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El Cerrito squirrels have a long track record of causing East Bay power outages

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An El Cerrito squirrel pondering a power grab while on a PG&E utility pole in El Cerrito.

The electrical outage that hit the East Bay this week dominated locally focused folks on social media, particularly when a squirrel that got into the Schmidt Lane substation in El Cerrito was named by PG&E as the culprit.

Twitter buzzed with comments, snark and speculation on the rodent that left several cities and some 45,000 households in the dark.

India Today: Squirrel causes massive power outage in US: The squirrel entered the substation in El Cerrito caused the outage…

Gimme Sympathy ‏@weresoclose Squirrel assault shuts down East Bay: In a clandestine raid last night, squirrels shut down an El Cerrito, …

DarkandWondrous ‏@DarkandWondrous: several yrs ago I was in El Cerrito nr that substation—heard a SSSZZT as a squirrel became circuit&power cut

Chris Preimesberger ‏@editingwhiz Jun 8: A squirrel got zapped in a power station in El Cerrito, knocking out power to 45,000 homes and businesses. Sheesh.

Zach ‏@BarroldBonds Jun 8 45,000 people in the East Bay lost power b/c a squirrel got into a substation in El Cerrito and chewed on something. Ya couldn’t make it up.

One commenter said it sounded like a squirrel terrorist attack, another speculated that the squirrel was a “scaperodent” used by PG&E to hide the real reason of the outage.
But the fact is, squirrels dying on suicide missions at the Schmidt Lane substation and bringing the East Bay to its knees is nothing new, as these examples from the Contra Costa Times archives show. In one case the guilty rodent was placed in a plastic bag and stored in a PG&E freezer in Oakland (hopefully not near an employee’s TV dinner) as evidence in case any claims came in against the utility. As the spokesperson noted, blackout by squirrel is considered an “act of nature” and not the utility’s fault. And the nature of squirrels in El Cerrito is to get into the substation and wreak havoc with the equipment. They are a crafty bunch and we suspect there is a large stash of acorns hidden somewhere in the PG&E substation.

Squirrel sparks electricity outage
About 28,000 PG&E customers in Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito and Richmond lacked power for three hours Wednesday
Publication: West County Times
Print Run Date: 5/23/2002
Dateline: EL CERRITO
An errant squirrel met an unfortunate end Wednesday when its encounter with a circuit breaker at a Pacific Gas & Electric substation in El Cerrito knocked out power to thousands of customers temporarily and knocked out the squirrel permanently.
About 28,000 customers lost power at 12:10 p.m. The outage affected homes and businesses in El Cerrito, Richmond and parts of north Berkeley and Albany. Power was flowing to all customers by 3:04 p.m.

Police reported no major problems tied to the outage. Richmond police did take to major intersections to direct traffic in place of dark traffic lights. The city’s Civic Center turned to its emergency generators.

Temporary stop signs were posted at less busy Richmond and El Cerrito intersections.

“We have animals interacting with our equipment occasionally, ” said PG&E spokesman Jason Alderman. “Something of this magnitude is rare.”

Alderman said substations are fenced in and the vegetation around them cut back, in part, to discourage curious wildlife. But given the amount of PG&E equipment and the number of critters, the occasional run-in is inevitable.

The deceased squirrel is now resting in peace in a plastic bag in an Oakland freezer, preserved as evidence for customers seeking proof that their spoiled meat and unset video cassette recorders were not the utility’s doing, Alderman said.

“If it’s an act of nature, as a squirrel is, then we’re not responsible for it, ” Alderman said.

Most customers understand, Alderman said, but “every once in a while, if someone is particularly litigious, the squirrel will be put in a cooler and taken to court.”

Squirrel cuts power to 25,000
Publication: West County Times
Print Run Date: 11/6/2000
Twenty-five thousand customers from El Cerrito to Oakland lost power Sunday morning after a squirrel got inside a transformer at an El Cerrito substation.
The power was out from about 10:25 to 11:55 a.m., said Maureen Bogues, spokeswoman for Pacific Gas & Electric.

A BART spokeswoman, Jeanie Riehl, said the power went out at 10:20 a.m. at the Berkeley BART station.

Most of the customers who lost power were in Berkeley, Bogues said.

The Berkeley BART station was closed at 10:20 a.m. after the station went dark, and it was reopened at noon, Riehl said.

Train power was not affected and service went on as scheduled, except that trains did not stop at the Berkeley station, she said.

Electrocuted squirrel causes power outage
Publication: West County Times
Print Run Date: 11/28/1999
EL CERRITO About 37,000 East Bay homes and businesses lost power Saturday afternoon after a squirrel crawled into a transformer at an El Cerrito substation and was electrocuted, a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spokesman said.
The downtown Berkeley BART station briefly closed because of the outage, which began at 2:23 p.m., but it reopened at 3:08. Berkeley public-radio station KPFA had to shift to an emergency power generator during the outage.

The squirrel’s electrocution caused the circuit breakers to kick over, spokesman Jonathan Franks said. Affected PG&E customers in El Cerrito, central Berkeley, Emeryville and Albany were without power until after 3 p.m. By rerouting electricity, PG&E restored power to all except about 7,900 customers by 3:05 p.m., said PG&E spokesman Ron Low, and the rest were back in service as of 3:20 p.m.

A similar outage occurred July 4, when another curious squirrel found its way into the El Cerrito substation and was killed.

Power outage caused by curious squirrel
West County Times
Print Run Date: 7/5/1999
A power outage that affected some 38,000 customers in the East Bay on Saturday was caused by a squirrel getting into an El Cerrito substation’s transformer bank, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said.

The problem began around 12:50 p.m. and lasted until 2:10 p.m., said the utility’s Maureen Bogues. It affected customers in El Cerrito, Kensington, Richmond, Albany, Berkeley and Oakland, she said.

The outage was widespread because the transformer bank feeds three substations in Berkeley, Bogues said.

Wayward squirrel blamed for outage
West County Times
Print Run Date: 6/23/1998
El Cerrito — A squirrel that scurried into an area it shouldn’t have is being blamed for the loss of electricity to about 3,400 customers in parts of El Cerrito, Kensington, Albany and North Berkeley on Monday afternoon.
The squirrel got into a circuit breaker at the substation at the end of Schmidt Lane in El Cerrito about 1:20 p.m., said Chris Johnson, a PG&E spokesman.

Workers restored power gradually, and all the customers had electricity by 3:30 p.m., Johnson said.

The squirrel died, Johnson said.

Squirrels, birds and rats are common sources of power outages, although PG&E takes measures to keep them off equipment, Johnson said.

By comparison, the squirrels in Lafayette simply aren’t as determined or well-connected.

Squirrel is responsible for power outage

Publication: Contra Costa Times
Print Run Date: 7/28/1995
LAFAYETTE – A squirrel short-circuited some electrical equipment, cutting power to nearly 3,000 people Thursday morning, a PG&E spokeswoman said.
The outage happened about 7:45 a.m. at Stanley Boulevard and Vacation Drive and cut power to about 2,900 customers in Lafayette and a small portion of Walnut Creek. The outage also cut power to numerous stop-lights and snarled the morning commute going to Highway 24 through Lafayette.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. crews had power restored to 85 percent of the customers by 9 a.m., said Diane Sable, a company spokeswoman. The remaining customers were expected to have power back by noon, she said.

The squirrel didn’t make it, Sable said.

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El Cerrito squirrels are adept at traversing the city’s electrical distribution infrastructure.

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El Cerrito squirrels have been known to gather in gangs to hatch their plots.

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The Schmidt Lane substation “is the terminus for high voltage electric lines bringing power from the distant Feather River.”

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Richmond: Learn about Fong Wan, Oakland’s forgotten entrepreneur, on Saturday

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A 1941 ad for Fong Wan’t New Shanghai Club in downtown Oakland, featuring Mei Lan, the “original Chinese Sally Rand,” and the Fong Wan Acrobatic Troupe. Also note Samee Tong as the master of ceremonies. Tong, a San Francisco native, worked on bills at Fong Wan’s clubs for years and was frequently billed as “The playboy of Chinatown.” Tong had a long acting career dating back to 1934 and lasting into the 1960s. He had a regular role (as a Chinese houseboy) in the 1950s sitcom “Bachelor Father” and an appearance in the classic film comedy “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” as a Chinese laundryman.

A program at 2 p.m. April 11 at the Richmond Museum of History will look at the life of Fong Wan, one of the greatest Oakland entrepreneurs you’ve probably never heard about.
Fong Wan was a savvy marketer — and heavy advertiser in newspapers around the Bay Area — who established an herbalist shop in Oakland and built on that with a diverse number of enterprises during the 1930s and ’40s that included night clubs in Oakland and San Francisco and a shrimp harvesting business based in Richmond.
Most importantly, Fong Wan successfully branded himself, putting the Fong Wan name — and usually his picture in advertisements — before the public at a time when Asians were largely kept on the margins of society.
The building where he had his herbalist shop and the family home on 10th Street in Oakland is still standing.
Here is the official announcement:

The Richmond Museum of History is pleased to announce an upcoming program about the Chinese experience in Richmond. Calvin Fong will speak on
Saturday April 11 at 2 p.m. about his Father, Fong Wan, and their experience owning the Fong Wan Shrimp Company (1934-1948) in Richmond.

Fong Wan was a Chinese immigrant based in Oakland who ran many businesses including hotels, night clubs, restaurants, an emporium type store, and a shrimp harvesting and distribution business. However, Fong Wan is best remembered for his role as a noted herbalist, who was arrested and accused of being a fraud and ultimately acquitted each time.

Learn more about the fascinating history of Fong Wan and his time in Richmond on Saturday April 11, 2015 at 2PM. The program is free with general admission of $5 for adults and $3 for seniors/students. More information at the Richmond Museum website: http://richmondmuseum.org

This program is being held in conjunction with the temporary exhibit Shrimping on the Bay: A view from Richmond on view at the Richmond Museum of History from March 21 – May 21, 2015. For more information call 510-235-7387 or email info@richmondmuseum.org.

fong wan shrimp co 1930s

FONG WAN CLUB OAKLAND 1949
A 1949 ad for Fong Wan’s Club Oakland.

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A 1936 ad for Fong Wan’s herbalist practice notes that he has been in Oakland for 21 years.

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More about the Oakland Oaks and their first PCL baseball title in 1912

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Times history columnist Nilda Rego this week writes about the first Pacific Coast League pennant won by the Oakland Oaks in 1912. The Oaks were charter members of the PCL, but a title didn’t come until the team’s 10th season.
The Oaks blew a 3-1 lead to the Los Angeles Angels on the second-to-last day of the season, taking a 4-3 loss that dropped them into second place. The title wasn’t secured until the next day when the “Fighting Oaks” took both ends of a doubleheader over the Angels to bring the title to the East Bay.
The new champions were the toast of the town, celebrated at events at the rooftop garden of the Capwell building (attended by Mayor Frank Mott and department store magnate H.C. Capwell) and a public gathering hosted by the Oakland Tribune at the Orpheum Theatre.
Here is some of the coverage from the Oakland Tribune in 1912. (Note the cartoon marking the end of the baseball season and the start of the rugby season, which was the official college sport rather than football at the time.)

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Berkeley: Giveaway on Sunday of seats from UC Theatre

The UC Theatre in Berkeley is offering a unique opportunity to longtime fans on Sunday: Free original theater seats, available first-come, first serve. The new owners of the funky and beloved movie house, who are raising funds to turn the theater into a performance venue, posted the following Friday on their Facebook page:

Memories that last a lifetime available Sunday Noon to 4pm at The UC Theatre!
We’re giving away some of the UC Theatre Rocky Horror nourished, Landmark Theatre initiated, historic theatre seats…
FREE – ONE TIME ONLY this Sunday, March 1st, from 12noon to 4pm.
If you are interested, here are the conditions we ask you to follow:
1) First come, First Served.
2) Seats are in sections – no single or double or triple seats available – the smallest sections available are 4-6 seats. Larger sections are also available. The seats are VERY HEAVY!
3) Seats must be removed as is.
4) You must have a truck or van, and a minimum of 2 strong people to load them. They are VERY HEAVY!
5) We cannot give away the chairs unless you meet the criteria above. No exceptions.
Please spread the word to people who will adopt, cherish, and give these seats a good home!
Donations to the Berkeley Music Group in support of The UC Theatre “Turn on the Lights” Capital Campaign are much appreciated. www.theuctheatre.org/support.
See you at the Theatre this Sunday!
Thanks!

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El Cerrito: PG&E explains cause of this week’s power outage and the reason bright lights are being used overnight

El Cerrito residents have inquired about bright lights being used all night at the PG&E substation on Schmidt Lane and the utility has an explanation.
The lights are needed to replace equipment at the substation that was damaged at the substation on Jan. 20, which in turn caused a power outage to more than 30,000 customers from Berkeley to parts of Richmond.The lights allow crews to work safely at night.
Crews will continue work at the substation 24/7 through the weekend, said a PG&E spokeswoman, which may not help nearby beighbors rest any easier, but at least provides an explanation.

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Hand-tinted images of the Panama Pacific International Exposition from 100 years ago

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Color photography wasn’t an option when the Panama Pacific International Exposition opened 100 years ago in what is now the Marina district of San Francisco, but the Bardell Art Printing Co. of San Francisco issued beautiful and painstakingly hand-tinted images of the World’s Fair in numerous forms, including fine prints and postcards.
Shown here are images of the fair buildings from an album issued by Bardell in 1915. By the time of the Golden Gate International Exposition 24 years later, color photography (and film) was available, but expensive, and black-and-white pictures and home movies were still the norm, as were tinted postcards that don’t live up to their predecessors.
Special days at the PPIE for Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond and other West Coast cities were held acknowledging their contributions to the still-young state. (It should be noted that the “End of the Trail” statue was repeated at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island on 1939).

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Palace of Education.

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Birdseye view of the Pan.-Pac. Int. Exposition.

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Arch of the Rising Sun — Court of the Universe.

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Palace of Fine Arts.

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Palace of Horticulture.

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Arch and Fountain of the Setting Sun.

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Court of Flowers.

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Festival Hall.

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Court of Palms.

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Fountain of Ceres — Court of the Four Seasons

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Tower of Jewels — Fountain of the Setting Sun.

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Reflection in the Lagoon — Court of Four Seasons.

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Lagoon and Fountain — South Gardens.

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Palm Avenue.

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Reflection in the Lagoon — Court of Four Seasons.

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Illumination Mullgardt’s Tower — Court of Abundance.

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Column of Progress.

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Dome of Fine Arts Palace Illuminated.

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Tower of Jewels.

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Colonnades Palace of Fine Arts.

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Statue: End of the Trail and Tower of Jewels.

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Tower of Jewels Illumination.

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Tower and Court of Abundance.

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Tower of Jewels.

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Berkeley in the 19th century, part 4: The ill-fated original School for the Deaf

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The original California School for the Deaf, which was destroyed by a fire in 1875.

In 1941 the Berkeley Daily Gazette ran a series of articles for the city’s 75-year jubilee by Charles Colin Emslie reminiscing about life in the young town and the greater area in the late 19th century.

“As a special feature, tying the 75th birthday of the city in with the Diamond Jubilee events extending through May and into June, the Gazette tonight published on page two the first of a series of articles on the early history of Berkeley. They have been compiled and written by C.C. Emslie, whose family have lived here since the middle “seventies.” Emslie, now a veteran among local realtors, was a local newspaperman in his early days,” the Gazette noted in introducing the series.
“Today’s special edition of the Gazette is intended to give impetus to the Berkeley celebration which already has attracted national attention. The idea of an annual observance of Berkeley’s birthday was started by the Gazette. Overnight the suggestion was taken to heart by civic leaders.”

This installment is about the original California School for the Deaf, which was destroyed by a fire in 1875. (The building had earlier been damaged while still under construction by the last major earthquake on the Hayward fault in 1868. Mr. Emslie also relates tales about an early “haunted house” in the area.

Local Pioneer Tells of Fire
That Razed Deaf, Blind Home

By C.C. EMSLIE
During the explorations mentioned yesterday we found places of never-ending interest. One favorite trip was to the ruins of the Deaf and Blind Institute, which had been destroyed by fire in 1875. The stone walls which survived the blaze were blown down by explosives, as they had been damaged by the flames. Nothing remained but a mass of ruins.
The story of the fire, for which I am indebted to Mrs. Leon J. Richardson, whose father, Warring Wilkinson, was superintendent of the institute at the time of the fire, shows how fallible is human judgment. The original
specifications for the building called for a slate roof. The exterior walls and inside partitions were to be of stone.
In 1868 while the building was underway came the great earthquake of that year. Masonry and brick buildings bore, as usual, the brunt of the damage . Frame buildings stood up fairly well. The directors decided to complete the stone walls but to avoid danger from future temblors by the substitution of studding, lath and plaster for the partitions, and wood shingles instead of slate, and thus the building was completed.
One fine Sunday afternoon a spark from a kitchen chimney lodged on the roof and in a few hours the interior was completely gutted and the outside walls so damaged that they were taken down by the use of explosives. I am sure the comments of the directors as they surveyed the result of their efforts to construct an enduring edifice must have been interesting.
HAUNTED HOUSE
Losing interest for the time being in the ruins, we would wander south by the old Kelsey orchard to Russell St. and up to the Dunn Ranch, passing on our way a vacant building known as the “Haunted House, ” which stood on the north side of the street, near the head of Pine Ave. There was a number of hair-raising stories about the place and we believed them although they were somewhat contradictory. Among the pleasures of youth in my day was the faculty of believing everything you were told. Mr. Kelsey was seriously annoyed by juvenile raiders of his orchard, then one of the finest in Alameda County.
He had some success in keeping them away with the threat of a salt-loaded gun.
Of course he could not patrol the entire orchard at night and I have been told that he invented the haunted house legend to keep the more youthful of the night time raiders out of the east end of the orchard, where the building stood.
Arriving at the Dunn home on the southeast corner of the Tunnel Road and Domingo Ave., we would stop long enough to sample the juicy pears which Mr. Dunn delighted in growing. A few of the trees still stand opposite the entrance to the Claremont Hotel.
Miss Mary Dunn tells me the trees were planted in 1860.
Following the road a couple of hundred yards, we turned south a short distance to the north fork of Temescal Creek where was the most famous blackberry patch in the Berkeley hills. It is probably that a combination of soil and climate peculiar to the location that added size and flavor to the berries beyond those of any other section.
If our berrying was finished before sunset, our homeward route was straight down Russell St.
After sunset ‘it wasn’t, as there was the little matter of the haunted house to be considered, so before we came to the abode of fear we would make a wide detour through what is now Elmwood Park until we were sure no ghost would bother us.

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The successor school building in 1895.

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Souvenir postcard views of the 1925 Tournament of Roses parade

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In the age before television, the only to see the Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena was in person or via news photos or newsreel. If you did attend in person, you could share the experience with a souvenir postcard. We found this 80-year-old postcard strip of prize-winning floats, originally mailed when address requirements were minimal, at Wonderland Books in El Cerrito.
Note the float that has a dirigible made of flowers.

The Rose Bowl that year was a legendary matchup between Notre Dame, coached by Knute Rockne and featuring the famous “Four Horsemen,” in a showdown against Stanford, coached by Pop Warner and featuring all-time great Ernie Nevers.

Nevers established a Rose Bowl single-game rushing record in the game, with 114 yards on 34 carries. But Notre Dame prevailed 27-10.
Radio play-by-play of the Rose Bowl commenced the following year.

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Berkeley in the 19th century, part 3: San Pablo Avenue and other early roads

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College Avenue was unpaved in this view from 1885, but had separate pathways for carriages and pedestrians.

In 1941 the Berkeley Daily Gazette ran a series of articles for the city’s 75-year jubilee by Charles Colin Emslie reminiscing about life in the young town and the greater area in the late 19th century.

“As a special feature, tying the 75th birthday of the city in with the Diamond Jubilee events extending through May and into June, the Gazette tonight published on page two the first of a series of articles on the early history of Berkeley. They have been compiled and written by C.C. Emslie, whose family have lived here since the middle “seventies.” Emslie, now a veteran among local realtors, was a local newspaperman in his early days,” the Gazette noted in introducing the series.
“Today’s special edition of the Gazette is intended to give impetus to the Berkeley celebration which already has attracted national attention. The idea of an annual observance of Berkeley’s birthday was started by the Gazette. Overnight the suggestion was taken to heart by civic leaders.”

This installment is about the city’s early streets, including San Pablo Avenue, with the author citing no less an authority than Richmond schools superintendent Walter Helms as saying San Pablo took a different route north of the county line at what is now El Cerrito. Tom Panas of the El Cerrito Historical Society theorizes that there may have been seasonal wetlands in that area that would have forced early travelers to detour inland (see illustrations below).
Panas adds, “I recall that I once found in County Supervisors minutes from the early 1850’s (Victor Castro was a supervisor at the time if I recall correctly) that there were multiple requests for rock to be dumped along San Pablo Avenue at the County Line because it was so wet.”

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Charles C. Emslie in 1944.

Pioneer Discusses Early
Roads Through Berkeley

(Editor’s Note: This is the sixth article of a series on early Berkeley
written by Charles C. Emslie, who grew up here.)
By C. C. EMSLIE
San Pablo Ave. has an interesting history, too long to be told here.
It is usually considered to be Berkeley’s first highway but this is open to discussion. It was laid out as a public highway from Oakland to the old Spanish village of San Pablo in 1852 when the Berkeley region was a part, of Contra Costa County. There is some evidence that a roadway existed prior to that time, along part of the present route.
I am told by School Superintendent Walter Helms of Richmond, who is well versed in Contra Costa County history, that originally part of the road ran northerly along the foot of the hills from the entrance of Sunset View Cemetery to a point on the present highway near the northern boundary line of Richmond. This route was used to avoid the marshy ground which at that time made impassable a large part of the low country between El Cerrito and Richmond.
This is confirmed by Arthur A. Gray, head of the history department of the Berkeley High School, who was acquainted with a Mrs. Woolf whose father had settled in San Pablo in 1835. Mrs. Woolf, who died some 18 years ago at the age of 90, told Mr. Gray the same story. Unfortunately we have no information as to the southerly route from-the Contra Costa line.
OLD PERALTA ROAD
However, it is possible that the road through Berkeley to Oakland joined the old Peralta Road, whose history is also obscured in the mists of time.
When a small boy I heard occasional mention of an old road running northeasterly across Berkeley which was in use when our first settlers came but had long since disappeared. With one exception, Andrew Poirier, none of our oldest residents, some of whom were born here over 80 years ago, have any recollection of the road.
While gathering data for this sketch I found among the Poirier papers, of which more later, the original deed to the ranch which had been filed on in 1851 but the title to which had not been cleared until 1857, the date of the deed.
In this document the eastern boundary of the land was given as Peralta Road. This is now Racine St.
This street, which starts at Telegraph Ave. and 58th St., and runs northerly to Alcatraz Ave. is all that is left of the ancient Spanish highway.
In the office of the county engineer I found a helpful soul in D.H. Davis, who delved back to the Kellersberger map drawn in 1857.
This map showed that the Peralta Rd. ran from the homo of Vicente Peralta at 55th and Vicente Sts. just, north of Temescal Creek on a straight line to a point about 200 feet north of Addison St. just west of Shattuck Ave. and thence angling northwesterly, still on a straight line, to the home of Domingo Peralta, which stood at what is now the corner of Hopkins St. and Albina Ave., and ended at the old Castro home at El Cerrito.
Domingo Peralta settled in Berkeley around 1840. The road we are discussing was the direct route to his hrother Vicente’s house, from which the home of the other Peralta brothers, at San Leandro, was reached by following Telegraph Ave. to some point in Oakland and thence to San Leandro. Is it not reasonable to assume that the road dates back to the building of Domingo Peralta’s house?
San Pablo Ave., if it were in existence in 1840, would provide an easier road to Temescal and beyond than the Peralta Rd. It was but a short distance from Domingo’s home to the avenue which, if it then existed, he could follow it down to Temescal Creek, along which ran road from the mouth of the creek to Temescal. Near the foot of the creek was the landing place for boats bearing passengers and freight between San Francisco and Vicente Peralta’s home.
This route would provide the advantage of an established road the greater part of the way and the distance would be only about a mile longer than by way of the Peralta Rd., a large part of which ran through a swampy territory.
Does it seem likely that if there were a road where San Pablo now runs Domingo Peralta would go to the expense and trouble of building another highway to his brother’s house?

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An 1861 photo Albany Hill and San Pablo Avenue, with what could be a pond-like area crossing the road. (Courtesy El Cerrito Historical Society)

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Detail from a 1909 panoramic map showing Albany Hill and San Pablo Avenue. Many more streets had been added by this time, but the area west of San Pablo and north of Albany Hill appears darker than the surrounding land.

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Berkeley in the 19th century, part 2: A pioneer looks at the city’s early days

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A circa 1861 photo of San Pablo Avenue, then usually referred to as San Pablo Road, looking north of what would now be University Avenue toward Albany Hill, in the background at the left. Ocean View School is the building on the right.

In 1941 the Berkeley Daily Gazette ran a series of articles for the city’s 75-year jubilee by Charles Colin Emslie reminiscing about life in the young town and the greater area in the late 19th century. This installment is about the city’s beginnings. You can read the previous installment here.

As a special feature, tying the 75th birthday of the city in with the Diamond Jubilee events extending through May and into June, the Gazette tonight published on page two the first of a series of articles on the early history of Berkeley. They have been compiled and written by C. C. Emslie, whose family have lived here since the middle “seventies.” Emslie, now a veteran among local realtors, was a local newspaperman in his early days.

City’s History —
Pioneer Presents First of
Series on Early Berkeley

By C. C. EMSLIE
Editor’s Note: The Gazette today begins publication of an intimate History of Berkeley written by C. C. Emslle whose family settled here only nine years after the city was named. “Charlie” Emslle, dean of local realtors, grew up with Berkeley. He was a newspaperman in his youth and this early training is seen as he relates the Berkeley of old. In preparing the series, Mr. Emslie spent many months in research and refreshing the memory of other local old-timers.

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Charles C. Emslie in 1944.

“Births and Beginnings — the world will never weary of tracing them, that it may say, ‘Behold here is the seed, the plantation, from which this vital growth sprang.”
Especially so if myth and legend have gathered about the genesis of a man or a community, so that origins are obscured in the tinted mists of a far horizon. Ages hence some historian will curiously unwrap the dreamfolds in which Berkeley’s records will then be involved and from the local traditions will have antiquarian records assigned to them in the libraries of Town and University.”
Thus mused Edward B. Payne, Unitarian minister 40 years ago. A decade later Eva V. Carlin, an old teacher of mine, edited a small volume of essays by some of our early nature lovers entitled “A Berkeley year,” now long out of print. The contributors told of our hills, flowers, trees and birds.
Mr. Payne’s essay alone dwelt, although too briefly, on our beginnings. On what will Mr. Payne’s future historian base the tale of our city if those of us who knew Berkeley and before it was Berkeley leave no record of our memories? Therefore I will relate something of mine in the hope that others will tell of bygone days as they remember.
The Berkeley of 1876 when my family came here was mainly a farming region. Most of the people lived west of San Pablo Ave., from which a lively business district extended down University Ave. Between San Pablo and Shattuck Aves. was a scattering of homes.
East of Shattuck Ave. to the hills were a few houses, but most of the land was under cultivation.
Clarence S. Merrill, whose father was to open our first post office a year later, estimates the families east of Shattuck Ave. numbered about 30 when the office was opened.
TELEGRAPH AVE. DISTRICT
At the Telegraph Ave. entrance to the University were, as I remember, three stores, a pool room, a French restaurant, a German beer garden and three hotels. The hotels had been erected for the accommodation of the students.
The Shattuck Ave. train had not yet arrived. The homes of William Poinsett and F.K. Shattuck faced each other on what was to become our main street. A year passed before Louis Gottshall and William Stoddard became Berkeley Station’s first business firm by opening a grocery store at the southeast corner of Shattuck Ave. and Addison St. in a building erected by Mr. Shattuck.
This structure was moved years ago and is now 2062 Center St. The roof has been razed and the old-time wooden awning is gone. Otherwise its appearance is unchanged. Even the ancient wooden shutters still hang, though feebly, to the west wall. In the Veteran Volunteer Firemen’s museum at the City Hall is a photograph of this pioneer business building taken almost 60 years ago.
Another year passed before Berkeley became a town.
My home was at the southwest corner of Telegraph Ave. and Derby St. It was the first house built on the avenue between Dwight Way and the old Vicente Galindo home, just north of Temescal Creek.
wells fargo shattuck 1880
The Wells Fargo office on Shattuck Avenue, circa 1880.

EARLY NEIGHBORS
Our nearest neighbor to the north was the James Leonard family, on Blake St. just west of Dana St. Mr. Leonard was one of the four settlers who acquired large
holdings in east Berkeley in 1852. He sold a large portion of his property to the University, but retained a farm bounded by Russell and Ellsworth Sts., Dwight Way and a line running a short distance east of Telegraph Ave. His public spirit is shown by the donation of the land through his property required for the extension of Telegraph Ave. from Temescal to the University. He also served on the first board of the Peralta School District.
His daughters, Mrs. Margaret Dunn and Miss Letitia Leonard, who still reside on the Leonard tract, tell me the old home was built in 1854. It stood on the south side of Blake St. just west of Dana St.
All the buildings, with the exception of the farm-hands’ dining room, a separate structure, were torn down many years ago. This relic is probably the oldest building in east Berkeley.
Eastward, on College Ave., stood and still stands, a house built by a Mr. Hedge, some 70 years ago.
It is now the residence of Miss Elizabeth A. Downey, whose father acquired the property about 1890. The first owner was loyal to his name as he planted a cypress hedge along the entire frontage of his property from Garber St. to Forest Ave. and extending up the latter street about 350 feet. Despite its great age it is, in the main, almost as healthy as I remember it so many years ago. Passers-by are intrigued by its unusual shape, the result of the efforts of a Scotch gardener to make it conform to the old country fashion of trimming shrubbery in any but straight lines.
To the south was the J.B. Woolsey home at Deakin and Woolsey Sts. There it is today indifferent to the passing years.
NORTH TEMESCAL
Westerly to the Bay was a vast expanse of farming and pasture land. Most of the owners lived on San Pablo Avenue. Berkeley was then known as North Temescal. In the little village named after that romantic creek was the only postoffice in this region. There we went for our mail.
To find the address of a resident it was necessary to consult an Oakland directory. Berkeley’s first directory was not published until 1878. The lack of streets baffled
the directory people.
For instance, one directory gave the address of M. J. Dunn, owner of a large ranch on the Tunnel Road, east of Claremont Ave., as Oakland -— that and nothing more.
I have a directory of 1879 which locates the home of my uncle, Jeremiah Aherne, who came here in 1856, as on the east side of San Pablo Ave., near Strawberry Creek. As a matter of fact he lived half a mile east of the avenue. However, a stranger’s difficulties in finding the early day resident were not so great as it may appear.
First settlers were so few that everybody knew everybody else and the first man you met could direct you.
MARKETING SIMPLE
The problem of marketing was very simple. Of course grocery stores were quite a distance from most homes and there were deliveries, but twice a week a Chinese, bearing on his shoulders two large vegetable baskets, one on each end of a pole, traveled over the territory and the housewife did her shopping at her door. The distance covered by our vendor was about seven miles. As he commenced his rounds early in the morning and a portion of the day was consumed in haggling with the housewives, his customers near the end of the route had a more or less picked over stock to select from. However, the Chinese was resourceful and managed to freshen the appearance of his stock-in-trade by washing it in the brooks. The butcher made his rounds in a covered wagon, not the kind, however, that brought the immigrants to California. It was a traveling butcher shop. Under the circumstances it was impossible to insure complete sanitation. However, germs had not been discovered so the customers had nothing
to worry about.

berkeley wells fargo shattuck ca 1886
Expanded Wells Fargo & Co. Express building on Shattuck, circa 1886, with dirt roads and wooden sidewalk.