San Leandro is a bedroom suburb to the south of Oakland. I grew up in Castro Valley, which is a bedroom suburb of San Leandro. While growing up, I viewed San Leandro as a place to go to the mall (Bayfair), the drive-in movies, and fine dining (Pring’s…RIP). When Gail and I rode to SL to check out its history, I had my eyes opened.
We had three spots on the agenda for San Leandro: the San Leandro Oyster Beds (Historical Landmark # 824), Rancho San Antonio (Historical Landmark # 246), and the Estudillo Home (Historical Landmark # 279). The first stop was the Oyster Beds.
A word of advice to others that hope to find these Historical Landmarks: make sure that you know where the bloody thing is supposed to be and then be a little creative when it isn’t there. I violated rule #1 but redeemed myself by applying Rule #2.
I knew that the San Leandro Oyster Beds marker was supposed to be in the San Leandro Marina. I also knew that I grew up in Castro Valley which means that I, by definition, knew how to locate any particular point of interest in Alameda County. Gail was skeptical but I was confident. After quickly finding the San Leandro Marina, we took a few spins up and down the main road, expecting to see some sort of sign pointing toward the Historical Landmark. No such luck. I finally gave in and called our directional consultant (Avery), who told us how to find North Dike Road, the alleged location of the Historical Landmark.
If you sense a note of skepticism, that is because Gail and I did a little research while at lunch at the Oakland Grill (i.e., we took out our book). Given the inconsistent placement and lack of existence of Historical Markers, we wanted to know if the ride to San Leandro was justified or not. If we were just going to ride down to San Leandro and not see any markers, then we were going to blow it off. San Leandro is a nice town and all but we wanted tangible results.
What did the book tell us:
- Not all Historical Landmarks have markers (duh!).
- Not all Historical Landmarks are created equal.
We saw that each of the Historical Landmarks in San Leandro in fact had markers, so we were good to go. We found North Dike Road and rode to the south end, which is where the marker is supposed to be. What we saw was a bunch of guys fishing, a large parking lot, and a really great mosaic showing men scooping oysters out of San Francisco Bay. What we didn’t see was a marker. We walked around the mosaic. We walked past the fishermen. Nothing. I wanted to at least look at the mosaic for a bit and when I was staring at it, I noticed an area that was slightly discolored. Looking closer, I saw that there were four large holes at the corners of the discolored section. Ah Ha! The marker had been yanked out of the mosaic (probably by a group of local history buffs looking for a souvenir from their visit to the Oyster Beds).
It seems that the Oyster Beds were quite the industry for San Leandro. The San Francisco Bay was the single most important fishery in California during the 1890s and San Leandro was a big part of this. Moses Wicks is alleged to have brought seed oysters around the horn and plant them in San Leandro. Unfortunately, pollution in San Francisco Bay killed off the oyster biz after 1911. The water must be much cleaner now, given the number of fishermen at the San Leandro Marina. I sure hope so.
From the Marina, we headed off to find the site of Rancho San Antonio (the Peralta Grant). For those that are following along, earlier in the day our first “Landmark” was the Camino of Rancho San Antonio. Well, San Leandro was the south end of the land grant, which extended to Berkeley and El Cerrito. This Historical Landmark was very impressive. San Leandro had a very nice park with statuary, monuments and more plaques than you could shake a stick at. After the Oyster Beds, this was a vast improvement and we were very pleased with ourselves and with the city fathers (and mothers) of San Leandro.
We headed out for the last Historical Landmark on our list (the Estudillo Home). It turns out that I didn’t do a very good job of identifying the landmarks in San Leandro: we missed one (The Peralta Home (Historical Landmark # 285). Don’t worry, we will visit it another time. After getting a little lost (we discovered that West Estudillo is not the same as Estudillo), we finally found this place. Jose Joaquin Estudillo was the grantee of Rancho San Leandro. The Historical Landmark is the site of their last home (built around 1850). He and his wife founded San Leandro, built a hotel, and donated a bunch of land to the City. The marker is at the site of St. Leander’s Church, a very beautiful structure at the bottom of West Estudillo Ave., right across from the San Leandro BART station.
Even though Gail was ready to leave, I noticed an informative sign in front of St. Leander’s Church. Aside from all of the Historical Landmarks in San Leandro, it turns out that San Leandro was at one time a thriving industrial city. It is the original home of Caterpillar, Inc. and the California Packing Company (which became the Del Monte company). It also had a Dodge manufacturing plant and a Friden calculator manufacturing facility. Most of this stuff is now gone, having been replaced over the past 30 years by retail and small manufacturing.
Gail finally dragged me onto BART and we headed back to Richmond. It was quite a day and really helped me get a better grasp on how northern Alameda County and southern Contra Costa County evolved. I can hardly wait until we get to visit the wineries!
For more photos, visit my Picasa site.