Monday, June 22, 2009

East Bay creeks map - historic & contemporary

An excellent East Bay creeks map can be downloaded from here:

Published By: The Oakland Museum of California, 1993, Rev. 1995, Rev 2000.

You used to be able to buy nicely-printed folded copies at the museum store. At least the map is still available as a pdf download.

Also that page has links to webpages with detail sections of a number of creeks.

(I gave them the idea, many years ago, because I didn't have the resources to do it myself. And they followed through! Thank you!)

1936 Map of (main) East Bay Creeks

Friday, June 19, 2009

History - Elk

"Look across Tomales Bay to see Millerton Point on the opposite shore, the source of food and supplies for Inverness for many years.  After the great Earthquake and Fire of '06, dozens of San Franciscans built small summer homes in Inverness to insure a place to live in the event another disaster would wipe out their city digs.  By 1913 the growing resort population drove out the Wapiti or Roosevelt elk, native to the Point Reyes Peninsula.  Old newspaper accounts record that the herd was so large a swimming gang of animals 50 feet in breadth could be seen crossing the Bay day and night for three days.  Rangers in the

National Seashore hope someday to re-establish a herd of elk."

Margot Patterson Doss: Paths of Gold (SF: Chronicle Bks, 1974,  p.156)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ideas for Responding to Sea Level Rise

An International Competition for Ideas Responding to Sea Level Rise in San Francisco Bay and Beyond - 

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) is hosting an open international design competition for ideas responding to sea level rise in San Francisco Bay and beyond.


Suggestion: Buy up the creek estuaries, remove buildings - restore the wetlands! Bring back the fish, crab, clams, etc that once were abundant!

History of Oakland's Creeks 5

Oakland's Forgotten Creeks

by Dave Hope, 1947

(Last in a series of five articles.)

The Creeks Today

Never let it be inferred that Oakland's forgotten creeks gave up their identities without a struggle. 

Man could dry up their sources and shunt them underground. He could encase them in sled pipes, bury them under slabs of concrete, cross them with streets, hide their banks with buildings. But he didn't find it an easy job.

They hibernated in quiet through long summer months, waiting patiently for the days when skies opened up and poured rain water into their channels. Then they exacted heavy toll for the indignities they had suffered. 

Forgotten creeks were suddenly and painfully remembered as flood waters inundated business. and residential areas. No extensive memory is required to recall the Berkeley store that found a geyser erupting from its basement, with merchandise floating out the front door and bobbing down the street.


Businessmen and home owners of the Grand Lake district, among others, came to regard the flooding of their properties as an annual visitation. Even today storm waters inundate Cypress Street and some other sections during every heavy 


This happens in a city which has a gentle slope to the bay, and "soil of so porous a quality as to afford sufficient drainage and entirely obviate the necessity for artificial 

drains and sewers." 

That was the somewhat unduly optimistic opinion of Mayor Horace W. Carpentier, stormy petrel of Oakland's incorporation, as he became the city's first executive in 1854. His claim seems to have held up for some 10 years, during which 

creeks were regarded merely as defiles that had to be bridged for new streets.

But in 1866 the residents of Oakland were beginning to realize they needed some other attention. The city's first sewer was constructed that year, from Fourth Street to 

the waterfront, on Broadway. 


Three years later a Board of Engineers was appointed to study the Oakland drainage problem and investigate systems in cities all over the world. Their recommendations led to construction of a sewer on Webster Street, from 12th Street to the waterfront, in 1871.

One year later Mayor Spaulding was refuting his predecessor by describing the ravages of Temescal Creek which ran wild to submerse everything from 21st Street to the Bay. He said that construction of San Pablo Road and Telegraph

Road, both of which have since been dignified as avenues, had diverted

the natural flow of Oakland's northern creeks.

Plans were drawn for a big project, on which work was conducted in 1873.  Extending 9924 feet in length,  constructed  partially of wood, partially of brick, it ran along 22nd Street, from Lake Merritt to the Bay, and cost the city $166,000.

The actual cost figures are drowned in red ink. Two contractors defaulted on the job before it finally was completed in 1876.


Through succeeding years Oakland struggled with drainage problems, always too little and too late with each segment as the need mounted continuously with  the 

growth of the city. Bond issues were passed from time to time until, in 1925, Ihe city adopted a pay as you go policy. Work proceeded haphazardly after that. 

Then in 1936 came the WPA and Oakland moved swiftly to take advantage   of  Federal   assistance. Grand Avenue floods got first attention with a $355,000 project. A 35th Avenue job cost $36,000, a Mandana Boulevard project $57,000. Pipe more than 30 years old was replaced along High Street, from 45th Ave-

nue to East 14th Street, at a cost of $17,000.  

Some 20 projects, costing a total of more than $1,250,000, of which the city paid only supervision and engineering charges, were included in the WPA program. 

Mayor Carpentier, long since removed from concern over all such mundane things, wouid undoubtedly have been aghast at such an expenditure, but it was only a beginning. The biggest part of the job was and still is yet to be done. 


War halted the WPA program, but not the need for drainage. Late in 1944 the City Council authorized City Engineer Walter N. Frickstad to outline a post-war program. He presented them with a $6,000,000 plan.  

If, included 48 projects, all but nine of them to carry storm waters. Each has its base in an outlet, which once was the mouth of an Oakland creek. They follow the courses of creeks, with adjustments and laterals and connections to meet

complicalions man introduced into nature's drainage system.

In May, 1945, the citizens of Oakland voted a $5,361,000 bond issue to pay for the program. In spite of material shortages and a scarcity of engineers, it is already well advanced.

A portion of Ihe Stonehurst system, which will eventually cover construction of large sections of San Leandro Creek, has been completed to allow for huge industrial

development near San Leandro Street and 100th Avenue.


An Elmhurst section, running from Blaine to E Streets, is under construction. Some maintenance work has been done along the old Glen Echo Creek in the upper 

Broadway district. Contract has been let for a Grand Avenue job.

Advanced planning indicates that work on the sites of such creeks as 141h Avenue, Park Boulevard, Temescal, and Arroyo Veijo will follow in the near future.

Factors which nature never intended, which the Spanish Dons couldn't conceive, which Mayor Carpentier would have considered fantastic, are involved. The new system must separate storm waters from sewers, divert them from the $25,000,000 interceptor to be built for handling the area's sewage. Its out-

ets must pass beneath the East Shore Freeway's band of concrete which will skirt the water's edge. It must be correlated to highway and sewage and residential and industrial development of tremendous scope.

Oakland's old creeks may be forgotten—but Oakland's drainage system has become one of the city's most crucial problems. 

History of Oakland's Creeks 4


by Dave Hope, 1947

The City Grows

There must be moments when Mother Nature, reviewing her accomplishments, wonders why she created man. 

Consider her gorgeous setting for a gemlike Bay. She placed it at the base of ascendant hills. She crowned them with towering redwoods, carpeted their slopes with luxuriate oaks and verdant grass. Through the forests and fields she

traced paths for 21 creeks, fed them from thousands of bubbling springs,

used them to transport life-producing water. She populated the land with birds and animals, stocked the streams with fish. She created a pristine paradise of life and beauty.

Then she turned it over to man.

When nature completed her centuries of work, her creeks ran merrily from the San Antonio redwoods to the bay. The muddied torrents of winter storms cleared to sparkling streams that flowed the year around.

Today they rise in sudden turbulence, subside quickly, and become arid ravines within a few weeks after the rain ceases. That, in not quite one century, is man's


Nature created a huge natural reservoir which released its moisture slowly,  at consistent rate, throughout the year. Every leaf, each blade of grass, each grain of

soil and the roots that spread beneath the surface, soaked up the rain as it fell and protected it from the thirsty summer sunbeams.

Then came man, intent on logging the redwoods. With careless disregard for the future, the builders of San Francisco denuded the ridges. Tall trees were reduced to withering slumps and the headwaters of the creeks, once sheltered and protected, were opened to the rays of parching sun. Springs dried up, and creeks were diminished at their source.

They still had the protection of vegetation on slopes and lowlands, but not for long. As men sought homesites. the oaks were felled. Brush and native perennials were

replaced by annually harvested hay and grain, cattle fed oft the grass, and farmers tilled the soil, extracting moisture in their crops. Homes were built, at first a few, then in ever growing clusters that merged into each other to form a city. Streets were cleared, graveled, and later paved. 

Instead of a reservoir, the area became a huge watershed of roofs and streels and sidewalks. Rain that once would have been absorbed ran quickly off impenetrable surfaces into the nearest creek bed.  

Nature must have mourned the wreckage of her handiwork, but man saw the creeks only as barriers to his progress. The bustling industrial and shipping center along the Estuary, the farms and orchards in the north, both were often inaccessible from the new city of Oakland. In winter creeks ran high with raging flood waters. In summer their sharply eroded banks made traverse precarious. 

Man built, streets, the earliest following creek banks from the Estuary to the hilis. Their tortuous trails remain to confuse Oakland's traffic today. Park Boulevard, 14th 

Avenue, 23rd Avenue, among others, twist and turn, chopping off dead-end laterals.

Man built bridges—32 of them in one section alone, now East Oakland. The combination of streets and bridges established lines for today's traffic arteries. 

Few who guide their autos over winding routes realize they are tracing the paths of forgotten creeks. None who drive the comparatively straight thoroughfares that run from north to south are aware their gentle grades are superimposed on once rugged terrain.

As properly values increased, man encroached closer upon the creeks, finally bridged them over and built homes and business buildings and factories above them.

Codornices has almost entirely disappeared. No visible trace remains of Glen Echo, Broadway, Courtland, Pleasant Valley, Park Boulevard, 14th, 23rd, or 54th Avenues, hardly a bit of Elmhurst. Others emerge from culverts for brief passages, then dive out of light again beneath the surface.

They're gone, or nearly gone. They're forgotten, or almost so. But they slill exist, still perform utilitarian service.

The gurgling. sparkling creeks that nature established to nourish her plant and animal life have become the storm sewers of a great city.  

(Fourth in a series of five articles.  Tomorrow--The Creeks Today.)

History of Oakland's Creeks 3


by Dave Hope, 1947

Maybe You Remember

For two generations of Oakland residents, the forgotten creeks are not yet forgotten.

One is the small group, of which the number grows fewer each year, who can still recall the days when Oakland was in the first throes of expansion, when the tiny settlement to the west of Lake Merritt had grown to include the earlier industrial centers of Brooklyn and Clinton.

The other is comprised by those who are somewhat reluctant to claim stalus as real old-timers, but have no status as real old-timers of the turn of the century when Oakland still had open fields and open creeks.

Memories are surprisingly bright for the very few who were small children 80 years ago when the crooks reached their apex of utility in providing water for the fast-

growing city. It was in 1866 that the Contra Costa Water Company succeeded in obtaining water rights in competition willi several other applicants.


That firm dammed Temescal, to create Lake Temescal, and established Lake Chabot on the upper San Leandro. Water was also taken from Sausal, the combined watershed covering 82 square miles and assuring a daily supply of 40,000,000 gallons, sufficient according to estimate of those days, for a

population of 500,000 people.


Gold seekers trudged up Sausal Creek for two "strikes," in 1863 and 1870, but the most important bonanza went to a shrewd farmer who sold a small patch of ground 

to an over-enthusiastic amateur miner for $25,000. No one has any knowledge of subsequent changes of ownership, but the farmer would undoubtedly regret the deal if he could see the site today. 

Mills College opened in 1871, "in a beautilul valley at the confluence of two mountain streams," which "provided water in never-failing abundance."

The berry patch of J. Lusk, on the banks of the Temescal, near the present intersection, of 51st and Telegraph,  is still  remembered. There, in 1868 historians record Oakland's first major food production and processing establishment grossed $32,250 from 50 acres of raspberries. 

An imposing amount even for these days, that was an amazing accomplishment at then existing prices. Lusk reported selling 90 tons of fresh berries at 10 cents a pound, 20 tons of jams and jellies for $10,000, 15,000 gallons of wine at 25 

cents, and 10,000 gallons of vinegar at 20 cents.


Lusk's farm in later years became Miller's Garden, a favored picnic  spot  for family  parties around the turn of the century. Another was Blair's Park. at the head of Cemetery Creek, reached by horse cars. 

Small boys, who have since because the city's business and professional leaders, earned vacation pocket money by selling armfuls by ferns from the creek banks, to

picnic parties and hikers.

They swam in many secluded holes, and some of real size, such as that in the upper Sausal near the quarry where the pool was 30 feet wide and 100 feet long, with maximum depth of 15 feet. There, in what is now a section of Dimond

Park, the pioneer family of that name had constructed a dam and built an iron pipe line to serve the Dimond estate, further down the creek. Remnants of the dam and

pipe line still exist.


Salmon and steelhead trout were plentiful. especially in the spawning season, and many an Oakland elder today can remember when he pulled an 18-inch fish out of a stream now buried beneath some store or factory or home.  Larger game had been forced deeper into the hills, but quail still nested under the brush along the creek banks, while cottontail rabbits and squirrels were plentiful.

Hunting was good around Lake Merritt where the marshes teemed with small game and provided feeding grounds for huge flocks of wild-fowl.

The redwoods had been completely removed to become food for San Francisco's recurring fires, but second-growth saplings were emerging from the edges of their stumps, the nucleus for today's groves.

The young old-timers picked blackberries on the site of Oakland's City Hall, drank from a spring now delivered by the Lakeside Park bandstand, and tormented the owner of property at Fourteenth and Clay Streets, by wading in his freshwater pool.


All primped up in their Sunday best, they sat in family carriages while Father' tugged at the reins and Mother alternately warned of chuck holes in the dirt roads and precipitous creek banks at muddy fords. 

As the city grew, the creeks were becoming a nuisance. New streets were needed to reach new home sites and innumerable bridges had to be built. Property increased in value and utility and the seasonal floods had to be curbed by widening, deepening and in some places covering the creek beds.

In the rush of progress the idyllic beauty of the water courses, their fish and game, their overhanging trees and flower-decked banks, had to go.

(Third in a series of five articles. Tomorrow—The City Grows.)

History of Oakland's Creeks 2


by Dave Hope, 1947

The Creeks in their Heyday

Gold had not yet been discovered, but the hamlet of Yerba Buena was aIready assuming city-like dignity by repudiating its goat feed and adopting the name San Francisco.

Across the Bay was the Contra Costa, the "opposite coast." destined in less than a century to become the huge industrial and residential center of Metropolitan Oakland, but then virgin forest, inhabited only by Indians and the descendants of Don Luis Maria Peralta.

His Rancho San Antonio was the hinterland to San Francisco—40 leagues away by the shortest land route, within view but isolated by the wide expanse of often turbulent Bay. It had a background of  gigantic trees along the ridge; which sloped down through forests of live oaks and open fields of grass to the mud flats along the Bay, through it in their pristine glory in the 21 now forgotten creeks.


Yet, those creeks and the lands they drained nurtured the City of San Francisco. 

They had their headwaters in dense groves of redwoods from which came the lumber that rebuilt San Francisco after fire had swept shacks and tents off the sand dunes.

They watered forests of oaks that enriched the land for grain production, lush grass on which cattle fattened. They teemed witli salmon and trout, and their outlets to the

Bay were over expansive beds of shellfish. Along their banks were deer and quail and rabbits above them huge flocks of ducks and geese blackened out the sun.

They fed and housed the pioneers struggling to create a city across the Bay. 


Exploration of the Contra Costa moved slowly in early days. It was effectively discouraged by the commandant of the Presidio of San Francisco who declared: "The country is almost unknown, the natives perverse, and the adventure too 


Efforts of the padres from San Jose Mission to bring religion to the ''perverse natives," met such stubborn  resistance  lhat  armed guards had to accompany them for their protection. One of these was Sergeant Peralta, assigned in 1798

to command of the king's forces at the mission.

He conducted several expeditions into the Contra Costa and the great natural advantages he discovered there made him the first to covet its ownership. He could not forsee what the Gringo would do to those lands, would imdoubledly have been saddened by such foresight, but the fish, the game, the rich cattle feed all enticed him.


Retiring from service in 1820, he won a grant of Rancho San Antonio, and although he continued to live at San Jose, he considered it his most valued possession, an

estate which he divided among his four sons in 1842.

To Jose Domingo Peralta went the Northern scclion which has become Berkeley, and he built his hacienda on the banks of the Codornices. Vincente, who was to be first to feel the inroads of the Gringo, erected his home on Temescal, at what is now 5521 Vicente Street. Antonio Maria, awarded what is now East Oakland and Alameda,  placed his adobe on the creek which assumed his name, "Peralta," at what is now 2511 34th Avenue. Ygnacio built his home near San Leandro Creek and portions of it still stand as part of the Alta Mira Clubhouse.

Those were the days when the creeks received their first names. Some were later changed to correspond to street locations, or to take identity from early families. Others still remain today, retaining Indian or Spanish origin. But with meanings as nearly forgotten as the creeks themselves.

The Northernmost became Cerrito, from the "bald hill" at its mouth. Antonio and Jose Domingo feasted on quail eggs while hunting deer along one stream, and named it for the quail Codornices. Someone killed a mountain lion near

another and it became Arroyo del Leon, now Lion Creek. Sausal is from the Spanish word for the willow groves along its banks.

Euphonious Temescal had a most mundane origin. On its banks, near the present junction of Claremont, Avenue with Telegraph Avenue, was a large Indian village, with one solid structure of sturdy poles, made air-tight by thick slabs of mud. In it some 50 Indians danced around a roaring fire until nearly dead from heat and their exertions, when the door was opened and the exhausted patients of primitive

medicine allowed to dive into the cold waters of the creek. That was the Indian sweat house—the "temescal."

It probably helped to hasten the disappearance of the Indians. They lived a life of indolence and plenty, feeding on shellfish and leaving mounds of shells to testify to their gourmanderie, and on acorns. Their constant digging beneath the oak

trees for the latter is supposed to have earned the American nickname, "Diggers."


Their ferocity, which alarmed explorers, seems to have evaporated as the Spaniards gained ascendancy, cholera decimated the tribes in 1833, and pneumonia virtually wiped them out in the 50's.

The Spaniards superseded the Indans, but not for long. Within five years of the distribution of the Rancho San Antonio to Peralta's sons, the Gringo came.

First he took fish from the creeks, killed game animals slaughtered wildfowl. Then he built saw mills along the San Antonio estuary and felled the redwrnds. The discovery of gold gave sudden impetus by his operations, and before Don

Vicente realized what was happening, a city was growing and he was powerless to slop it.

(Second in a series of five articles.  Tomorrow--Maybe You Remember.)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

History of Oakland's Creeks 1


by Dave Hope, 1947

(First in a series of five articles. Tomorrow—The Creeks in their heyday.) 

Steelhead trout and salmon wriggled up Oakland streets to spawn. 

Elk gathered at a water hole on the Mills College campus. A mountain lion, stalking them, was slain by hunters.

Huge redwood logs moved slowly down Fruitvale Avenue on skids drawn by lumbering oxen. 

Naked Indians, literally stewed in their own perspiration, ran wild on Claremont Avenue.

But all that was before Oakland had streets, long before Mills College was established, when Fruitvale Avenue was a trail to the timber region. The Indian village with its "temescal" has long since given way to homes and apartment houses on the gore of Telegraph snd Claremont Avenues. 


That was in the days when Oakland's forgotten creeks were sometimes swollen torrents, never less than flowing brooks, "'babbling down from their mountain fastnesses." 

This is the story of those forgotten creeks, the 21 streams and their innumerable branches which had their headwaters in the San Antonio forests, which drained the oak-covered slopes, the open fields of grass and flowers, the marshy lowlands on the east side of the Bay. Forgotten they are today, or almost so. 

Some old-timers remember them. They recall the fishing, the hunting, the picknicking of their childhood. They remember lanes of willows and alders, and maples, dense clumps of strawberries, blackberries, and huckleberries. They remember masses of golden poppies and blue lupines, the quail, the robins, doves, meadow larks, squirrels. cottontails, deer, coyote, and foxes.

They recail lurid tales, if not the actual sight, of elk and antelope and bear.


But the life. the sparkle, the part creeks played in Oakland's early history, are very nearly forgotten. Today they exist only in some parks, or as adjuncts to landscaped gardens. For the most part they are hidden beneath homes and buildings and streets and factories. In some sections they appear as brush-filled ditches, dead-ending streets; to choke traffic, roaring with muddy torrents after a winter storm. A convenient, although illegal, place for dumping refuse.

Twenty-one creeks drained the Rancho San Antonio when, in 1820, it was granted to Sergeant Luis Maria Peralta, in recognition of his military services to the King of Spain. His domain extended from Cerrito Creek on the north to San 

Leandro Creek on the south, encompassing the area of Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Piedmont, and all of Oakland, undoubtedly the richest grant in all California, in point of its eventual value.  

Cerrito today forms the northern boundary of Alameda County, esablishing city limits of Albany and Berkeley. Codornices ranges from what is now the Euclid Avenue reservoir and marks the boundary line between Albany and Berkeley.


Strawberry, with headwaters in the hills above the University of California campus, passes through those grounds, and down to Ihe Bay at the foot ot University Avenue.

The city engineer's office has been unable to establish names for two creeks next to the south. One is short, running from Grove Street, between Dwight Way and Channing Way, to the foot of Ashby Avenue. The other has branches on either side of the lands of the California School for the Deaf, and discharges into the Bay at 64th Street. 

Longest of all is Temescal, with four distinct branches originating near the top of the ridge along the county line. Two branches converge in what is now Lake Temescal, while another parallels Claremont Boulevard. From the main confluence near Forest and Miles Streets, the creek swings around the gore of Claremont and Telegraph Avenues and moves lo a Bay outlet between 47th and 53rd Streets.

Four of the creeks feed into Lake Merritt. One joins the well-known Cemetery Creek, a Rockridge stream, and a Broadway branch, to enter the west arm of the Lake. Another drains the Grand Lake district. It and a third, running along Lake Shore Avenue and through Trestle Glen, formerly Indian Gulch, discharge at the northern arm. The fourth parallels Park Boulevard.

Two small streams lie beside 14th Avenue and 2nd Avenue. Dimond Canyon is the locale for Sausal, which runs from headwaters at the top of Park Avenue and in Sequoia Park, all the way down Fruitvale Avenue.

Peralta and Courtland have a common outlet into a slough of San Leandro Bay, near 50th Avenue. The former has a maze of branches, while the latter parallels High Street for most of its length. Into the same slough empties a short creek which runs down 54th Avenue, and Seminary, which cuts across a corner of the Mills College campus and runs down Seminary Avenue.


Through the college grounds and the Havenscourt district runs Lion Arroyo Viejo, with origin points in the Oak Knoll section, crosses Foothill and Bancroft, then goes down 78th Street to East 14th, over to 74th, and out to San Leandro Bay. It uses the same outlet as Elmhurst, which comes all the way across from above San Leandro. Last of the creeks, and Iargest of all, is San Leandro, running from Lake Chabot to the end of San Leandro Bay. 

Those are the 21 creeks which drain the city, and they do not include the most famous of all—San Antonio Creek. II actually was not a creek, but a slough of the Bay that, through channel dredging and shore fills, long ago became the Estuary, with its northern arm transformed into Lake Merritt.

It established the location of the center of business and industry which Peralta's sons strove futilely to block. On its shore appeared the pioneer towns of Brooklyn and Clinton from which, along the 21 creeks, spread the residential sections of what grew swiftly into the City of Oakland. 

History of the San Francisco Bay Area - how it was 2

(I don't know if Alice Reid is still with us either. Again, I want to thank her for this piece of history.)
Native Intelligence

—Alice Reid, 24th Street, Oakland, 1984

Old Flatland Natives are Hidden Berkeley Treasures. Old Natives have iron skillets, families, old quilting racks, wooden furniture, snowy

linens, thin old bone china; they can fire up coal stoves, kerosene lamps, sad-irons. They remember the winter of '32, the summer of '34, Co-ops, Key System, and the old California Street Red Devil train that sighed almost silently down to the Mole, often crunching up the unwary

on the way.

Old Natives can tell you about Piggly Wiggly, Federated Women's Clubs, Whitthorne & Swan, Housewives Market, celery phosphate, and really footlong hot dogs. Old Natives know all about being poor; they now realize that they were always poor in all the right things. Old

Natives remember when San Francisco's piers jumped and stomped with activity, they recall the days of WPA, NRA, WW's, ILWU, AFL, and CIO. They had gardens and chickens and rabbits, and there was always one dear chicken they could not eat.

As children, Old Natives played in the streets: "one-foot-off-the-gutterboard," "kick-the-can," "prisoner's base," "hide-and-go-seek." They went to Longfellow, Lincoln, Burbank. Willard, and got funneled into Berkeley High where the red and gold-capped Rally Boys

showed how easy it was to "ring the smokestack."

They skated in the street, wind in their teeth, and hopscotched there too. Cars got out of their way. In those days. They got to go to the magnificent Fox-Oakland. They got to go to uncrowded Alum Rock. They rode the ferries and watched the bridges being built, and

they went to The City all dressed up; they got to go to the Crystal Palace Market They went to the Lorin theater matinees for ten cents, and they got library cards from Miss Dunbar at the Grove Street BPL.

They remember when the Japanese went suddenly away, and to this day they wonder how their friends are.

Old Natives have seen the hills covered in blue lupin, yellow mustard, golden poppies, and Indian paint brush; they collected shells on the bayshore. They know what happened to the XYZ, Edison High, and Uni. They read the Call-Bulletin and the Post-Enquirer. They know how a steam-engine whistle sounds on a rainy night in February. They got to watch the music change, and Old Natives know the blues, jazz, fusion, and rock. They own 78s—rare ones.

They aren't terribly political anymore—they know that all groups have the same bottom line—blind obedience from the esnes.

The '60s? An Old Native grinned: "Just pagan worship, that's all that was, honey. All those little bastids came here to pay homage to the Big One." The Old Native chuckled, "Didn't they have a time!"

Old Natives are scarce.

History of the San Francisco Bay Area - how it was

(I don't even know if Frances Johnson is still with us. If she is, I want to thank her for this piece of history.)

Firm-fleshed trout fresh from icy streams, wild mushrooms fit for the gods, quail roasted in a wood-burning oven -- these are the stuff of  GOURMET MEMORIES 

By Frances Johnson, 1983

When I saw crab in the Piedmont Grocery the other ay for $12.50 a pound and discovered that the market no longer even stocks abalone because the price is now $30 a pound, I remembered between laughter and tears how richly we ate here in California when I was a child and we were dirt-poor.

My father was a longshoreman (many years later during the general strike [1934?] he was president of the ILWU), and work was scarce to nonexistent. But he had time, and Lucullus himself never dined more luxuriously than we.

When the docks were idle my father would pull out his crab nets -- we wove them ourselves around two metal rings, using heavy twin and a wooden netting needle -- and we'd go to the Berkeley pier, which was crowded with poor fishermen like ourselves.

Pollution was minimal, smog was not even a word, the skies were blue, the breeze blew fresh and the crab were plentiful -- great big crab, easily seven to eight inches across the shell. We'd carry our catch home in a wet sack - the claws clacking -- then cook, crack and feast. The meat was sweet, juicy and plentiful. We dipped it in homemade mayonnaise, beaten with eggs gathered from the chickens raised (no longer legal in the city) in our own backyard on Valdez Street.

When the first spring rains arrived my father hiked to the Oakland hills to gather wild mushrooms. He would return home with the smell of wet earth and grass pungent on the black work pants all longshoremen wore at that time, bearing a huge yield of mushrooms in a paper bag. Those who know only the pale, white, costly fungus sold in the produce sections of today's stores have never really known mushrooms -- that rich earth flavor with a slight metallic tang; that wonderful aroma as they sauteed in butter. As a side dish for dinner, as a main dish for lunch, creamed over toast points - my mother baked her own bread - they were epicurean. 

In those same hills lay a reservoir, now filled and built over, where flocks of wild duck paused in their annual migration. My father was a superb shot, and all duck season we dined on tender birds stuffed with homemade bread dressing and served with slices of fried apple, the fruit grown in our own backyard. Like the wild mushrooms, the wild duck has a flavor that cannot be duplicated in domestic birds, a gamy taste that carries to the palate the sense of wild skies, reedy marshes and a vast teeming world of times past.

Quail, too, lived and bred in abundance in the hills. I can see them now, plucked, stuffed, their tiny legs and wings tied tightly to their plump bodies, tucked into the roasting pan and set into the oven of our black-iron, wood-burning stove. No gas, no electricity, no microwave can produce the smells or bring out the flavors like one of those old stoves. Basted in butter and wine, those quail excelled any dish from any of today's highly rated and priced gourmet restaurants.

Though fishing was never my father's real talent or interest, he did fish when times were really hard. My uncle had a Ford and a small open trailer; we shared gas expenses -- it was five cents a gallon then -- and at the opening of the trout season we would drive to Gualala River. Since we had no money we camped out. The fishermen rose early to return with breakfast. I know of no meal in the world more appetizing than firm-fleshed trout fresh from an icy stream, cooked in the open and served with biscuits my mother made in a battered portable oven we always carried with us, washed down by coffee brewed in a speckled granite pot from clear water drawn at a nearby spring.

After breakfast we would go over to the coast to property owned by our friends the Ohlsons, who ran sheep. Part of this property is now Sea Ranch. There my father would fish off the rocks, a dangerous occupation if one was not watchful of the incoming waves. An old Indian who lived close by would give him advice on the best rocks from which to fish, and the awareness of danger and the romance of listening to the old Indian added zest to the flavor of the catch. 

Sometimes my cousins and I would gather mussels, but I remember better my fascination with the lustrous lining of their shells than I do their taste.

No, the real marine joys of eating were fish chowder and abalone. The fish my father caught off the big rocks were bullhead. The fillets, cooked on the beach, were delicious, but still not equal to chowder made from the huge head. Potatoes, onions, a bit of salt and pepper and the big head simmered together in a deep pot over a slow fire,  dished up in thick bowl after our day's racing around on the sand — neither we nor the gods would exchange it for ambrosia.

Abalone depended upon the conjunction of no work and minus tides so there was something special about procuring it. There was the mystery of rising m the dark and reaching the beach for the low tide; there was the wonder of the response of sea to moon, the tide falling, rocks rising from the tea bottom, water receding toward the horizon and the land advancing to reveal, deep down among the rocks, the abalone, clinging there with a force as strong as life itself. 

My father, stripped to a loincloth and with a tire iron in his hand, was Everyman engaged in the eternal battle with nature, plunging and reaching into the cold depths, straining to pry loose the powerfully dinging mollusks, and all before the tide could turn and treacherously sweep back in.

When the contest was won, the fire was lighted and the Dutch oven was set on to heat. What anticipation! The abalone had to be removed from its shell and beaten with a special corrugated hammer to break down the tissues; otherwise it would be tough as leather.  

No one else I know cooked abalone as we did. Oh, if the catch was good we brought some home in our wet gunnysack and had slices fried in the conventional way, but on the beach it was different. The abalone was placed in the Dutch oven with a liberal helping of butter and some slices of lemon, then covered and roasted on top of the fire. While it cooked, my cousins and I, with long ropes tied around our middles in case of undertow, would run out and swim in the returning tide. Later, cold, salty, weary and starved, we would sit in a circle around the fire. The cover would be lifted from the Dutch oven and all the richness of all the seas since time began would fill our nostrils. The abalone would be lifted out, aiming and tender, then sliced and served with its gravy of juice, butter and lemon. At such moments, time itself stood still.

I live now on one of those hills where my father used to collect mushrooms and hunt wild duck and quail. The rocks where he used to fish for bullhead and plunge into the water for abalone are closed off by housing tracts. The crab have retreated before pollution.  

To be poor today in California is no longer the gourmet adventure it was back then, nor will poverty now provide the rich memories it did for me and my cousins. But what a time it was, everything fresh, everything abundant — all for the taking. Truly, that was California living.  

Friday, May 22, 2009


1. Flooding has not been a major problem in parts of the Bay area for many years (except from culverts clogging up); most creek problems involve erosion, which can be dealt with in other ways

2. Culverting is not cost effective; in fact, it is the most expensive way to solve creek problems

3. Serious problems, such as further erosion and flooding, often develop upstream and downstream of a culvert

4. Culverts can be extremely unsafe on or near earthquake fault lines

5. In Mediterranean climates (such as California's) silting-up of culverts is a major problem, so continuous costly dredging may be required

6. The straight line created by culverting causes more chance of an overload then does a creek's natural meander (due to the increased velocity of flow)

7. Culverting destroys habitats of fish and animals

8. Culverting prevents the renewal of ground water to adjacent wetlands

9. Culverting destroys areas of natural beauty, places that are great playgrounds for neighborhood children and natural park resources