational facilities was recognized and the County Supervisors were asked to acquire Redwood Canyon for a park.

Acting on behalf of the Lafayette community the LIA requested such diverse things as traffic lights, enforcement of speed limits, construction of sidewalks, curbs and gutters, and control of liquor licenses.  Action was taken to number houses (which previously had post office route numbers only), to correct drainage problems and to maintain the Plaza Park.  The Federal Government was asked to provide for frequent mail service and the Phone Company to widen the calling area.

Rapid growth beginning in the 1940’s focused attention on proper planning and land uses.  The county was requested to prepare a general zoning plan which was adopted in 1946.  It was thought that Lafayette would become a substantial shopping area so a fairly large area was earmarked for retail business.  Much controversy developed over the shape of the business district which finally evolved into a long narrow “strip” along Mt. Diablo Blvd.

The Association fought hard to block expansion of the area zoned for apartments.  It was instrumental in applying a height limitation to this kind of structure.  It favored land use conditions to require landscaping and to prevent the unsightly appearance of some commercial establishments.  It supported ordinances allowing “garden” apartments and professional offices as buffers between commercial and residential areas. Control by the county of sign, size and type was requested repeatedly, with eventual success.

Because of the number and magnitude of problems brought by growth many citizens arrived at the conclusion that Lafayette needed our own local government.  The LIA made studies of all aspects of incorporation and employed the Coro Foundation to make an independent survey.  With the aid of other organizations and individuals the matter was submitted to a public vote in the fall of 1959, but failed to pass.

The LIA established the fist Community Center when it built Town Hall in 1914.  Land at the corner of Moraga Road and School Street was donated by the Ghiglione family.  The building was paid for by popular subscription.  Dances given in the early days were well attended.  More important was the later use for public activities including the Boy and Girl Scouts, Campfire Girls, Play Shop, Horseman’s Association, the Red Cross, the American Legion, the Lion’s Club, the Dad’s Club, and various church groups.

During World War II the Lafayette Grammar School used the lower floor of the Town Hall as a classroom. The building was also occupied by personnel from the Navy’s Preflight School at St. Mary’s College. Unfortunately the latter use resulted in a fire which did enough damage so that the Directors for a time considered demolition.

In recent years school multi-purpose rooms and other facilities have provided meeting places for many community organizations.  Lease of Town Hall to the Dramateurs, LaFrantics, and Town Hall Theater Company have retained for our town an available cultural asset. 

The LIA’s scope of work changed with the incorporation of the city in 1968 and the subsequent establishment of city government.  Today LIA functions as the owner and caretaker of Town Hall.

 

 

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