Around 400 C.E., people settled along the shores of a small peninsula that would someday become Alameda. Here in the Bay, fresh and salt water mixed producing a rich estuary. People living here found an abundance of oysters, clams, otters, fish, acorns, soaproot, grasshoppers, and rabbits. To encourage settlement of sparsely populated California, the Mexican government, who had gained control of the area, established the land grant system in 1829. Some of this land was given to Don Peralta, who then gave some of it, including what is now known as Alameda, to his son, Antonio Maria Peralta.
As the West was settled, newcomers brought with them ideas of amusement facilities they had enjoyed in the East. In the 1880s, the Alameda West End was known as one of the finest beach resort areas in Northern California. One of the most famous of these resorts was Neptune Beach. Visitors enjoyed prize-fights, professional baseball games, beauty contests, zoos, a carnival midway, and rides including the Whoopee Rollercoaster (which ran along what is now McKay Avenue.)
Click here to watch a short film about Historic Alameda/Neptune Beach by Andy Pagano
The pond was made to filter run-off from Webster Street and Central Avenues before draining into the Bay. Note the cement wall that helps to trap large items. The pond is now home to many animals such as mosquito fish, dragonflies, mallard ducks and seasonal nesting birds including red-winged blackbirds. This entire area has gone through some major physical changes in the last 250 years. In 1902, Alameda was transformed from a peninsula into an island. It was the largest dredging operation prior to the construction of the Panama Canal! Several landfill projects in the mid-1950’s added the South Shore area to the island and created what we know today as Robert Crown Memorial State Beach. Since 1850, Alameda’s size has more than doubled!
While Neptune Beach lay quiet after its closing in 1939, America’s attention turned to World War II and this land was purchased by the military. The U.S. Maritime Service Officer’s School was built here to train merchant engineer and deck officers to operate the Liberty Ships being built in the Kaiser shipyards in Alameda and Richmond. Each of the school’s 20 or so buildings was named after old clipper ships and the base’s main street after ship designer, Donald McKay. During the war years, 2000 men graduated per year. Two out of every 100 graduates died in the line of duty. The monument honors those men. The plaque to the left of the monument remembers “Blackie,” the base’s canine mascot.
The GSA building on the 2nd parcel of APN 74-1305-026 which was split on May 11, 2016 which is identified as APN 74-1305-026-2 was built on October 10, 1942 and the GSA building is listed under the Historical Building Study List as a historic resource distinguished by its architectural, historical, or environmental significance, eligible for inclusion in the State Historic Resources Inventory, and of secondary priority for inclusion on the list of Alameda Historical Monuments. Many of these are also eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Others would be eligible if design integrity were restored.
GSA World War II blueprints: Fire Sprinkler, Barracks, 1942 Plot Plan, Pole Line & Building Service, Academic Building, structural and a historic resource distinguished by its architectural, historical, or environmental significance.
During a 4-month intensive course at the U.S. Maritime Training Station, all officer candidates studied fire fighting, first aid, rescue, and small boat handling. There was once a boat dock where the rock jetty juts out into the Bay, with a classic “L” shape. Most of the other historic buildings on McKay Avenue are now occupied by federal agencies. The tree-lined Memory Lane at the beginning of this walk was also from the Maritime School days. The current Visitor Center was the U.S. Maritime Service Officer’s School “Red Cross Hall” for medical and dental needs.
In November 1966, the State of California joined with the City of Alameda and the East Bay Regional Park District in an agreement that would turn the park, plus two miles of Alameda’s beach front, over to the East Bay Regional Park District for management and development. In 1974, Alameda Memorial State Beach was renamed Crown Memorial State Beach after the late Robert W. Crown, a local resident and California State Assemblyman who supported creation of this shoreline park. Today, the Park District has over 40 miles of shoreline in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. Crown Beach is the largest swimming beach along San Francisco Bay.
In 1968, the Old Wharf Classroom was created with support from the Alameda Rotary Club and enables naturalists to educate thousands of school children about the ecology of San Francisco Bay. Hundreds of thousands of families and school children have learned the value of the San Francisco Bay through their experiences at Crab Cove. The Crab Cove Visitor Center was completed, and opened its doors to the public on July 4, 1980. Two years later, Crab Cove became the first Estuarine Marine Reserve in California. This is a protected area for wildlife, so please remember to take only photographs and leave only footprints! Fin fishing by hook-and-line is permitted with a CA fishing license.
Watch a film and learn more about the Officer Training Program