Wednesday, June 17, 2009

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. 

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