Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Idora Park

Postcard from Idora Park
Idora Park was the largest "trolley park" in the East Bay, as well as the earliest and most popular amusement park in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The park was built in 1904 on the north banks of Temescal Creek. Much like Neptune Beach in Alameda, Idora Park thrived when most people used the Key System or other Bay Area rail networks to get around.  The park's location on a central rail line, bound by Telegraph and Shattuck and between 56th and 58th streets, made it easy for weekend vacationers to get to and from the site.  The advent of personal car ownership and the ability of vacationers to easily travel beyond the boundaries of the trolley lines dealt a crushing blow to Idora Park, Neptune Beach, and various other local Bay Area amusement facilities.  Idora Park's fortunes quickly deteriorated in the first quarter of the Twentieth Century and the park was finally razed in 1929.

The Realty Syndicate of Francis Marion "Borax" Smith and Frank C. Havens built Idora Park outside of downtown Oakland.  The construction of the park went hand in hand with their larger plan of tying rail service in with local vacation or recreational sites.  Other rail line attractions that the two rail and realty magnates built included the Claremont Hotel and the Key Route Inn.  Idora Park's site included an opera house, greenhouses, parkland, a collection of traditional amusement park rides (including five different wooden roller coasters over the lifespan of the park), a race track, a dance hall, and the largest roller skating rink west of Chicago.  In 1904 a 3,000 seat baseball park was built and after 1904 Idora Park played host to the Pacific Coast Baseball League.

Panoramic shot of Idora Park.
Idora Park lays claim to a number of firsts and significant events.  Magnavox installed their first ever public address system at the park.  Idora Park also owned the first radio theater in the west.  It was the first, and largest, amusement park in the Bay Area.  Following the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, the park hosted a large number of refugees from the city, allowing displaced San Franciscans to camp on the park grounds.  The park also took in many performers from the San Francisco Theater community, and hired them to perform opera and comedy routines for the park's guests.  Aimee Semple McPherson held what was then the largest outdoor baptism to date in the Idora Park swimming pools.  10,000 spectators watched as she baptized followers after her return from evangelizing in Asia.

Fairytale cottages.
After the park was torn down in 1929 there were a number of plans for the property that the park had stood on.  An extensive business park with mixed use commercial and residential spaces was proposed, but the Great Depression kept any significant investment from taking place.  Instead, a small neighborhood of storybook-style homes was built, and these homes are still what makes up this particular neighborhood.  This particular neighborhood was supposedly the first neighborhood in the Bay Area to utilize underground utilities and it is a treat to ride through this neighborhood and not have a web of overhead power lines all over the place.

Getting There By Bike...
It couldn't be easier to get to the site of Idora Park.  The ground that the park stood on is very clearly defined by Shattuck and Telegraph Avenues on the west and east sides, and 56th and 58th streets to the north and south.  Nothing remains of the park since it was completely torn down in 1929, but the neighborhood that replaced it, complete with unbelievably quaint storybook cottages, still stands.  It's actually a very unique neighborhood and one that's worth riding through.  Be careful on both Telegraph and Shattuck as they can be traffic heavy, but the Idora Park neighborhood is as quiet as can be.


  1. Great write up! There used to be a decorative windmill along Telegraph that was left from Idora Park. Did that finally get torn down?

  2. No, as far as I know the windmill is still standing in someones front yard along Telegraph. I wasn't aware that the windmill dated back to the days of Idora Park. I always chalked that particular icon of Telegraph Ave. up in the category of "whimsical yard art".

  3. The windmill on Telegraph Ave & 60th St. was once " Steeles Sporting Goods" They sold a lot of scuba gear.