San Leandro Bay, Alameda County,
California page 1 of 3 by Gary Lenhart
looking back can help us better understand where we are now. In this
spirit, the following history of the San Leandro Bay looks at not only
it's physical changes, but also what influenced and motivated the people
whose decisions led to those
Some may find it hard to believe that the
San Leandro Bay, in Alameda County, California, was once home to one of
the world's most remarkable natural habitats. Fresh water that ran down
creeks from the Oakland Hills mixed with salt water from the San
Francisco Bay and created there a freshwater / saltwater marshland that was rich in
nutrients and teaming with plant life. This together with the well protected environment and temperate climate, supported a
vast and complex web
of wildlife there.
However, almost immediately following the non-native migration of
people into the area, especially following the California Gold Rush of
1849, and then again after the arrival of the Transcontinental Railroad
in 1869, a major assault on the San Leandro Bay and its wildlife
Today virtually all of the original marshland and its habitat is gone.
Only a very small amount of marsh, called Arrowhead Marsh, exists, and
this is widely believed to be "second nature" (its result mainly due to
human intervention), created
around 1874 when a man-made earthen dam on the San Leandro Creek in the
Oakland Hills failed and washed vast amounts of soil into the San Leandro Bay.
While most of the San
Leandro Bay area's present day uses serve the "public good", serving
millions of people annually (including at the Oakland International
Airport), it is highly debatable if the loss of this natural
wonderland truly served the public good.
Just as we are born into
and inherit our physical world, and those changes that were made to it
by those who came before us, so too we inherit our beliefs and
views about the world, and then build upon, change, and make them our
own. A look at the decisions made by those who so dramatically
changed the San Leandro Bay, I hope will give us a better understanding
of our current beliefs -- by way of where they, at least in
part, came from.
Native Americans, Spanish Era, Human Migration
Known Human Inhabitants
first known Native Americans to inhabit the East Bay area are believed
to have arrived approximately 3,000 years ago.
These people, known as the Ohlone Indians, enjoyed the natural abundance
of the area. They hunted and fished in the marshlands, in the bay, and
the creeks. With no need to roam or move around in search of new sources
of food or to fight neighbors for scarce resources, these were believed
to be a
peaceful people who remained in the same
village locations over many generations, living off the bounty of the
Over 400 Indian burial mounds were found around the San Francisco Bay
remains of about 450 people, was found in Alameda City near Santa Clara Ave. and
Mound Street. It also contained "stone implements and
shell ornaments." The natives decorated themselves with shells and
feathers and they used stones, shells, and bones for tools, some of
which can be seen in the pictures above, which were taken at the Alameda
City Museum. The mound and its contents was "removed" in 1908. A
plaque commemorating the burial mound can be found at Lincoln Park in
Alameda City today. (see picture above)
European Discovery of the San
Francisco Bay area in 1772
The San Francisco Bay area was "discovered" relatively
late, not until 1772. This can likely be attributed to the
small opening to the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean at the
Golden Gate, along with the area being often shrouded in fog, and also the
natural camouflage that is provided by the East Bay hills seen in the background
of the entrance to the San Francisco Bay. In fact, the Bay Area was first
seen by Europeans who were on a land expedition. They quickly claimed the
land was owned by Spain.
Mission San Jose Established 1797
seven years later, in 1797, the Spanish established Mission San Jose in
the East Bay (The San Jose Mission is located at 43300 Mission Blvd in what is Fremont,
California today). Ohlone Indians lived in the area. Between 1825 and
1830 there were approximately 2,000 California natives living on the
mission grounds. The mission raised cattle
and sheep. In 1832 the mission had 12,000 cattle, 13,000 horses and
12,000 sheep which grazed between the area of the mission and Oakland.
The mission was very productive and had the second highest agriculture
output and the highest olive oil production of all of the California
missions. In 1833 the mission
had thousands of acres of crops and grazing land stretching from San
Jose to Oakland to Livermore.
1834 control of the missions shifted from the Spanish to the Mexicans
and the Spanish Padres left. Within three years, by 1837, the San Jose Mission's
land was divided into Ranchos and the mission buildings were abandoned.
The natives that had been living there suddenly no longer had the
support of the Mission and its way of life; finding it very difficult to
adjust back to their previous ways, many of them died.
Rancho Era circa 1820-1850
In 1820 the King of Spain granted Luis Maria Peralta, a Spanish Army
officer, a 44,800 acre, 35 mile land grant, known as a "rancho." The
land was given to him in recognition for his
service in the Spanish Army. The land included what are today the cities
Alameda, Oakland, Piedmont, Berkeley, Albany and El Cerrito.
In 1842, Luis Peralta divided his land up
among his four surviving sons. His third son, Antonio Peralta, received
land that today includes the cities of Alameda and most of Oakland.
the Damming, Dredging, Filling and De-Forestation of the Land
The image at the left is from a close-up of a map that was made in 1844
(map info)- five years before the gold rush.
The San Leandro label on the map is not identifying a city, but
refers to the water, San Leandro Bay and San Leandro Creek, which at
this point are not too indistinguishable, they are more like one body. S. Antonio is where the entrance to the estuary between Alameda and
Oakland (the inner harbor) is today. Lake Merritt hasn't been "made" yet
. Lake Merritt was made in 1869 from 155 acres of "dammed tidal water"
from the headwaters of Indian Slough. First known as "Merritt's Lake",
the land used to make Lake Merritt was donated by Dr. Samuel Merritt in
Alameda can be clearly seen
as a peninsula in this map from 1844, which was fifty years before the
"estuary" and "tidal canal were completed in 1902, which separated
Alameda from Oakland and made Alameda an Island City.
Notice the "Pins Rouge" (Redwood
Trees) in the Oakland Hills. Within just ten years these would all be cut down, creating a major
change in the eco-system of the area.
Other than maps, there are very few visual references
(such as photographs or drawings) during this early period. However, there
are some early visual descriptions of what the environment was like at this
time. In an address during the "Pioneers Picnic at Dry Creek" Judge Crane provided a first hand account of what the land in the
area of Alameda County was like in the 1850s, when the ownership of the land
was still largely controlled by a handful of large Spanish and Mexican land
grants, with some squatters also beginning to gain some control of the land.
During this period Judge Crane observes, "Nearly all of this land was
still in a state of nature, unenclosed, uncultivated, and unoccupied,
except as a range for herds of half a wild cattle."2
San Antonio Forest and The "Blossom Rock Trees"
Two trees in
the Oakland Hills were so tall that Sea Captains could see them as they entered the Golden Gate of the San Francisco Bay. Known
as the “Blossom Rock” trees, the Sea Captains used them as a visual
marker to help navigate safely away from the “Blossom Rock”, an
underwater rock near Yerba Buena Island.4
Captain F. Beechey, of the British Royal Navy, noted in his ship’s log
(the H.M.S. Blossom) "dangerous rock lay roughly between Alcatraz and
Yerba Buena islands in about a fathom of water. In order to miss the
“Blossom” rock, one should line up the northern tip of Yerba Buena
Island with two towering trees on the ridge of the Oakland Hills."
the first official map of the San Francisco Bay, published by
Navy Captain Cadwalader Ringgold in 1851, it clearly explains how
ships should sight on the two “Navigation Trees” to avoid Blossom
After the trees were cut down in the early 1850s, a lighthouse was built on Yerba
Buena Island to help guide the Ship Captains. Although
many of the redwood trees in the forest were likely over 2,000 years
old, in just about ten years the entire Redwood Tree forest in the
Oakland Hills, called the San Antonio Redwood Forest, was virtually
completely cut down.
The trees were milled at saws in the Oakland Hills and the lumber
was sold largely to people building the first buildings in San
The plaque at
the left, for California Registered Landmark No. 962, can be seen
near the Madrone picnic area in the Roberts Regional Recreation Area.
San Antonio Forest is Cut Down ca. 1842-1853,
An early and
major environmental impact caused by human activity started in 1842
when full-scale logging of the Oakland hills began. This was
same year Don Peralta divided his land among his four sons. The Redwoods in the
Oakland Hills were in an old growth redwood forest called the San Antonio
Forest. Visual accounts from the time indicate that the Oakland Hills may
have had some of the oldest and biggest redwood trees in the world. William
P. Gibbons, who in 1855 was the curator of geology and mineralogy at the
California Academy of Sciences, in 1893 published “The Redwoods in the
Oakland Hills.” It is a survey that he had made 40 years earlier and in 1855
he described the area as a “sea
of stumps.” He found one redwood tree stump that
measured “over 31 feet across at a height of four feet from the ground."
After the San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906, once again there
was a tremendous demand for wood in San Francisco. And once again, the San
Antonio Redwood Forest was logged to provide lumber to build the city. This
time however, not only the trees, which were now only second growth trees
that had been growing for only about 50 years taken, but even the stumps
were cut up and sold. This is especially unfortunate because redwood trees
often grow new trees from their old stumps and their removal made it
virtually impossible for the forest to ever recover.
the elimination of the trees in the Oakland Hills had a very severe impact
on the surrounding ecosystem -- including causing a vast amount of soil
erosion, which washed large amounts of soil down the creeks and into the San Leandro
Bay. It is also highly likely that the removal of the trees had a
devastating cascading impact on a variety of plant and animal life, whose
existence was intertwined with the trees. The
area is very different now from how it was before the old growth forest was
logged in the 1840s, however, there is there today a redwood forest, of Coast Redwood Trees,
that are now up to about 150 years old inRedwood Regional Park.
This park is one of 65 parks that now make up the East Bay Regional Park
District, and also includesTilden Park.
As it describes in the brochure to the left, the Regional Parks,
established in 1934, "offer the people of the East Bay natural types of
recreation in native California countryside surroundings. They are created
and maintained as a semi-wildwood area designed to protect, preserve and
increase native plant and animal life in addition to furnishing recreational
areas of varied interest to all age groups."3A
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