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Eastshore Highway, ancestor of Interstate 80, officially dedicated in El Cerrito 79 years ago this week

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The granddaddy of the Bay Area freeway system was dedicated 79 years ago this week at a ceremony at San Pablo Avenue and Hill Street in El Cerrito on May 27, 1936. The Eastshore was the first newly built highway in the Bay Area, constructed to handle traffic heading to the new Bay Bridge and Oakland and relieve the increasing volume on San Pablo Avenue. At the time it was dedicated it was described as “one of the most modern and finest stretches of roadway in California.”
Modern or not, the highway saw continual upgrades almost from the time it was completed. The highway was expanded from two lanes to three in each direction and in 1940 stoplights were added at the entrances on Ashby and University avenues in Berkeley.
Then as now, officials in Berkeley were hard-pressed to figure out how to handle the complex interchange at Gilman Street.
In 1942 a second roadway branching off at Albany and originally dubbed the Shipyard Highway, was created using more Bay fill to handle the volume of traffic from defense workers going to the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond. That roadway is now a portion of Interstate 580 and connects to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
The Eastshore Highway became the Eastshore Freeway in the 1950s, expanded and extended through West Contra Costa to the Carquinez Bridge. Today the successor to the cornerstone of the Bay Area freeway system is 10 lanes wide, with dedicated carpool lanes, yet it consistently ranks at or near the top of the most congested freeways in the Bay Area.

Eastshore Highway under construction in 1934.
Original caption: “S. F.. BRIDGES.. S. F. OAKLAND; E. B. FILL LEADING TOWARD BERKELEY” from the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection

Eastshore Highway April 1936.
Original caption: “This aerial view looking north toward Berkeley from the Distribution Structure of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge shows the Berkeley Fill which will be completed in time for the opening of the great bridge to automobile traffic early in November. Highway engineers under the direction of C. H. Purcell, Chief Engineer of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and State Highway Engineer, are designing this approach to be one of the finest and safest arterials in California.” From the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection

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With the Bay fill in place the contracts to build the actual highway were awarded in June of 1936.

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Contractors ran into trouble in August of 1936 when a portion of the fill collapsed.

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Berkeley took advantage of the newly enclosed area to the east of the highway by creating Aquatic Park in 1936.

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Workers construct Aquatic Park in Berkeley in 1935.

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Berkeley also extended Gilman Street to the highway, awarding a paving contract in October 1936 to provide another entrance.

Eastshore Highway 1938.
Original caption: “Division of the Eastshore Highway approach to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge with a medial strip was the Bay Region’s most important recent contribution toward the cause of accident prevention, in the opinion of traffic experts. The result has been a minimum of collisions on one of the most heavily traveled thoroughfares in Northern California.”
From the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection

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The portion of the Eastshore Highway north of University Avenue took longer to construct because it ran inland from the Bay and had to cross railroad tracks, which required construction of a bridge by Albany Hill and digging through hills in the Richmond Annex. Above is the elevated roadway at Albany Hill, along with Albany’s original entrance to the highway at Pierce Street.

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Albany quickly found out that there were problems with the entrance at Pierce Street, including visibility, the volume of traffic and cars driving the wrong direction on the one-way route to the on-ramp.

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The first crash on the new portion of the highway was recorded in July of 1937.

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This September 1937 aerial view from the Oakland Tribune shows the original route of the highway.

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Happy birthday to the original Carquinez Bridge

The Carquinez Bridge opened on May 21, 1927. Here are some vintage images from the era and a 2011 Nilda Rego column on the origin of the bridge.

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carquinez bridge opening may 1927

How the Carquinez Bridge came to be
By Nilda Rego
Nov. 13, 2011

Aven J. Hanford may have been in his early 20s, but he already owned three rather successful grocery stores, one in Vallejo, one in Oakland and the third in Alameda.
However, there was a problem. Hanford trucked his own merchandise, buying from a farmer or a jobber and delivering the products to his stores. It would take him a full day to get from the Vallejo store to the other two. Not only was his time consumed, but the long, arduous trip was wearing out his truck.

It was 1917. There were no bridges. Hanford bought a barge and would go across the Carquinez Strait in his truck, taking along a few passengers to help defray the costs.

Also traveling the same route day after day was Oscar H. Klatt, a young salesman for a San Francisco wholesale grocery company. The two met and determined to find a better way to get from Vallejo to other East Bay cities.

They came up with the idea of a ferry and started the Rodeo-Vallejo Ferry Company, which was a good idea, except for the fact there was a war going on. All the shipyards were way too busy to build a ferry. So if the two couldn’t get a new boat, what about a used one? Hanford heard of a little steamer called the Issaquah that ferried people around Lake Washington near Seattle.

Hanford went up to Seattle, bought the Issaquah and had it refurbished. Then he hired a crew, and even though he had no seafaring experience, he took command of the ferry. It was a harrowing trip. Hanford sailed the Issaquah through a fierce storm with a crew that was close to mutiny. But he made it.

It was a very popular ferry. Hanford gave up the grocery business. The company bought more boats. But there were always long lines of cars waiting to board. Sometimes, people had to wait for three hours, and the lines kept getting longer.

Hanford and Klatt realized a bridge was the answer. Then they heard that someone else was seeking a franchise to build a bridge across the Carquinez Strait. Hanford went looking for a lawyer and found A.F. Bray, of Martinez, who later became the presiding justice of the District Court of Appeal in San Francisco.

Bray suggested that Hanford ask the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors for a franchise because, according to the law, the governing county was the one situated on the “left bank descending the stream or arm of the Bay.” Hanford and Klatt got the franchise and organized the American Bridge Company. Hanford became the president of the company. The stock sold rapidly. However, both Hanford and Klatt had to mortgage their homes and all their personal property to add to the earnings of the ferry company for the construction fund.

Construction on the Carquinez Bridge started in February 1923 and was completed in May 1927. Hanford never got to see the completion of his project. He died at the age of 40 at his home in Berkeley.

His obituary in the Oakland Tribune reported “His death was caused by a brain hemorrhage due to overwork.” Klatt took over Hanford’s job as president to complete the bridge.

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Carquinez Bridge 1946
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Must-see video: Young women ride ostriches at El Cerrito greyhound track in 1934

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The operators of the El Cerrito Kennel Club, the greyhound racetrack that operated in the city from 1932 to early 1939, were masterful with promotions to keep the 10,000-capacity stands full. A typical evening could feature 11 races and added attractions such as boxing or wrestling matches, a post-race dance in the clubhouse or drawings for a new Plymouth.

One of the most memorable promotions came in 1934, the track’s third year of operation, when the attractions included a drawing for a Plymouth sedan, a race featuring the “famous Hollywood monkey jockeys” riding greyhounds in a race (and presumably wearing jockey silks), and the main attraction, “pretty girls riding the famous racing ostriches.”

The ad for the day is pictured here, but now — thanks to youtube and a company called Critical Past — there is video online of old film footage showing young ladies jumping onto the ostriches and holding on for dear life as the birds run around the track. If you look closely in the background, you can catch a glimpse the historic 1907 Pierre Allinio house, which is now for sale.

Another attraction at the El Cerrito dog track pitted ostriches against race horses, but no video of that event has surfaced … yet.

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Remembering Adachi Florist and Nursery in El Cerrito

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Adachi Florist and Nursery in 1992, shortly before the site was cleared for construction of a The Home Depot store. (Click for an enlarged view.)

There was no ribbon-cutting when the enterprise that grew to become Adachi Florist and Nursery, straddling the border of a new city called Richmond and an unincorporated portion of West Contra Costa that would become El Cerrito, was established in 1905. But by the time it closed and was torn down to build The Home Depot in 1992, the venture was among the oldest businesses in the West County region, dating to just three years after the opening of the Standard Oil refinery in Richmond in 1902.

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The Adachi family business as it looked around 1940.

The business was founded by brothers Isaburo and Sadajiro Adachi with a single greenhouse a year before the great San Francisco earthquake. It grew to 12 greenhouses and survived challenges such as state exclusion laws directed at Asians and the Japanese internment during World War II. Extension of the Eastshore Freeway and construction of the new BART line claimed portions of the Adachi property.

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Adachi commemorates El Cerrito’s 50th anniversary in 1957.

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Adachi Florist and Nursery before and after a remodeling in the mid-1960s.

Some of the family greenhouses were razed during a mid-1960s remodeling that modernized the business as it is now remembered by most who saw it in its commercial heyday.

The remainder was finally torn down in 1992 for a joint retail project by El Cerrito and Richmond.

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TBT: Once-familiar El Cerrito building had a link to black Americana

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Winner, winner, chicken dinner —
Here is the ID of the once-familiar building in El Cerrito and its background, which we asked about last week. The building is best known (see photo above) from its decades attached to El Cerrito Mill & Lumber, with the lettering growing more faded as the years passed.

The building originated around 1929-30 as Mammy’s Place, a plantation-themed attraction for travelers on the newly rerouted Lincoln Highway (San Pablo Avenue), just south of Cutting Boulevard, “near the large Carquinez Bridge sign,” according to the menus given out to customers as a souvenir. The proprietor was Harry Bottger, who may have also operated the food concession on the Richmond-San Rafael ferry.
Mammy’s Place boasted a “fine hardwood dance floor and music,” though the establishment once ran afoul of the authorities over the use of its jukebox, according to news accounts of the day.
Bottger later opened another restaurant on the southern end of San Pablo in El Cerrito and Mammy’s closed.
With demand for housing at a peak during World War II, contractor Elmer Freethy purchased what was then El Cerrito Lumber at 1206 San Pablo Ave. (now 10812 San Pablo Ave.) from John Carrick to secure a supply of building materials. At some undetermined point, he also purchased the abandoned Mammy’s Place building and had it moved and attached to El Cerrito Lumber. There was a sentimental attachment. Freethy, in a 1990 interview about the “chicken dinner” building, referred to it as “the chicken shack,” and said he had purchased and moved the building because he used to take his future wife dancing there.
Elmer and Marjorie Freethy were married in 1930 and he started his contracting business the next year, according to an El Cerrito Wall of Fame profile in the city newsletter. One of his early big contracts was construction of El Cerrito High School from 1939-41.
The old chicken dinner building was torn down when El Cerrito Mill & Lumber underwent a major remodel by Elmer’s son, Jack Freethy, in 1996 as noted in this earlier post. The business, which had grown over time to include major portions of several blocks, closed in 2000 and the remodeled original El Cerrito Lumber building, redesigned in Victorian style, was moved across San Pablo and is now the Vitale Building.
Mammy’s Place is long gone and even though original owner Bottger was of European extraction, those free menus once given out to travelers are now rare and prized pieces of black Americana. A menu listed on eBay about in 2011 sold for more than $120.
Elmer Freethy died in 1998. Marjorie Freethy, a native of Point Richmond, died in 2013 at age 105.

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Elmer Freethy at El Cerrito Lumber.

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TBT: Can you ID this once-familiar El Cerrito building?

mammys tease

This building was once a familiar sight for a long time in El Cerrito, first at its original location and even longer at the property where it was moved and attached to an existing building and given a new use. By then in rundown condition, it was ultimately torn down during a major remodeling of buildings on the property that became its second home.
Can you identify its original and/or later locations, as well as its original name and use from this photo detail?
Feel free to click the comments button above and post guesses or memories of the building.

Our thanks to the El Cerrito Chamber of Commerce for sharing this photo from its archive.

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Richmond: Happy birthday Priscilla Elder, original Rosie and Pinole resident who turns 96 today

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Priscilla Elder.

Priscilla Elder, a Pinole resident and one of the group of original women war workers who relate their experiences each Friday at the Rosie the Riveter WWII/Home Front National Historical Park visitors center in Richmond, turned 96 today and was acknowledged by Richmond Mayor Tom Butt and other dignitaries at an event with National Park Service officials today at the Craneway Pavilion.

“I had a very busy morning” at an event that brought fourth grade children to the park for a presentation of National Park family passes as part of the national “Every Kid in a Park Initiative” being coordinated with the White House.

“It turned out very nice. They let everybody know I was 96,” Elder said. Mayor Butt, who shares the same birthday, presented her with a rose, and she was also given a bouquet of roses.
“I had all kinds of congratulations and kisses. I have people say ‘You don’t look 96,’ and I say ‘But I feel like it,'” she said.

Elder and the other Rosies who volunteer at the center keep busy.
They will be at a naturalization ceremony on Thursday at the Craneway and back at the visitors center for their regular time on Friday.
Earlier this month they went to Sacramento to meet Gov. Jerry Brown, the Women’s Legislative Caucus and other elected officials. There they had brunch with the governor and were honored by both houses of the Legislature.

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Rosies at the State Capitol in Sacramento in early March: (Standing) Marian Sousa, Marian Wynn, Kay Morrison, Agnes Moore, Mary Torres, Phyllis Gould. (Seated) Margaret Archie, Priscilla Elder. Photo courtesy Rosie the Riveter Trust.

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Phyllis Elder’s biography that she gives to visitors to the park.

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Wayback Wednesday: Miss America visits El Cerrito in 1974

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Rebecca Ann King, the reigning Miss America, signs autographs at the Value Giant in the Moeser Lane Center in El Cerrito in 1974. King earned a law degree with her scholarship money from the pageant. Our thanks to the El Cerrito Chamber of Commerce for these photos from its archives.

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The still-new Moeser Lane Center in the 1970s, when it was home to Safeway, Value Giant and the Jerry Lewis Theatre, a short-lived movie house visible at the right.

El Cerrito had its own national pageant winner when Maria Remenyi was named Miss USA in 1966.

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1936: Negro League great Satchel Paige faces Joe DiMaggio in exhibition at Oaks Ball Park in Emeryville

1936 GAME BETWEEN SATCHELL PAIGE AND JOE DIMAGGIO
An article and photo previewing the Jan 25, 1936 that put an undefeated Satchel Paige against some big hitters such as Dick Bartell and Joe DiMaggio. The caption on the photo says, “Dick Bartell studies the Satchel’s flipper.” (from the Oakland Post-Enquirer)

It was 80 years ago last month that Bay Area baseball fans got a look at Negro League pitching sensation Satchel Paige, who came to Oaks Ball Park in Emeryville for an off-season barnstorming exhibition. Professional baseball was still segregated at the time, but Paige routinely faced white stars of the era in the exhibition contests, and this was no exception. Paige pitched for a team of black players from California in the exhibition, facing a team of “major league all stars” that included local favorites Joe DiMaggio, about to begin his career with the New York Yankees that year, and Ernie Lombardi, an Oakland native and veteran catcher for the Cincinnati Reds.
No less a figure than Pittsburgh Pirates manager Pie Traynor planned to make a special trip from spring training back east to attend the game. Traynor called Paige “one of the greatest pitchers he ever faced,” and expressed “regrets that the bars of organized baseball keep him out of the big leagues,” according to an advance story on the exhibition in the Oakland Tribune.
Paige, as was his style in pumping up the attendance for his barnstorming appearances, predicted a win over the big leaguers he would face in Oakland. As it turned out, Paige took the loss in a 10-inning 2-1 pitchers’ duel that the Tribune reporter described as one of the best pitching exhibitions he had ever witnessed. Paige also had two of his side’s six hits.
The contest was among the most star-studded attractions held at the ballpark in Emeryville.
DiMaggio was elected to the Hall of Fame. Paige, who was 30 at the time of the exhibition (estimated age, his year of birth varies greatly in various accounts), finally got to the major leagues in his 40s in 1948 with the Cleveland Indians. He was selected to the Hall of Fame in 1971 by the newly created Negro League Committee. Lombardi, who would go on to be a two-time batting champion and the National League MVP in 1938, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986. Traynor was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1948.

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Richmond Black History Month presentation Tuesday will revisit forgotten men of war era tragedy

richond blaze 01 10 1944

The Richmond City Council meeting on Tuesday will mark Black History Month with what promises to be a poignant presentation by National Park Sevice ranger Betty Reid Soskin on eight men who worked at the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond and died in a fire in a war worker housing dormitory in January of 1944.
While it made headlines at the time, the fire and its victims had been forgotten in the ensuing decades until Soskin was studying a photograph of the time that set off an investigation to uncover a neglected part of the city’s history.
According to a news release:

The genesis of this effort began in 2010 when Rosie The Riveter’s oldest and most famous staff member — National Park Ranger Betty Reid Soskin — was looking over a familiar picture of funeral services in the “Negro” section of the then-segregated National Cemetery in San Bruno of what park officials had long thought were the caskets of eight of the more than 200 African-American sailors who died in the munitions ship explosion at Port Chicago in 1944.”
Although she had seen the photograph many times before, she said that she had “never noticed it before [and the] impact was almost painful. Though this was a solemn military burial rite … the caskets were not flag draped.”
Soskin set out to discover why those eight black Navy sailors might have been so dishonored. Months of historical detective work by Park staff and associates turned up the discovery that there had been no dishonor at all, because the remains in the casket were not Navy sailors at all.
Instead, they were the remains of eight civilian African American shipyard workers, one of them only 17 years old, who died in a dormitory fire at the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond six months before the Port Chicago tragedy.
The site where the Kaiser dormitory burned is now a collection of warehouses at South 11th Street and Potrero in Richmond, less than a mile from the Rosie The Riveter Visitors Center. No marker of what Soskin calls “the awful event” currently marks that spot. Rosie The Riveter Park officials are hoping that their proposal for a memorial to the eight Kaiser dormitory deaths on that site will start the process of both recognizing and honoring the American civilians who gave their lives supporting the war effort in this country.

The presentation is at the top of the agenda for the meeting at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 23 in the council chamber at 440 Civic Center Plaza. The meeting will also be televised on city channel KCRT.

Below are the item on the City Council agenda on Tuesday and Oakland Tribune coverage of the fire.

PRESENTATION FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH REGARDING THE DORMITORY O FIRE IN RICHMOND, WHICH CLAIMED THE LIVES OF EIGHT AFRICAN-AMERICAN HOME FRONT WORKERS IN RICHMOND DURING WORLD WAR II.

    STATEMENT OF THE ISSUE: Black History Month occurs each February as an annual observance for remembrance of important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. This presentation honors the lives of eight African-Americans who were killed in a deadly fire in Richmond during the World War II. RECOMMENDED ACTION: RECEIVE a presentation for Black History Month regarding the Dormitory O Fire in Richmond, which claimed the lives of eight African-American Home Front workers in Richmond during World War II. FINANCIAL IMPACT: There are no financial impacts related to this item. DISCUSSION: National Park Service Ranger Betty Reid Soskin recently uncovered the forgotten story of eight African-American men who worked in the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards and were killed in a devastating dormitory fire. The location of the fire is less than a mile from Dr. Martin Luther King Park on Harbour Way South and Virginia Avenue. Remembering this tragedy is important to Richmond’s history, because it honors the lives of black men and others who answered our nation’s call to service by working on the Home Front.


Oakland Tribune, Jan. 10, 1944:

8 Die, 20 Hurt in Richmond Fire
Firemen Aid in Rescue of 30 as Shipyard
Dormitory Is Razed; Watchman’s
Shots Rouse Sleepers, Coll Fire Engines

RICHMOND, Jan. 10—At least eight Negro shipyard workers were burned to death early today and score of others were injured when fire swept through Dormitory O, a war housing building at South Eleventh Street and Potrero Avenue.
At least 30 others were saved from death or injury by an alert patrolman who fired shots in the air to awaken them when he discovered “lames pouring from the structure at 2:10 a.m.
The eight who lost their lives were burned beyond recognition, and housing authorities said they probably could not be identified until all of the men mown to have been in the building are accounted for. It is feared there may be more bodies in the smoking ruins.
EIGHT BODIES FOUND
Five bodies were found when the blaze was brought under control and three more were discovered in the embers later.
The two-story frame structure burned mrncd to the ground in less than two hours. Fire Chief William Cooper said there never was chance to save it.
His men were handicapped in trying to fight the blaze, he reported, because two hydrants in the immediate vicinity were too rusty to be used and because water pressure in the area was very low. The hydrants, the chief pointed out, are the responsibility of the Federal Projects Housing Corporation, which erected the dormitories with Maritime Commission funds.
CRITICAL CONDITION
One of the injured workers, Henry Manney, 17, is in a critical condition it the Permanente Foundation Hospital in Oakland. He is burned badly on the arms and legs and may not live.
One fireman, J. E. Nelson, stepped on a nail and cut his foot. He was given emergency treatment and an anti-tetanus shot and sent back to duty.
LEAP FROM WINDOWNS
Almost immediately, sleepy residents of the dormitory were jumping from windows or fighting their way through the fire at the doors. Most of them were clad only in underwear or night clothes and were barefoot.
The seven who died either didn’t awaken when the shots were fired, or were unable to get out of their rooms.
The shots also aroused firemen at a city fire station a block away.
They saw the flames shooting up from the building and rang in an alarm for more apparatus.
Three engine companies responded from their station and another came from the main fire station at Fifth Street and Macdonald Avenue. The entire building was blazing by the time they arrived.