header chapter10

The completion of the transcontinental linkage of railroad service and the locating of the Railroad's western terminus at Oakland represented increased opportunities for the development of East Bay real estate; these opportunities had the natural effect of opening of areas to settlement that had thus far been regarded as remote. No sooner had the transcontinental railroad arrived in Oakland, than plans were developed for an extension to Southern California, as well as for extensions north to Benicia and east to Sacramento. This northern expansion of the railway would inevitably make a stop in the slowly growing laconic community of Ocean View.

As early as 1870, increased interest had been shown for the commercial development of Ocean View. The efforts of Ezekiel Brown, while ambitious yet ultimately futile, signified the increased interest in property along what would constitute the railroad right of way. This route north, as it had been laid out, would effectively bisect the Ocean View community. Among the few entrepreneurial locals were those who recognized the potential and were impressed with the promise; they proceeded toward garnering an advantage in the land boom which seemed imminent.

In 1873, Berkeley’s first ambitious real estate venture was incorporated: the Berkeley Land and Town Improvement Association, or the BLTIA. The principles in this venture were a few "Berkeley" residents and several Oakland notables. Heading the roster was Henry Durant, a man of the cloth, University promoter, real estate baron, a man with an unmistakable inside track to matters of local significance, and a man who would soon be named the newest mayor of Oakland. Thomas Murphy, another real estate speculator and Oakland civil servant, whose early career was also conducted under the name Thomas Murphy Antisell, featured prominently. Also included were August Rammelsburg, a Berkeley contractor, Samuel Penwell whose nominal occupation was that of schoolteacher, William Tierney, Alrah C. R. Shaw (a retired penitentiary official), and James Jacobs, Ocean View businessman and the owner of the wharf at the mouth of Strawberry Creek.

As declared by its authors, the intention of the BLTIA was to develop property, install improvements, buy and sell. The property encompassed by this enterprise was all of West Berkeley from a line 100' south of Bancroft Way north to Rose Street, spanning all that land lying to the west of San Pablo Avenue. There were other interested parties who were induced to participate in this project, several of whom traded their Berkeley property for shares in the corporation. In this way the BLTIA claimed tracts of land all over Berkeley, the most notable being the block between University Avenue and Addison Street and Shattuck Avenue and Milvia Street. This was BLTIA, Tract A. This had been the property of the Reverend Durant.

The BLTIA, eagerly anticipating the laying of railroad tracks and the likely arrival of even more ready buyers, began their promotion by building a new wharf at the mouth of Strawberry Creek which extended into the bay from what is now the foot of University Avenue. The construction of this wharf severely alienated one of the association's charter members, James Jacobs, who had understood that it would be his established wharf that would serve the community. As the group’s decision became a reality, Jacobs and his partner, Zimri Heywood summarily withdrew their interest, and participated only to the extent of making sales when opportune.

In July of 1874, The Berkeley Ferry and Railroad Co. was formed by a committee of the BLTIA with Hiram Graves serving as President; William Stuart as Secretary (Stuart was also secretary of Berkeley Homestead Association and the Berkeley Real Estate and Water Co.); Felix Chappellet as Treasurer; Sam Penwell, and Nathan W. Spaulding. It was the purpose of this new entity to establish a ferry service to San Francisco from Ocean View, making four trips daily, and to provide land transportation connecting the ferry with the recently installed University community. With this in mind the BLTIA created the major east-west thoroughfare: University Avenue.

Efforts to Sell Ocean View Properties

At the foot of the new wharf, now reachable to San Francisco residents by the new ferry service, soirees (outings) were sponsored at the newly laid out Willow Grove Park, which now is occupied by the parking lot of Spenger's Restaurant. Each Sunday found visitors, some in earnest, most merely curious, arriving to enjoy the festivities and the sales pitch. Promised for the near future were sewers, street lights, industry, and a community well to provide a ready water supply to the burgeoning community. But sales were slow and the railroad even slower in its arrival.

Desperate for sales, as an additional inducement to purchase, generous credit was extended to the few buyers, many of whom were unable to make the subsequent payments. Sadly, one by one as the payments failed to arrive, the sales were nullified; the profits proved to be illusory. On November 13, 1875, hardly a year after its completion, the BLTIA mortgaged the new 1,565 foot wharf and "...all the land where said wharf is situated, by whatever title or right the same is held, owned, or claimed by party of the first part" to the Black Diamond Coal Mining Co., for $12,878.27. The mortgage was to extend for a period of one year.

BLTIA Capitulates to its Adversaries

The Black Diamond Mining Company was a vestige of the Ralston financial empire, which, since his death, involved the likes of William Sharon, Thomas Bell, L. L. Robinson, William Knight, and Samuel Butterworth, all of whom have been identified in a variety of projects with Horace Carpentier. This company mined coal in Contra Costa County for the exclusive use of the Central Pacific Railroad. Following the effective relinquishment of the wharf, Captain R. P. Thomas, owner of the Standard Soap Company, and an employee of the Central Pacific Railroad Company, acquired and operated the ferry. As the prospects of the BLTIA grew progressively bleak, a seeming opportunity appeared to promise a better future for this suffering venture. Eager to attract new industry, the directors fairly leapt at the chance to make their first major sale. In August of 1875, a deal quite likely connected with the mortgaging of the wharf, and still a year prior to the publication of BLTIA's official map, the northern portion of the Tract B, owned by a silent member of the association, Horace Carpentier, was sold to the Cornell Watch Company. This company, brought to the west coast by the late William Ralston, had been "disposed" of shortly after Ralston's death. The officers and principle stockholders were listed as: Nathan Spaulding (the popular ex-mayor of Oakland and partner of James McGee), president, I. M. Scott, vice president, Hiram Graves, secretary, Peter Donahue, William Sharon, J. P. Jones, William Norris, Edson Adams, Oliver Eldridge, Irving Scott, August Rammelsburg, and Paul Cornell.

The property was purchased from BLTIA for $150,000, with the seller carrying the purchase amount for the buyers, in October of 1875. The factory was soon built and fronted on Gilman Street. Few if any watches were ever produced; the principles were described, at a later date, as having been more interested in local land speculation. The operation finally vacated in 1878. The BLTIA had desperately depended upon this sale to rescue their failing project; instead, the Cornell Watch Company tolled its finality. But the final and decisive stroke had yet to come.

The Railroad is Diverted

In 1875 the northern branch of the Central Pacific Railroad was begun, heading for Ocean View and points north. Momentarily, their future looked bright again. However, the developers’ of the railroad first priority was the improvement of the northern reaches of Oakland Township, East Berkeley, for reasons which remain undocumented and unclear. And so, with the tracks laid as far north as Emeryville, work was stopped on the main line north while a spur to East Berkeley was installed up Stanford Avenue to what is now, Adeline and then on to what would become Shattuck Avenue, as far as the Berkeley Terminus, located at Center Street. By 1876, the Berkeley Branch railroad was opened; it would be another year before train service would be extended through Ocean View, and not until the mid 1880's that the railroad could be encouraged to actually create a station in that small community. The BLTIA was left with debts which far exceeded its assets. It had, however, hedged its bets by investing in no small measure in the fortunes of its eastern neighbor.

The leaders of the BLTIA had not been oblivious to the efforts aimed at establishing the East Berkeley terminus as the primary site of Berkeley's development. The terminus was installed between Addison and Center Streets; the original plan had Addison Street as the major east-west thoroughfare, and it had originally been conceived as the northern boundary of the commercial development surrounding the terminus. The land immediately north of Addison Street was planned for use by the railroad for switching and servicing purposes. However, with BLTIA's determination to be critically involved in the town's development, they moved quickly to extend the city center one block to the intersection of University and Shattuck Avenues (all four corners of which they, i.e. Henry Durant, coincidently owned), and took pains to ensure that their thoroughfare would represent the main route to the ferry landing at the mouth of Strawberry Creek. What they could not have anticipated was that their wharf and ferry service was now be under the control of the same group of capitalists who had brought the railroad to the new University campus.

Business in East Berkeley

The first businesses to be installed at the Berkeley terminus were located in the Antisell Block on BLTIA Tract A, at the Southwest corner of University and Shattuck. At about the same time, improvements were made on the diagonal corner, with the building of the Acheson Hotel. Leading in this progressive movement was Henry Durant. On account of these efforts he was viewed as representing a thorn in the side of the principle developers, the capital interests of Oakland. Partially as a means to distract him from his real-estate interests, Durant was installed as Mayor of Oakland, there safely under the watchful eye of his Oakland benefactors.

The Death of Henry Durant

In mid 1875, while serving his second term as Mayor, Durant died, thereby failing to witness the arrival of the railroad in Berkeley. It is possible that Durant's death contributed to the downfall of the BLTIA. Durant’s real estate empire was then seen to be built on a faulty foundation; his debt was excessive. A few of the choice properties to which his name had been attached were saved from total loss by several of his remaining partners, through what later proved to be their own foolish assumption of his outstanding loans. Sam Penwell, leading the pack as Durant's legatee, soon afterward declared bankruptcy.

Henry Durant was a builder but not a saver, he was at his best while wheeling and dealing, making connections, and arranging for the profitable distribution of other people's money. Inclined toward grandiosity in these endeavors, he often overextended himself with less than satisfactory results. Durant did his best business when teamed with a prudent and somewhat more circumspect partner: for example, the no less personally ambitious Sam Merritt. Were it not for such alliances as this, he would have hit the wall long before. Durant left no papers, scholarly or otherwise, nor evidence of any of his important allegiances. While many years Carpentier's senior, Durant’s latter style owed much to his mentor's tutelage.

With the tardy but inevitable arrival of the railroad in Ocean View in 1877, a concluding effort was launched to mend the mortal fiscal wounds sustained by the BLTIA. As a consequence of the severe drought suffered in the Bay Area, lasting until the winter of 1877, a public well and water supply ("at reasonable rates") was installed as further incentive for the purchase of lots in BLTIA’s Tract B. As a result of the ready transportation, water supply, the recent arrival of the Standard Soap Company (which was then the world's largest soap manufacturing plant), and the rock bottom prices, the sales picked up. So great was the volume, the county recorder's office reserved a separate book to record exclusively these transactions. But these efforts were to little avail, for all profits ultimately went to the creditors. The ferry service, taken over by Captain R. B. Thomas of the Standard Soap Company (and the Central Pacific Railroad) which by 1880 also owned the Steamer "Mare Island"; the wharf itself had been acquired by the Black Diamond Mine, and the BLTIA’s many creditors began the lengthy process of claiming and reselling their property.

As the remaining principals of the BLTIA were scrambling to gain a share of the action at the Berkeley terminus, the reigning Oakland capitalists took the next step in their endeavor to assure themselves of local power. Plans were developed to relocate the terminus north, to Vine Street. In November of 1875, almost immediately following the death of Revered Durant, and coincident with the mortgaging of the wharf, a petition was filed for the extension of the railroad beyond Center Street to Vine. This was accomplished by an organization calling itself the Oakland and Contra Costa R.R., the principals of which were a blend of Oakland capitalists and men with railroad interests. No sooner had the train arrived at Center Street, but work began on the construction of additional track to the relocated terminus.

Berryman Station

The property surrounding the Vine Street terminus had been acquired in 1873. The principle owners were Henry Berryman and T.M. Antisell. Antisell's property lay to the east of what would become the extension of Shattuck Avenue. To the west, the land was owned partially by Berryman, and was partically designated as the Graves and Taylor Tract. Hiram Graves was an active participant in the BLTIA, the Cornell Watch Company, and the Wentworth Shoe Company. The shoe company later occupied the premises vacated by Cornell.

While the installation of the additional track was still in process, efforts were being made to develop Rose Street as the principle conduit between Ocean View and Berryman Station. The plan was that this route would continue past the terminus into and beyond the hills, ultimately to connect the wharf at the foot of Strawberry Creek with Martinez and points East. At the intersection of Rose and Shattuck Ave two hotels were built in the year of 1877, one on the northwest corner, and the other at the northeast corner. Owners of the property facing the new terminus (which had been purchased from Antisell) provided right of way for the erection of a passenger depot, the result being a twenty foot by one hundred thirty foot offset of Shattuck Avenue, which exists, inexplicably, yet today present. In 1880, the railroad terminus was officially moved from its original designation at Center Street to the area adjacent to Berryman Station.

Barker and the Railroad

With Durant dead, Rammelsburg safely employed as a ferry pilot by Captain Thomas, and Sam Penwell fighting off financial ruin, the railroad interests installed James Loring Barker as their spokesman and principle civic developer. Barker had long been an employee of the Central Pacific, had been locally instrumental in the establishment of the spur line into East Berkeley, and his private business interests in plumbing and hardware remained closely affiliated with those of his employer. Mr Barker moved into his new Berkeley residence on Dwight Way in 1877, assumed nominal leadership of what remained of the BLTIA corporate structure, and through its agency moved with dispatch to establish Berkeley's first newspaper, the Advocate. Barker played a leading role in the development of the residential and business community surrounding Dwight Way Station, the location of both his home and his business, and managed to secure title to most of the property in that location.

The Berkeley Real Estate Union

In a covert association with Barker, the remaining thrust of the BLTIA efforts to dominate the eastern terminus were absorbed by a new real estate venture, the Berkeley Real Estate Union. The BREU, in all respects the cosmetically disguised reincarnation of the BLTIA, was constituted of a husband and wife team named McDonnell, who in turn were backed by an uncertain number of anonymous stockholders. There were in all four McDonnells doing business in Berkeley at the time, but only two were clearly identified with the "Union".

The BREU appeared on the Berkeley real estate scene in the partial vacuum created by Henry Durants' death, in 1876, and rapidly bought up much of what had been Durant's properties west of the University, and a great deal more of what belonged to the BLTIA. In the late 1870's, the BREU was buying and selling property on both sides of University Avenue, up and down Shattuck. They offered their customers, in addition to the land, their willingness to provide for the construction of houses. The principles in this venture had a strong and probably familial connection with E. B. Mastick, the first mayor of Alameda and a man whose fingers were often found in numerous profitable Berkeley projects, not the least of which was the distribution of Peralta Homestead property.

However, by the early 1880's the complaints regarding the honesty and competence of the BREU had increased to the point that they precipitously declared their insolvency and left town. The McDonnells had located their own business on land they owned located on the north side of University Avenue, just west of Shattuck (McDonalds corner). This property included a poorly constructed two story building called "Union Hall" which they built in 1877 immediately to the west of their business office located at the opposite corner of University and Shattuck. After the building was abandoned by the McDonnells, they offered the building for rent to the town. The offer was declined. Sold at a bankruptcy auction a year later, it was purchased by James Barker, bringing him, it was later noted, a very modest return. In November of 1882, following a theatrical performance in its large meeting hall, it burned to the ground. The corner property was sold to a pair of local merchants who erected the second major hotel at what still, and for many years, continued to be referred to as the Berkeley Terminus.

By the latter 1870's the promise of quick profit had been forever sullied, the bloom was off of Berkeley's real estate flower. With the disreputable demise of the BLTIA followed by the unmitigated disgrace of the McDonnells (much to the lasting chagrin of the Advocate, which had shamelessly praised and promoted this venture along with other projects associated with Barker), a pallor had descended upon the Berkeley real estate scene. This pallor was blamed upon the "Cunningham Cloud" (by the Advocate), an uncertainty of title which resulted from an ongoing dispute over the legal boundaries of the Peralta Reserve. Whatever the cause, from this point on land dealing lacked the flamboyance and exaggeration of promise that had so colorfully characterized the earlier hustle of Berkeley's first entrepreneurial schemes.

More on The Cunningham Caper

In 1876 Frank Cunningham, an employee of the Northern Railroad, who represented himself as an attorney working on behalf of the surviving Domingo Peralta family, acquired partial title to property in North Berkeley which might or might not have been included in the Domingo Peralta Homestead. There remained enough uncertainty regarding this land to give some credence to his later claims. At the same time that he acquired title, he filed suit, claiming that the parcel in question was not included in the major sale to McAllister et al. The property in question is situated west of Grove street, south of Hopkins, and north of either Schoolhouse creek or the Carpentier line (which are virtually the same in that part of town). In 1877 Cunningham began selling undivided shares in this property to a half a dozen new partners. There were many who objected to his claims of ownership.

In May of 1879, Frank Cunningham finally got his day in court, suing in particular the estate of Jacob Irving, the late partner in the Berkeley-Peralta purchase, who had received this particular parcel (that would be Plot 89, which clearly intrudes into the Peralta Homestead) in the original distribution.

One of Cunningham's several main contentions was that at the time of the sale Domingo Peralta was not sane enough to understand what was going on. Domingo, he claimed, was incompetent to enter into any kind of legal contract.

Testifying on behalf of Irving (and Peralta) was August Rammelsburg, Horace W. Carpentier, Francis K. Shattuck, and Joseph Schmidt, all of whom said that Jose Domingo was clearly no less sane as any then present. Cunningham brought in some "old Spaniards" by whose testimony he attempted to show that Peralta was, to the contrary, entirely around the bend. By way of further evidence, Cunningham introduced Peralta's will, executed in August of 1865. Carpentier testified that the will was in fact written and signed by the duly deceased. In June of 1879 Dona Peralta, the widow of Vicente Peralta, testified that she found Domingo to be of sound mind.

The proceedings of this case were extensively reported in the Advocate, which continued to complain that the land sales in this disputed area, not to mention all the rest of Berkeley, were off as a result of this issue, which spoke of as the "Cunningham Cloud".

Frank Cunningham had meanwhile moved out of the area, but returned for a visit in September of 1879, likely to visit his property. However, on October 2nd he unexpectedly died. On that occasion, his attorney, Judge McCabe, in a paradoxically ambiguous public statement said: "We propose to still crucify the "Carpent(i)ers son...like they did 1879 years ago". It is possible that Cunningham's action was directed primarily at Horace Carpentier whose interest in that and the adjacent property was generally known, but never explicitly documented. Regardless of intent, the matter was pursued and within a week a new plaintiff had been secured, that being a man named C. J. Collins, who was substituted for Cunningham as "special administrator of the Peralta estate". An ironic title since there was no Peralta estate.

In the latter part of November, 1879, a summary of the case was given, attributed to Judge McKee who was presiding over this case. As the summary stated: The case involved the correct boundary of the property deeded in 1853 to McAllister, et al. The plaintiff claimed Strawberry Creek as the true line. The defendant claimed one creek further north; the "arroyito", or dry stream bed, 200 yards from the old Peralta homestead. Judge McKee apparently doubted both, thinking it would be Schoolhouse Creek. For purposes not made explicit, some eight years prior Judge Sawyer decided that the defendant's creek did exist and he had at that time gone out to examine the land. Judge McKee had not. McKee said further that it was irrelevant whether or not Domingo was nuts at the time he signed the deed and sold the land.

The Advocate registered the belief that the Cunningham issue was casting doubt on all Berkeley land titles, and that sales were inhibited on this account. Anything that would dispel this doubt was eagerly sought. In May of 1880 the Advocate reported that the "Cunningham Cloud" was lifted with the dismissal of a secondary case bearing the title "Collins vs. Berryman, Antisell, and the Berkeley Land and Town Improvement Association". The victory was reported with much glee and the added notation that while Cunningham represented himself as the administrator of the Peralta estate, Peralta had no estate to administer. Two years later, after receiving the apparently definitive testimony of Judge Sawyer, the jury returned with a verdict in favor of the plaintiff! The judge was so upset with this finding that he threw out both the jury and the verdict, noting that their decision violates not only the law but the facts as presented. It was not until 1885 that Cunningham finally lost. The Cloud was gone!

Some Loose Ends on the BLTIA

The disposition of the BLTIA’s Tract B property, that lying west of San Pablo Road, extended over at least a dozen years. (It is in a way curious that they elected to name their dominant property Tract B, and their smallest Tract A. The designation was first given on their map, published in 1876. But in the natural history of the BLTIA, 1876 was a very late year. By then the prospects were poor to nil for realizing any kind of success in Ocean View, while there may have lingered some hope for their Shattuck Avenue properties.) By 1881 the BLTIA wharf was owned, as a result of their default on the loan, by the Black Diamond Mining Company, and the Ferry was owned and operated by the Standard Soap Company. Other substantial mortgages, representing money borrowed originally to purchase the steamer "Mare Island" were held by a Mrs Jane Rowland of Boston Massachusetts. When these loans were likewise in default the property named to secure the loan fell to Ms Rowland's heirs. Her heirs included a man named George Curry, also of Boston, who, in the 1880's took title to a considerable portion of West Berkeley, along with another named James Rowland. Unlike Curry, Mr Rowland actually lived in West Berkeley, sharing a home with his niece and her husband, a Dr. Baronides. Dr Baronides attempted to exploit the property which he had inherited through his wife, which included the then vacated Cornell Watch Company building. This building had since been occupied by the Wentworth Boot and Shoe Company. In the late 1880's Dr Baronides and his family moved into a portion of the vacated building, hoping to convert it into suitable and profitable use. It was during this time that the elderly Mr Rowland, while poking about the water tank on the building's roof, fell in and expired. The Baronides' enterprise continued to evolve, but this is a tale which needs await the introduction of yet another important character.

It should be noted that while Horace Carpentier numbered among those who had opposed the BLTIA enterprise, he held notes to the extent of $10,000 on BLTIA property. Receiving judgment on the default in 1880, he proceeded to claim and fence his properties which included the block between 8th and 9th, Virginia and Delaware.

The BLTIA, as a corporate structure, was kept alive by James Barker far beyond its ability to serve its stated purposes. Barker apparently inherited it from the railroad interests, which were prominent among the failed enterprise's outstanding creditors. Barker operated a portion of his business under the aegis of the BLTIA corporate structure. What special benefits accrued by its use are not at all evident.

James Loring Barker, since his arrival in California in 1862, was an employee of Collis Porter Huntington and Mark Hopkins, two of the "big four" who dominated the railroad industry in the Western United States. Barker was the manager of their San Francisco hardware business. In 1867, while negotiations were in process between the Oakland Waterfront Company (i.e., Carpentier) and the Central Pacific Railroad regarding accommodations for the railroad terminus in Oakland, Barker was sold a key parcel of land by Francis Shattuck, the forty acres between Dwight Way and Bancroft, on the west side of Shattuck Avenue. The sale was made possible by the default on that property by the College Homestead Association. This property was owned in conjunction with Edward Babson, Jr, Alfred Bartlett, and James W. Towne, who was the local manager of the C.P.R.R.

In 1874 Barker, who was then active in Oakland real estate trade while still managing the hardware business in San Francisco, secured right of way for the spur line (Berkeley Branch) of the Central Pacific into East Berkeley with the assistance of Shattuck and other Oakland capitalists,. When this project was completed, Barker built himself a home at the southern extremity of his Berkeley property. His move to Berkeley coincided with the final collapse of the BLTIA and on his arrival he assumed a primary role in pursuing the further projects on behalf of the railroad, which he proceeded to execute in the name of BLTIA. This was not an altogether wise decision, for the BLTIA had accrued a dismal reputation in the community. By taking an affirmative posture, and representing the railroad's interest in the developmental plans for Berkeley, it became Barker's responsibility to protect the community from further unauthorized exploitation. No provision had been made, however, to protect the community from Barker.

The Advocate

In 1877 the Advocate, Berkeley's first newspaper was set in operation by James Barker under the auspices of the BLTIA. The editorial position taken by this weekly publication strongly supported Barker's efforts, as well as those men allied with Barker, including the activities of the Berkeley Real Estate Union. The paper was strongly in favor of local rule by a local administration. Its readership was still quite modest, for there was as yet only a sparse, but steadily growing population in the area, but with the University, the train service, and a slow influx of industry there was some justification for the extreme boosterism exhibited by the Advocate.

There is no question but that while the area continued to impart a humble and bucolic appearance, considerable financial and political interest was directed toward this yet inconspicuous and underdeveloped piece of prime real estate.

It is important to keep in mind that a significant expense had been incurred in the installation of a blind railroad spur into an area which had few citizens, no significant farming, and no industry. Additionally, this project was then extended in 1877 with line pushed even further northward where there were yet virtually no residents at all. Clearly, something was afoot. The increasingly active presence of Barker and the provocative demands for improvements and local control on the part of the Advocate could scarcely go unnoticed. Incorporation was about to become an issue.


[Chapter 08] -[Chapter Index] - [Chapter 11]