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Historic Spots in California: Fifth Edition

Historic Spots in California: Fifth Edition

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Historic Spots in California: Fifth Edition

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2,735 pagine
30 ore
Sep 6, 2002


The only complete guide to the historical landmarks of California, this standard work has now been thoroughly revised and updated. The edition is enriched by some 200 photographs, most of which were taken by the reviser and all of which are new to this edition.

Since the last revision in 1990, enormous changes have taken place within the state: many landscapes and buildings have been greatly altered and some are no longer in existence. Every effort has been made, through personal observation, to record the present condition of the landmarks and to provide clear and accurate descriptions of their locations. The text is written with the idea that the reader might use the book while traveling around the state, and thus mileage and signposts have been given where it was thought helpful. For this new edition, the reviser has added additional information on the state's geography, the presence of Native Americans, and state and local museums.

To provide historical background, the reviser has written a short historical overview. The chapters of the book are organized by county, in alphabetical order. A rough chronology is followed for each county, beginning with pertinent facts on geography, continuing with Native American life, the coming of the Spaniards and other Europeans, the American conquest of the 1840s, and, in those areas where it had a major impact, the gold rush. The text then continues into the period of intensive agricultural development, railroads, industrialization, the growth of cities, the effects of World War II, and on into more recent times.

The bibliography, like the text, has been updated to 2001 and includes some of the established classics in California history as well as more recent material.

Reviews of the Fourth Edition

"Prodigious in detail and scope, this is the definitive guide to historical landmarks in California and a valuable resource not only for travelers but also for anyone interested in California history." —California Highways

"This is an outstanding and accessible piece of scholarship, one that every student of California will value." —San Francisco Chronicle

"Kyle and Stanford University Press are to be lauded for this monumental undertaking." —Southern California Quarterly

Sep 6, 2002

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Historic Spots in California - Douglas E. Kyle


Historical Introduction

This overview of California history is intended to provide some background for readers not already acquainted with it and to avoid the need to repeat information throughout the chapters. Readers seeking more detailed information should consult the first section of the bibliography, which lists works on the general history of California.

California’s earliest verified historic date is September 28, 1542, when two small ships flying Spanish colors sailed into a harbor on the Pacific Coast of North America. Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, commander of the expedition, called his anchorage the Bay of San Miguel. Sebastián Vizcaíno, whose expedition entered the port sixty years later, called it the Bay of San Diego, and that name is the one that has survived. Name changes would often happen in the history of California.

Spain, by the middle of the sixteenth century, was the foremost military and naval power of western Europe, with expanding colonies in the Caribbean and on the continents of North and South America, and trade interests that spanned the Pacific to the Philippine Islands and Japan. Voyages by Cabrillo and his contemporary Hernando de Alarcón (who may have been the first European to set foot on California soil, in what is now Imperial County, around 1540) were part of the Spanish program of expansion. This was financed in large part by the incredible wealth that the Spaniards found in Mexico and Peru and was driven both by imperial needs and by dreams of gold and magical lands.

The name California was taken from Garci Ordoñez de Montalvo’s popular romantic narrative published in 1510, Las Sergas de Esplandian (The Exploits of Esplandían), which referred to a fabulous island ruled by an Amazon, Queen Calafia. The name was later given to the land lying north and west of Mexico, thought at that time to be an island, but actually the peninsula now known as Baja (Lower) California. Also somewhere to the West—which has, in Western civilization, always represented the future, unknown but potentially golden—the land of El Dorado was supposed to lie. The legend of El Dorado told of a kingdom so rich that its ruler was daily anointed with gold dust, thus becoming El Dorado, the Gilded Man.

Meanwhile, in 1579, Spain’s hegemony in the Pacific was briefly challenged by the Englishman Francis Drake. After raiding Spanish ports on the Pacific coast of South and Central America, Drake anchored his ship for three weeks, probably in California’s Marin County. On his departure he claimed the land for Queen Elizabeth, a loyal but basically empty gesture. No other English voyager is known to have called on the California coast for more than two centuries.

After Cabrillo’s visit, the next official Spanish voyage of discovery was that led by Sebastián Vizcaíno in 1602, in search of a possible anchorage on the North American coast for the great cargo ships that sailed from Manila to Acapulco. Vizcaíno discovered Monterey Bay, which he named for the Conde de Monterey, viceroy in Mexico. However, Vizcaíno’s glowing reports of what he saw in traveling perhaps as far north as Cape Mendocino did not stimulate further expeditions. Spain claimed the Pacific Coast of North America as being within her empire, and no other European power challenged that claim. This remained a stable situation until the middle of the eighteenth century.

The area claimed by Spain as Alta (Upper) California was, in fact, already home to some 300,000 indigenous people, whose ancestors had been living there for at least 12,000 years. California’s generally mild, dry climate and abundance of plant and animal life made it possible for the native people (usually referred to by outsiders as Indians) to harvest and store a generous supply of food without the need for farming or a nomadic life style. By the time Europeans began to explore the coast of California, the Indians had evolved into a complex of cultures, encompassing 104 language groups and living, usually in permanent settlements (later called rancherías by the Spanish), in every region of the present-day state except the High Sierra. Their life was on the whole peaceable and enriched by cooperative labor and extensive patterns of trade. They were, however, quite unprepared to withstand the Europeans, who showed little understanding or appreciation of the Indian way of life and whose attitude of superiority was to have tragic consequences.

By the 1760s Spain was forced to review her situation in the New World; Britain, France, and Russia were claiming more and more territory in North America. The northwestern frontier of Spain’s empire was unfortified and vulnerable to foreign penetration.

The decision was made to colonize Alta California. Spanish subjects would be induced to move into these northern territories, assured of military protection and remission of taxes in the first five years of settlement. The Catholic Church would be provided with a fresh field in which missionary work could be done among the Indians—it was remembered that they were subjects of the king and could be introduced to the benefits of Spanish culture. The military would fortify strategic locations and deal with possible Indian or foreign resistance.

In 1769 a two-part expedition set out for Alta California and arrived at San Diego in the summer of that year. Three ships carried colonists and soldiers from Mexico, and an overland party traveled from Sonora with Gaspar de Portolá, governor of Baja California, as military commander and Father Junipero Serra as spiritual leader. Portolá had been instructed to find the Bay of Monterey of the Vizcaíno reports. Serra was to begin the establishment of the missions to the Indians of Alta California.

After the two groups came together at San Diego, Father Serra and his Franciscan brethren established the first mission. Portolá, after ordering the foundations for a presidio, took a party northward to find Monterey Bay. The settlers took possession of the land. Not unexpectedly, this act was challenged by the local Indians; every activity of the Spanish was protected by a small military force.

Ultimately, four presidios, or fortified places, were established by the Spaniards in Alta California, all before the end of the eighteenth century, at San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Francisco. In addition, twenty-one missions were founded by the Franciscans along the coast, from San Diego de Alcalá in 1769 to San Francisco Solano in Sonoma in 1821. Many became extensive operations, containing churches, a padre’s residence, workshops and storehouses, and quarters for both Indian neophytes and soldiers. Using Indian labor, the missions developed gardens, orchards, vineyards, and pastures and began an extensive trade in hides and tallow. Between the missions, usually a day’s ride apart, a rough pathway developed—El Camino Real, The King’s Highway. The name has been retained in several communities and is closely followed by today’s US Highway 101 between Petaluma and Los Angeles, and Interstate Highway 5 between Los Angeles and San Diego.

A third type of Spanish settlement was also begun in Alta California; this was the pueblo or town, home for Spanish colonists. Many inducements were made to bring settlers into the province. Two pueblos, Los Angeles and San Jose, survived to become major California cities; a third, Branciforte, languished, and its site is now part of the city of Santa Cruz.

Alta California was thought of as a northern extension of New Spain, as Mexico was known in its Spanish days. For a dozen years, overland expeditions brought in settlers, livestock, seeds, and tools, culminating in the founding of the Pueblo of Los Angeles in 1781. In that year, a massacre of Spaniards along the Colorado River by Mojave Indians abruptly brought the overland route to a halt. Henceforth, the connection between inhabitants in Alta California and the governors in Mexico was made by sea, and a separation and sense of distance obtruded between the two areas, which was never overcome, in either the Spanish or the Mexican years.

Spain’s rule over Alta California has come under vigorous criticism by many historians in the last hundred years. The attack centers on the impact of Spanish Christian culture and domination upon the native California population. By their words and their actions, Europeans of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries believed their ways to be highly superior to the rest of the world, and this was evident in Alta California. Every European who left memoirs of a visit during the Spanish period wrote disparagingly of the Indians, who were described as ugly, naked, lethargic, and behaving much like animals. Rounded up into communities under Spanish rule, the Indians were cut off from their traditional ways; they were also exposed to European diseases, which worked with terrible force. Zealous and devout missionary priests, including the beatified Serra, probably would be horrified to find that a later age would charge them with genocide. One fact can not be denied: the Indian population of California had declined from 300,000 at the time of first European contact to less than 50,000 by the middle of the nineteenth century. Once in a while rebellion broke out, always to be crushed with military force. It is almost miraculous that Indian culture survived at all.

Several Europeans visited California and left accounts of what they saw. Among them was the Englishman George Vancouver, who twice visited the province in the 1790s and noted the weak defenses of the coast. In 1806 a Russian ship easily entered San Francisco Bay to begin negotiations with the local authorities for supplies to the destitute colony of Sitka in Russian America, now Alaska. Although Spain’s mercantile economic policy sought to keep foreigners out of her imperial trade, the officials in remote Alta California agreed to permit a limited amount of commerce between the province and the Russians. When a Russian settlement was established north of San Francisco at Fort Ross (Sonoma County) in 1819 the Spaniards were unable to oust these traders, and indeed were grateful for the services of the colony’s artisans.

A new threat to Spain’s empire came from the United States of America. An occasional American ship had already been seen along the California coast in the early days of the nineteenth century, as the whaling industry and the China trade began to bring Yankee ships into Pacific waters, which had hitherto been a Spanish monopoly. In 1819, the Adams-Onís Treaty between the United States and Spain drew a boundary line between Spanish and American claims in North America, which followed the 42nd parallel of latitude westward from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, the boundary line between California and Oregon today. The Oregon Country became an American outpost on the Pacific, from which many Americans would emigrate into California in the Gold Rush days.

In 1822 New Spain threw off Spanish rule and became the Republic of Mexico. Alta California had no choice but to accept this political change, although many of her leaders were Spanish by birth or by loyalty, particularly among the padres of the Church. Thus an element of hostility was added to the sense of distance that already existed between Mexico and Alta California. Spain had been an imperial power of global scope; Mexico was an impoverished country with no tradition of political self-government and no system of efficient internal communications.

Mexican rule did bring significant changes from that of Spain. A governor appointed from Mexico was sent to rule the province. The seat of government often moved from one administration to another, usually between Monterey in the north and Los Angeles in the south. (Briefly, in 1832–33, the quarrel between the north and the south resulted in two governors and two capitals. North-south conflict in California is an old story.) A provincial legislature, the diputación, was created, but its authority was limited, and its deeds were few. Municipal government appeared, and the alcalde, the town’s chief official, became the most important person in the region.

By Mexican revolutionary standards, the Church was hopelessly reactionary. As owner of extensive lands, it was also a major economic force in a poor country. Ideology and fiscal needs combined to bring on the secularization of the missions beginning in 1834. The property of the missions was taken over by the state and sold to eager buyers. Those Indians who lived in the vicinity of the missions were supposed to get land of their own in this process, but in fact few did.

Land was the one permanent element in this period of change. In the Spanish days, each of the missions received a grant of land for its sustenance. A few private individuals had also been given the right to occupy specific tracts of land, and most of these two dozen awards were confirmed under Mexican law in the 1820s. Mexico began the policy of making outright grants of land to trustworthy citizens. The land was allocated by leagues; a linear league would be 2.63 miles in today’s measurements, and a square league would be about 4,439 acres. These parcels of land were known as ranchos and often mark the first attempts made in the history of California to make specific identification of land. Thus many of the historic spots in California have their first mention as ranchos. (The chapters in this book that deal with coastal counties often contain subheadings based on ranchos, followed by the names of the towns that now sit on that land.) About five hundred grants of land were made in the quarter century of Mexican rule.

The economic backwardness of Mexican California invited outsiders. After 1822, more and more of these were young bachelors, American or British, seeking their fortune; many of them married the daughters of established California families after being baptized in the Catholic faith, which accounts for a name such as Juan Bautista Rogers Cooper of Monterey. Jedediah Strong Smith headed the first party of Americans to arrive in Alta California overland from the United States, in 1826; other mountain men and fur traders, some from the Hudson’s Bay Company in the Oregon Country, were active in California in the late 1820s and 1830s. Unable to keep them out, Mexico permitted foreigners who were willing to acknowledge Mexican law to become citizens of the republic, and as citizens these newcomers could become landowners. Men such as Robert Livermore and George C. Yount were now peers of established families like the Carrillos, the Lugos, and the Yorbas. These Hispanic grandees were chiefly concerned with cattle raising on their extensive lands. The newcomers tended to dominate the commercial and business life of Alta California.

Overland migration of American settlers into California began in 1841, when the Bidwell-Bartleson party arrived from the Mississippi Valley. The crossing of the West was a formidable undertaking: trails were random and poorly marked, water was scarce, and livestock perished. The people making this crossing endured great hardship in their migration, of which the Donner Party (whose story is told in the Nevada County chapter) was a frightful example. Despite adversities, the newcomers made a considerable addition to the American presence in California by 1846.

Between 1835 and 1846, relations between Mexico and the United States deteriorated. In part, this was the result of Mexican suspicion that the United States was seeking territorial expansion at Mexico’s expense. In 1835, Mexico rejected an American offer to purchase San Francisco Bay. In the following year, Americans in Texas staged a successful revolution that drove Mexico out and created the independent Lone Star Republic, of ficially annexed to the United States in 1845. In 1842, Thomas ap Catesby Jones, commodore of the U.S. Pacific squadron, having heard a rumor that war had broken out, brought his four ships into Monterey Bay and demanded the surrender of the province. In the 1840s, expansion toward the Pacific Coast became the announced goal of the Democratic Party. In the election of 1844 voters chose Democrat James K. Polk as president and put Democrats in control of both houses of Congress. The American annexation of Texas early in 1845 caused Mexico to sever diplomatic relations with the United States, and by May 1846 the two countries were at war. Although the major events of the war took place along the Texas border and on into Mexico, the opportunity to gain control of California was not wasted.

John Charles Frémont, an Army officer and son-in-law of Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, had begun his career with expeditions exploring passes in the Rocky Mountains. He reached the Oregon Country in 1843 and entered Alta California the following year, where he too noted the weak defenses of the region. His Report of the Exploring Expedition to Oregon and North California, written with his wife Jessie in 1845, was very well received and brought California to the attention of American officials. By the end of 1845, Frémont was back in California, where he and his men openly defied the Mexican authorities, going so far as to put up a fortification atop Gabilan Peak in San Benito County, overlooking the Salinas Valley. He abandoned the fort before any formal hostilities ensued. In May 1846, while Congress was receiving President Polk’s war message, Frémont returned to California from a short sojourn in Oregon, captured Sutter’s Fort at Sacramento, took Captain Sutter as prisoner, and encouraged Americans to rise against Mexican rule.

On June 14, 846, a party of Americans took possession of the town of Sonoma and raised the Bear Flag of the California Republic over the plaza. Within three weeks, an American naval force appeared on the coast and formally proclaimed American rule over the presidios and coastal towns. Throughout the remainder of 1846, several incidents of Californian resistance to the American conquest took place, the most serious being the Battle of San Pasqual in San Diego County, where twenty-one American soldiers were ambushed and killed in December. On January 13, 1847, Frémont accepted the surrender of Governor Pio Pico and General José Maria Flores. The captured province was officially annexed to the United States by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, ending the Mexican War.

Just a few days before the treaty was signed, James Marshall, an employee of Captain John Sutter, discovered abundant gold in the bed of the South Fork of the American River, at Coloma in El Dorado County. Nothing could keep this news from spreading, and throughout 1848 there were many other discoveries. President Polk’s message to Congress in December acknowledged the bonanza. By 1849 the great gold rush was on. From as far away as Australia, Chile, China, and Europe, gold-seekers came to California by sea. A greater number of Americans ventured overland, on the trails already established by earlier pioneers. The excitement continued even after the easily discovered streambed nuggets were gathered and men realized that they had to mine the foothills of the Sierra in search of more gold.

In this Mother Lode region, new camps and towns set up almost overnight, many lasting no more than a few months. Dame Shirley, the pen name of one of the few women in a mining camp, left memorable descriptions of Rich Bar, Plumas County, in 1852, which are a classic of reporting. The ruins of these short-lived mining centers are still to be seen throughout the state, from Tumco and Havilah in the south up to Hawkins-ville and Timbuctoo in the north. A number of other towns, such as Nevada City and Sonora, have survived and remain important regional centers.

Extensive hydraulic mining was practiced throughout the gold region until halted by a court order in 1884, largely because of environmental damage. Rivers had filled with debris, necessitating levees along the Feather and Sacramento Rivers to hold back the spring floods, an annual problem that persisted into the middle of the twentieth century. Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park in Nevada County and the enormous tailings east of Folsom in Sacramento County were the result of this kind of mining.

California, newcomers realized, presented many other opportunities for wealth beyond the haphazard search for gold. The mild climate and good soil invited the development of agriculture, ultimately the state’s most valuable economic activity. The new cities of the Gold Rush—San Francisco, Sacramento, and Stockton in particular—needed skilled workmen and entrepreneurs. California’s isolation encouraged the development of domestic industry, which by the federal census of 1860 boasted more than 3,500 manufacturing establishments.

The migration into California was so large that a movement toward statehood was underway even before civil territorial government began. In September 1849 a state constitutional convention met in Monterey. Of the forty-eight delegates, only seven were native Californians. The new state government included a popularly elected governor holding office for two years, a bicameral Legislature, and a hierarchy of courts. A bill of rights contained a ban on slavery. As it happened, fifteen states in 1849 were free soil and fifteen were slave holding, a balance deliberately maintained since the Missouri Compromise in 1820. No slave territory was available to match free-soil California, whose admission to the Union the slave-holding South feared would place that region at a disadvantage when sectional issues were voted on by Congress. Nonetheless, California entered the Union as a free state in the Compromise of 1850, which also included a more stringent fugitive slave law.

When the Civil War broke out, the need to link loyal California to the Union became urgent. As early as 1853, plans for a federally underwritten transcontinental railroad had been discussed, but nothing came of them for nearly a decade. In 1862, Congress enacted the Pacific Railroad Bill, just at the time when the forces of the Union seemed to be losing ground. (Travel by sea from New York to California, even using the shortcut over the Isthmus of Panama, was still a matter of many weeks under the best of conditions.) Before the completion of the railroad in 1869, however, telegraph lines connected California with the Mississippi Valley, and so on to the eastern states. San Franciscans learned of President Lincoln’s death the morning after his assassination in April 1865.

Lincoln’s Republican Party, which received California’s electoral votes both in 1860 and 1864, advocated federal support for internal development; this included extensive land grants to encourage the construction of railroad lines in the West. With Republicans dominating both the federal and the state political scene for many years after the end of the Civil War in 1865, the railroads had friends in high places. The Central Pacific Railroad, the western half of the transcontinental project of 1862–69, became the Southern Pacific Railroad system by the end of the century and exerted a great deal of influence on California politics. Its landholdings created towns such as Barstow, Roseville, and Tulare, and its power brought on such events as the Mussel Slough Tragedy in 1880, a story told in the Kings County chapter.

In these years (1850–80), a major development in California history resulted from policies adopted concerning Mexican land grants. These grants had been made in the days when a registered diseño (a sketch map and description of the land) was sufficient evidence of a valid land claim. Virtually none of the ranchos in California had fences or any marked boundaries. Although Article IX of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo declared that Mexican land titles would be honored under the new American regime, ambitious newcomers into California laid claim to attractive areas of old land grants or simply squatted on these lands and defied the owners to drive them out. The early histories of both Oakland and Sacramento give many examples of how effective squatter settlement could be.

A federal statute in 1851 attempted to regularize the process whereby land claims in California could be approved (or patented) by a commission appointed for that purpose. Holders of Mexican land grants had two years to prove before the courts that theirs was a valid title; the burden of proof was upon the Mexican owners, not the new squatters. The Land Commission met from 1852 to 1856 and, at great length and to the disadvantage of claimants (none of the commissioners knew Spanish, for example), determined the status of each claim. On the average, it took seventeen years for a claim to be patented. Often, the original litigants had died; even more often, the costs of litigation compelled the rancho owners to sell off their land piecemeal. Between 1865 and 1880, to cite one example, the Sepulveda family had to contend with eighty separate lawsuits in their effort to keep Rancho Los Palos Verdes in Los Angeles County. The result of all this litigation was that about three-quarters of the Mexican claims were accepted or patented by federal officials, but in fact most of the litigants had already sold most of their holdings. Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, and northern Oakland now stand on the lands of José Domingo Peralta, who was so impoverished by legal fees that, at his death in 1865, his family needed financial aid for his burial. Thus the old ranchos became divided into many new holdings.

With railroad transportation into and out of California a reality after 1869, the pace of California life stepped up dramatically. Migration from East to West increased, particularly in the area around Los Angeles. The twenty-seven original counties of California were gradually subdivided and increased to reflect these changes until there were fifty-eight by 1907. Many new towns were incorporated, chiefly in the Los Angeles basin and in the Great Central Valley. A diverse population soon developed, with a significant number from the Far East. Chinese laborers, some who arrived as early gold miners and others brought in to build the railroads, stayed on, and San Francisco’s Chinatown had 47,000 inhabitants by an 1875 estimate. Settlers from France, Italy, and the Austro-Hungarian and German empires all established colonies for their countrymen. One could see Chinese joss houses and Jewish synagogues in the towns. The one population group that was declining was the California Indian. A last hard-fought resistance against overwhelming odds, the Modoc War of 1873, ended Native American protests for nearly a hundred years.

In the late nineteenth century California was discovered by artists and writers, attracted to the magnificent landscapes and natural beauty of the state, and to the fascinating spectacle of rapid social and economic change. Some great works of this period, such as the paintings of Albert Bierstadt or the essays of John Muir, were done by men born in Europe but raised in America and who came in their maturity to California. Health seekers flocked to the balmy climate: many tuberculosis sanitariums were established between 1880 and 1920, for example. A new kind of El Dorado myth began, comprised of oranges, sunshine, outdoor life, and a wholesomeness that was contrasted with the squalor of Eastern industrial cities.

In these years of great change, some believed that California’s past was being obliterated. In 1871 the California Historical Society was organized at the University of Santa Clara. In 1875 the Native Sons of the Golden West was begun, followed in 1886 by the Native Daughters of the Golden West. These groups were all concerned with the commemoration and recording of California’s historic activities and landmarks. Many of these are today State Registered Landmarks (SRL) and are so identified in the text that follows.

California political issues between 1875 and 1924 frequently involved anti-Oriental movements, whose leaders declared that Chinese labor was undercutting white labor and that Japanese entrepreneurs were acquiring excessive amounts of land. Under pressure from the California congressional delegation, the United States in 1882 stopped further immigration from China, the first time that a nationality had been excluded. Japanese immigration was halted by an Executive Agreement in 1908 and banned in 1924. In 1913 California’s Webb Act prohibited Japanese not born in the United States from acquiring land in the state. In the years after 1924, official relations between the United States and the Empire of Japan grew more and more estranged: the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, brought into the open a long-standing hostility, to which California politics had made some contribution. Although all Japanese on the West Coast were forced into internment camps in the early days of World War II, most Japanese living in the United States were loyal to this country. The Manzanar site in Inyo County remains as a reminder of this period of wartime tension.

Political issues in these years were a chief subject of the press, which was always important as a means of communication in a state as large and diversified as California. Many leading newspapers had joined the concerted effort in the 1910 election to drive the Southern Pacific Railroad from its dominant position in the state; this campaign was successful with the election of Progressive Republican reformer Hiram Johnson as governor and a sympathetic legislature.

The major newspaper publishing names of the twentieth century, among them Chandler, De Young, Knowland, McClatchy, and Storke, were also concerned with historic preservation. William Randolph Hearst, the most influential publisher in California’s history, supported several historical restorations. His San Simeon estate, in San Luis Obispo County, is a kind of treasure-house of collections, and is a major tourist attraction today.

Water is an issue that repeatedly makes the headlines, for the simple reason that southern California has the larger population while northern California has 70 percent of the water in the state. Agriculture depends upon irrigation to get through the long, dry summers. Dams and reservoirs, aqueducts, and pumping systems have been installed throughout the state, often after considerable acrimony and debate. The city of Los Angeles acquired water rights in the Owens River valley around 1900, an action that is still hotly debated. Great aqueducts brought the water to Los Angeles, leaving the Owens River basin in a desiccated condition. More aqueducts brought water from the Colorado River; the Salton Sea is the result of an overflow of water from the Colorado in 1905. The federal Central Valley Project, begun in 1935, dammed the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers to provide irrigation for the Great Central Valley. The larger State Water Project, begun in the 1960s, involves moving millions of acre-feet of water every year from the northern to the southern part of the state; Butte County’s Oroville Dam and Lake Oroville are the biggest elements in this project, without which California might not have grown as it has.

Petroleum became important in California as early as 1880, as numerous oil strikes were made in Kern and Los Angeles counties. By the first years of the twentieth century, the state was the largest oil producer in the nation. Overall, the value of petroleum far exceeds that of gold, although California is still known as the Golden State.

Economic struggles came to the fore in California as the twentieth century began, and workers began to organize, particularly in the industrial city of San Francisco. Often at odds with management, such groups as the International Longshoremen’s Association wielded considerable power in the city; in 1934 they led a successful general strike in San Francisco, the only such occurrence in California history. Meanwhile, though the ports continued to be important for the shipment of goods, more and more commerce was being carried by trucks on the expanding highway system. All too often these highways were built through and over old areas of historic interest.

One industry closely connected with California since the early 1900s is motion pictures and, more recently, television, centered around the Hollywood district of Los Angeles. Hollywood became synonymous with glamour and opulence, not only on the screen but also in the homes of Bel Air and Beverly Hills. The area has been a tourist attraction for decades. Movies were also shot on location throughout California, creating a new category of historic spots. When the Hooker Oak (SRL 313) in Bidwell Park, Chico, fell in 1977, newspapers identified it chiefly as part of the setting of the 1938 film Robin Hood.

World War II brought great changes to California, among them many new or expanded military bases; in the early months of the war there was a Japanese submarine attack on the Santa Barbara County coast. Hundreds of thousands of military personnel were moved through California ports. There had been an influx of migrants from the Dust Bowl states into California in the 1930s, but the new wave was ten times that of the previous decade. The defense industry, which became one of California’s most important, sought workers from all over the country. One group that responded in large numbers was black Americans from the South. The 1940 census reported 124,000 blacks in California; by the 1950 census, their numbers had risen to 462,000. Established California cities became larger, and new ones arose seemingly overnight, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area and in the Los Angeles basin.

In the last decades of the twentieth century, new population movements were occurring, many as a result of war in Southeast Asia. People from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam now made their homes in California. Fresno became not only a city of many Armenians; by 1990 it had the world’s largest Hmong population. The assimilation that some Californians have feared and others have championed will doubtless continue to add color and new dimensions to the history of California in the future. One encouraging sign is the return of Native Americans. From near-extinction in 1900, the Indian population of California is today more than 200,000, the largest of any state, in part because of migration of Indians into California from other parts of the United States.

From its earliest contacts with the outside world, California has had a strong connection with national policy, international strategy, and military fortifications. A major change in California in the past two decades has been the closure of military bases and the abandonment of lands that have long been off-limits to the public. In the following text, the reader may note that it has not always been possible to say unequivocally just what is happening to land that was formerly an air force base, for example.

Moreover, the account of California’s historic spots that follows will inevitably require updating as time, earthquakes, floods, and freeways take their toll. So this must be regarded as a chapter in a history still unfolding, still fascinating, and worth visiting.

Alameda County

Mission San Jose, Fremont

Alameda County was created in 1853 from portions of Contra Costa and Santa Clara Counties. The county seat was originally at Alvarado. It was moved to San Leandro in 1856, and from there in 1873 to Oakland, where it has remained.

The poplar or cottonwood tree (alamo in Spanish) is the basis for the word alameda, which means a place where poplar trees grow; it was also used to describe a tree-lined road. The county’s name came from El Arroyo de la Alameda (Alameda Creek), lined with willow and silver-barked sycamore trees, giving it the appearance of a tree-lined roadway.


From the 1850s the shell mounds found along the shores of San Francisco Bay excited the curiosity of the incoming new settlers. In 1902 these mounds were studied by Professors John C. Merriam and Max Uhle of the University of California. They made careful excavations on the site of the prominent Emeryville mound and published the results of their work. In 1908, N. C. Nelson completed a survey of the entire San Francisco Bay region, where he located, numbered, and mapped nearly 425 shell heaps, analyzing them in detail and publishing a summary of his observations and conclusions.

The Emeryville Mound, designated number 329 in the Nelson survey, was situated on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay almost due east of the Golden Gate. It lay on the western side of the Peralta grant, or that part of Rancho San Antonio apportioned to Vicente Peralta by his father, Luis Maria Peralta. This section later became known as Emeryville, an incorporated city lying between Oakland and Berkeley. The shell mound (SRL 335) was located between the bay and the railroad tracks. Shellmound Street identifies the site; no official marker has been placed there. As W. Egbert Schenck explained:

The first people who came to this area camped just above the shoreline, possibly on little hummocks at the edge of the marsh. As shellfish were obtained, the shells were thrown aside, and these with the by-products of daily life increased the campground and gradually crept out into the marsh. . . . As the shell area increased, subsequent people utilized it because it was drier, placing camps, perhaps over what had previously been marsh. . . . This shell area grew until it covered some hundreds of thousands of square feet.

The Emeryville mound was located at a point that was favorable for use as a camping ground by native peoples. Lying on the narrow alluvial plain that stretches along the Contra Costa (opposite coast) between the foothills and the bay, it was bordered on the north by open, almost treeless plains, and on the south by a willow thicket some twenty acres in extent. Further south the thicket merged into a marsh extending about one and one-half miles along the shore and gradually increasing in width until at its southern end it was three-quarters of a mile wide. Beyond the marshes stretched a mile of rolling, oak-studded fields, the Encinal de Temescal.

In prehistoric times, Temescal Creek supplied fresh water to the nomadic people who visited its banks, and the abundant shellfish beds at its mouth supplied food. The quiet reaches of the bay were full of sea otter, perhaps hunted from tule rafts. Waterfowl filled the marshes, and deer were plentiful in the willow thicket and the oak grove to the south; acorns, seeds, and other vegetable foods were abundant, as the numerous mortars found in the vicinity indicate. The willow thicket also supplied ample firewood.

To this choice spot groups of Indians came yearly from the surrounding country, perhaps from long distances. They may have spent six months out of each year at this site, fishing and hunting, drying and pounding the shellfish for future food supplies, and taking the otter skins for clothing.

The Emeryville shell mound may be as old as 1,000 years, but it is impossible to determine this accurately. There is no certain evidence on when the place was last used as a rendezvous for nomadic tribes. Schenck says that it was apparently unoccupied when Fages passed that way in 1772, for no mention of it is made in the chronicles of that expedition. Anza, in 1776, and Gabriel Moraga, in the early 1800s, also failed to mention having seen Indians in the Oakland-Berkeley neighborhood, although they did note their presence both to the south and to the north. Yet even if these early explorers did not see Indians there, and even though there were no fogs concealing their whereabouts, the oak groves of which Father Crespi wrote, together with the willow thicket near the mouth of Temescal Creek, may well have formed an effectual screen behind which the Indians at the Emeryville mound were encamped—or perhaps took refuge—when the first white travelers passed that way.

Around the year 1836, Vicente Peralta built his adobe house not far from Temescal Creek and about one and a half miles east of the Emeryville mound. At the mouth of the creek was the Temescal embarcadero (pier), and the ancient mound was a landmark known to travelers along the old creek road during those days.

In 1857 the Peralta grant was surveyed and mapped by Julius Kellersberger, and in 1859 Edward Wiard purchased that portion of it on which the mound lay. Contemporary maps show buildings on both the eastern and western parts; in 1871 Wiard leveled a section of the eastern side and laid out the mile racetrack that became known as the Oakland Trotting Park. On the western side in 1876 he opened Shellmound Park, a popular holiday resort and picnic grounds; the Emeryville shell mound in those days was a picturesque landmark. On its low, truncated summit were a circle of trees, some windmills, and the round dance pavilion surrounded by a high cypress hedge. An atlas of 1878 shows this mound with the residence of J. S. Emery in the foreground.

The shores of San Francisco Bay were too valuable to be left undeveloped, and over the years virtually all the shell mounds were leveled and their contents dispersed. In 1924 the Emervyille mound was leveled in order to convert the area into a factory site. John Hubert Mee, president of the Mee Estate, which owned the property, made known his intentions and permitted the University of California to explore the site, with much assistance from Captain Ludwig Siebe, proprietor of Shellmound Park. The mound was razed by steam shovel; careful observations were made and collections were taken during the process. After the leveling operations were completed, controlled excavations of its lower levels were made by hand. Many skeletal and artifact materials were collected. The pile was found to be composed principally of shells—mostly clams, mussels, and oysters, with a plentiful mixture of cockleshells. Certain other kinds, found only in small quantities, had been treated in the manner of possessions. Besides human burials, the accumulation disclosed the skeletal remains of birds, quadrupeds, sea mammals, and fish. Many of these bone remains were placed in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California at Berkeley. One shell mound in Alameda County remains pretty much undisturbed, in Coyote Hills Regional Park in Fremont.

Tulare Marsh, Coyote Hills Regional Park, Fremont

But the Emeryville shell mounds were not totally gone. In 1999 and 2000 renovations along the shoreline revealed substantial remains from these old sites, discovered as old buildings and lots were pulled down. Here, and across the bay in South San Francisco, efforts are being made to keep intact some traces of these long-dispersed sites, something very difficult to achieve in areas of high population and commercial density.


One shell mound of the 425 mapped by Nelson in 1906–8 has been memorialized. The site of this mound, located in the city of Alameda and now covered by streets and residences, extended over three acres of ground bounded roughly by what are now Central, Johnson, and Santa Clara Avenues and Court Street. The mound was removed by the city authorities in the summer of 1908, and the earth, combined with tons of shells, was used for the making of roads on Bay Farm Island.

The lower levels of this ground were examined by Captain W. A. Clark, who, working the ground carefully with a hand trowel, was able to save a number of fine relics. They were placed in the Alameda Public Library, where they are still on display.

Near the site of the old Indian mound in Lincoln Park is a stone monument with a bronze tablet inscribed: One thousand feet due west was a prehistoric mound, 400 feet long, 150 feet wide, 14 feet high. The remains of 450 Indians, with stone implements and shell ornaments, were found when the mound was opened in 1908. Erected by Copa de Oro Chapter, D.A.R., 1914.


From Albany in the north to Mowry’s Landing in the south, there were at least twenty shell mounds scattered along the shore of the bay in Alameda County when they were cataloged and mapped by Nelson in 1906–8. Nelson in his report states that the 425 mounds found in the greater Bay Area probably did not include all of them, and that some doubtless had been obliterated in past years.

At the curve of Indian Rock Avenue where it meets the south end of San Diego Road in north Berkeley, a huge, irregular rock mass looms above the roadway. From its level summit there is a commanding view of the city and of the bay beyond. At the base of the main boulders are a number of smaller rocks with deeply worn holes or mortars where the Indians once ground acorns for meal. Nearby, the city of Berkeley has planted a garden in Mortar Rock Park. A few hundred feet lower down on Indian Rock Avenue at the head of San Mateo Road is Indian Rock Park, another prehistoric landmark set among small live oak and tall eucalyptus trees.

In the Trestle Glen neighborhood of Oakland there is a level spot where an Indian village once stood. It was originally called Indian Gulch because Indians still lived there when the first Americans came to that region. Nothing remains today as a reminder of the Indians, and Trestle Glen Road winds through a narrow canyon still shaded by immense live oaks and other trees.


Temescal, a name of Aztec origin meaning sweat house, was brought to California by the Franciscan Fathers. A. L. Kroeber describes the temescal thus:

From the outside its appearance is that of a small mound. The ground has been excavated to the depth of a foot or a foot and a half, over a space of about twelve by seven or eight feet. In the center of this area two heavy posts are set up three or four feet apart. These are connected at the top by a log laid in their forks. Upon this log, and in the two forks, are laid some fifty or more logs and sticks of various dimensions, their ends sloping down to the edge of the excavation. It is probable that brush covers these timbers. The whole is thoroughly covered with earth. There is no smoke hole. The entrance is on one of the long sides, directly facing the space between the two center posts, and only a few feet from them. The fireplace is between the entrance and the posts. It is just possible to stand upright in the center of the house. In Northern California, the sweat house is of larger dimensions, and was preeminently a ceremonial or assembly chamber.

Dr. L. H. Bunnell, in his history published in 1880 of his discoveries in the Yosemite Valley, noted some interesting details about the use of the sweat house:

It... was used as a curative for disease, and as a convenience for cleansing the skin, when necessity demanded it.... I have seen a half-dozen or more enter one of these rudely constructed sweathouses through the small aperture left for the purpose. Hot stones are taken in, the aperture is closed until suffocation would seem impending, when they would crawl out, reeking with perspiration, and with a shout, spring like acrobats into the cold waters of the stream. As a remedial agent for disease, the same course is pursued.

Through what is now a busy part of Oakland, Temescal Creek wandered down from the Piedmont hills to San Francisco Bay. When Americans first came to this section of the country, it is said that they found an old Indian sweat house in the arroyo and that because of this circumstance they named it Temescal Creek. W. E. Schenck, however, believes that the name may have arisen not from the presence of a native Indian village and sweat house but because the Indian retainers on the Peralta rancho doubtless set up a temescal on the bank of the creek near their cabins. The Vicente Peralta adobe was built about two blocks north of where Telegraph Avenue crosses the creek, near 51st Street. Around this nucleus the settlement of Temescal grew up. The name first appears on the Kellersberger survey map of 1857 as Temesconta, which, Schenck says, may or may not be Temescal.

Temescal Creek flowed about 450 feet southeast of the center of the Emeryville shell mound and discharged into the bay some 800 feet southwest of the center of the mound. The creek seems to have been the determining physiographical feature of the region in prehistoric as well as in pioneer times, tending to focus population by its supply of fresh water and food; until about the 1880s, for instance, it had salmon runs. With the coming of the Spaniards to the eastern side of the bay, Mission San José was settled, and later the great ranchos of San Antonio, San Leandro, San Lorenzo, San Pablo, and others were granted. Gradually embarcaderos sprang up along the eastern shore of the bay. Among others, the Temescal landing at the mouth of Temescal Creek near the old Emeryville shell mound became a landing place for occasional parties from San Francisco. The old Temescal Creek Road probably followed the creek as far east as Telegraph Avenue, and perhaps beyond.

During this period, visitors landing in boats at the mouth of Temescal Creek continued to the ranchos or to the mission by way of the Vicente Peralta Adobe one and a half miles inland. It was said that all visitors were hospitably greeted. From there they would proceed close to the foothills to Antonio Peralta’s adobe near what is now Fruitvale Avenue, and thence to Ignacio Peralta’s on the bank of San Leandro Creek. The next stop was the Estudillo rancho on the south side of the creek, and from there they went to Guillermo Castro’s adobe at the site of the present city of Hayward. Here roads led east to Amador’s and Livermore’s ranchos and south to Mission San José.

The old Temescal Creek Road no longer exists (though a portion of SR 24 follows the creek bed in some places), and the free flow of the stream was stopped in 1866 when it was dammed up in the hills to form the reservoir still known as Lake Temescal. At that time it furnished the principal water supply for several thousand inhabitants. The course of the arroyo itself is still plainly indicated in some places by a winding lane of native oak, willow, bay, alder, buckeye, and cottonwood trees. The creek itself runs through culverts underground and in places runs freely; it forms part of the boundary between Emeryville and Oakland.


In the fall of 1769, while he was encamped on San Francisquito Creek (on the San Mateo-Santa Clara county line), after his discovery of the great Bay of San Francisco, Gaspar de Portolá sent out a reconnoitering party. Commanded by José Francisco de Ortega, the expedition’s purpose was to find a land route up the eastern shore of the newly discovered bay to Point Reyes in Marin County and Cermeno’s harbor. It seems to have been anticipated that a settlement to be named San Francisco would be established on that harbor and there would be founded the mission dedicated to St. Francis.

Passing around the southern end of San Francisco Bay, Ortega and his men forded the Guadalupe River (in Santa Clara County). From there, wrote Father Juan Crespi, chronicler and chaplain to Portolá, they went forward on the other side of the estuary eight or ten leagues, but there was still a long distance for them to go. [A league would be 2.633 miles today.] At this distance of ten leagues, they came upon another very large stream with a very strong current, and its bed was also wooded and its course was through a great plain which was also quite well wooded. Professor Herbert E. Bolton wrote that they must have gone as far north as Niles or farther, and the second very large stream with wooded arroyo was doubtless Alameda Creek, from which the county takes its name.

According to Father Crespi, on the evening of November 10, 1769

the explorers returned [to Portolá’s encampment] very sad.... They said that all the territory which they had examined to the northeast and north was impassable because of the scarcity of pasture and especially because of the ferocity and ill-temper of the heathen, who received them angrily and tried to stop their passage. They said also that they had seen another estuary [San Pablo Bay] of equal magnitude and extent with the one we had in sight and with which it communicated, but that in order to round it one would have to travel many leagues. . . and that the mountains were rough and difficult.

The austere aspect of what the Spaniards came to call the Contra Costa (coast opposite San Francisco) on that November day discouraged Portolá’s weary, half-starved soldiers. They had gone far enough north to sight San Pablo Bay, but the view had only made further passage seem an impossible undertaking. Already disheartened because the long-sought port of Monterey had not been found, they voted unanimously to return to the Point of Pines in Monterey County.


Alameda County was again visited by the Spaniards in the autumn of 1770, when Pedro Fages, one of Portolá’s men left by him in command at Monterey, decided on his own initiative to make another attempt to reach Point Reyes by land. It was on this trip that Fages opened the first inland route from Monterey to the future site of San Jose. From there he continued over the trail opened the year before as far as Niles and on to a point seven leagues beyond the point reached by Ortega.

During this time, in Bolton’s words, the party had skirted the Contra Costa for two days. . . . From the Berkeley hills they looked west through the Golden Gate and to the north they beheld San Pablo Bay cutting across their route to Point Reyes.

Fages made a second attempt in the spring of 1772 to reach Cermeño’s bay. Accompanied by Father Juan Crespí, six Catalonian volunteers, six leather-jackets, a muleteer, and an Indian servant, he followed the trail that he had opened more than a year before. Northwest toward what is now Hayward the party retraced the ground already twice covered by Ortega and Fages.

Crespí’s chronicle for March 25 reads:

On this day of the Incarnation, after Mass had been said, we set out. . . in the direction of the north-northwest. At the start we traveled about a league from the estuary at the foot of a bare mountain range, and after traveling a short distance we were three leagues from the estuary. All the land is level, black, and very well covered with good grass, mallows, and other herbs. . . . We passed five villages of heathen, which are all on the banks of the arroyos with running water. . . . We halted on the bank of a large arroyo close to the mountains skirting the broad plain. The bed of the arroyo is very full of alders, cottonwoods, and willows.

Their route, like that of the long line of travelers who were to follow in their steps, lay close to the hills, and camp was made at San Lorenzo Creek, called San Salvador de Horta by Crespi.

Advancing as far as the site of Fruitvale on March 26, they pitched camp about where Mills College is today. During the day they had their first view of elk, which Crespí thought were buffalo but which the soldiers called mule deer. Five arroyos of running water had been crossed, their banks green with alder, cottonwood, live oak, and bay trees. At the end of five leagues, Fages and his men saw the Alameda peninsula, now an island, and the intervening encinal or live-oak groves. The site, wrote Crespí, is very suitable for a good settlement . . . on account of the proximity of the forest. . . . This place was called Arroyo del Bosque [Wooded Creek]—probably Fruitvale Creek.

From here the march, as described by Bolton, crossed country now thoroughly urbanized, but then only a pleasant wilderness:

On the 27th they turned inland to round the estuary and the adjacent marshes, and emerged from the hills near the site of Lake Merritt. Near the [Oakland] Technical High School Father Crespi made his observations of the Golden Gate. The islands which he describes in the gate are Alcatraz Island, Goat (Yerba Buena) Island, and Angel Island. The arroyo where they camped, a league north of the point of observation, was probably Strawberry Creek, and the campsite [was probably] near the western side of the campus of the University of California. On the 28th they continued past the sites of Berkeley and Albany to eastern Richmond in Contra Costa County.

In 1977, the Alameda County Historical Society placed a plaque on the campus of the California College of Arts and Crafts at 5200 Broadway in Oakland at what is believed to be the actual vantage point from which the 1770 Fages expedition first looked at the Golden Gate.

On the return trip in 1772, the first stop made in Alameda County was on April 1 at what are now the grounds of the Castlewood Country Club in Pleasanton. On April 2 they descended Arroyo de la Laguna, crossing it near Sunol. Leaving Sunol Valley they crossed Alameda Creek, ascended Mission Pass, reentered the valley of San Francisco Bay, and continued past the head of the bay at a point near Milpitas (in Santa Clara County).

The second Fages expedition seems to have been decisive in determining the location of San Francisco. Clearly Point Reyes was less attractive a site than the newly discovered bay. A settlement south of the Golden Gate would be accessible from Monterey both over land and by sea.


In the summer of 1775, an official Spanish expedition entered San Francisco Bay. The background of this trip is told in the San Francisco County chapter. Commander José Manuel de Ayala and his men spent more than seven weeks exploring the shores of the great bay. They noted the mud flats at what are now Oakland and Berkeley and poles driven into the mud, which they believed the Indians used as markers for fishing. Soundings were made, with the shallower depths of the south bay markedly different from the deep, swift tidal waters of the north. The report and maps resulting from this expedition encouraged the authorities to pursue their plan for a settlement on the shore of the bay, and that was put into effect the following year.


In 1776, after he had explored the sites for the presidio and the mission to be established at the port of San Francisco, Captain Juan Bautista de Anza, accompanied by Lieutenant José Moraga, his second in command, and by Father Pedro Font, chronicler and chaplain of the second overland expedition from Sonora to California, passed around the southern extremity of San Francisco Bay into Alameda County. With eleven soldiers, six muleteers, and servants, Anza and his companions were on their way to explore the Rio Grande de San Francisco—Carquinez Strait and the waters above it.

On the frosty Sunday morning of March 31, after Father Font had said Mass, the travelers left their camp on the Guadalupe River and, meeting with a network of sloughs and marshes along Coyote Creek, where it runs west, were forced to make their way for about three leagues until they emerged on higher ground at the foot of the hills. From this point forward, the line of march followed far away from the water. . . through very level country, green and flower-covered all the way to the estuary, but with no other timber or firewood than that afforded by the trees in the arroyos which we encountered.

Font’s map showed that the line of march was now close to the hills all the way, and Bolton identifies it as the route that passed by way of the Arroyo de la Encarnación, probably Scott Creek, and from there into what is now Fremont. The arroyo about half way on the road was apparently Alameda Creek, with its

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