Saturday, March 31, 2012

Alameda Rail Stations - Bonus Post

Brass lettering outside Grand Station
I woke up early this morning and decided to go for a walk before the weather went south on us.  I happen to live near Grand Station in Alameda and while I was wandering around I got to wondering about the railways that used to criss-cross the island.  I knew that rail service used to be a fairly serious thing here on the island, but I didn't really have a clear idea of when, how, where, etc.  So I got inspired to root around in the dark corners of the internet and a Saturday morning bonus posting is the result.  I hope you enjoy it.

It's difficult to talk about the history of Alameda without discussing its railways and how the extension of those railways affected the development of the city.  There is a solid argument to be made that the development of modern Alameda followed in the wake of the railways.  Prior to the laying of San Francisco & Alameda Railroad in 1864, and the South Pacific Coast Railroad in 1878, Alameda was still comprised mostly of farmland and agricultural plots.  Where the trains went, streets, sidewalks, pavement, and urban development followed.  The Alameda & San Francisco ran down Lincoln Ave., ending at what is now the Alameda Naval Air Station.  This line would become the terminus for the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 when it was sold to the Central Pacific Railway.The South Pacific Coast Railroad ran a line across the High Street Bridge and then up Encinal Ave. to the ferry pier that used to be on the west end of the island.

A lingering legacy of these two railroads are the small commercial districts that grew up around the stations.  While the stations themselves are no longer there, almost every neighborhood along either Lincoln or Encinal has a small cluster of commercial buildings that date back to when Alamedans had easy access to rail services.

Some examples of former rail stations in Alameda are...
  • High Street Station, on the corner of High and Encinal.
  • Versailles Station, at Versailles and Encinal.
  • Bay Station, home of Alameda institution Pagano's Hardware.
  • Grand Station, at the corner of Lincoln and Grand.
  • The Croll Building was the Neptune Beach stop at the corner of Central and Webster.
There are actually many more, and I was surprised to learn how many commercial buildings had their beginnings as a rail station.  Each of these commercial districts served as the hub of a small neighborhood and Alameda grew up and filled in around them.

Getting There By Bike...
Luckily, Alameda is incredibly easy to get around by bike.  All of the old rail stations are found on main thoroughfares throughout the city.  The unfortunate part of that is that neither Lincoln nor Encinal are particularly fun to ride a bike on.  Paralleling either of those streets one block to the side is probably a better bet for a casual ride around town. The downside is that, apart from small historic items, like the fountain at Encinal Station or the brass lettering in the sidewalk outside Grand Station, there's not much left of the stations themselves.  There are some great buildings though, and a quick tour through these neighborhoods highlights some of the historic buildings in Alameda.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Frank C. Havens

Frank C. Havens was a San Francisco area lawyer and realty magnate during the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the twentieth.  Originally from Shelter Island, New York, he settled in the Bay Area and made his fortune here.

Frank C. Havens is more than likely one of the most influential people from the Bay Area that you've never heard of.  Heavily involved in realty and property development in the East Bay, Havens, along with his business partner Francis Marion "Borax" Smith, was deeply influential in determining the shape of both Oakland and Berkeley at the beginning of the twentieth century.  His stated goal was to own every piece of undeveloped land between northern Alameda County and Gilroy, and he came darn to close to realizing it.

Havens is perhaps best known for his involvement with "Borax" Smith and their shared property development company, the Realty Syndicate.  Under their leadership the Realty Syndicate was responsible for the subdivision and development of over 13,000 acres of East Bay real estate.  Their stewardship of the Realty Syndicate, and the sale of the property that they were developing, went hand in hand with the development of the Key System, a local urban rail network that was intended to develop hand in hand with the new subdivisions of Oakland and Berkeley.  The Realty Syndicate was also involved in creating and developing rail line attractions for weekend excursions, such as the Key Route Inn, Idora Park, and the Claremont Hotel.  In what is most likely an apocryphal story, Havens is claimed to have built the Claremont Hotel after winning the property from "Borax" Smith in a game of dominoes.  Havens also controlled the People's Water Company, a land development corporation that, at its peak, controlled almost all of the undeveloped watershed in the East Bay.

Both Havens and "Borax" Smith were long-term residents of Piedmont and were among its most important boosters when the city's status as an independent township was being discussed.  Havens built the four story Havens Mansion at 101 Wildwood Gardens in what would become the city of Piedmont proper.  The home was designed by famed architect Bernard Maybeck, also known for the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Berkeley and the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.  The interior of the home was furnished by Tiffany.  Havens was a well known lover of Eastern philosophy and his home included private meditation chambers, complete with an opium smoking bed.  Frank C. Havens Elementary School in Piedmont is named in his honor and in recognition of his role as one of the founding fathers of the city.

In an odd side note, Havens is also one of the more responsible parties in the widespread cultivation of Eucalyptus trees in the East Bay hills.  Eucalyptus are not a native species and Havens, along with a number of like-minded entrepreneurs, imported millions of eucalyptus seedlings and seeds from Australia.  The goal was the rapid and profitable development of a hardwood forest in the hills above Oakland and Berkeley, but it was not until some years down the road that the developers realized that the things that they intended to use the wood for, namely construction, railway sleepers, and hardwood lumber for crafts, furniture, and instruments, were the very things that the trees were least suitable for.  Havens' Mahogany Eucalyptus and Land Company planted somewhere between one and three million eucalyptus seedlings in the East Bay Hills, a legacy that is still with us today.

Havens passed away in 1917 and is buried in the Chapel of the Chimes, a local Oakland landmark that is based of a design by architect Julia Morgan.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sidewalk Stamps - N. Lena, 1920s

I found a couple of blocks in my neighborhood where all of the curbs were poured by the same company back in the 1920s.  The rest of the sidewalk has been torn up and replaced over time, but the curbs have been left in place with this stamp at the corner of almost every driveway.  I would really like to find some pictures of this block from that period.  I know that most of the homes that are currently standing are more recent than the '20s and it would be neat to see which, if any, homes are still left from that period.

N. Lena, General Contractors

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Berkeley Aquatic Park

Berkeley Aquatic Park is a public park on the western edge of Berkeley.  It was built between 1935 and 1937 using Works Progress Act (WPA) funding.  It was built at the same time as the Berkeley Yacht Harbor, now known as the Berkeley Marina.

The lagoon, as seen from the pedestrian bridge.
The park is remarkable for being tied in with a network of nearby WPA and New Deal projects (the Berkeley Marina, the Eastshore Freeway, the approaches to the Bay Bridge, etc.), but I know about it for three main reasons: it's on my way to work when I take the longer route by bike, it has a pedestrian overpass at its north end that spans the freeway, and the lagoon generally smells awful.  The construction of the highway involved cutting off a mile long lagoon from the waters of the San Francisco Bay.  Though the lagoon still communicates with the Bay through culverts that run under the highway, I don't think that the lagoon sees as much fresh water as could be desired.  Another thing to think about while exploring the park is that the eastern (inland) side of the park is generally accepted as being the natural shoreline while everything to the west, including freeways, the Bay Bridge, the Berkeley Marina, Golden Gate Fields, etc., is built on backfill and converted landfill.  Maybe add those places to the list of area you don't want to be standing when the next big earthquake hits.

I have ridden my bike through the park quite a lot, but I had never taken the time to really explore it.  I used the park, and its paths, as a way to connect points A and B, and anything interesting along the way was largely incidental.  However, the first time I actually stopped and looked around I saw numerous different marine birds, including a pelican feeding in the lagoon, realized that the enormous playground in the park is something that I would have fought long and hard to have at my elementary school (it's so big and tall that some Berkeley parent groups have listed it as "unsafe"...oh yes), and found out that there is some fast and fun, though non-technical, urban mountain biking paths through the brush.  I don't know if there's enough here to warrant a full day of exploring, but it sure is a pretty park on the way to somewhere else.

Getting There By Bike...
I generally approach the park from Emeryville, crossing onto Shellmound St. from 64th and heading north until I reach the gates of the park.  An alternate route, for those approaching from the north, would be to simply take Bancroft until it dead ends at the water.  Voila, you have found Berkeley Aquatic Park.  Traffic in the park is non-existent, though there are all the usual problems associated with multi-use paths; pedestrians, jogging moms, stray dogs, and other cyclists.  Bring a bell and ride politely.  It's also directly across the highway from the Berkeley Marina.  Take a quick spin over the pedestrian bridge and there you are.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Berkeley Marina

The Berkeley Marina is the westernmost piece of land that falls within the Berkeley city limits. It is located at the foot of University Ave.
Entrance to the Marina.
The Berkeley Marina was initially built as Berkeley Yacht Harbor in the late 1930s with Works Progress Administration (WPA) money.  The 1935 Annual Report of the Berkeley Recreation Department describes the park as follows:

 'The central feature of this park will be a lagoon, large enough for out-board motor races, and with facilities for electric boats, rowboats and canoes. Around the lagoon land areas are being filled in to create a shoreline of bays and peninsulas. Lawns and areas with tables, fireplaces and ample picnic facilities, sheltered from prevailing breezes by shrub and tree plantings, will be laid out on the peninsulas... At the University Avenue end of the park will be constructed a recreational center to include an outdoor, salt water swimming pool, 240' x 75', with bath house, bleachers and sandy beach; tennis courts; a sea food inn; and a complete playground. A drive 20' wide will encircle the park, giving access to picnic and park areas, boat houses and view points.'

Historical marker at the pier.
Remains of the Berkeley Pier.

It's worth noting that the original shoreline was immediately east of what is now 3rd St.  The history of the marina dates back to 1909 when the city of Berkeley built a municipal pier that extended from the base of University Ave.  The pier was primarily used for ferry service to San Francisco and Sausalito and at its height stretched close to 3.5 miles into the Bay from the original shoreline.  Ferry service ended with the opening of the Bay Bridge and the pier suffered from neglect, with the outermost end being regularly damaged by storms.  Following the creation of the Berkeley Marina, and further restoration work in the 1970s, a portion of the original pier is still standing but is only in use for fishing and viewing.

Adventure Playground
There are some neat things out at the marina, and I was surprised by how much was there because, quite honestly, I just expected to see boats.  But hey, surprise is the default experience when you're in the vaguely cycling related local history blogging business.  It was a nice bike ride out there since I followed the Bay Trail from Emeryville and I got some great views of the Bay from the Berkeley Pier.  My favorite thing that I found at the Berkeley Marina was the Adventure Playground, an absolutely amazing "build your own playground" wonderland for kids where children are encouraged to use tools, paint, and recycled materials to build their own play structures.  It has an absolutely incredible raggedy, haphazard feel to it and I loved seeing how kids have built and painted the structures.  I could see how this facility could simultaneously be a child's dream playground and an overly protective parent's worst nightmare.
Adventure Playground

Getting There By Bike...
Sure the Marina is right at the foot of University Ave., but riding down University Ave. is no fun at all.  I recommend either taking Bancroft to the Berkeley Aquatic Park and then crossing the highway on the pedestrian bridge, or taking the Bay Trail from either Emeryville to the south or Berkeley and points beyond to the north.  If you're going to take the time to ride out there you might as well make it fun.  It's also right next to the Berkeley Aquatic Park if you have a little more time and energy. Just head right over the pedestrian overpass,

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The East Bay and the New Deal

The New Deal, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's massive rolling out of federal funds to kick start both local and national economies in the wake of the Great Depression and the Stock Market Crash of 1929, had a profound effect on the country at large, but had a particularly important and lasting effect right here at home in the Bay Area.  I won't even try to encompass the history of the New Deal here; there's simply too much information there and I could not do it justice.  Instead, please check out Wikipedia's entry on the New Deal and learn all about it.

When we consider the New Deal here in the Bay Area, the first important thing to realize is that federal involvement was not localized, small-scale, or inconsequential.  There are 516 listed New Deal projects within the immediate Bay Area, all of which were the result of federal money and work programs that poured money and resources into the area. What kind of projects you may ask?  Below is a short list containing some of the more important or recognizable projects that were completed, either in part or in whole, with New Deal funding.  I've limited the scope to the immediate East Bay, meaning Alameda, Oakland, and Berkeley, in order to get a better handle on the size of the list.
  •  Highland Hospital, Oakland
  • Alameda County Courthouse
  •  Lake Merritt Dock 
  •  Joaquin Miller Regional Park
  •  The Caldecott Tunnel
  •  Lake Temescal
  •  The San Francisco Bay Bridge
  •  Skyline Blvd.
  •  The Park St. bridge, Alameda
  •  The High St. bridge, Alameda
  •  Alameda Public Library building, West Branch
  •  The Port of Oakland
  •  Tilden Park
  • Oakland International Airport
  • Berkeley Aquatic Park
  • The Berkeley Marina
  • Oakland Municipal Rose Garden (Morcom Rose Garden)
  •  Twelve elementary and high schools in Oakland and Berkeley
  •  Eleven city parks in Oakland and Berkeley
All of these projects are still in use today.  Without waving my personal political flag, I would question anyone who claims that federal investment in local infrastructure is either unwise or inconsequential.  I'm planning on exploring the history of many of these sites in weeks and months to come and I'm excited to continue to learn about such a vital part of the Bay Area's history.