El Cerrito was founded by refugees from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. They settled in what was then Don Víctor Castro's Rancho San Pablo, and adjacent to the ranch owned by the family of Luís María Peralta, the Rancho San Antonio. A post office opened at the settlement in 1909 and the refugee camp became known as Rust, after Wilhelm F. Rust, its first postmaster. The village's residents did not care for the name and changed it to El Cerrito in 1916, in reference to the many individual hills in the village, there are many distinct hills and as you drive North to south you will travel up and down hills many times in the small village (the name means "little hills" or "knoll"). A year later, El Cerrito was incorporated as a village with 1,500 residents.