The North End: “Butchertown”

November 2, 2012
By

Richard Ambro is a historian who has lived in the North End of Emeryville for more than 26 years. His goal is to preserve atleast some of the mature trees, historic homes, and general character of the neighborhood. This article is the first in a series about the history and evolution of the North End. Ambro holds a PhD in archaeology and anthropology from UC Berkeley.

First in a Series

What is a neighborhood?

A neighborhood is a geographically localized community within a larger city, town or suburb. Neighborhoods are generally defined as specific geographic areas as well as a set of social networks. They are the personal settings and situations where residents seek to realize or share common values, raise children, and maintain effective social control. (Wikipedia).

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The 64th Street neighborhood where I live is a block-wide (east-west) strip sandwiched between the Oakland border at Vallejo Street and the former light industrial district west of Doyle Street, in the NE corner of Emeryville. This neighborhood has a long and interesting history.  It was originally an outlier of the area once known as Butchertown – the meat packing district established in the late 19th century, on the west side of the Southern Pacific railroad tracks at 65th Street.  Our neighborhood was where many of the Butchertown workers lived, within easy walking distance of their jobs.

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Map of Butchertown and Northwest Emeryville in 1903: Note location of 65th Street, San Pablo Avenue, and shoreline; Map re-oriented so that North points up. (CLICK ON ALL PHOTOS TO ENLARGE.)

Butchertown had its origins in the Gold Rush. John Allen Peabody was among the first who came looking for gold. Arriving in 1851, Peabody was a sailor who built a small wharf on the bayshore of what is now Emeryville. By 1857, he had a warehouse adjacent to the wharf, and a trail, known as Peabody Lane, went from the warehouse to San Pablo Avenue. Today, a tiny stretch of Peabody Lane remains, a dead-end behind a small group of historic houses on the north side of Ocean Avenue.

 

The transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869 and terminated in Oakland.  In about 1878, the Northern Railroad, a subsidiary of the Central Pacific Railroad (later Southern Pacific) built a line along the bayshore in Emeryville, prompting the stockyards and slaughter houses to move from downtown Oakland to the area where 65th Street crosses the tracks.

Butchertown boomed between 1880 and 1930, growing into a collection of stockyards, slaughterhouses, meatpackers, tanneries, rendering plants, bone fertilizer plants, glue factories, and animal corrals and pens on both sides of the tracks between Bay and Overland streets, from Folger Street north to 60th Street.  The western edge of Butchertown along Bay Street was actually on pilings over the bay, allowing the animal wastes and who knows what else to wash away with the tide.  Warm weather made the air fetid with the smell of manure, blood, bones, and decay.  It is no wonder that while local trains stopped at 65th Street (formerly Dalton Avenue) – the Stockyards Station – mainline passenger trains roared past without slowing.

Butchertown employees, many of Italian and Portuguese descent, included slaughterers, weighers, boneyard workers, tanners, hog and sheep tenders, drivers, carpenters, cooks, waiters, clerks, teamsters, salesmen, and sausage and soap makers.  Many were single men, either seasonal or long-term workers who lived at nearby hotels, like the Golden Gate Hotel or similar rooming houses, despite the noise and smell.  The permanent workers with families lived further east, closer to Hollis Street and all the way to San Pablo Avenue.  Some built or purchased homes for their families.  When Emeryville incorporated in 1896, breaking away from Oakland, Butchertown went with it.

1890 view of Butchertown looking northwest toward Dalton Street [65th Street). Feed lots, animal sheds and barns, cattle, and the Golden Gate Hotel (windmill) on the west side of the railroad tracks at Dalton. (California Photo Views).

Butchertown looking North in 1914: Note sheep in foreground, left; railroad tracks, and wharf jutting into bay in upper left corner (Emeryville Historical Society).

The eastern part of Butchertown was still largely undeveloped in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and retained a rural charm.  In the 1920s, Edwin V. Warren ran a dairy at 1294 65th Street. His children played in the pens with the animals, with the houses along the south side of Ocean Avenue visible in the background.

The Edwin V. Warren Children in the 1920s at their father’s dairy at 1294 65th Street; view looks south toward houses on the south side of Ocean Avenue at Doyle Street.

But soon the Great Depression hit, and one by one the Butchertown businesses closed, leaving lots of unemployed workers. World War II briefly increased the demand for meat, but many of the remaining feed lots were taken over by the military for storage and vehicles.

After the war, Interstate 80 was constructed on fill 1,000 feet west of the original shoreline, stopping the tidal flushing of Butchertown and trapping the stagnant waters.  These areas were gradually filled in, increasing the area of Emeryville. These filled-in areas were soon developed by heavy industry like Grove Valve and Ryerson Steel. Those and others, like Andrews Lumber and the LaCoste Meat Company, remained into the 1980s. Through this transition, some of the old Butchertown businesses remained, or remade themselves.

North End resident Betty Rodoni said that in 1944, her family – long-time residents of Butchertown – moved to a house at 1298 65th Street where her father built a restaurant and bar in front called Rodoni’s 6500 Club.  The bar and restaurant were an immediate success, and workers from the nearby factories flocked there after work. When I moved to 64th Street around 1986, Rodoni’s 6500 Club bar and restaurant was still open (where Café Aquarius is now), but finally closed in 2002.  The private Italian Fratellanza Club is still operating at  1140 66th Street, just over the Oakland border.

(To comment, or to read the comments of others, click on the headline to go to the story page, then scroll to the bottom.)

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9 Responses to The North End: “Butchertown”

  1. Scott Donahue on November 3, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    Grove Valve and Ryerson steel are east of the tracks. Does this mean that the tracks were built originally in tidal marsh? And at a later time further out on the bay was the freeway also built in this way?

    • Richard Ambro on November 4, 2012 at 6:47 pm

      Scott,
      The train tracks and its right of way were generally east of the high tide shoreline in the 19th Century, but actually a bit farther inland (east) in the area of Butchertown. So, no, with some exceptions, it was not built on tidal marsh, but certainly would have required fill and track ballast to stabilize it and raise it above the ground surface and storm surges. Filling in of the bay to the west of the shoreline in Butchertown probably included both soils and large amounts of animal wastes from the stockyards and slaughter houses. That stuff is still there, waiting for some poor excavator and supervising archaeologist to find it again! In SF, I have seen 10-15+ feet of horse manure from stables used as fill in the Fisherman’s Wharf area.

      You are correct that the freeway (Hwy 80) was built in the mid-20th century on fill dumped into the shallows of the bay and tidal marshes off shore – isolating islands of wet areas/ open water, creating “ponds” which were later filled in. Although Aquatic Park is among the remnants of those isolated ponds. There are similar ponds west of the Bayshore Freeway in SF, near the SF Airport.

      Thanks for asking.

  2. Shirley Enomoto on November 3, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    I hope Richard Ambro’s articles become a regular feature!

  3. Paul Herzoff on November 3, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    Fine article, thanks Richard! Wonderful summary of the development of the area. Longterm could you fill it in with facts about the effect of the 1906 earthquake on East Bay meat packers? Also I recall a story about a local cowboy who had a crew that herded cattle from the Berkeley station along the tracks to the feedlots near 65th. Apparently Emeryville didn’t have a station platform suitable for trainloads of steers. Thanks again for such a useful addition to the Secret News.

  4. Anonymous on November 4, 2012 at 10:34 pm

    And it was once all wetlands — all the way to San Pablo. Check out the Newletter from E-ville historic society. Great stuff.

  5. Svante Rödegård on November 11, 2012 at 4:05 am

    Its all in the Book about Emeryville. And also in all the Monthly Newsletters from the Emeryville Historic Sociaty.
    See also the large photos on the walls at the AMC parking garage, ground level, and other walls on other floors.

    The Shellmound Park etc. … the Shellmound where now The Bay Street Shopping Center stands — 300 feet long and 50 to 100 feet high. It became the -paint pigment factory that then contaminated the ground so badly it could not be properly excavated before the Shopping Center was built and coverrd over the area. See the minimal memorial at the corner of Shellmound and the Old Navy store.

    Very good to bring up the very interesting history about Emeryville. Don’t forget Mr. Emery and the Oakland Oaks Baseball Park. Small memorial plaque on Park, on the fence, on the side of Pixar’s parking.

  6. Richard Ambro on November 12, 2012 at 1:18 am

    You are quite right… it is all in the articles and book about Emeryville by the Emeryville Historical Society. Unfortunately, the Blog format precluded use of citations and bibliography. My sources included articles by Tony Molatore, Don Hausler, Richard Ambro, and the Arcadia book about Emeryville.

    You are also correct about the Emeryville Shellmound, Oakland Oaks Baseball Park and their memorial public memorials. I know that the marker for the ball park was there but recently had a hard time locating it… it is likely ignored or overlooked by the public it was intended to inform,

    There is so much interesting history about our town that deserves to be memorialized… for example, there should be a marker for Butchertown.. say at the location of the Golden Gate Hotel on that sliver of land next to the RR tracks on 65th St. or elsewhere in the vicinity, and perhaps one for Peabody’s Wharf. I certainly have long wanted to see an historical marker somewhere along Shellmound Street near Trader Joe’s, commemorating the location of Vicente Peralta’s corrals and matanza [slaughtering] area, where, in the 1840s, William Heath Davis camped at the Embarcadero de Temescal [Temescal Landing] and was awakened by a grizzly bear (attracted by the offal) snuffling around his tent. Vicente Peralta’s vaqueros used to ride down and lasso said bears for sport! Vicente Peralta used to own all the land where Emeryville and much of north Oakland stand today.

    Also, there should be some kind of marker commemorating the contributions of the Chinese who labored on construction of the railroad in the 1860s and were present as agricultural workers locally and apparently at Butchertown later on. Pixar sits atop where, in the 1920s, Chinese lotteries and at least one Chinese restaurant were located on the north side of Park Avenue. It also sits atop where the old Del Monte Cannery, and the original location of the Joseph Emery Mansion once stood… all of which deserve historical markers, not just the ball park.

    The old Oakland Trotting Club (later the New California Jockey Club) racetrack was built in the late 1860s and once straddled what is today Hollis Street, from the late 1869s to 1911. It is doubly significant because Afro-American jockeys were a common sight at the track at the turn of the century. No historical markers commemorate these significant themes or many others. Only the Oakland Oaks Baseball Park is so commemorated.

    It is also to be regretted that the Emeryville Historical Society has consistently refused to put up exhibits about Emeryville, in Emeryville. Instead, they always preferred to use the History Room at the Fourteenth Street Oakland Public Library for this purpose. Copies of old photographs with labels inside the Oaks Club and at the Bay Street Movie Theater just aren’t enough.

    Emeryville, it’s citizens, and it’s History deserve better!

    Richard Ambro

    • pat on December 21, 2012 at 7:00 pm

      Really enjoyed the history lesson. We have an extensive collection of issues of the Emeryville Historical Society’s quarterly magazine on our book shelf to be browsed by any and all when visiting us. Well done!!

  7. Barry Kibler on December 14, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    Edwin V.warren was my uncle and was also THE BIRDMAN OF TREADWELL
    Read the book THE BIRDMAN OF TREADWELL go to page by page designs for info. Edwin was a gold miner in Alaska in 1903-1904. attended Stanford 1904-1908. This is the actual diary written in his own words as he worked at the Treadwell Gold Mine on Douglas Island Alaska The Treadwell was the worlds largest gold mine and the reason Juneau came into existance. 200 miners were killed in the mine Edwin came close to death several times himself, there wsere 2000 men working at the Treadwell in its hayday.

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