Alameda, a Spanish word for a grove of poplar trees, was originally a forest of giant coastal live oaks, wild flowers, thick under brush and poison oak, situated on a 2,200 acre peninsula, half marsh. For nearly 3500 years the first residents were probably a branch of the Miwok Indians, then in 1820 Luis Peralta received it in what was to become one of the most valuable land grants in the state of California. Comprising portions of El Cerrito, Berkeley, Albany, Oakland, Piedmont, and Alameda, the 35 square mile area became Rancho San Antonio. In 1842, dividing the property between his four surviving sons, Antonio Maria got all of Alameda and much of Oakland.
Considered the founding fathers of Alameda, William Worthington Chipman, a Vermont native, came to San Francisco by way of Panama in 1850. Opening a reading room there, he met a 34 year old carpenter from Pennsylvania named Gideon Aughinbaugh, becoming partners and friends for the next 23 years. On October 22, 1851 they purchased from Antonio Peralta, the entire area known as "the Encinal", 160 acres, east of what is now Versailles St. to San Leandro Bay. The price....$14,000. 1853 was a big year for the town with its name changing to Alameda.
Chipman and Auginbaugh started a ferry service to San Francisco which lasted one year. The first school opened in a one-room cabin located on the grounds of the current Lincoln School on Fernside. The Methodist Church organized, opening the first church. A bridge and road linking Alameda to San Leandro via Bay Farm Island was built in 1854 as was the first Post Office on Webster St. near Haight Ave.
Early residents settled in three separate communities. "Old Alameda" located on the east end around High Street, and "The Encinal on lands adjacent" located along the shore of San Antonio Creek, which later became the Estuary, was predominantly settled by people from New England.
The "Woodstock" area located on the west end of the peninsula had a more diverse mix of people. To accommodate railroad construction workers and visiting sportsmen, the Italian families tended gardens in the area west of Webster St. and Bird's Point at the foot of Pacific Avenue, along with some Portuguese and Spaniards. The Chinese came in the 1850s as servants to the wealthy, opening laundries, selling vegetables, as well as being laborers for the railroads. The largest national group, were the Germans, occupying a section between Stanton and Webster St. during the last 25 years of the nineteenth century. Japanese immigrants arrived around 1895, working as handymen and gardeners. The Alaska Packers formed in 1893 for canning salmon, wintering the fleet here, manned by Italian and Scandinavian crews.
Ship building began in earnest during World War I by the Moore, Bethlehem Steel, and Todd companies. Opening of the Alameda Naval Air Station during World War II brought increased ship building and much activity to the small island city.
Alameda incorporated the 3 communities under one charter in 1872. The first bridge across the Estuary was built in March 1871 at Webster St., replaced in 1900 and again in 1926 by the underwater Posey Tube. A wooden cantilever bridge built in 1874 replaced the first one built by Chipman and Auginbaugh, connecting Bay Farm Island's 30 residents to farm land that contained 1,800 acres in 1873, with only 300 originally above high tide. The first high school began in 1874, as did the project of separating the peninsula from Oakland which was eventually completed in 1902.
Rail and ferry service played a pivotal role in development. The Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869 and Alameda was the western terminus for two short months until the Central Pacific Railroad extended its Oakland pier. Alfred A. Cohen, owned most of what is now called Fernside, building a commuter rail service through town which traveled along Lincoln Ave. (Railroad Ave. then), before continuing to San Leandro and Hayward. Completed in 1878, a narrow gauge line was built by James G. Fair. Called the Southern Pacific Railroad, or "Bay and Coast Railroad" company, the trains left from High Street on Encinal Avenue traveling down to the west end at Fourth Street, where it turned north over the marsh and connected to ferry service at Alameda Point. In 1884, the Alameda Pier was built, later becoming the transportation connection for rail to ferries known as the "mole" when the Central and Southern Pacific railroads merged in 1894.
Alameda became a destination for recreation and sporting events, with resorts along the coast line providing fresh water "baths" for swimming, giant amusement centers, as well as ballrooms and saloons. Terrace Baths opened in 1870, where 22 gas lamps allowed swimming at night. Decorum meant separate pools for women and children. Cottage Baths, was opened in 1893 by "Ma" Schmidt. The clientele included celebrities like Ethel Barrymore, Al Jolson, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Jack London.
Daughter Nell Schmidt was the first woman to swim across San Francisco Bay with a time of 3 hours and she changed swim wear fashion by appearing in an abrev- iated silk suit. But the most famous resort, was Neptune Gardens opened in 1915 under the ownership of F. J. Croll, attracting thousands on weekends for special events such as boxing matches with well known fighters John L. Sullivan and Jim Corbett. It was here, that the first professional baseball game was held in California. In 1917, A.F. Strehlow became the new owner, changing the name to Neptune Beach.
The west end had the first airport for passenger service in 1928. Pan American Airways also operated the China Clippers which started the first commercial aerial crossings over the Pacific. Here too were the ghostly remains of a once industrial past: Borax Soap Company, Pacific and Standard Oil, and the original terminus for the Central Pacific Railroad. The impetus for change came in the mid 1930s. Alameda deeded the U.S. Government land in the west end for an elaborate 100 acre Army Base known as Benton Field, and another deed of 929 acres of tideland and submerged land in 1935, for $1, marked the beginning of Alameda as a Navy town. Official opening of Alameda Naval Air Station was November 1, 1940, where the airfield operated for 56 years of continuous fleet support. Today, Alamedans face the challenges of rebuilding almost 1/3 of the city in the wake of base closure in August 1996.
In 1955, Alameda undertook its most controversial fill operation, a three year project creating South Shore. Few realize that this idea was considered for decades, as evidenced by a 1920s artistic rendering of what the area would look like found in the collection of the Alameda Museum.
With a population of 80,000 in 1998, Alameda still retains the feel of a small Midwestern town. That Alameda has more Victorian style homes per capita that any other place in the United States is a tribute due largely to the establishment of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society in the early 1970s and the Alameda Historical Society and Museum founded in 1948. New groups, like the USS Hornet Foundation museum, aboard the restored ship, opened in 1998 plus the Alameda Naval Air Museum and Western Aerospace Museum plan to establish educational and recreational exhibits which will continue the legacy of preserving Alameda's past for the benefit of future generations.
Alameda continues its tradition of offering many recreational attractions, including tennis, golf, beaches, yacht clubs, marinas, boat ramps, plus numerous parks. Small business districts with corner markets, antique shops, restaurants, and neighborhood schools add to the area charm. Civic groups and service clubs, combined with the diversity of its people and the recent addition of technology companies coming into the business parks at the Marina and Harbor Bay developments make Alameda a truly wonderful place to live.
Compiled by the Alameda Education Foundation with special thanks to AEF member Robbie Dileo, The Alameda Historical Museum, and The Alameda Free Library.
Early Settlers Commemorated
If you search early maps of the East Bay for evidence of Alameda, you will see that our town was originally a peninsula, part of the landholdings of Luis Maria Peralta. He was a member of the Anza party of Spaniards who came here during the 1770s to settle the territory and build missions to convert the natives.
For his services, Peralta received the 45,000 acre land grant in 1820; on today's maps it would stretch from Richmond all the way down to San Jose. He partitioned the land and willed the portions to his sons, Antonio, Domingo, Ignacio, and Vicente, who built a total of sixteen houses thereon.
Little was known about the family or their home until U.C. Berkeley historian Jacob N. Bowman unsnarled land grant litigation, conducted interviews with the few living "Californios," and tracked down Peralta descendents. The distillation of his toils, "The Peraltas and Their Houses," was originally published in the California Historical Society Quarterly in 1951.
Antonio's 1870 house in Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood is being restored in the midst of the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park, soon to be open to the public. To commemorate this event, Bowman's minor masterpiece of research, extrapolation, and erudition, has been reprinted in a keepsake edition, with new illustrations and updated maps.
For a printed copy, send a check for $9.50 payable to the Alameda County Historical Society and mail it to ACHS PMB 307, 484 Lake Park Avenue, Oakland, CA 94610-2730.