Berkeley, A City in History
by Charles WollenbergCopyright 2002
TALE OF TWO TOWNS
An essential fact about Berkeley history is that the city had not one, but two beginnings. Two separate communities, with very different roots and traditions, formally came together on April Fool's Day 1878 to establish the city of Berkeley. The social, economic and cultural differences between those communities and the political conflicts they engendered have been a part of Berkeley history ever since. When Berkeleyans distinguish between "the hills and the flats," "East Berkeley and West Berkeley," or "the town and gown," they are referring in part to divisions that derive from the city's dual origins.
The first of the founding communities was Ocean View, an informal, unincorporated settlement located along the bayshore, immediately north and south of the mouth of Strawberry Creek. The key to its existence was the decision of Captain James Jacobs to anchor his sloop at the creek's mouth in 1853.
By that time, the Bay Area was already becoming a metropolitan region, with a number of small communities developing around the bay to provide goods and services to San Francisco. Access to the bay was crucial, since that waterway was the region's chief transportation and communication route, linking communities with San Francisco's urban core. A native of Denmark who had become a New England resident and merchant seaman before coming to California, Jacobs was originally a gold seeker. Like many miners, however, he soon decided there had to be a better way to make a living than standing in cold water shoveling gravel. He bought a small sailing vessel and began hauling cargoes on the bay. Jacobs's decision in 1853 to base his operations on what was to become the Berkeley waterfront was certainly linked to Domingo Peralta's land sales during the same year. As the rancho property was transformed into cropland, the area's new farmers desperately needed access to markets. That's what Jacobs's vessel provided. In 1854 he built a small wharf, inevitably called Jacobs's Landing, which became the hub of the new community's commerce.
Also in 1854, another former merchant seaman, Captain William Bowen, opened an inn on Contra Costa Road, a wagon and stage route that extended north-south along the East Bay shoreline. Since the alignment paralleled the old trail to the Castro family's Rancho San Pablo, locals informally called the thoroughfare "San Pablo Road." Eventually it became San Pablo Avenue. Bowen initially served food and drink and soon added a general store for the convenience of the growing number of farm families in the region. His inn was thus Berkeley's first retail establishment. If Contra Costa Road, a.k.a. San Pablo Avenue, was Berkeley's first north-south street, the well-worn trail between Bowen's Inn and Jacobs's Landing, roughly today's Delaware Street, might qualify as the city's first east-west boulevard.
In 1855 Ocean View got its first manufacturing plant, the Pioneer Starch and Grist Mill, owned by John Everding and A.A. Rammelsburg. By the mid-fifties, San Francisco was developing an industrial base, but entrepreneurs like Everding and Rammelsburg were already seeking out suburban locations with cheap land and abundant water. The owners of the Pioneer Mill found these on the Berkeley waterfront, and Jacobs's wharf provided access to regional markets. In addition, Ocean View area grain farmers were able to supply the mill's raw material. Rammelsburg soon sold his share of the business to Everding, but both men were important figures in the economy of what was to become West Berkeley for many years to come. Everding's son-in-law, John Schmidt, farmed a portion of Domingo Peralta's old homestead for decades. In fact, the land was still in agricultural production in the 1920s. The Pioneer Mill structure, built from redwood cut in the Oakland hills, stood for a century, until it was finally demolished by the Truitt and White Lumber Company in the 1950s.
A year after the starch mill began operation, Ocean View got its second industrial enterprise---Z.B. Heywood's lumber yard. A Maine native with experience in the lumber business, Heywood had established a sawmill at Gualala on the Sonoma-Mendocino coast. He needed a Bay Area storage and distribution center and chose Ocean View for some of the same reasons that had attracted Everding and Rammelsburg. Heywood cooperated with Jacobs to improve and extend the Ocean View wharf so that it could handle the heavy volume of traffic produced by the new enterprise. Extending the wharf further into the bay was vital, since the water off the Berkeley shore is shallow. Even after Heywood and Jacobs built the pier out 1300 feet from the shoreline, some vessels still had problems using the facility at low tide.
Z. B. Heywood had thirteen children, and the large and energetic Heywood clan played an important role in Berkeley life for the next several decades. During the early twentieth century, for example, three different Heywoods served as the city's mayor. The early development of Ocean View thus produced both enterprises that would be key to the economic future of the city and individuals and families that were to be important members of Berkeley's business and political elite.
The mill and lumber yard workers and their families, along with the residents of nearby farms, made Ocean View a vital community. In 1856 the Ocean View School was established on San Pablo Road, just north of Bowen's Inn. By 1857 an itinerant preacher was serving the village. The 1860 census found 69 people in Ocean View proper, and the numbers increased gradually during the next decade.
In 1873 Ocean View businessmen, including Jacobs and Rammelsburg, joined with former University of California president Henry Durant, to create the Berkeley Land and Town Improvement Association. The association's purpose was to promote the development of West Berkeley, as Ocean View was increasingly coming to be called. The group laid out streets on a grid plan, subsidized a short-lived ferry service to San Francisco and publicized and promoted their community as a business location. In 1877 the Southern Pacific Railroad located its transcontinental mainline along the Berkeley shore, giving West Berkeley businesses direct access to the national rail network for the first time. As a result of this activity, several new businesses arrived in the 1870s and 80s. Included were what eventually became the Niehaus and Schuster Planning Mill and the Cornell Watch Company, whose giant factory went through several owners and uses before burning to the ground in 1899. R.P. Thomas also moved his Standard Soap Company from San Francisco to West Berkeley in the 1870s. The company was eventually bought by Colgate-Palmolive, which continued to operate a Berkeley facility until the 1980s.
Blue Collar Town
Ocean View/West Berkeley thus developed into a lively working class and agricultural community. Most of its residents lived in fairly modest homes scattered among the district's plants, mills and shops or on farms located adjacent to the industrial section. Retail businesses were on San Pablo Road or lower University Avenue and included several taverns and a beer garden on the site now occupied by Spengers Restaurant. Between 1880 and 1900, the population grew from a little under 700 to over 1500, becoming ever more diverse in the process. Even in the 1850s and 60s, Ocean View was a place of substantial national and ethnic diversity, very much reflecting the social mix of people who had originally come to California during the Gold Rush. While the majority of gold seekers were young, English-speaking white men from the eastern and midwestern United States, a significant minority of the Gold Rush population were members of immigrant and ethnic minorities. The day California won statehood in 1850 it already had the most diverse population of any American state.
For example, the Gold Rush occurred in the midst of a large Irish Catholic migration to the United States, stimulated by the great Irish Potato Famine of 1846-47. Some of Berkeley's earliest farmers were Irish immigrants, including Michael Curtis, James McGee and John Kearney. The first Catholic religious services were held in Curtis's barn, and McGee eventually donated the land on which the area's first Catholic Church and school, St Joseph's, was built. The state located the "Asylum for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind" on land bought from Kearney (and now the site of U.C.'s Clark Kerr Campus). Two of Curtis's daughters married into the Brennan family which operated an Ocean View livery stable. The family's name still graces a popular West Berkeley tavern and restaurant.
Irish immigrants also worked in Ocean View's mills and plants, often joined by Scandinavians, Canadians, Mexicans and Chileans, among others. By the end of the nineteenth century, Germans outnumbered Irish as the largest foreign-born group, and Italians, Portuguese and a small population of African Americans had also been added to the mix. Chinese worked in some of the mills and also operated laundries. Chinese farmers raised fruits and vegetables on small rented plots, selling the products door-to-door. In the early twentieth century, West Berkeley became home to a growing Finnish population, and the Finnish Hall, still located on Tenth Street, is tangible evidence of that once-thriving community. (Actually, there were two Finnish Halls, since the community was deeply split along political lines.) Well into the twentieth century, West Berkeley was an ethnically and nationally mixed, largely working class neighborhood, much like West Oakland or San Francisco's Mission District. The Schroeders lived next door to the Murphys and across the street from the Garibaldis. Until at least the 1920s, the majority of the population was made up of immigrants and their American-born children.
While urbanization and industrialization was proceeding, much of the Berkeley flatlands remained farms. One of the most prominent early farmers was Napoleon Bonaparte Byrne, a Democrat and slave owner from Missouri. Byrne arrived in what was to become Berkeley in 1859, accompanied by two former slaves who may have been the area's first African American residents. One of them, Pete Byrne, eventually broke with his former master and became a successful small businessman. Napoleon Byrne farmed nearly 1,000 acres in what is now North Berkeley. In 1868 he built "The Cedars," an impressive home that survived for nearly 120 years on the Oxford Street site of the Church of the Cedars before being destroyed by fire in the 1980s. (After considerable neighborhood controversy about the scale of development, in 2001 the city approved Temple Beth El's proposal for a new synagogue and community center on the site.) Byrne's Democratic and Confederate political leanings made him something of a pariah in predominantly Republican, Unionist Berkeley. But he was rewarded for his political loyalty in 1885, when Democratic president Grover Cleveland appointed him Berkeley postmaster. By that time, he had sold his home and much of his land to Henry Berryman, a major force in Berkeley development in the late nineteenth century. Some of the large conifers originally planted by Byrne still stand in Live Oak Park.
The College of California
Byrne's neighbor to the south was Orrin Simmons, still another former seafaring man, who is important in Berkeley history because his farm was destined to become the campus of the University of California. The arrival of the university in 1873 marks Berkeley's second "beginning," the creation of a campus community that was destined to become the city's dominant economic and social force.
The process that led to the arrival of the university goes back to the convictions and aspirations of two New England Congregationalist ministers, Samuel Hopkins Willey and Henry Durant. Willey arrived in California in 1849, sent by the Home Missionary Society to bring Protestant godliness to the particularly ungodly social environment of Gold Rush California. Almost immediately Willey began lobbying for the establishment of a Christian college to train new generations of California leaders. His plans didn't come to much until Reverend Durant arrived in 1853. A Yale graduate with great energy and ability, Durant began to transform Willey's ideas into reality. Realizing that he first had to prepare some students for college work, in 1853 Durant established Contra Costa Academy, a private secondary school in Oakland. In 1855 Durant and Willey were ready for the next step---the creation of a non-denominational Christian institution called the College of California, also located in Oakland.
The model for the new institution was the private New England college, providing young gentlemen with a liberal arts education that emphasized classical studies and Christian morality. In order to remove such students from the temptations of the city and the cares of the day, New England colleges usually had a rural or small town location. Perhaps that is why Willey and Durant chose not to locate their institution in San Francisco. But Oakland also turned out to have some drawbacks. A larger and much rowdier version of Ocean View, Oakland in the 1850s was neither removed from temptation nor free of worldly cares. Durant located the Contra Costa Academy in a former dance hall of dubious reputation. He was shocked to discover that in the evening, the caretakers were continuing to use the building for its past "immoral" purposes. The new college was to be located on a lot bounded by Twelfth, Fourteenth, Franklin and Harrison Streets, but Durant had to resist, sometimes with threats of force, potential squatters and unpaid contractors who attempted to occupy the site. By the time the College of California moved into its new buildings in 1860, Durant and Willey had already chosen another, more suitable location.
As early as 1857, Durant was inspecting Orrin Simmon's land. Located five miles north of Oakland in a bucolic setting, the site included a spectacular western view of the Golden Gate. Strawberry Creek seemed to offer an adequate water supply, and Simmons was eager to sell. He was apparently a better sailor than farmer and was looking to make a tidy profit from some judicious land speculation. By the end of 1857, Durant and Willey had persuaded the members of their college board of trustees to allocate funds to purchase a portion of Simmon's property. Eventually the college bought the entire farm for $35,000. (Simmons had originally paid less than $5000 for the land.) In 1860 the trustees joined Willey and Durant at rock outcrop for a ceremony dedicating the new campus. That ceremonial site, now at the northeast corner of the campus, has ever since been known as Founder's Rock.
By 1864 the college had obtained some additional parcels adjacent to the Simmons property but had not even begun to accumulate the funds necessary to pay for the move from Oakland. The trustees hoped to remedy that situation by establishing the College Homestead Association, in effect a wholly-owned subsidiary which would subdivide and sell the land south of the property specifically reserved for the campus. The expected profits from the land sales would pay for the relocation of the college.
The new community was to be upscale, populated by solid citizens, living in the refined atmosphere of a college town. The trustees hired Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York's Central Park, to plan the development, but his ideas turned out to be too radical. He envisioned landscaped roads which followed the contours of the hill, along the lines of the contemporary Piedmont Avenue. Instead the college authorities adopted a traditional grid pattern. In conformance with the presumed intellectual tone of the new community, north-south streets were named in alphabetical order for men of science: Audubon (now College Ave.), Bowditch, Choate (now Telegraph), Dana, Ellsworth, Fulton and Guyot (now Shattuck). East-west streets took the names of men of letters: Allston, Bancroft, Channing and Dwight.
Olmsted suggested the new community be called Peralta, but the college trustees wanted something more in keeping with the exalted intellectual and social character they envisioned for their development. At the suggestion of trustee Frederick Billings, they named the community after George Berkeley, an eighteenth century British philosopher, man of letters and Anglican Bishop of Cloyne, Ireland, who had been a strong supporter of colonial education. What particularly attracted the trustees was a line in one of Berkeley's poems: "Westward the course of empire takes its way." The trustees, a confident group of prosperous, prominent men, were still very much affected by the Manifest Destiny ideology that had promoted the American conquest of California two decades earlier. To them it must have seemed altogether fitting and proper that the Pacific Basin would be the next "course of empire" for American expansion. Given this assumption, the idea of a brave new college community overlooking the Golden Gate and the new Pacific frontier was irresistible.
Land Grant University
The trustees apparently believed that if they simply laid out their ambitious new community, the people would come. But that wasn't the case. In 1865 Reverend Willey loyally built a new house in the Berkeley development and began planting trees on the campus and along the streets. But for the next few years, Willey had no neighbors. It looked as if funds to move the college to Berkeley would never be available; indeed, the institution was having difficulty paying its Oakland bills. In 1867, however, an intriguing new possibility was raised when the state legislature voted to establish a state-supported institution of higher learning.
The original state constitution of 1849 had provided for a state university, but little progress was made on the matter until the U.S. Congress passed the Morrill Land Grant College Act of 1862. The law provided for grants of federal lands to states, which could use income from the sale of the property to support the operations of public universities. The new, federally-subsidized institutions were to be people's colleges, teaching practical courses in agriculture and mechanics, as well as traditional liberal arts offerings. In California, the "A & M" nature of the program gave the concept of a state university new political support from labor and farm organizations. And the possibility of "privatizing" 200,000 acres of valuable public land in the Central Valley attracted real estate and agribusiness interests. By 1867, the question was no longer whether there was going to be a University of California, but where the new institution was going to be located.
In that year, the trustees of the College of California made the state an offer that was too good to refuse. If the state agreed to maintain the college as the liberal arts section of the new university, the trustees would transfer their institution and its Berkeley and Oakland properties to state control. This allowed California to create an instant university and continue giving courses at the Oakland site while a new campus was built in Berkeley. The state sold the non-campus properties of the former college to private parties, thus producing more revenues for the new institution. In 1868, John Dwinelle, a prominent lawyer who served both in the legislature and as a trustee of the College of California, guided an "Organic Act of the University of California" through the legislative process. The law vested authority over the university in a largely autonomous Board of Regents, and not surprisingly Dwinelle was one of the first appointments to the new body. The governor signed the Organic Act on March 23, 1868, and Berkeleyans knew for sure that the university was coming to town.
In 1869 the College of California was formally transferred to state control, and for the next four years, classes continued in Oakland under the interim presidency of Reverend Durant. Regent Sam Merritt, a wealthy lumber merchant and Oakland mayor, oversaw construction of the new campus as chairman of the building committee. There was a whiff of scandal when it was discovered the university was buying materials from Merritt's firm, but by 1873 the first two buildings, imaginatively called North Hall and South Hall, were ready for occupancy. North Hall has long since disappeared, making way for the east wing of the Doe Library. But South Hall still stands, handsomely restored as a tangible link to the university's earliest beginnings. In the fall of 1873, the university moved to Berkeley, led by its new president, Daniel Coit Gilman, who proclaimed "We have come up hither to this house of our expectations."
Whatever those expectations might have been, the amenities of Berkeley in 1873 didn't match them. Most students and faculty initially chose to live in Oakland, commuting to classes on a horsecar line that proceeded up Telegraph Road and Choate Street to the south entrance of the campus. The car moved with all deliberate speed, so slowly that patrons often walked alongside for variety. Students seeking diversion would lean one way and then the other, until they knocked the swaying car off its tracks. Then everyone would get out and lift the vehicle back into place. In 1876 a steam-driven car replaced the horse and presumably speeded up service. But gradually, along Choate Street immediately south of campus, businesses opened to serve the new community: first a rooming house and French Charley's restaurant (which was reported to be charging outrageous prices), then another rooming house and hotel, a grocery, a laundry and Dr. Merrill's drugstore. Professors and business people began building houses on the old College Homestead Association lots. South of the new campus, a new town was finally taking shape.
The town's growth was further stimulated by the presence of another important state institution, which in fact had arrived in Berkeley even before the university. In 1868 the state School for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind was preparing to move from San Francisco to a new facility under construction a few blocks south of the university campus. On the morning of October 21, work on the project was interrupted by what seismologists today believe was a magnitude 7.0 earthquake on the Hayward Fault. A workman on the roof of the new school said the massive stone structure "swayed back and forth not less than four feet...it seemed to be tossing like a ship on a wild sea." The quake dumped cargoes on Jacobs's wharf into the bay and destroyed Domingo Peralta's original adobe. But overall damage in Berkeley was light, in part because there was so little to be damaged. (There was far more destruction in Oakland, southern Alameda County and downtown San Francisco.) Because of the earthquake, the new university buildings, particularly South Hall, were constructed with elaborate bracing. The Deaf and Blind School sustained some damage, but repairs allowed classes to begin more or less on schedule in 1869.
East v. West
The south of campus community grew steadily, so that by the time the Peralta land case was finally settled in 1877, what is today Berkeley consisted of two well-established settlements separated by more than a mile of fields, pastures and marshlands. But the communities were divided by more than physical space. Ocean View was heavily immigrant, substantially Catholic and working class, essentially an industrial and farming town. The campus community, on the other hand, was primarily middle or upper middle class, inhabited by native-born Protestants, many of them working in professional occupations.
Along with these social and economic differences, were some very specific points of conflict. The university dammed Strawberry Creek for a water supply, but Ocean View residents claimed this substantially lowered the water level in their wells. They also argued that waste from the campus area was polluting the stream. Shortly after the university occupied its new buildings, a delegation of state legislators visited Berkeley and witnessed a group of somewhat wobbly undergraduates returning from a drinking bout in the hills. The result was a law prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages within two miles of campus. This would have closed down taverns in Ocean View, a matter of no little concern to that hardworking and often hard-drinking community. The limit was reduced to one mile, but that caused other problems. Soon there were new bars opening in Ocean View catering to students who were not known for their sobriety. Ocean View parents claimed their community was plagued by drunk and disorderly louts from the university who were leading the town youth astray.
Along with the conflicts, however, were also growing ties between the communities. Blue collar workers from Ocean View found construction and maintenance jobs at the university, and the campus community was a valuable customer for Ocean View shops, mills and farms. Residents of both areas realized that problems like law and order and water pollution could only be solved by cooperation. No one tried harder to bring the two communities together than Henry Durant. After his retirement from the university in 1873, he joined the Berkeley Land and Town Improvement Association, which was promoting development in Ocean View. Durant lobbied for a horsecar line down University Avenue, to unify the two Berkeleys. However, he had to settle for a stage that made only four trips per day. The horsecar line was not built until 1891, and even today, most of Berkeley's main thoroughfares run north-south rather than east-west. Durant also hoped a new Ocean View ferry would provide a common link to San Francisco for both Berkeleys. But the service lasted only two years, despite a financial subsidy from R.H. Thomas, owner of the Standard Soap Company.
In 1874 Durant chaired a public meeting to promote the incorporation of a city that would include both communities. But Ocean View opposition, particularly from farmers who feared high property taxes, killed the proposal. Henry Durant died in 1875, but his efforts on behalf of unification were carried on by others. Professor Martin Kellog chaired another incorporation meeting in 1877, and it proved far more successful. Residents from both Berkeleys were dissatisfied with the level of services from the county government which had jurisdiction over unincorporated areas. Moreover, Oakland seemed to be making plans to extend its borders north to include both the campus and Ocean View. Nothing promotes unity more than a common enemy, and Oakland thus proved an ideal unifying force. The meeting overwhelmingly supported a petition to the state legislature requesting incorporation. The legislature voted its approval, and on April 1, 1878 the governor signed a bill that formally established the city of Berkeley.
Cynics may believe that it was particularly appropriate that a place that is sometimes called "Bezerkeley" was incorporated on April Fools Day. But incorporation was a serious matter. It may have been a shotgun wedding, but two very different communities were now joined together in an uneasy political union that has managed to last for 125 years.
End of Chapter 2
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