History of Alameda


What and where is Alameda?

Alameda is a city in the state of California, situated in Alameda County, located on the Alameda and Bay Farm islands. To more easily spot Alameda, you can find it near the San Francisco Bay Area on the east and Oakland on the west.

American Indian early inhabitants and the Spanish claim to the island

Alameda, like the city itself, has a very interesting history to offer. Alameda is a 2,200 acre peninsula connected to Oakland. The Miwok or Ohlone Indians used to live in what is now known as Alameda for about 3500 years until the Spaniards arrived in the late 18th century. A man named Luis Peralta was gifted with 35 square miles of land – the vast Rancho San Antonio – as part of the land grant from the Spanish king who claimed California. The Rancho San Antonio’s expanse included portions of El Cerrito, Berkeley, Albany, Piedmont and Alameda. Don Luis later divided the land between his surviving sons. One of his sons was Antonio Maria Peralta, who claimed Alameda and much of Oakland.

Land grant confirmed by Mexico

The country that is now called Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1821. Upon its independence Mexico later confirmed the land grant. Over time, the place was later named Bolsa de Encinal or Encinal de San Antonio or simply Encinal. Encinal is a Spanish word that means “forest of evergreen oak.” Encinal’s connection with trees is not too far from Alameda, which means “grove of poplar trees” or “tree-lined avenue.”

Growing communities in Alameda; the town’s incorporation

In 1850, a man named William Worthington Chapman arrived in San Francisco via Panama. He struck a partnership with a man named Gideon Aughinbaugh. Together the two men bought 160 acres of Encinal from Don Antonio Peralta for $14,000 in 1851. From there, three communities were established: Encinal, Old Alameda, and Woodstock. These settlements made up of the town simply called Alameda, the name which was chosen through a popular vote in 1853. In 1854, the town was finally incorporated as a city, and in the same year Alameda’s first post office opened its doors to the public.

Many immigrants had come to Alameda, and they were of diverse ethnic groups: Italians, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Germans, Scandinavians and other Europeans. They made a life there by raising their own farms, working for wealthy families, being employed as handymen and gardeners, building the Transcontinental Railroad, and working on the Alaska Packers fleet.

The building of Alameda

As the construction of the San Francisco and Alameda railroads took place, Alameda was slowly growing its own kind of prosperity. The Encinal train station was built in 1864, and some years later establishments such as schools, churches, and stores began popping up in the area. The first bridge there, built in 1874, was a wooden cantilever bridge that put a boundary between Alameda and Oakland. The rail and ferry services contributed to the town’s development. The Alameda pier was built in 1884 and featured a transportation connection for rails to ferries. The Central and Southern Pacific railroads merged in 1894, leading the pier to be called as the Alameda Mole. In 1872, Woodstock became part of Alameda.

During the First World War, Alameda’s shipbuilding industry first began and developed, thanks to the generous funds and support from Moore, Bethlehem Steel and Todd companies.

Growth of establishments in Alameda, and the Neptune Beach

Alameda continued to grow and prosper. Along with the business establishments, there came the development of recreation and sporting events. Parks were made, and resorts that were built along the coastline providing “baths” for people to swim, starting with the establishment with the Terrace Baths in 1870 and the Cottage Baths in 1893. These baths were frequently attended by celebrities, from stage and film stars to renowned book authors.

Neptune Beach, the city’s amusement park, was built in 1894 on the San Francisco Bay shore. It occupied an area now known as the Crab Cove, and provided a nice place for private picnics with more amenities such as a clubhouse, a couple of outdoor pools, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and barbeque pits. Its most famous attractions were the hand-carved carousel and the giant Ferris wheel. Neptune Beach was often compared to New York’s Coney Island. But Alameda lost its “resort appeal” when more distant places became more attractive to the more moneyed San Francisco visitors. Neptune was closed in 1939 and was auctioned off a year later.

Advancements in transportation

In 1928, a passenger airport was established in Alameda. The Pan American Airways built and operated the famous China Clippers – which were Martin M-130 flying boats, very much like seaplanes that were running on four engines – for commercial flights over the Pacific. In 1935, a China Clipper took off from Alameda on its bid to deliver the first airmail cargo across the Pacific Ocean.

Alameda was also once home to the now-non-existent companies which flourished then: the Borax Soap Company, Pacific and Standard Oil, and the original terminal for the Central Pacific Railroad.

Steam commuter lines also came to Alameda, provided by the Southern Pacific Transportation Company (which was formerly Central Pacific). These steam-run commuter lines were transformed into trains that were generated by electricity, which was provided by the now-defunct East Bay Electric Lines. These trains were not streetcars or trams that you usually see in San Francisco, but were actual railroad trains that ran to both Alameda Mole and Oakland Moles.

Alameda as a Navy city

Alameda made its mark as a Navy city when the Alameda Naval Air Station (NAS Alameda) officially opened its doors in November 1940. This naval airfield operated for the next 56 years until its closure in 1997, and is now a tourist spot (where its main attraction is the aircraft carrier USS Hornet) or, occasionally, a film shooting location. However, since 2000 the Alameda city government has been exerting efforts to re-develop the naval air station.

1973 disaster

A tragedy occurred in 1973 when a fighter jet, doing its routine training mission from the Naval Air Station Lemoore, suddenly caught fire in mid-air. It plummeted toward Alameda, finally crashing into the city’s Tahoe Apartments. Eleven people, including the pilot, perished in the crash and the fire.

Arts and Culture

The regional arts council for Alameda City is the Alameda Arts Council (AAC). The local ballet company is called the Alameda Civic Ballet. Alameda’s history is presented in exhibits at the Alameda Museum. As of January 2011, the Alameda Art Association has roughly 80 members and a gallery space at the South Shore Center shopping center. In 1944, the Association was founded. Clown artist Jeff Raz established the yearly charity event Circus for Arts in the Schools in 2004. Robert Bechtle, a photorealist, painted several Alameda-related scenes, including Alameda Gran Torino, which was purchased by SFMOMA in 1974 and is still among Bechtle’s most well-known pieces.


The Alameda Theatre, a famous Art Deco landmark, was renovated by the city and expanded to accommodate a theater multiplex. It was opened to the public on May 21, 2008.

The Altarena Playhouse, the longest-running community theater in the San Francisco Bay Area, presents comedies, dramas, and musicals. It was established in 1938.


It is said that the Fourth of July procession is the second oldest and second-longest Fourth of July parade in the country. It includes marching bands, fire-breathing dragons, vintage automobiles, motorized living room furniture, and homemade floats.

When the road in Alameda’s famed downtown center is blocked by automobile traffic, three significant events take place. Every year in May around Mother’s Day weekend, the Park Street Spring Festival draws more than 50,000 people. Every July, the last weekend sees over 100,000 people attend the Park Street Art & Wine Faire. Every October, on the second Saturday, nearly 400 classic cars are on show at the Park Street Classic Car Show.


The Alameda Unified School District, which is legally distinct from the City of Alameda administration, oversees providing public primary and secondary education in Alameda (as is common throughout California). The Peralta Community College District includes the two-year community college College of Alameda in the West End. The city is home to many private elementary schools and one private Catholic high school, St. Joseph Notre Dame High School.

Alameda today

During the Second World War, Alameda’s population multiplied. In 2010, Alameda reported its population count of 73,812. As of 2014, Alameda is home to 75,500 (estimated) residents of different races and ethnic groups. This has made Alameda a melting pot of diverse races and cultures.

Now, Alameda is a prosperous, vibrant city. The city’s strategic location and proximity to the San Francisco Bay has made Alameda not only as a place for business and commerce, but also a place for recreation, entertainment, arts and culture.

Key Events

1. Indigenous populations

The Ohlone people, who lived in the area for thousands of years prior to the advent of European settlers, were the first inhabitants of the area that is now Alameda.

2. Spanish colonization

Spanish settlers landed in the region in 1795 and built a mission and a fortified presidio.

3. Taking over by the United States

During the Mexican American War in 1846, the United States seized possession of California, and Alameda was included in the newly seized region.

4. Development of the transcontinental railway

The construction of the transcontinental railway, which linked the East and West coasts, led to Alameda’s development as a major transportation hub in the late 19th century.

5. Rise as an industrial center

At the beginning of the 20th century, Alameda developed into a significant industrial hub, with the shipbuilding and other manufacturing sectors prospering there.

6. World War II

During World War II, Alameda functioned as a significant military facility and was home to multiple naval aviation stations. During this period, the city saw enormous expansion and development and played an important part in the war effort.

7. Growth after the war

New houses, companies, and infrastructure were built in Alameda as it continued to expand and change. Residents of San Francisco and Oakland were drawn to the city by its high standard of living and proximity to the Bay Area, making it a popular suburb.

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