Novato is a city located in the North Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, in northern Marin County. Novato is located about 10 miles (16 km) north-northwest of San Rafael, at an elevation of 30 feet above sea level (nine meters). As of 2009, the State of California estimated the city population to be about 52,737. Novato is about 30 miles (48 km) north of San Francisco on U.S.-101.
Novato was first established in 1839 when the Mexican government granted Rancho Novato, consisting of some 8,876 acres (36 km²), to Fernando Feliz. Subsequently four additional land grants were made in the area; Rancho San Jose to Ignacio Pacheco in 1840, Rancho Corte Madera de Novato to John Martin, a Scot, in 1840, Rancho Olompali awarded in 1843 to Camilo Ynitia, son of a Coast Miwok chief, and Rancho Nicasio, by far the largest at 56,621 acres (229 km²), awarded to Pablo de la Guerra and John B.R. Cooper in 1844. Novato, along with the rest of California, became part of the United States on February 2, 1848. Early pioneers included Joseph Sweetser and Francis De Long who bought 15,000 acres (61 km²) in the mid-1850s and planted orchards and vineyards.
The first school was built in 1859 at the corner of Grant Avenue at what is today Redwood Boulevard.
The original town was located around Novato Creek at what is now South Novato Boulevard. A railroad was built in 1879, connecting Novato to Sonoma County and San Rafael. The area around the train depot became known as New Town, and forms the edge of what today is Old Town Novato. The current depot was built in 1917, but closed in 1959 and is largely derelict. The depot consisted of two buildings, a warehouse and a station. The warehouse burned twice in the intervening years and was torn down in late 2007 to make way for a Whole Foods development, while the station is still standing.
A Presbyterian church, still a landmark in Novato today, was built in 1896. Until 2006 it housed a number of City offices, but was vacated that year due to safety concerns and condemned. The church is still standing while the City Council contemplates its rehabilitation.
The Great Depression of the 1930s had a marked effect on the area as many farmers lost their land. After World War II, Novato grew quickly with the construction of tract homes and a freeway. As the area was unincorporated much of the growth was unplanned and uncontrolled. Novato was finally incorporated as a city in 1960. One of the most important venues of the time (1960 to 1965) was "Western Weekend". Beard growing contests sponsored by Bob's Barber Shop and many other odd activities helped to bring this community together.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 73.2 km² (28.3 mi²). 71.7 km² (27.7 mi²) of it is land and 1.4 km² (0.6 mi²) of it (1.95%) is water.
Major geographical features nearby include Mount Burdell to the north and Big Rock Ridge to the southwest. Stafford Lake to the west is a secondary water supply for Novato, with the Russian River in Sonoma County to the north supplying most of the city's water.
As of the census of 2000, there were 47,630 people, 18,524 households, and 12,411 families residing in the city. The population density was 663.9/km² (1,719.2/mi²). There were 18,994 housing units at an average density of 264.8/km² (685.6/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 82.75% White American, 1.99% Black American, 0.52% Native American, 5.20% Asian, 0.17% Pacific Islander, 5.43% from other races, and 3.93% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 13.08% of the population.
There were 18,524 households out of which 32.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.7% were married couples living together, 10.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.0% were non-families. 25.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.52 and the average family size was 3.01.
In the city the population was spread out with 23.1% under the age of 18, 6.4% from 18 to 24, 29.9% from 25 to 44, 27.5% from 45 to 64, and 13.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 93.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.3 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $63,453, and the median income for a family was $74,434 (these figures had risen to $78,895 and $91,890 respectively as of a 2007 estimate). Males had a median income of $55,822 versus $40,287 for females. The per capita income for the city was $32,402. About 3.1% of families and 5.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 6.1% of those under age 18 and 4.0% of those age 65 or over.
The city is home to the Fireman's Fund Insurance Company, and several small biotech firms, such as Buck Institute for Age Research, Biosearch Technologies and BioMarin Pharmaceutical. Several small technology companies are also based in Novato, such as 2K Marin, Radiant Logic, Imagemovers Digital, and Sonic Solutions.
The former Hamilton Air Force Base is also located in Novato, but was decommissioned in 1974 and designated a Historic District in 1998. As of 2008 the base has largely been redeveloped into single family homes. The former hangar buildings were gutted and redeveloped into two story office buildings. Hangar tenants include Sony Imageworks, Visual Concepts Entertainment, Smith & Hawken, The Republic of Tea, and Birkenstock Distribution USA.
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