At Home With Vivian: Home Tour Plus

Mark your calendars for the 12th annual Martinez Home Tour coming this Saturday, October 13th from 10am to 4pm. Go early and check out the fun raffle prizes!

My husband Jeff and I enjoy home tours. We’ve been to luxury estates in the Caribbean, stately mansions in New York, royal castles in Europe, and beach cottages in Florida. We’ve been to the Gamble House in Pasadena, the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento and to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. When Jeff and I drive by signs for new model homes, we often stop and check them out too. We are always on the lookout for interesting ideas and new perspectives, which is why we rarely miss the Martinez Home Tour.

The Home Tour began in 2007 as a fundraising event for the Martinez Historical Society. More features have been added over the years to include music and entertainment, local museums, restored classic cars, and a public building. As a special treat this year, the 35 piece Diablo Regional Concert Band, formed in Martinez over a hundred years ago, will be on the lawn performing (not with the original musicians) as guests arrive at the Shell Club House on 1635 Pacheco Blvd. Strike up the Band!!

The Tour will showcase six vintage homes this year and the public building is St. Catherine of Siena Church and School. Did I mention that Jeff and I also enjoy visiting churches?

My childhood Lutheran church, St. John’s in Antioch, was a simple affair – small, warm, and cozy with very little decoration inside. When I visited Holy Rosary Church in Antioch or St. Peter’s in Pittsburg with friends, I was amazed with the grand and ornate buildings. Then I married a military man and moved to Germany. Oh my. My eyes were opened to an architectural beauty I did not know existed. It was like walking through living museums of art and history combined with an uplifting reverence for life.

Jeff and I love to travel. Since our time in Germany we’ve made it a point to include many historical houses of worship along the way. We’ve been to Catholic and protestant churches in Latin America, Scandinavia, Europe, the Mediterranean, and on islands in the Caribbean. Some began as Grecian temples, became Roman and then Christian. We’ve taken historic tours through Hindu, Buddhist, and Shinto shrines in Asia as well as the Masjid Sultan Mosque in Singapore. We’ve also visited Curacao where the oldest synagogue in the Americas is still in open. It’s difficult to describe the mixed feelings you have when you stand in a house of worship. There’s a spiritual fullness that’s otherworldly, and yet, there’s a very human response to the bricks and mortar of the building itself and to the art works that surround you.

The art in cathedrals is actually very practical. Early in church history most members could not read or write. So stories were told through art works such as stained glass, sculptures, paintings, and mosaics made in the image of bible stories. The art pieces were teaching tools. When congregants viewed the art works they remembered the stories and were inspired by them. Around the world, time, skill and money have created artwork so beautiful that it can bring tears of joy even today.

St Catherine of Siena has been an integral part of the history of Martinez and California since the 19th Century. The parish and parishioners have played a strong role in the tradition and growth of our community.

Dominican fathers established a church in Benicia before the Gold Rush. In 1853 they began taking the ferry to their “mission territory” in Martinez. Mass was celebrated in Brown’s Store, one of the earliest structures in Martinez. The Martinez congregation soon built an adobe church of their own, and then in 1866, a small wooden building that blew over. In 1868 a beautiful steepled wood frame church was constructed on the corner of Estudillo and Mellus streets.

The St. Catherine of Siena Church we see today is actually the 4th church building. The current church was constructed in 1940. The 1890 brass bell was moved into the new bell tower where it remains. St. Catherine’s bell rope, near the narthex stairs, is pulled by hand at Christmas and Easter, but a computer sounds electronic the bells on the hour during the rest of the year.

The parish parochial school was built in 1949, on the same block as the church. Sisters and lay teachers at St. Catherine of Siena School educated thousands of Martinez students and developed the leaders that helped make Martinez great.

Elsewhere around Martinez, Catholics planted roots and made great contributions to our history. In 1879 property near Vine Hill was purchased as the site of a Roman Catholic college, which was later erected by the Christian Brothers Society of St. Mary’s College and given the name of the De La Salle Institute. This became the birthplace of the world-famous Christian Brothers Winery. The winery shipped wine from Martinez from the mid 1880’s until 1932. It all began with 12 acres of grapes that the brothers did not want to go to waste when the land was purchased to build the school –which was instead built in nearby Moraga.

After the Christian Brothers moved to Napa, homes were built where grapes once grew. Several of the homes this year are located in the area including the home of Tim and Patty McLoughlin on La Salle Street. Walking through their beautiful home will make you feel as close to the grape vines of Tuscany as you can get without leaving Martinez. Their home will also be the site of a decorative painting exhibit and demonstration by the Toll Bridge Tolers of Contra Costa County.

 Any traveler will tell you that it feels good to get home to familiar surroundings, where you feel safe, secure and loved. That’s how we feel about returning to our City of Martinez. St. Catherine of Siena may not be as old or large as other cathedrals or have paintings by Michelangelo inside, do, but it’s cozy, warm and feels like coming home.

To find out more about the 2018 Martinez Home Tour, check out their amazing website at Just keep clicking on the bold lettered words and you’ll find all sorts of cool information about historic homes in Martinez.

The Martinez Home Tour hours are from 10am to 4pm. Ticket purchases end at 2pm. The tour begins at the Shell Clubhouse, Every 10 to 15 minutes a shuttle bus will take visitors to the Home Tour area, but you may drive your own vehicle as well. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 the day of the tour. They may be purchased online at or at these locations:

Char’s Flowers, 635 Main Street

I’ve Been Framed, 411 Ferry Street

Peirano Jewelers, 510 Center Avenue

The UPS Store, 1155-C Arnold Drive

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