Oakland: History

Spaniards Settle Area, Followed by Hunters, Loggers

The first inhabitants of present-day Oakland were the Costanoans, peaceful tribes known for their basket making and the success of their hunting and gathering way of life.

In 1772 an expedition came from Spain, led by Lieutenant Pedro Fages and Father Crespi, who camped along Lake Merritt. In 1820 Don Luis Maria Peralta received a large land grant, which included the area that is now Oakland, from the Spanish crown in recognition of his soldiering career. Don Luis never lived on his ranch, but divided the land among four of his sons who settled and operated ranches in the area. At that time, the territory was governed by the Republic of Mexico, which had become independent of Spain in 1821.

In the 1840s hunters and loggers came to the area, followed by adventurers traveling to the gold fields. Some stayed and built squatter shacks on the Peralta land, creating several small settlements which later became part of Oakland.

In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo officially ceded California to the U.S., and two years later California became the thirty-first state in the Union. Regulation of land deeds became the responsibility of the new state government. The Peraltas presented their claim to the Federal Land Commission in 1852.

Railroad Spurs Growth

In 1850 Edson Adams, Horace Carpentier, and Andrew Moon had settled on land near the present foot of Broadway. They planned a town, sold lots, and secretly rushed "An Act to Incorporate the Town of Oakland" to the State Legislature. The city, which was named for the groves of lovely oaks that grew along the hills, was granted a charter on May 4, 1852, about the same time that ferry service to San Francisco was initiated. It became an incorporated city with an elected mayor and council two years later. During this period the Peralta land case continued through the American legal system. By the time the land claim was finally confirmed in 1877, the Peraltas had sold most of their property to pay legal fees and taxes.

The completion of the Southern Pacific railroad line in 1869 transformed Oakland, which had been chosen as the terminus of the transcontinental railroad, into an important part of the Metropolitan Bay Area, second only to San Francisco. For the next several decades the railroad controlled the city's political and economic life. The railroad also stimulated economic development and the creation of an electric street car system which spurred rapid population and territorial growth.

Originally, the area of the city was quite small, but annexations in 1872, 1891, 1897, and finally in 1910 brought the city to its present size. Along with the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, which resulted in a sizable number of new residents in-migrating, Oakland experienced a rapid rise in population that reached over 150,000 people by 1910 and continued its growth through World War II. By the 1920s Oakland had become the core city of the East Bay, the Alameda County seat, and a rival to San Francisco for leadership in the Bay Area as a whole.

Oakland experienced great losses from the 1989 Loma Preita earthquake, which caused the upper deck of the Nimitz freeway in West Oakland to collapse, killing 41 people. The earthquake also caused part of the San Francisco Bay Bridge to fall down on the Oakland side, and a number of buildings in the business district and residential areas suffered severe damage. In 1991 Oakland was struck by a firestorm, which burned more than 3,000 homes to the ground, killed 25 people, and accrued $1.5 billion in damage. The fire remains one of the most damaging firestorms in the history of the state.

By the end of the 1980s, Oakland was the sixth largest city in the state with a highly diverse and integrated population of more than 350,000 residents. Population growth continued into the 1990s, when Oakland began to experience an increasing vitality. In 1998 former California Governor and presidential candidate Jerry Brown was overwhelmingly elected mayor of Oakland. Brown has brought sweeping change to the city, ranging from fixing potholes to increasing the size of the police force to forcing the resignations of entrenched managers and department heads, and encouraging business development in the city. In March 2004, Oakland voters approved a measure which affirmed the "strong mayor" system by altering the city charter to give the mayor chief executive power rather than the city manager as had been the case.

As the city entered the new millennium, it was faced with mounting challenges of crime, and school and housing problems. In 2003 the state of California took over control of the financially strapped Oakland Unified School District and appointed a State Administrator to oversee the district's operations. While property values soared in Oakland and surrounding areas in the early part of the new millennium, the challenge became lack of affordable housing necessary to attract new residents to the city. Mayor Jerry Brown's 10K Downtown Housing Initiative was developed to attract 10,000 new residents to downtown Oakland by encouraging the development of subsidized housing units. By 2005 more than 5,100 units towards the goal of 6,000 had been built.

Historical Information: Oakland History Room, Oakland Public Library, 125 14th Street, Oakland, CA 94612; telephone (510)238-3222