Picaresque History of the Port of Oakland
Incredible as it seems, the
town had been incorporated, the city council duly elected and the
waterfront appropriated by Carpentier before most of the residents
were aware that Oakland existed.
The village had always been
called Contra Costa. To be sure, the name was merely a Spanish term
meaning "the opposite shore," but it had a musical lilt
which somehow appealed to the Yankee settlers, even though most of
them were opposed to anything Spanish as a matter of general policy.
There may be some poetical
and sylvan significance to the name of Oakland, but those who first
heard it, liked it not at all. To begin with, the name impressed
itself upon their consciousness in a peculiar manner. Strangers,
traders and casual callers would, from time to time, bring news that
a new town had been incorporated, which was called Oakland. When
inquiry as to its exact location was made of anyone living in the
village of Contra Costa, usually he would shake his head and look
blank. No one knew where the new town was to be found. Their chagrin
can be imagined when it dawned upon them that they were indeed
residents of the mysterious and somewhat mythical Oakland.
Naturally such a discovery
would incite a spirit of adventure. The town had come upon them
unawares, so to say, and even the most tractable and unimaginative
were at once curious to learn what else had been thrust upon them—or
taken from them.
The days that followed the
discovery that Oakland and Contra Costa were identical proved warm
and sultry for the newly elected city council. The reasoning of the
citizenry was flawless. If the town was incorporated without the
consent or knowledge of the people who lived there, it must have
been done for no good purpose and through fraud and chicanery, and
if that were so, those who claimed to hold office in the city
government must have been parties to and beneficiaries of this
Flawless as their reasoning
may have been, this probably was not true. In the 1850’s as in the
present day, the seats of the mighty had an irresistible attraction
for many and when such a signal honor as a place at the council
table of a city was offered, it was not particularly difficult to
find candidates who had little or no notion of the responsibilities
or dangers which are requisite to the honor.
Natural surprise and perhaps
disgust at the trick that had been perpetrated on the village in
changing the name to Oakland seemed to appeal to the citizens as
evidence that no good was intended to the town. Matters were brought
to a climax of indignation when the news became general that the
first act of the trustees of this new Oakland was one which some
people called "theft".
Enraged citizens who felt
that the board of trustees had overstepped the bounds of their
authority, set out to see what could be done about it. They rose in
their majesty and demanded from the board that legal proceedings
should be instituted forthwith to recover the waterfront which they
believed belonged to them.
A petition to this effect
was filed but never acted upon. In September, 1853, on
recommendations made by the committee to whom the matter had been
referred, the petition was refused by the board of trustees.
In the meantime, Carpentier
was anything but idle. In fact, he apparently was bringing into play
all the tricks of his profession, for the Oakland waterfront began
changing hands, part of it becoming the property of one, Harriet
Carpentier, a niece in New York. The waterfront of Oakland in time
became quite a Carpentier family affair, since Edward R. Carpentier
appeared too, and he acquired a large portion of the waterfront
which was subsequently purchased by Harriet.
Later still, and by devious
routes not to be traced in any legal records remaining, one John
Watson, on August 16, 1855, sold the entire waterfront property to
Harriet Carpentier, again for the sum of $6,0000. How it ever passed
into the hands of Mr. Watson, however, is a matter of the
profoundest mystery; no official records divulge the secret, nor why
these inscrutable transfers should have taken place.
To go back to the original
trio: In December, 1853, Horace and Edward Carpentier executed a
lease to Edson Adams and Andrew Moon for twenty years. The lease was
for a two-thirds interest in a large beach and water lot at First
and Broadway, for the sum of $2,000.
In this transaction, Edson
Adams and Andrew Moon appeared in the roll of lessees, although it
was generally acknowledged that the former claimed one-half of the
entire property, and, indeed, did eventually obtain his share by
forcible measures, subsequently selling it to the Central Pacific
Railroad Company for a large sum.
Not to be so easily
checkmated, Oakland’s first citizens proceeded to the waterfront
in a truculent mood and went to work in November of that year. The
records reveal that the president of the board laid before the
trustees a certified copy of summons and complaint, made by
Carpentier against the Town of Oakland, in a suit for $4,500 damages
to the plaintiff’s property from a mob of riotous assemblage; to
which, on the motion of Moon, an answer was directed to be filed.
There were no newspapers in
those days and there is no record of the form the mob violence took,
but the citizens were so thoroughly aroused that there was no
likelihood of an unprejudiced hearing, so the case was transferred
from Alameda County to the City of San Francisco, but in February an
ordinance was passed compromising the suit.
Oakland’s enraged citizens
petitioned the trustees to seek legal means for the recovery of the
town’s waterfront. When this petition failed more riots followed.
On October 22, 1853, the Board of trustees ordered the town clerk to
remove the town records to a place of safety. This was done, which
may account for the disappearance of several very important
Oakland was growing. More
men were coming from the gold fields to work in the less spectacular
but more stable lumber industry. More sailors, deserting their ships
at San Francisco, were arriving in whaleboats. Married men sent for
their families and the unmarried men sent for their sweethearts and
became married men. However, it is doubtful if the unbiased observer
would have found the hustling, thriving young metropolis that
prideful citizens believed it to be"
After two short but eventful
years as a town, Oakland took on the dignity of a city. On March 25,
1854, the Town of Oakland became the City of Oakland, according to
law if not in fact, for it was on that day that the first city
charter was granted.
In accordance with the city
charter, an election was held early in April. On April 17, 1854, the
election returns were canvassed at a meeting of the trustees. Those
dignitaries found that there had been 368 votes cast, which caused
some consternation inasmuch as it generally conceded that this was
more, by a considerable number, than the total adult population.
Carpentier was elected
Soon the air was thick with
trouble again. The newly elected city council was decidedly at odds
with the mayor. To add to the dilemma, the original board of
trustees was unwilling to transfer the papers and public money to
the new body, although they eventually did so in a confused and
incomplete condition, for the treasury had been attached by Colonel
John G. Hays and a legal process was necessary to release it.
Then the brewing storm burst
upon the city. On August 5, 1854, at the meeting of the city
council, Alderman A. D. Eames presented an ordinance to provide for
the construction and maintenance of a wharf in the City of Oakland.
In substance this ordinance
provided for "facilitating the commerce of the city and travel
to and from it," by the establishment of a street and wharf
from a point on the Encinal" in the southerly part of the city
limits to the nearest deep water, on condition that the city would
grant a franchise to the highest bidder. The holder of the franchise
was to build a wharf and to collect wharfage therefrom. The
franchise included possession of a land and water lot, one hundred
yards in width along the line of the proposed wharf from the beach
to the boundary line of the city and the franchise holder was to
have the right to form an "association and stock company"
for the construction and operating purposes.
The ordinance concluded by
specifically asserting that it did not recognize any claims of
private individuals to the waterfront and that its enactment should
not be so construed.
On August 6, 1854, the
ordinance was passed and on the 19th, four separate petitions signed
by one hundred and seventy citizens were received in favor of
building the wharf on the southwestern corner of the Encinal. The
document was sent to Mayor Carpentier for his signature and
The people had spoken, both
through their representatives and by direct petition. A publicly
owned waterfront was without doubt their edict. Did Mayor Carpentier
heed their demand? He did not. He returned the ordinance to the