The Unique and Colorful History of Richmondís Point Molate

This month, we begin a series of articles about Richmond's Point Molate, a hidden-in-plain-view waterfront site with rich natural resources and an interesting past.

Located on the western shore of the Point San Pablo Peninsula about a mile and a half north of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, Point Molate offers a waterfront location, diverse habitat, open space and nationally designated historic buildings. Photo by Joel Williams

BC Staff Report
 
Published: July, 2015
 

This month, we begin a series of articles about Richmond’s Point Molate, a hidden-in-plain-view waterfront site with rich natural resources and an interesting past. This month focuses on the history of the site, while future installments will look at recent redevelopment proposals and the natural features of Point Molate.

Point Molate is a tremendous asset to the City of Richmond. Located on the western shore of the Point San Pablo Peninsula about a mile and a half north of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, its waterfront location, diverse habitat, open space and nationally designated historic buildings provide a number of opportunities to maximize the site’s economic and conservation potential.

 

Point Molate offers 1.4 miles of unobstructed shoreline, more than 200 acres of upland open space and a 465-foot ridge line with panoramic views of the San Francisco and San Pablo bays, Mount Tamalpais and the East Brother Light Station. Adding to the site’s unique character is the Winehaven Historic District, a designated National Historic Landmark.

 

The rich and varied history of the San Pablo Peninsula predates the arrival of the Spanish in the early 19th century. Prior to that time, Ohlone and Miwok tribes lived in and hunted at Point Molate. During the late 19th century, a Chinese shrimp camp was established on what is now Point Molate Beach Park. The Union Shrimp Company operated the camp until 1912, when the federal government restricted large-scale shrimping on the Bay.

 

The construction of the Belt Line Railway along Richmond’s western waterfront and Point San Pablo in 1903 attracted a number of commercial and development activities to the peninsula, including the construction of the Standard Oil Long Wharf, an oil can factory, a brick factory and two rock quarries. The growth in commercial sardine fishing spurred construction of a number of fish processing plants between Point Molate and the San Pablo Yacht Harbor.

 

In 1956, Del Monte built a whale processing plant north of Point Molate’s Terminal 4. This last whaling station in the United States was active at Point San Pablo until the early 1970s, when American whaling was finally banned.

 

Captain Raymond Clark, who was instrumental in establishing the Richmond-San Rafael Ferry at Point Castro in 1915, developed the Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor just north of Point Molate in 1930. The harbor continues to operate today and provides boat access to the East Brother Light Station, built in 1873 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Winehaven

Shortly following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the California Wine Association relocated its production facilities from San Francisco to a 41-acre site along the Point Molate shoreline.

 

Winehaven served as the association’s headquarters and production facilities for more than 10 years, until just after the passage of Prohibition. Its central location and access to shipping and rail lines made it an ideal site for producing and distributing wines to domestic and foreign markets. The facility would become one of the largest wineries in the United States, annually producing and distributing more than 12 million gallons of wine, brandy and champagne.

 

The first building constructed for the winery was the Winehaven Hotel, which housed construction crews and winery workers. The winery, a Rhineland-style brick castle, was built two years later and was large enough to accommodate areas for crushing, fermenting and bottling. To accommodate the influx of winery workers and their families, 29 cottages and the winemaster’s residence were constructed just north of the winery.

 

By 1909, Winehaven was fully operational with a crew of 120 workers, a number that grew to as many as 400 during the harvest season. The area developed into a small village with a school, post office and ferry service to Oakland and San Francisco. In 1919, the passage of the Volstead Act began the Prohibition Era and brought an end to the winery’s operations.

 

While the California Wine Association continued to produce sacramental wine, medicinal wine and Calwa Grape Juice after passage of the law, demand was insufficient to sustain the winery and it closed its doors a few years later. In 1978, Winehaven’s historical contribution to architecture, commerce and industry was recognized with its designation as a historic landmark and placement on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot

Point Molate experienced renewed activity in 1941 with the advent of World War II. The Department of Defense (then still called the Department of War) purchased Winehaven and the surrounding area for use as a Navy fuel depot and began adapting the area for light industrial and military use. The Winehaven Hotel was adapted for use as barracks and a mess hall; the cottages were renovated for Navy housing; and the winery buildings were converted to administrative offices and storage space.

 

Eventually, some buildings—such as the school house and Winehaven Hotel—were razed to modify the area for light industrial use. As part of the site expansion and infrastructure upgrades, a new pier was built off the point and the site was equipped with drum storage areas and rail lines. Infrastructure upgrades included the installation of 17 miles of pipeline and 75 underground and aboveground storage tanks with the capacity to hold 1.1 million barrels of petroleum.

 

The Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot was decommissioned on September 30, 1995 under the U.S. Department of Defense Base Realignment and Closure Act of 1990. As part of the base closure process, the Richmond City Council was designated as the Local Reuse Authority to act as the governmental agency responsible for the reuse planning and disposition of Point Molate. A 45-member Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee of local stakeholder groups was established to prepare the reuse plan that was submitted to, and approved by, the LRA in 1997.

 

In September 2003, the U.S. Navy sold 80 percent of the property to the City of Richmond for one dollar; the remaining 20 percent required additional environmental remediation before it could be transferred to the city. Transfer of the remaining property was executed in March 2010 under an agreement that required the Navy to place $28.5 million in escrow for Richmond to complete remediation of the site. The funding amount was predicated on a future commercial use, the remediation standards for which are significantly less than the remediation standards for residential use.

 

Point Molate Beach Park was originally created by the U.S. Navy as a recreation site for both base personnel and residents of Richmond in the early 1970s. The park was established on a site of a natural beach that had been very popular in the region prior to the Navy’s arrival. Turned over to the City of Richmond in 2003 as part of the initial parcel to be transferred, the park was immediately closed due to lack of funds within the City of Richmond. With $115,000 from Cosco Busan oil spill settlement funds earmarked for Richmond, Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate developed a beach rehabilitation plan that was submitted to the Richmond Parks Department and presented to Richmond City Council for approval in March 2013. The park reopened for public use in October 2013.

 

Next month we will look into recent actions surrounding proposed developments of Point Molate, including the demise of a planned hotel and casino complex.

 

The Winehaven winery, a Rhineland-style brick castle built in 1909, was designated as a historic landmark in 1978. Photo by Joel Williams

Point Molate Beach Park was originally created by the U.S. Navy in the early 1970s, and reopened to the public in October 2013 after being closed for a number of years. Photo by Joel Williams