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