Posted in Black History, Buildings, Business, West Oakland

Wrecker Uses Sherman Tank To…

Project Gateway – West Oakland

The world’s largest and fully mechanized mail handling facility designed to serve central California and the Pacific ocean area

Postmaster General – Aug 1959

It was announce the facility would be built on a 12-block site in West Oakland bounded by Peralta, 7th and Wood Streets and the Southern Pacific railroad yards.

Oakland Tribune Aug 26, 1959

The postmaster general officially named the Oakland project “Project Gateway”

Oakland Tribune Aug 26, 19

Major Problems –

City officials were excited that construction will begin in about one year. They expected an Oakland payroll of some 750 workers and the clearing of some 20 acres of sub-standard homes for a major redevelopment project.

Oakland Mayor Clifford E Rishell noted that the post office project presents some major problems – chiefly the relocation of some 300 families (about 1000 people) in the project area.

The Oakland Redevelopment Agency was in charge of the relocation. A survey at the time determined that half of the 300 families had moderate incomes that will permit them to rent or purchase home in other sections of the city. The other half will probably require public housing.

The job we face isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible

Arthur Hoff – Oakland Redevelopment Agency

One of West Oakland’s most revered landmarks was lost with the razing of the New Century Recreation Center and adjoining school property at Atlantic, Pacific and Peralta Avenues.

Also lost in the project would be a junkyard ,few businesses and McFeely School which opened in 1949.

Evictions

In a March 1960 special meeting of city officials and postal officials were told that 34 families had already received eviction notices. The families lived in homes already sold the government by Southern Pacific. 21 families had already found new homes.

August 1 1960 was when the were to begin clearing the site,

Oakland Tribune Jul 19 1960

A squadron of bulldozers was set to plow into the 12-block site of buildings. All put 12 parcels of the 187 total had been acquired in negotiation. Commendation orders were entered for the holdouts.

Sherman Tank

The postal officials were perplexed when building wrecker Aldo S. Allen submitted a low bid of $64,000 to clear the 20-acre site for Project Gateway. He was $10,000 lower than the next lowest bid and $50,000 lower than the highest bid.

I got an idea” Allen a one time midget car racer explained.

Aldo S. Allen – 81st Ave Oakland CA

His idea consisted for $2,000 purchasing a surplus Sherman Tank of World War II vintage, a 73,000- pound dreadnaught powered by a 500 horsepower engine. The tank would be much more powerful, faster and safer.

He was Right!

Aldo climbed into the tank which was in front of a row of six houses. He first practiced on a tree,

SNAP! Down went the tree.

Without pausing he went towards the first house and bore a tunnel through the house. The second story remained intact. Again he aimed for house, there was a roar and the second story came down burying the tank for a moment.

10 Minutes Flat! The time to clear the first house

Oakland Tribune Aug 16, 1960

It took 90 minutes to flatten and clear all 6 houses

Oakland Tribune Aug 16, 1960
Oakland Tribune Aug 16, 1960
Oakland Tribune Aug 16, 1960
Oakland Tribune Aug 16, 1960
Oakland Tribune Aug 16, 1960
Oakland Tribune Aug 16, 1960
The Daily Texan Aug 16, 1960
More on Project Gateway in west Oakland

The End

Posted in Black History, Business, People

Stephens’ Family

The William M Stephens family was a very successful African American family from Oakland. They owned the Stephens Restaurant and Virginia their daughter, won acclaim at the age of fourteen when her name “Jewel City” was selected for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition buildings in a competition sponsored by the San Francisco Call-Post. Virginia went on to be the first African American woman to receive a law degree University of California Berkeley‘s Boalt School of Law in 1929.

Stephens Restaurant at 200 East 14th Oakland
Circa 1925 – photo by M.L. Cohen
Stephens Family papers, MS 5, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.

The Stephens Family

William Stephens Circa 1901
Stephens Family papers, MS 5, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.

William Stephens was born in 1870 in Accomack County, Virginia. He moved out to California while still a child and attended school in Oakland and San Francisco. After graduation, he completed coursework at Heald College before taking a job with the Southern Pacific Railway in 1886. Beginning as a Sleeping Car Porter, he worked his way up to a clerkship under H.E. Huntington, assistant to the company’s President.

In 1894 he lived at 1132 Linden Street in West Oakland.

In 1898, Stephens resigned from Southern Pacific and took a position with the Crocker family, traveling with them throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Through these travels, Stephens learned about the hotel and restaurant business.

Pauline Stephens circa 1898
Stephens Family papers, MS 5, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.

In 1901, he married Pauline Logan (1874-1929) of Tehama California.

Pauline gave birth to one daughter, Annie Virginia (who went by Virginia), on April 7, 1903. Due to his daughter’s health problems as a young girl, Stephens resigned from his post with the Crockers and began working at an Oakland social club. He moved on from this position in 1915 to manage the Clubhouse at the Hotel Del Monte Golf and Country Club in Monterey County.

Pauline died in May of 1929

Oakland Tribune May 24, 1929

William died November 21, 1932

Oakland Tribune Nov 22, 1931

Stephens Restaurant

Group of men standing in front of Stephens’ Restaurant & Lunch Room at 110 East 14th circa 1920s
Stephens Family papers, MS 5, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.

Eventually Stephens opened his own restaurant in Oakland. Known as Stephens’ Restaurant, it grew from small quarters into a large establishment seating over 200 people, occupying three locations near Lake Merritt.

William Stephens (right) and employee inside Stephens’ Restaurant circa 1920s
Stephens Family papers, MS 5, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the restaurant enjoyed great success and was usually filled to capacity. Stephens took great delight in employing African American high school and college students so they could earn money for their education.

The final location of the restaurant was 200 East 14th (now International Blvd) at 2nd Ave. I am not sure when it closed as it was still in business after Stephens died in 1932

Stephens Restaurant – 1925
Photo By ML Cohen
Stephens Family papers, MS 5, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.
Oakland Tribune 1930

Virginia Stephens

Stephen’s daughter, Virginia, won acclaim at the age of fourteen when her name “Jewel City” was selected for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition buildings in a competition sponsored by the San Francisco Call-Post.

Virginia Stephens on the left -The Jewel City, San Francisco, 1915:
PIPE – 100 Years
Oakland Tribune May 01 1952

Virginia attended the University of California at Berkeley and received a bachelor’s degree in science in 1924.

Graduation Portrait of Virginia Stephens – 1929
Stephens Family papers, MS 5, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.

Encouraged by her father to attend law school, she enrolled in Boalt School of Law at UC Berkeley and earned a degree in 1929. At that time she was only the second woman to receive a law degree from the school and the first African American woman to complete the program.  Virginia passed the California Bar in the same year, the first African American female attorney in California.

1929 Bar Card
MS005_B01_F01_004
Stephens Family papers, MS 5, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.

While at Berkeley, Virginia and Ida L. Jackson were charter members Rho Chapter in 1921 and Alpha Nu Omega, a graduate chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha. These were among the first Greek sororities for African American women west of the Mississippi.

Members of Rho Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, University of California, Berkeley (left-right): Virginia Stephens, Oreatheal Richardson, Myrtle Price (in back), Ida Jackson (sorority president), Talma Brooks, and Ruby Jefferson (1921), 
 African American Museum and Library at Oakland. 

Virginia married attorney George Coker (1906-1970). The Cokers helped tutor African American students for the State bar exams. They moved to Virginia and maintained a private law practice there for almost a decade.

In 1939 after working in private practice for ten years they moved back to California settling in Sacramento. Virginia received an appointment as Attorney in the State Office of the Legislature Council in Sacramento in May, 1939. In this capacity, she helped with drafting and amending legislative bills, and worked under four different legislative councils:

Virginia Stephens Cokerundated
Stephens Family papers, MS 5, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.

Upon her retirement in 1966, Virginia had attained the position of Deputy of the Indexing Section. Virginia died in Sacramento at the age of 83 on February 11, 1986.

More of the Stephens Family

The End

Posted in Black History, History, People, Then and Now, West Oakland

Royal E. Towns – Engine Company No. 22

Royal Edward Towns (February 10, 1899–July 23, 1990) was one of the first African American firefighters in Oakland and was instrumental in helping desegregate the fire department.

Royal E Towns

Royal Towns joined the OFD in 1927 and was assigned to Engine Company No. 22, a segregated firehouse in West Oakland. The station was located at 3320 Magnolia Street.

Exterior of Oakland Fire Department Engine no. 22
3320 Magnolia Street

Three firefighters sitting in Oakland fire truck parked in driveway of fire Engine no. 22

Royal Towns was the 11th black Oakland fireman in 1927. The 12th wasn’t hired for another 15 years. In 1971 there were only 35 black firemen. Towns became the first to be promoted in the OFD. He became a chief’s operator in 1941 and retired as a lieutenant in 1962.

Royal E. Towns (center) and his colleagues with Engine Company No. 22
of the racially segregated Oakland Fire Department. (1943)

Towns was instrumental in helping desegregate the fire department. He helped train many other black applicants to pass the fire department test

Royal Towns on the left with Oakland firefighters standing in front of fire engine no. 22 – Circa 1943

Personal Life

Royal Towns was born in Oakland on February 10, 1899, to William Towns and Elizabeth Towns.

Towns married Lucille Dennis May 26, 1920. Together they had three children. The family lived in various locations within Oakland

Royal E. Towns died July 23, 1990 and is buried in Mountain View Cemetery

More Photos

The photos are courtesy of the Royal E. Towns papers, MS 26, African American Museum and Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California. Photos at Calisphere

3320 Magnolia Street Oakland – Then and Now
It is no longer a Fire Station
Rolling Hoses in front of Engine No 22
Two firemen attaching hoses to fire hydrant, firefighters practicing with fire hoses in park in the background – on Peralta Street
Peralta Street – Then and Now
Firemen holding fire hose in street next to
Gleason and Company building – Circa 1950s
at the corner of Magnolia and 34th Street

34th and Magnolia – Then and Now
Firemen holding fire hose in street next to Gleason and Company building
Circa 1950s – 34th and Magnolia
Across from the Gleason Company today
Firemen holding fire hose in street next to Gleason and Company building
Circa 1950s – 34th and Magnolia
Looking down Magnolia towards 34th St.
Circa 1950s
Looking down Magnolia towards 34th St.
Then and Now
Dog climbing ladder to get apple in front of Oakland Fire Department Fire Engine No. 22 – circa 1950s
Fireman jumping off ladder in front of Oakland Fire Department fire Engine no. 22

More on Royal E. Towns