Doyle’s legacy goes farther than his drive

View of Doyle Drive during the April 28 demolition (Photo Courtesy of CalTrans)

More than 90,000 people have driven over Doyle Drive daily, yet few are likely to know why the elevated roadway carried that name. There are a number of things in the Bay Area named after Frank Pierce Doyle, but the now-demolished roadway leading to the Golden Gate Bridge was arguably the most apt.

Frank Doyle, who passed away on Aug. 5, 1948, was a significant Bay Area figure in the early 20th century, involved in everything from banking to the recovery from the 1906 earthquake. As president of the Exchange Bank, Doyle used his business and political weight to push for a number of green and educational causes. And he was an intensely community-minded leader who was instrumental in the effort to build the now-iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

One of his enduring passions was the region around Santa Rosa. Back in the early 1900s, increasing tourism to the Santa Rosa area, as well as speeding up transportation of agricultural goods from it, would be aided greatly by an improved crossing to the peninsula.

Radio station KALW reporter Steven Short noted that Doyle “knew that a bridge across the Bay would not only provide market security to farmers, but would also increase tourist traffic, all the way to the Oregon border. The Redwood Highway was another of Doyle’s projects, which today contributes greatly to Sonoma County’s billion-dollar tourist industry. No wonder he became known as The Father of the Golden Gate Bridge. This was
no empty title. Doyle headed the first meeting to formalize planning and construction of the bridge, drawing 300 people from the North Bay counties,” in addition to San Franciscans.

On the bridge’s opening day in 1937, Doyle was rewarded by being involved in the ribbon cutting ceremony and by driving the first private car across the bridge. So when the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District chose to name the access road to the bridge Doyle Drive, they recognized a true contributor to the monumental effort of making the
bridge a reality.

There’s still more to the story of Frank P. Doyle, though. Gaye LeBaron, a columnist for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, has profiled Doyle’s good works, some of which seem straight out of a heartwarming Christmas movie.

For example, Doyle was a banker in the Great Depression, when many farmers found themselves stretched to meet their loan payments. But, as LeBaron noted in 1992, Doyle’s bank “not only carried their mortgages when they couldn’t pay, but when the bank’s list of troubled loans became dangerously long, [Doyle] would buy the loans himself.”

Doyle’s legacy continues in other ways, too. He wanted to make certain that his bank didn’t become a national conglomerate; local control and involvement were important to him. So he put his 50.39 percent controlling interest in the bank into a trust.

Most of the dividends earned by that trust are designated to support scholarships to Santa Rosa Junior College; Exchange Bank reports that scholarships worth more than $76 million have been given to more than 115,000 students since 1948. Doyle had also been instrumental in helping secure federal funding for buildings at that same educational
institution.

Doyle Drive is currently a pile of rubble amid ongoing roadwork aimed at replacing it with a design that fits more naturally into the surrounding landscape.

The project and design are known as the Presidio Parkway and the project is due to be completed in 2015. But, according to the Presidio Parkway Project, the rebuilt road will continue to be known as Doyle Drive, preserving the legacy of the man who left an outsized imprint upon the region he loved so much.

E-mail: john@marinatimes.com
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