By Chris Treadway
Friday, July 22nd, 2011 at 9:23 pm in Albany.
We know the when and why of the new city motto “Urban Village by the Bay” for Albany.
But what about its predecessor, “Northern Gateway to Alameda County”? When and why was it chosen?
The deposed slogan had reigned for decades and had gotten some negative reviews in recent years, including being called “As bland as you’d
expect” in 2007 by The Cougar, the student newspaper at Albany High School.
Curious, we made inquiries recently about when the motto was established.
Assistant City Manager Judy Lieberman, who worked on the city’s recent branding project that came up with the new motto, said the earliest reference she knew of to “The Northern Gateway” dated from 1940, but she wasn’t sure of the source.
Peggy McQuaid of the Albany Historical Society cited a reference to the slogan in a 1947 history of the city.
“In ‘The Story of the City of Albany California,’ published by the Albany Police and Fire Employees Civil Service Club in 1947, reference is made by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to Albany as the gateway to Alameda County.”
“‘Situated as it is on the northern boundary of Alameda County, it (Albany) is rightfully the Gateway to Alameda County.’”
She also referred to the City Council minutes of March 6, 1950, when an emblem with the slogan was presented to the council by the Chamber of Commerce.
The council approved the chamber’s request that it be officially made the emblem of the city “and it was the consensus the emblem would be good advertising for the City.”
There you have “branding” 1950s style.
So we know when the motto became official, but not its incubation.
Our own take in a previous post on this blog was that, while geographically accurate, the motto “was most useful as an answer to an out-of-town motorist who rolls down the window and asks ‘Where the hell am I?’ ‘Why, you’re in the Northern Gateway to Alameda County, stranger.’” Our unwritten guess was that it was a promotional play on the rise of the automobile.
Perhaps it was the arrival of new traffic from the rerouting of the cross country Lincoln Highway in 1927 to come over the Carquinez Bridge and follow San Pablo Avenue to Oakland.
Or its successor, the Eastshore Highway (now Interstate 80), built in 1936-37 to take traffic to the new Bay Bridge or to Oakland.
It looks like our instincts were right with the latter and like there might have been a good deal of civic pride at the time in a slogan that now seems to have lost significance.
In digging through the archives of the Oakland Tribune, the first mention of “Albany” and “Northern Gateway” comes on May 9, 1937 at the gala celebration of the opening of Aquatic Park and the Berkeley Marina.
Both the marina and park, whose construction totaled $1.5 million, were byproducts of the highway construction, which involved considerable landfill along the Berkeley shore.
All the nearby jurisdictions participated with floats, including the upcoming Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island, a world’s fair that promised to bring visitors to the region.
Albany entered a float that the Tribune noted was “marked ‘Northern Gateway to Alameda County.’”
(Berkeleyans can be proud of their forebears, who released 1,000 pigeons “carrying good-will messages” at the dedication ceremony for the aquatic park and yacht harbor. Or maybe they would be ashamed over the imprisonment of animals. Either way, it was a gala event.)
If there was any doubt about what the Albany’s promoters had in mind with the motto, consider that the Tribune described the city’s float as having a “Glittering silver and gold setting for a gateway.”
Albany and all the other cities on the Eastshore Highway were promoting themselves to motorists in a pre-focus group effort at “branding” and all with lots of silver and gold in mind.
Prior to the opening of the four-lane, largely surface route highway, a cleanup event was held in early 1937 along the shoreline and on San Pablo Avenue to remove garbage and the like so the best impression could be made by the expected influx of motorists.
The local viewpoint, and a mention of what would become the motto were contained in a letter from Albany booster J.C. Cappelmann published in the Tribune shortly before the opening of the Eastshore Highway.
There was a lot riding on the highway and the prospect of bringing in new customers to local merchants, new lodgers at the auto courts (motels) that were springing up, new homebuyers entering the jobs center that was the “Greater Metropolitan Oakland” area.
One of the guides to all those dreams was a literal roadmap, the highly anticipated 1937 AAA map for the Eastshore Highway.
The automobile club had prepared a similar map that was published in the Tribune in November 1936 that showed Albany and its other Eastshore counterparts.
So one can only imagine the looks on the faces of Albany boosters when the map was published in June of ’37 and there was a blank spot where the city was supposed to be.
The omission may have prompted the letter by Cappelmann, who was a property promoter in town and a active at the Albany VFW post based at the veterans building in Memorial Park.
Mr. Cappelmann added a new urbanist twist to his letter, calling for a high-density residential project with ground floor retail.
A high-density residential project did materialize in Albany a few years later when Veterans Village (now University Village) was built to house workers and personnel during the war, but we don’t think it’s what Mr. Cappelmann had in mind.