header chapter 11 The idea of formally establishing Berkeley's political independence from Oakland was first explored in 1874 at the zenith of the BLTIA effort, when Henry Durant called a meeting held at the newly constructed home of Francis Shattuck.


Those in attendance were:

  • F. K. Shattuck,
  • Judge John Dwinelle,
  • Chas. Dwinelle
  • Prof. Rising
  • A.B. Dixon
  • John Kelsey
  • J.D. Colby,
  • Peter Mathews
  • E.D. Harmon
  • John Kearney
  • James Edgar
  • H.E. Carleton,
  • Arthur Edgar
  • H.W. Carpentier
  • Capt. Jacobs
  • James McGee
  • Peter McGee
  • M. Ashby
  • J. T. Fowler
  • and Messrs. Townsend, Morse, Boleta, and Higgins.

Two plans were discussed, along with the third alternative of no plan at all. The first was to incorporate as an independent town. The second was to join with the Oakland interests which sought support for an incorporated County of Oakland, the plan that was submitted by Horace Carpentier. At that time, Carpentier was still in the midst of establishing north county dominance by pursuing the removal of the county seat to Oakland. His (temporary) inability to accomplish this resulted in a plan to politically disassociate himself (and his town) from the remainder of the county. The Durant meeting concluded with insufficient support for any plan other than leaving things as they were. In 1875 the county seat was finally located in Oakland, taking some of the pressure from Carpentier's Oakland County plan. Following this meeting, Henry was "kicked upstairs" to the mayoral seat, effectively removing him from any further local mischief. Henry favored Berkeley’s independence from Oakland, and his independence from Carpentier.

Meanwhile, in Oakland other plans were in process. Corresponding with Barker's efforts in Berkeley was the formation of the Merchant's Exchange in Oakland. While the aims and objectives of this organization were broad, it was evident that the first order of business was to stifle any attempts at local government within the northern end of Oakland Township. This was an issue that would sooner or later be raised not only by Berkeley, but by Albany, Emeryville, Piedmont, and Temescal as well. With varying degrees of success.

Berkeley at the time was attempting to garner local support and funds to erect a school house. In conjunction with this effort, in October of 1876 immediately following the arrival of the railroad, Berkeley citizens led by insurance man George Dornin (who was, incidently, an associate of Horace Carpentier since 1849 and the brother-in-law of the equally outrageous Oakland attorney John Felton) petitioned for local election precincts that would be defined by the Temescal school district, the Peralta school district, and the Ocean View & Bay school district. The response by the County Board of Supervisors was to defer decision. Were these precincts to be granted, they would have defined Berkeley either as the area north of Dwight Way, or the area north of Temescal creek. An ambiguity which will have weighty consequences in the months just ahead. While this effort failed, the very act of petitioning constituted an unmistakable threat to the men of the Merchant's Exchange, who had their own plans for this portion of the county. The local response to the petition’s failure was an escalation in effort that was spearheaded by the publication of the Advocate. This newspaper, effectively the voice of Barker, Dornin, and those who they would represent, explicitly represented the position that the incorporation of Berkeley as a singular political entity was nothing short of a good idea. Incorporation, it was argued, would allow the local government to issue bonds and thereby realize those necessary improvements that would not, in the foreseeable future, be forthcoming from the County. These improvements would attract settlement, and settlement was good for business. The Advocate made it clear that for the present, all the improvements that had been made were the result of individual efforts. And this could not be expected to continue. Finally, a local government would have the routine power to tax its residents, thereby making possible the needed educational facility.


The Oakland Merchant’s Exchange

The Oakland Merchant's Exchange was a reorganization of the preexisting Real Estate and Merchant's Exchange, a renewal which beefed up their operation in order to more effectively regulate real estate practice (and prices), to standardize fees, to prevent outlaw selling, to prevent multiple fees to seller or buyer, to stabilize value, and to effect a combined City and County government. These were their initially stated goals. Their principled efforts were clearly aimed at the highly competitive real estate activities which were in process in and around the University and in the vicinity of the recently installed railroad terminus. With Barker, Dornin and their affiliates becoming altogether too comfortable with a virtual franchise on much of the desirable properties in Berkeley, the Oakland real estate barons were confronting what was for them a disagreeable disadvantage. The "Exchange" was designed to remedy this situation as well as to interrupt any new efforts at Berkeley's incorporation.

The one man most outspoken among his "Exchange" colleagues with respect to the "county plan" was Francis Shattuck. When it was suggested that representatives from other parts of the county be asked to participate in this endeavor, Shattuck promised to represent the Berkeley interests; from the other parts of the county the invitations were met with refusal if they were not entirely ignored. The Merchant's Exchange, in spite of their socially correct political avowals, transparently represented only the interests of the Merchant's Exchange


The Berkeley Land and Building Company

Thus the issues and the principals were given. From mid 1877 on, the efforts towards Berkeley's political autonomy was overt and strenuous. In August of 1877 James Barker and his associates, William Heywood, George Dornin, Alfred Bartlett and Charles Clarke, filed for the incorporation of the Berkeley Land & Building Co. This organization was designed to finance and lead the way in the effort toward the incorporation of Berkeley as a civic entity. The effort was capitalized at $100,000.00 with 1000 shares being offered. With these funds the "local interests" were able to entice the participation of Judge Waldo York, a bright and articulate jurist whose Berkeley career was, from the outset, directed toward its political independence. However, while these early efforts were impressive, they involved the participation of no more than a handful of the local citizens. The movement toward Incorporation was not an especially high priority issue with the scant populace within Berkeley.

In October of 1877, as tensions began to mount, the Advocate reported a rumor in the "Oakland paper" to the effect that the Central Pacific Railroad was about to establish its main terminal at the Berkeley waterfront. The article went on to say that this unquestionably was a wonderful idea, a much better plan than the previous one of establishing it at the Oakland waterfront. Oakland's response was one of outrage and a vow to fight for what was rightfully theirs. With this move the contention finally turned nasty. Oakland's somewhat hysterical position was that the original deal with the Railroad included their donation of land and their right to have the terminus. Berkeley, regarded as constituting no more than a handful of ambitious businessmen with the probable backing of the railroad interests, was henceforth identified as a competitor. It remains uncertain as to how the rumor was started, and by whom. However, it would not be unlike the railroad, which always sought a fiscal advantage, to divide and conquer, anticipating a favorable business climate with whomever emerged the victor.


Temescal

A second issue which quickly emerged to muddy what seemed the simpler issues was that of Temescal, the unincorporated community which lay just north of the Oakland City limits, and immediately south of what we now know as Berkeley. This area included homes of some of Oakland's most well-to-do families, one of the largest fruit packing industries on the west coast, as well as an indecent plethora of taverns. Oakland at that time had a prohibitive tax on liquor licenses, and Berkeley had a limit on alcohol sales set by the State, having to do with the tavern’s proximity to the campus. Most folks who wanted to drink went to Temescal or "Ocean View". The rumor that circulated read that Berkeley was intending to include the Temescal area within its corporate limits. There were, it was said, some Temescal residents who favored this plan, and some, a more numerous contingent, who objected. Some of those who did object were members of the Merchant's Exchange, living in the very exclusive foothill section of this unincorporated portion of the county. Because the issue was inflammatory, Berkeley cried "foul", and insisted (in spite of the recent "districting" ambiguities) that their interest in territory never went further south than Russell Street. But this issue was raised with the purpose of defeating the Berkeley effort, and for this reason the concern about Temescal would not be that easily settled.


Workingman’s Party

Complicating this matter even further, was the political climate engendered by the increasing local interest in the incendiary and flagrantly racist Workingman's Party. Headquartered in San Francisco, the thrust of this movement was to prevent Chinese workers from competing with the local white work force. This movement of vicious, rampant unionism, led by the ambitious but politically maladroit Dennis Kearney, was aimed primarily at getting rid of the Chinese, but was aimed as well at the disenfranchisement of the capitalists who made life hard for the working man. There was considerable sentiment in favor of this movement, especially among the "blue collar" workers in the area. In the east bay, there was a concentration of blue collars in Ocean View, as well as in Temescal. Those who did not favor Berkeley's incorporation knew that the mobilization of this "workman's" constituency could effectively block any effort that could be identified as instigated by capital interests. Accordingly, the leaders of the move toward incorporation were depicted, by the Merchant’s Exchange, but not inaccurately, as being of the capitalistic persuasion. A politically expedient example of the pot calling the kettle black.

Within a very short time the sides were drawn, the issues were suitably muddied, and the tempers boosted. On the one side was Barker and his associates who represented the railroad's interests, and who favored incorporation. On the other side were the Oakland capitalists, represented by the Merchant's Exchange. It would seem that the issues surrounding Temescal represented a "red herring" in this political fight, but, if so, an effective red herring.


The Second Meeting

With the sides already drawn, in December of 1877 a second meeting was called by Barker for the purpose of discussing the idea incorporation. The meeting was attended by Dornin, A.C.R. Shaw, Kellogg, Antisell, Penwell and several others whose names were not recorded. Among this group there was only partial agreement to proceed with the concept. The arguments in favor of incorporation were published in the Advocate, clearly and convincingly written by Waldo York. These pieces represented a high level of verbal fluency, cogent argument, and intelligent debate. There were two members of the community who publically dissented. The first was more than likely Peter Mathews, however the author of those remarks did not care to disclose his identity. The second was A.C.R. Shaw.

While the Advocate saw fit to publish Shaw's arguments against incorporation side by side with those of Waldo York, Shaw's were usually disparaged and offered has a singular, lonely view, one that was most certainly not to be taken seriously, nor as representative of the authentic community attitude. It is of interest that the first such article by Shaw was so poorly composed, articulated, or spelled as to make it appear the product of an illiterate fool. However, when this piece was contrasted with his subsequent writings, it is clear that the paper had either published a draft or had otherwise altered his efforts, a malicious attempt to sabotage his effectiveness.

Shaw foresaw trouble. He argued that with a small population divided between several discrete community "centers" and which had, in reality, few common problems, the use of any taxation funds collected would be virtually impossible to fairly, or efficiently allocate. He did not believe that so small and diverse a community could support a government structure along with the many civic improvements that were being promised, and he strongly suggested that the community wait until it itself had more fully developed before it cut itself off from the county funds that it would continue to receive as an unincorporated entity. Nor was Shaw alone in his anti-incorporation position; there were foes to the incorporative efforts both within and without the proposed limits of Berkeley, a reality which definitely worried its adherents.


The “Memorium”

In January of 1878, in the very midst of the rainy season that traditionally reduced Berkeley’s dirt roads to impassable quagmires, Barker, Bartlett, Hann, Antisell, and Carnall (the men who represented the main thrust towards incorporation) appeared before the County Board of Supervisors. They were there to request that the Board abandon an existing plan for the much needed grading of a portion of Shattuck Avenue; at least until it was determined whether or not the efforts at incorporation would be successful. This tactic was unquestionably an attempt to convince the local citizenry of the dire need for a local treasury, and the operation of local services, but also to draw attention to the fact that they could not depend upon the County for what was required.

Meanwhile, in a period when the Advocate could virtually talk of nothing else, the Oakland papers remained silent on any of the activities exerted toward Berkeley's incorporation.

It is difficult to know for certain how much support lay behind Shaw. However, to prove the extent of his support, it was Barker's plan to draw up a "Memorium", which was a kind of petition. The Memorium would bear testimony of the numbers and strength that lie behind the move to incorporate. The document bearing these endorsements was then offered to the Berkeley populace for its endorsement.

The Memorium appeared in the Advocate on the Second of February, 1878. While Barker claimed that some 90% of the local population was in favor of incorporation, they were able to garner a total of 293 signatures out of an estimated population of 1500 people. Considering the total to included women and children, neither of whom had the voting franchise (there were 403 youngsters attending the various Berkeley schools in 1878, there would be 515 in 1879), and still a slight preponderance of men in this frontier community, this number scarcely represented 90% of the voting population. Nonetheless, this document was presented as reflecting the overwhelming support that favored the efforts toward incorporation.

The signatures of those residents with known connections to the railroad interests were conspicuously present (for example: Barker, Dornin, Palmer, Thomas, Bailey, Bartlett, and Rammelsburg). However, it is worth noting that many prominent residents did not sign, presumably because they did not support this plan. Among those whose signatures did not appears were the following: Shattuck, Hillegass, Stewart, Clapp, Dunn, Byrne, Peralta, James Jacobs, William Bowen, Michael Higgins, Everding, Willey, Ashby, Mason, Beaver, Noel, Batchelder, Hiram T. Graves, McGee, Ysunza, Gilman, Thomas Eyre, C.H. Richards, Boswell, Lingard, Fleming, Guenette, and Schnelle, nor were any of the various Schmidts, Brennans, Rooneys, and Tierneys among the signatories. A few of these people may have been illegible because they had legal addresses outside of the Berkeley area, however that technicality did not prevent some of the endorsements which were obtained.

Of the signers, forty were identified as skilled workers, forty eight others were said to be involved in the construction trade, there were eleven office workers, twenty one laborers, twenty seven functioning in some aspect of the transportation industry, twenty were teachers, there were thirty four merchants, thirteen were farmers, and twelve identified themselves as being in the real estate business. Certainly a respectable distribution of interests.

Two days following this well publicized and highly touted demonstration of support, the original document was taken to Sacramento by Barker and Dornin and introduced as the basis for Berkeley's bid for State recognition as an incorporated entity. On February 6, 1878 Assembly Bill #309 was introduced and easily passed a month later. However, it barely passed in the Senate on the 27th of March, 1878, and there were several complicating factors in the Senates treatment of this bill.


The Bill to Incorporate

In the first place, the bill as written was offensive to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. Their displeasure was based upon a stipulation to the effect that the county would be responsible for half the costs of all street improvements, including sewers, that adjoin the town limits. Figuring this to be a costly line item over which they would have no real control, they sent representatives to Sacramento to either alter or defeat the bill. The result was that the offending clause was omitted. The issue of the town limits was another matter. The intent was to set the southern boundary at Russell Street, however with a desperate need to reconcile all differences, in an effort to garner any and all support, a compromise was effected whereby the southern limit was set at a line which fell a few feet south of Dwight Way. This was a strange and apparently arbitrary place to draw the line, conforming as it did with no stable, identifiable, or sensible land mark. The line is of some speculative interest in that one of Barker's properties, the Steel Tract, extended no less than 500 feet south of Dwight Way. The original southern boundary, it seems, was set to just accommodate the holdings of Mr Barker.

At the other end of town, it became necessary to exclude all territory north of (approximately) Eunice Street, that being the land owned in large measure by Horace Carpentier. Carpentier was not in favor of incorporation, and as an involved party he had the power to summarily defeat the effort. Outside the town limits he was no longer an involved party. For the same reason, the excluded northern sector also included the property of a William Shaw, most assuredly a relative. This now left the town of Berkeley a considerably smaller area, and a somewhat reduced constituency, than had originally been intended.

Finally, as the vote was going against them, the proponents of this effort made their final compromise. At the insistence of their adversaries, they omitted that portion of the bill which would have allowed the town to incur debt. That would mean that here could be no sale of bonds as a means to finance needed improvements. The government and all necessary improvements would be limited to a hopefully adequate tax base, garnered from a small and divided population. With this virtually fatal concession, the opposition rested. Clearly, without the power to generate vital funds, the new political entity could not survive.

But who was this opposition. Unquestionably incorporation was strongly opposed by the Oakland Merchants Exchange. Zachary ("Zack") Montgomery, a prominent Oakland attorney, a large landholder in the Temescal area, and member of the "Exchange" was the leading lobbyist in the struggle to prevent the bid for incorporation. (Berkeley's lobbyist, of course, was the equally skilled Waldo York.) It is suspected that Horace Carpentier, who still had some political advantage, was in league with the Oakland real estate interests. If so, Carpentier had taken a position in opposition to the railroad with which he was still visibly identified, and which at least gave the appearance of favoring Berkeley's independence from Oakland. What is remarkable, given the political strength of the railroad, is that the vote came so close to being contrary to their wishes. What is even more remarkable is the sheer magnitude of contention exercised over this small parcel of land. Nowhere in the published accounts of these proceedings is there a single clue as to the true nature of the stakes for which these mighty opponents did battle.

It can be guessed that involved in the dispute was the apparent plan to make Berkeley the State Capitol. However in spite of the several attempts (the first being in 1859) to make it so, it had not come to pass. That the railroad had an already vested interest in this land does not account for the zeal with which the capital interests of Oakland competed for its proprietorship. But whatever the truth of the matter, and whether it was for better or worse, Berkeley had survived its first crucial test. The new town had established itself as a politically autonomous community. With its new status work began in earnest to organize its first government. As might well have been expected, the rivalry between the three factions did not end with the granting of Berkeley's franchise.


Berkeley’s First Election

Berkeley's first civil election took place on May 13th, 1878. There were two groups offering candidates, with several candidates appearing on both slates. The Workingman's Party, popular in its day and dedicated to preventing capital from assuming unwanted power, was pitted against the Citizens Party, which for the most part, and quite blatantly, represented the interests of the local capitalists. The vast majority of the candidates offered by the Citizens Party were the same people who had signed the Memorium. Ironically enough, the results of this election reflected a clean sweep for the Workingman's Party. Of those elected, less than half had signed the Memorium. Of those that did lend their support, two were University Professors who were elected to the new school board (and who had run on both tickets), and the majority of the remainder were West Berkeley residents, well known and well liked in spite of their earlier position regarding incorporation. Thus, it would seem that of those who successfully sought public office, most of them did not favor incorporation in the first place. The will of the people is not hard to discern. Their object now was to prevent local rule by capital interests. Anyone who had been in any way connected with the Berkeley Land and Town Improvement Association was roundly defeated.


Berkeley’s Subsequent Elections

The second election, held one year later, was dominated by the newly established People's Party which ran "middle-of-the-road" candidates who were essentially unopposed. The candidates that were offered were, for the most part, a careful selection of well-liked citizens, with a mild scattering of established but thought-to-be politically benign capitalists. George Dornin, for example, was elected to the School Board. I.M. Wentworth, president of the Wentworth Boot and Shoe Company, West Berkeley's newest industry (occupying the vacated premises of the Cornell Watch Company) which was recognized as being a major employer in the area, was elected to be a member of the Board of Trustees. The majority of slate members were incumbents to the positions which they sought. Overall, it was a boring election which effectively endorsed the status quo.

By the third year, there was a clear shift to applicants who were aspiring toward political power. With more than a smattering of lawyers and merchants in the running, the majority of those elected represented the East Berkeley interests.

By the fourth year the old guard was even more strongly represented, and with the election of August Rammelsburg as assessor, even the memory of the BLTIA had faded sufficiently to permit forgiveness.

In 1884, the citizens of Berkeley elected Francis Shattuck to its Board of Trustees. Shattuck’s interests still lay with the Merchants Exchange. The remaining trustees wasted no time in establishing him as their president. Shattuck's tenure in this office was short. Whatever ill feelings may have yet prevailed, having the former Chair of the County Board of Supervisors active in local government gave to most a sense of pride.


Waldo York

Waldo York had been enlisted by Barker and his associates in an effort to bring some competitive talent into their campaign for incorporation. It was York who lobbied and argued Berkeley's case in Sacramento. Following this successful campaign, York decided to settle in Berkeley. On the other hand, York had also argued against the wisdom or utility of extending the Central Pacific Berkeley terminus to Vine Street. This position produced an unexpected display of partisan animosity from both Berryman and Antisell. Their response clearly revealed a distaste for the Barker contingent. It is here that the issue of local sympathies becomes increasingly opaque, in as much as both Barker and Berryman sided with Barker in favor of incorporation, and both were rather substantially identified with the interest of the railroad. The issue seemed to revolve around in which part of Berkeley the railroad “terminus” would be. Those who had invested in the commercial future at Center Street favored that site, those who had invested in the commercial future of the Vine Street site, favored extension. A third faction, it is well to note, was in support of a focus of activity at Dwight Way Station. And a fourth group sought a railroad extension up “Telegraph” to Allston Street. Finally there was West Berkeley people who shared sentiments with none of the above. On the occas

ion of the first town meeting, the third ordinance passed established Wal do York as the Town Attorney at a salary of $25.00 per month. York held this position with much respect (according to the Advocate), as he concomitantly maintained his legal practice in San Francisco, occupying offices in the Montgomery Block. His residence was at the fashionable corner of Vine and Spruce. While a political antagonist to Mr Antisell, he found it suitable to establish his abode within the latter's Villa Tract. Berkeley at the time had a York Street, however this street has long since vanished. Waldo York was president of the Peoples Party and declared himself at that time to be interested only in working toward a nonpartisan and harmonious Berkeley. He was at the same time president of the Berkeley Central Republican Committee, a group of highly partisan conservative politicians who directed their efforts toward State and National Politics.

After serving the Berkeley Board of Trustees for two years, Waldo York resigned his position to devote his full time to his practice and his evolving political life. He was replaced as Town Attorney by W.H. Chapman, a young man who had only recently completed law school, and who had previously been a real estate partner of Nathan Carnall. Carnall, elected to the post of town assessor in 1880 was the son of James Carnall who had been a business and political associate of Barker (and was amongst those strongly advocating incorporation) and had been elected Justice of the Peace in Berkeley's first election. James Carnall shot himself in the head while aboard the Berkeley-San Francisco Ferry in October of 1878.

Soon after Chapman's installation as the town's legal authority, he offered an opinion, within the context of a fiercely debated decision concerning the location of the proposed town hall, regarding what he believed to be an illegal purchase by the Town Trustees. In this he noted that his opinion was in accord with that of Waldo York. A week later York responded to the effect that he did not agree with young Chapman. Disregarding their newly appointed legal mentor, the Trustees turned once again, now on an informal, basis to Waldo York. In the reporting of matters of legal uncertainty, reference was typically made to the voiced opinion of the "ex-town attorney". York was hardly reticent in expressing his opinion regarding Chapman, who he regarded as being not only less than competent but rather lazy as well. Needless to say, Chapman's position was severely compromised and he remained a "lame duck" occupant of that position. The following year, Chapman and his law partner McKinstry (who was at that time the President of the town's Trustees) relocated their practice to San Francisco. While McKinstry would not himself take any action that would be contrary to the best interest of his partner, the position of Town Attorney was none the less declared effectively vacated. Good feelings did not prevail and McKinstry, who then began missing meetings, eventually and without further word, disappeared from view. His absence at Trustee meetings was at first explained and excused, but when he made no effort to account for his odd behavior it was fairly well agreed that this position had likewise been vacated. In 1883, Mrs McKinstry and her daughters left for her home town of Mobile, Alabama and filed for divorce. Two months later it is revealed that the ex-president of the Board of Trustees had failed to make good on his debts to local merchants, and lost a suit filed by grocer Huston for $260.43 to compensate for groceries delivered on credit. In those days, this was considered a very sizable sum.

In 1883 Waldo York, the former town attorney was both admitted to practice in the U.S. District Court and was again made town attorney, still demanding his original salary of $25.00 per month. Again the tenure was brief and York soon moved on to live for awhile in San Luis Obisbo and then, in 1889, to Los Angeles. At that juncture, Edward C. Robinson was appointed town attorney.


Edward Robinson

Between 1873 to 1878 Robinson had worked as bookkeeper, collector and foreman in the coal business of Felix Chappellet and Co, and tried his hand at mining after leaving that employ. In 1880 he returned to study law and was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court in 1882. In 1885 he was appointed attorney to Alameda County's Public Administrator Louis Gotshall (who had begun his local career as a Berkeley merchant, and was then a successful developer of domestic and commercial properties) and remained with that position to 1887. At first accepting the Berkeley position at a rate of $40.00 per month, he soon allowed as to how this was insufficient compensation. Since it was illegal to raise the salary of a public office while that position was occupied, Robinson resigned for a 24 hour period, long enough for the trustees to raise the salary to $75.00 per month, at which time he was rehired. While this outrage was exposed by at least one citizen writing within the pages of the Advocate, Robinson remained secure in his office.


The Continuing Vicissitudes of
James Barker

Following the town's incorporation, Barker several times sought election to public office and failed with each attempt. While successful as a businessman, he was neither popular nor apparently trusted with the public interest. Reasonably, he turned his attention to the formation of partnerships in real estate, developing several tracts of land throughout Berkeley. Included was the Golden Gate Tract (which became the Golden Gate Homestead Association) which he bought in March of 1887. This property was located on the west side of upper Shattuck Avenue, immediately south of Graves and Taylor, between Virginia and Cedar. With this acquistion, Barker had begun to hedge his bets by expanding his involvement to the North Berkeley real estate scene. In April of 1889 Warren G. Sanborn bought from Barker all the frontage along Shattuck from Virginia to Lincoln, opened Lincoln Street, and buried the creek.

Besides real estate, Barker had been no less involved in the development of his insurance business, his hardware business, and his plumbing business. Originally a partner of George Dornin, who was then a vice president of the Fireman's Fund, he associated himself over the years with other agents, and becme a partner of F.W. Beardslee in 1880. In that same year he acquired virtually all of the College Tract, land previously owned by the Berkeley Real Estate Union. This tract extended from Shattuck Avenue to Bonita, University to Berkeley Way. In September of 1886, Barker declared his new partnership, which would include both real estate and insurance, with a J.J. McLenathen.

In May of 1887 it was announced that Barker would be going to Chicago, on business, and would remain there for a month's stay. In June the Herald (Berkeley's second local newspaper) proclaimed that his mission was not to pursue the interests of the Homestead Loan Association. This was an answer to a question that had not been publically posed, and it remains unclear as to why it was important to so carefully deny this supposition. The Homestead Loan Association of Berkeley was incorporated in early 1886 as a Savings and Loan. As there was no bank in Berkeley, it often functioned as a bank. There is no evidence that Barker was an officer in this Association.

Later that same month Barker announced that because he had accepted an important position in Chicago, he would be leaving Berkeley and selling his various business interests. Whatever his plans, in June of 1887 he abandoned Berkeley and, as we were led to believe, assumed the position of president and business manager of the Chicago Supply Company. The Chicago Supply Company was a firm whose main business was the representation of three brass manufacturers: The Lorain Brass Co of Cleveland, the Hayden Co of Haydenville Mass, and the Peck Bros of New York. Immediately upon his departure, McLenathen established a new business alliance with Louis Gottshall.

In July of 1887 Barker wrote to say that he was "engaged in a large business", that he would remain in Chicago for a few years before returning to Berkeley where he expected to enjoy his retirement, and that he encouraged the people of Berkeley to take care of their streets and to install the electric lights.

One month later Barker returned to Berkeley to take care of business and to sell his Berkeley hardware interests. This was accomplished by a sale to J.W. Savage who had recently arrived in Berkeley from Rahway, New Jersey. The business occupied the corner of Shattuck Ave and Dwight Way. With this accomplished, he spent the remainder of his time organizing the efforts directed toward the proposed electric street lighting (which included the forming of the Berkeley Electric Light Company), renting his Dwight Way home to a family from Iowa named Kierulff, and then once again removing himself to Chicago. While it would appear that he had by December of that year in fact vacated his Berkeley responsibilities, his ads for insurance sales and real estate opportunities continued to run, quite conspicuously, in both the Advocate and the Berkeley Herald.

In April of 1888, scarcely six months later, it was announced that Barker would be abandoning his Chicago job and returning to Berkeley; he was due to arrive on the First of May. The only reason given was that he did not like the Chicago weather. By early May he had in fact returned, and he was immediately elected to a directorship of the Electric Light Company. For a short while he was staying at the Brunswich House in Oakland, his Berkeley residence still occupied by the Kierulff's. The Kierulffs were encouraged to move into the then unoccupied Shattuck house, and by October the Barkers were reestablished in their Dwight Way digs. Savage was directed to move his hardware business (he moved it one door north), and on December 1st Barker reopened his plumbing business, the importing of iron pipe and plumber's supplies, in Oakland; his Shattuck Avenue location being a local outlet for these materials. In July of 1889, J. W. Savage bought from Mr. Hanifin a lot next to Kellogg School on Center Street for $1450, and moved his hardware store to a more propitious location.

Barker's sojourn to Chicago is most curious. Considering the complexity of his involvement in Berkeley, the pivotal role he played with respect to the railroad and the insurance industry, not to mention his success in the development of property, the plan to relocate is provocative and the reasons given are strongly suspect. It would seem to be exceedingly unlikely that at age 46 he would impetuously abandon all that he had accomplished in this locale to begin anew in an unfamiliar community that is known for its dreadful weather, simply with the promise of another well paying position. His plan to relocate seemed precipitous, and was furthermore conducted in an atmosphere of rumor, speculation, and general uncertainty. All this, together with the fact that this typically prudent man seemingly turned his back on what had been (from at least one perspective) an admirable community role, and to just as quickly reverse the process, leaves us with more questions than it does explanations.

At this point some speculation is in order. It would not be unlikely that the relocation had been ordered by those in authority, rather than elected on the part of the principle. At the particular time this move was effected, Barker seemed to be hovering somewhere between potentially incompatible primary loyalties: self interest pursued by an affiliation with the Oakland power brokers, responsibilities to the Central Pacific Railroad, and a career with the Fireman's Fund Insurance Company. His determination to enhance his own fortune through a growing independence from his corporate masters, may have emerged at a time when the power equation did not necessarily favor his personal preference for an independent practice. In short, to those who were in a position of control, James Barker may have seemed to have grown too big for his own britches.

For reasons such as these it could be speculated that Barker was drawn away from Berkeley, in the midst of his bid for singular proprietorship, with an offer that he simply could not refuse. The uncomfortable vagueness which surrounded his new position lends some support in this direction.

But if this appears to account for his removal, how might we account for his premature, virtually unexplained, and no less precipitous return? The answer may be discovered within another portion of this tale, one which has yet to be told; the development of Berkeley's public utilities. For the moment we shall put the question aside, content only in the knowledge that contained therein is a lingering mystery, one that remains approachable only through speculation, but which deserves more than Barker’s seemingly capricious, benign, and superficial report.

After his return, Barker was thrust immediately back into his routine commercial activities, as well as into his role in the ongoing quest to improve the community. While he never again was able to occupy the singular leadership position he had previously enjoyed, nor for that matter would any man in Berkeley ever again enjoy such a calling, Barker managed to do well. In 1896 the lumber firm of Barker and Hunter built 150 residences. In 1900 Barker and his old partner, R.W. McKinney reincorporated and proceeded to build a three story commercial and residential building on the corner of Shattuck and Dwight. The Barker Building, completed in 1905, cost $325,000. He dissolved that partnership a year later, devoting himself entirely to his real estate ventures and the responsibilities of the directorship of the local banking institutions which he had helped to create.

In 1904, Barker was a principal in the organization of the 1st National Bank of Berkeley, along with Shattuck, Naylor and others. That same year, with A.W. Naylor, he opened the South Berkeley Bank, , at the intersection of Adeline and Alcatraz, which later became a branch of the Mercantile Trust Company of California. The Barker family, four generations later, continue to reside in and near Berkeley.

 

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