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Concord's Neighborhoods: The Crossings

The 1,062-home subdivision near Ygnacio Valley Road and Cowell Road is popular with residents for its isolation and amenities.

Neighborhood: The Crossings, founded in the early 1970s as Walnut Country. It sometimes is referred to as Cowell, the name of the company town that used to sit on the site decades ago with its landmark concrete dust stack.

Why folks like it: The subdivision has eight tennis courts, three pools and a central greenbelt. There's also a preschool, two tot lots, a dog park and a clubhouse.

Location: Southwestern Concord just below Ygnacio Valley Road between Lime Ridge and

Housing stats: 1,062 single-family homes in the tract, with between 3,500 and 4,000 residents. About 80 percent are homeowners with 20 percent renters. Housing prices range from $380,000 to $500,000.

Demographics: This information is from census tract data of The Crossings and a handful of surrounding neighborhoods.

    Median age: 45
    Median annual income: $108,000

    Race: White, 74 percent; Asian, 16 percent; all others under 10 percent

History:

    1908: Community of Cowell is formed, cement processing plant established

    1946: Cement plant closed

    1959: Cowell company sells lands to developers

    1972: First homes in Walnut Country are built

Meet the Neighbors

The population is one that is aging. A 2009 survey by the Cowell Homeowners Association estimated 40 percent of The Crossings' homes had two or fewer people living in them. Another 47 percent had three or four residents and 60 percent had no one under 18 inside.

When the subdivision was built in the 1970s, it was flooded with families. During the past 30 years, the families have grown up. The children have moved away, but the parents have stayed.

"We are a graying population," said Mark Weinmann, president of the homeowners group. "A lot of people who moved in with young families simply haven't left."

There are number of reasons for this lack of turnover. In recent years, it's due in part to the shaky economy and housing market. However, Weinmann said the overall reason is people love living here.

The school attendance boundaries for the subdivision belong to in Concord as well as and over the hill in Walnut Creek. That's despite the fact is much closer.

Weinmann said most residents want to stay in the Walnut Creek schools' boundaries despite the extra travel required to get there.

"The school issue has been an interesting one," he said. "It's one of the big selling points for folks moving in."

However, one of the prime reasons for the subdivision's popularity is the isolation The Crossings offers.

There are only four entrances into the neighborhood. Two are off Cowell Road, one is off Turtle Creek Road and one is off Ayers Road.

Larwin Avenue is a circle and all the other roads are cul-de-sacs, many of them dead-ending at the greenbelt.

People generally don't come into the subdivision unless they live here or are visiting someone.

"I always get comments from people who say they didn't even know we were here," said Weinmann.

The isolation has produced a low crime rate with the most frequent problem being vandalism. Security personnel who patrol the grounds from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. help keep criminal activity at a minimum.

Weinmann said the issues the homeowners association deals with are minor compared with other neighborhoods.

There is some noise from Ygnacio Valley Road, but that is mitgated by a high berm and tall trees.

There are occasional drivers who use Larwin Avenue to avoid traffic on Ygnacio Valley Road. However, the benefits are minimal, especially since speed bumps have been put in along the road.

The biggest problem is making sure homeowners keep their residences looking sharp. As the houses age, the need for upkeep is greater.

History Of The Neighborhood

The subdivision has come a long way from the original town on the site.

The community was built by Henry Cowell, who set up the Cowell Portland Cement Company 104 years ago on The Crossings' site to process the limestone being dug up on the hillside that is now behind in Walnut Creek.

A history written by William T. Larkins states the community of Cowell was built in 1908 on the 2,000-acre site. It included 54 family homes, two boarding houses, a town hall, a hospital, a school, a company office and a firehouse.

At its height in 1917, the cement factory employed 217 people. The limestone was moved by small trains along a railway that went from the quarry to the factory. The railway is where the name "The Crossings" came from.

The cement company was sued in 1932 by 14 fruit and vegetable growers who complained about dust from the factory blowing onto their crops. In 1935, Cowell company officials replaced eight small dust collecting stacks with one large, 235-foot concrete tower.

The cement producing factory closed in 1946 due to the depletion of nearby limestone and other factors. However, the company allowed people to continue to rent the Cowell homes.

Jim Dunn lived in that community from 1950 to 1959. His father worked for U.S. Steel in Pittsburg and sought the convenient commute of living in Cowell.

Dunn, who still lives in Concord, attended the two-room Cowell schoolhouse in his early elementary school years. He also went to Crawford Village Elementary, Loma Vista Middle School and and then the brand new

He remembers the Cowell community as being a lot of fun for a kid.

He and his brother and their friends rode bikes down to the El Monte shopping center, the closest stores to them. They played in the vast, nearby fields. They went hiking in the hills. They took their .22-caliber rifles into isolated canyons and did target shooting.

"It was fantastic. You made your own fun," said Dunn.

The Cowell company sold the site in 1959 to the Newhall Land and Farming Company. Newhall sold it to the Larwin Company in 1969.

That development firm submitted plans for 867 homes. The old Cowell residences were demolished or burned by firefighters as they practiced firefighting techniques.

Construction began on the first phase of Walnut Country in 1972. The subdivision was built in four phases during the next decade.

A New Era

Nick Virgallito, who's lived in The Crossings since 1976, first saw the tract when he and his wife were living in San Jose. He said the site reminded him of Arizona because it was warm and dry without a lot of tall trees.

He also saw the clubhouse, the pools, the tennis courts, the cul-de-sacs and lots of undeveloped hills nearby. The houses were also reasonably priced.

"I had to stand in line to buy our house," Virgallito recalled. "We were thinking what a great place this was to raise kids."

Virgallito said the neighborhood then was filled with families with young kids. There were no cell phones or computers, so people gathered at the pools, on the streets and on the greenbelt to have fun and socialize.

"We were young and we had the same things in common, so we became friends and neighbors," he said.

The neighborhood still had a similar feel when Weinmann, his wife and their two children moved in 13 years ago from Orange County.

"As soon as we moved in, we loved it," he said.

Most of the children have moved away and their parents have stayed. The landmark dust stack was demolished in 2008. The only structure remaining from the Cowell years is the firehouse, which sits next to the West Pool.

Weinmann and Virgallito both said the neighborhood still associates itself with Concord despite its proximity to Walnut Creek. They said residents do most of their shopping in downtown Concord or along Clayton Road.

The down the road is only an occasional destination and the nearby is a non-issue because it's a relatively small school. Residents would like to keep it that way.

"It's a nice size as it is. We don't want it getting bigger and creating problems," said Weinmann.

The association is trying to lure young families back to the neighborhood. And there is some change the past five years.

Some of the empty nesters are looking to downsize and housing prices are affordable at the moment for young couples.

Virgallito enjoys using the subdivision's amenities when his grandchildren visit. But he also enjoys the sight of young children moving back into some of The Crossings' homes.

"My wife and I like to hear those little voices again," he said.

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