Berkeley, A City in History
by Charles WollenbergCopyright 2002
ENTER THE OCTOPUS
In 1878 the borders of the newly-incorporated Berkeley stretched from the bay to the crest of the eastern hills and from what is today approximately Eunice Street on the north to Derby Street on the south. This area included the populated parts of Ocean View and the campus community, but it also contained thousands of acres of open space, including the fields and vacant lands between the two settlements. Incorporation, then, did not end the physical separation between East and West Berkeley, and it also failed to erase the social, cultural and economic differences between the two communities. If anything, incorporation simply provided a forum in which differences could be aired and battles fought. For the rest of the nineteenth century, the rivalry between east and west was an essential ingredient of Berkeley politics.
Ironically, the Southern Pacific Railroad, the symbol of corporate greed and illegitimate power in late nineteenth century California, was the force that eventually ameliorated the east-west rivalry by establishing some common ground for both Berkeleys. In the 1870s, the Southern Pacific was the new name for the Central Pacific, the company which had received federal subsidies to build the western half of the transcontinental railroad. Construction was completed in 1869, and Oakland became the western terminus of the transcontinental. As a result, Berkeley's neighbor rapidly developed, becoming the California's second city and an integral part of the Bay Area's urban core. The railroad, meanwhile. grew into the state's largest corporation and most important economic force. For the rest of the nineteenth century, it dominated many aspects of California life, much like an octopus with tentacles reaching out in all directions. Former UC Berkeley student Frank Norris seized upon this image in his distinguished 1901 novel, The Octopus.
East v. West (cont.)
While the railroad consolidated its statewide power, Berkeley organized its new political structure. On May 13, 1878 the community's (male) voters went to the polls to choose the town's first five-member board of trustees and six-member school board, as well as the new town clerk, treasurer, assessor, constable and justices of the peace. Like Berkeley elections in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, the 1878 contest was dominated by two opposing slates of candidates, the 1878 slates pretty much reflecting the town's east-west split. Middle class East Berkeley by and large supported the Citizen's Ticket, while much of working class West Berkeley rallied around the Workingman's Party. When the 300-odd votes were tallied, the workingmen had won a significant victory, produced in part by an effective last minute get-out-the-vote campaign. (However, the Workingman's winning slate included a few candidates, like school board member Martin Kellogg, who were also endorsed by the Citizens Ticket.)
The Citizen's Ticket reflected local Berkeley political interests, but the Workingman's Party was a state-wide organization. Established in 1877 by San Francisco labor activists, the party was a political response to the economic depression of the 1870s, which affected California as well as most of the rest of the nation. Although the party's state platform included progressive reforms like the 8-hour day and greater educational opportunities for working class children, by 1878 the organization was dominated by Denis Kearney and his demagogic politics of anti-Chinese racism. Kearney ignored the complex causes of the depression, blaming virtually all of California's problems on the presence of Chinese immigrants. His huge sandlot rallies in San Francisco always ended with the chant, "The Chinese Must Go."
Although the Berkeley election was fought mainly on local issues, anti-Chinese activity was very much a part of the community's social landscape. A "Chinese Must Go" rally was held on Shattuck Avenue and several Chinese businesses were vandalized. In at least one instance, a Chinese man drew a gun to defend himself against a gang of white youths. The Workingman's Party eventually self-destructed as prosperity returned in the early 1880s, but anti-Asian prejudice continued to be an almost institutionalized part of both California and Berkeley life.
On the local level, the results of the 1878 election represented a substantial victory for West Berkeley and marked the beginning of several decades of "sectional" conflict in Berkeley politics. The town trustees were originally chosen at-large, with all voters electing all trustees. But in 1895, Berkeley switched to a ward system, with voters in particular sections of the city choosing board members to represent particular wards. In part, the change reflected West Berkeley's realization that as the years passed, the eastern section of the city steadily gained population, influence and power. The ward system at least guaranteed West Berkeleyans some representation on the Board of Trustees.
Even something as seemingly trivial as the location of the post office became an emotional east-west issue. When federal authorities determined that the facility would be in Ocean View rather than the university community, university administrators refused to patronize it, transporting the UC mail all the way to San Francisco to avoid benefiting West Berkeley. Eventually the authorities resolved the conflict by establishing post office branches in both areas.
Another matter that divided Berkeleyans was the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. The campus community had an active chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, which championed the prohibition of alcohol as an issue of Christian morality and a means to protect women and children from poverty and domestic abuse. The WCTU also served as an avenue for middle class women to become involved in broader political and community issues. Its strongest support came from "respectable" East Berkeleyans, while its anti-alcohol campaign was most vocally opposed by West Berkeley tavern owners and brewery operators. The city trustees outlawed the sale of booze in 1899 but rescinded the action a year later. In 1906 the measure was reinstated, and Berkeley remained officially "dry" until national prohibition was overturned in 1933. Unofficially, however, some West Berkeley cafes and student hangouts continued to be more than a little bit "damp."
The east-west rivalry also affected proceedings of the school board. At the time of Berkeley's incorporation, the Ocean View School had been serving West Berkeley for more than twenty years. Kellogg School, named after the UC professor who was then school board president, opened in 1880 to serve the campus community. Both institutions only went up to the eighth grade, and many well educated East Berkeley parents requested the establishment of a high school for their children. This demand was partially met by a number of private academies, including an institution run by Anna Head, one of the first women graduates of the university. (The current Head-Royce School in Oakland traces its origins back to the original Anna Head School, established on Channing Way in the 1880s.)
But these private institutions in no way diminished East Berkeley's campaign for a public high school. Most middle class parents expected the school to be located in the campus area, but working class West Berkeleyans opposed the establishment of a high school located outside of their community that would serve few of their children (who normally didn't attend classes beyond the eighth grade). In 1882 the School Board approved a compromise that allowed high school level courses to be taught at the Kellogg site, but a bond issue to build a separate high school did not pass until 1900. Even then, the bond passed over substantial West Berkeley opposition.
Given these sectional and class conflicts, town officials were understandably nervous about the location of government operations. The trustees avoided building a town hall for six years, alternately holding their meetings in rented facilities in East and West Berkeley. In 1884 they finally bit the bullet, deciding to locate the hall at what today would be roughly the corner of University Avenue and Sacramento Street. This put the seat of local government pretty much in the middle of nowhere, a location surrounded by open fields and pastures. The site's one virtue was that it was equally inconvenient for residents of both the campus community and Ocean View. Each section could at least be satisfied that its rival had not been favored with the town hall.
By the end of the nineteenth century, however, the Southern Pacific Railroad's Berkeley Branch Line had finally created the common ground that served as the logical location for most of the city's public institutions. In 1877 the railroad relocated its mainline along the Berkeley waterfront, where it remains today. This contributed to the commercial and industrial development of West Berkeley, but the railroad did not provide regular Berkeley passenger service on this line until the twentieth century. (And the Santa Fe Railroad did not build into Berkeley until 1902.) If nineteenth century Berkeley was going to be integrated into the regional and national rail network, then, it needed a branch line linking the town with the "S.P.'s" West Oakland depot and ferry terminal which provided service to San Francisco.
Such a branch line was Francis Kittredge Shattuck's earnest hope and vision. We have already seen that Shattuck, along with his brother-in-law George Blake and partners William Hillegass and James Leonard, was one of the town's original Anglo landowners (and illegal squatters on Domingo Peralta's land). For many years, Shattuck, Blake and Hillegass lived in Oakland, while Leonard farmed the partners' Berkeley property. Shattuck became an important business and political figure in Oakland, serving as mayor, city councilman and county supervisor. In 1868, however, he moved to Berkeley, building an impressive house with elaborate gardens on the site of today's Shattuck Plaza Hotel. He sold a plot of 40 acres south of his home to San Francisco hardware merchant J.L. Barker, and in the 1870s the two men worked together to develop their properties. Their most ambitious scheme was to get the Southern Pacific to build a local line through the Shattuck and Barker land holdings. They offered to provide a free Berkeley right of way, twenty additional acres for a station and rail yard, and a $20,000 cash subsidy. The offer was sufficient to persuade the Southern Pacific to form a separate corporation, the Western Development Company, to build a steam line to Berkeley.
The line followed a route that today includes Stanford Avenue, named after railroad president Leland Stanford, Adeline Street and Shattuck Avenue. The odd angle of Adeline in South Berkeley is due to the alignment of the original rail right of way. At University Avenue, the route looped back so that the train could return to Oakland on the original single track. Inside that loop, now Shattuck Square, the railroad built its Berkeley station. That general location has been Berkeley's transit hub ever since. The Downtown Berkeley BART station is just a few yards southwest of the original branch line depot, and the AC Transit F Bus still follows much of what was the original branch line route. The tracks to University Avenue were completed in 1876. In 1878 they were extended north to Vine Street, encouraging the initial commercial and residential development of what today is the North Shattuck neighborhood (and Gourmet Ghetto).
The branch line was the most convenient route to Oakland and the Southern Pacific ferry to San Francisco for both East and West Berkeley. It provided faster and more efficient service than either the San Pablo Avenue stage or the Telegraph Road steam dummy. As Shattuck and Barker had fervently hoped, the railroad eventually made Shattuck Avenue between University Avenue and Dwight Way Berkeley's downtown, a prosperous central commercial district serving both East and West Berkeley.
In that sense, the Shattuck Avenue corridor became common ground for Berkeley's rival sections. By the turn of the century, it was logical that Berkeley's major civic buildings and institutions be located in what was now recognized as "downtown." In 1899, the town hall was put on wheels and moved to a site on Grove Street (now Martin Luther King Jr. Way) between Allston Way and Center Street, just two blocks west of Shattuck. When the modest wooden building burned down in 1904, it was replaced by the current "old City Hall," completed in 1909 and now headquarters of the Berkeley Unified School District. In 1901, after a school bond issue finally passed, the city built the long-awaited high school on Milvia Street, just one block west of Shattuck. The public library was located on Shattuck itself, as was the main post office (until 1914 when a new building was built on Allston Way, one block west). But if the branch line brought Berkeleyans together, it also created a visible dividing line. By the turn of the century, Berkeley already had a "right" (east) and "wrong" (west) side of the tracks.
Movers and Shakers
Francis Kittredge Shattuck certainly deserves consideration as Berkeley's most important "mover and shaker" during the "railroad age" of the late nineteenth century. In addition to his development and real estate activity, he served as president of the town's first bank, established in 1891. In the same year, Shattuck provided a small site for Berkeley's first public library and agreed to serve as president of that institution's board of trustees. His wife, Rosa M. Shattuck, donated a larger site for a library constructed with Carnegie Foundation funds fourteen years later. That structure housed the library until the current Shattuck Avenue location was occupied in 1931.
Many other Berkeleyans played prominent roles in the community's nineteenth century development. (Mark) Ashby Avenue,(William) Woolsey Street and (Noah) Webster Street are examples of thoroughfares named for prominent nineteenth century settlers who subdivided their properties and promoted residential growth. Edward Harmon was one of several Berkeley farmers who sold lots to prospective homeowners. In the 1870s, Harmon went into the construction business and over a twenty year period, built more than forty houses on what had previously been his South Berkeley farmland. He was the major developer of the community of Lorin, which once boasted a train station located at Adeline Street and Alcatraz Avenue, as well as a school and post office. In the early 1890s, Berkeley annexed Lorin and some adjacent tracts in the city's first territorial expansion since incorporation in 1878.
Henry Berryman was North Berkeley's leading nineteenth century developer. A wealthy coal merchant and importer, Berryman bought Napoleon Bonaparte Byrne's farm in 1870 and moved into The Cedars, the large home Byrne had built two years earlier. Berryman subdivided the farm and became so prominent in North Berkeley life that when the Southern Pacific extended its branch line to Vine Street, the new Vine Street depot became known as "Berryman Station." He and his business associate, Felix Chappellet, bought the original water works established by the College of California. They extended the pipes, offering service to individual homeowners. (While Chappellet was unusual among pioneer Berkeley developers in not naming a street for himself, he did so honor his wife, Milvia.) In 1877 Berryman bought out his partner's interest in the water company and built Berryman Reservoir on Codornices Creek. Five year later, Berryman himself sold out, and Berkeley's water works began to be integrated into a larger East Bay system.
The most unusual nineteenth century Berkeley developer was Maurice Strellinger, aka Maurice Curtis. Strellinger/Curtis was a well-known San Francisco comic actor, whose play Sam'l of Posen was so popular that he became a wealthy man. In the 1880s, he invested in Berkeley real estate, buying considerable acreage in what had once been Domingo Peralta's homestead in north central Berkeley. Strellinger called his development Peralta Park and marketed it as an exclusive suburban tract where families would enjoy gracious country living. Today the homes would be scatt ered around a golf course, but in the 1880s such a development would be inevitably anchored by a luxury hotel. In 1888 Strellinger did indeed begin building the Peralta Park Hotel, a turreted Victorian monstrosity that featured sixty rooms and twenty baths. The hotel opened in 1891, and by that time Strellinger had promoted a horsecar line on Sacramento Street north from University Avenue to serve his new neighborhood. He named one Peralta Park street after his dramatic character, Posen, and another for his wife and leading lady, Albina.
In 1892 Strellinger was arrested in San Francisco for drunken behavior after a night of partying. Somehow the arresting officer ended up dead by gunshot. Strellinger denied any responsibility, but authorities indicted him for murder. The case went through four trials, two hung juries and one procedural dismissal. Finally, Strellinger was found not guilty, but by then he had long since used up his money and most of his public good will. He had to liquidate his properties, and the hotel went through a number of institutional uses before emerging as St. Mary's High School, operated by the Christian Brothers order. The institution still occupies the site, though fire destroyed the turreted upper stories of the old hotel in 1946, and the rest of the building was replaced in 1959. But the Leuders House, the largest of the thirteen Victorian homes built by Strellinger in Peralta Park, still stands on Albina, the street that was named for a leading lady.
Before his downfall, Maurice Strellinger/Curtis was also president of the Berkeley Electric Light Company, an enterprise which installed ten electric street lights on high towers and masts in 1888. One wag claimed they only let citizens see how dark it was, but the town agreed to buy the system from its private subscribers and operated the street lights for three years. When individual homeowners began signing up for electric hook-ups in 1891, the town privatized the operation, selling the enterprise back to individual investors. Eventually, Berkeley's electric system was integrated into the Pacific Gas and Electric Company's regional monopoly, though the idea of a municipally-owned system for Berkeley, like those operating in Alameda and Palo Alto, never completely died. Reformers proposed public power for Berkeley in the early twentieth century and again in the 1980s. A statewide power crisis in 2001 prompted further discussion, the city council agreeing to study the matter once again.
Telephone service came to Berkeley in 1882. The first coal gas lines were laid in Ocean View in 1877 and extended to East Berkeley in the early 1880s. Berkeley also got its first volunteer fire departments in the early eighties. The very first was "The Tiger" in West Berkeley, established in 1882, but it was unable to prevent the Brennan brothers' livery stable from going up in flames in 1883. Soon after, East Berkeley also established a fire station, the Columbia, and in 1887 the ubiquitous Maurice Strellinger subsidized the Posen Chemical Number One in his Peralta Park development. In 1891 South Berkeley got its very own Peralta Hook and Ladder Company. When they weren't fighting fires, the volunteer departments served as important community institutions, connecting Berkeley males of various social backgrounds in significant economic and political networks.
The growth of Berkeley during the railroad age, the new homes, businesses and infrastructure, profoundly changed the area's physical environment. In the 1850s and 60s, much of the former Peralta rancho was transformed from pasture to cultivated farmland. By the 1880s, however, substantial housing tracts and business districts were encroaching on the farms. Developers began filling marshes, channeling creeks and destroying riparian vegetation. Although Berkeleyans waxed poetic about their "Mediterranean" environment, in fact, they were transforming it into a landscape that looked suspiciously like the eastern United States. Homeowners planted lawns and all manner of flowers and shrubs imported from the east.
Most of all, Berkeleyans planted trees, a process which has transformed the area's bald grasslands into a substantial urban forest. As we have seen, Samuel Hopkins Willey was an inveterate tree planter, and many generations of Berkeley residents and campus planners have followed in his footsteps, with dramatic results. In 1878 the owner of the Dwight Way Nursery claimed that he had already sold 50,000 trees to the residents of the new town. J. L. Barker was just one of many prominent Berkeley businessmen who promoted the annual celebration of Arbor Day with mass tree plantings. Virtually all the species planted were non-native. Even the coast redwood and Monterey pine that are such a handsome part of Berkeley's landscape today were native to nearby areas but not Berkeley itself. The ubiquitous blue gum eucalyptus was introduced into California from Australia in the 1850s, and Berkeley tree enthusiasts planted it with abandon. The eucalyptus grove near the west gate of the campus, planted as a windbreak in the 1870s, contains some of the oldest and tallest examples of the species in the Bay Area. Cedar Street may well have been named for a large West Berkeley conifer planted over a century ago. In 1998, El Niño-driven storms toppled the tree, (which was actually a cypress) killing a passing motorist in a bizarre, unintentional consequence of one nineteenth century attempt at beautification.
These changes in the landscape are some of the most dramatic reflections of Berkeley's substantial economic and population growth during California's railroad age, the age of the Octopus. From less than 2,000 residents at the time of incorporation in 1878, Berkeley's population increased to more than 13,000 in 1900. But the community's movers and shakers believed this was just the beginning, and, as it turned out, they were right. At the dawn of the new century, Berkeley was embarking on the greatest economic and population boom in its history---one that would transform a still rural town into a city.
End of Chapter 3
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