The Waterfront Changes Hands
Horace Carpentier held onto Oakland's waterfront until 1868 when he sold
his control of the waterfront to the Central Pacific Railroad. His deal
with the railroad was a key element in persuading the railroad to choose
Oakland for the terminus of the transcontinental railroad. Carpentier
benefited handsomely from the deal but so did Oakland.
transcontinental railroad cut travel time between California and the
East Coast from 118 days to 6 days. The economic benefit for Oakland, at
the end of the rails, was enormous as travelers and freight flowed
through the city and its waterfront. Hotels, restaurants, barber shops,
drug stores and other services for travelers sprang up around the 7th
Street depot. Attracted by railroad jobs at the Central Pacific yards in
West Oakland and by business opportunities spurred by the flow of goods
and raw materials, legions of newcomers swelled the population of
Oakland which grew from 1,543 in 1860 to 34,555 in 1880.
The waterfront and the railroad were closely connected. Trains traveled
straight down 7th Street to the Long Wharf that jutted two miles out
into the Bay. The Long Wharf was a hub of shipping activity with acres
of cargo sheds and hundreds of longshore jobs. Carpentier's lucrative
ferry service now belonged to the railroad. By 1877, over 4 million
passengers a year were commuting on ferries between San Francisco and
The railroad's economic resources, including control of Oakland's
waterfront, gave it enormous political power in the city. And the
railroad used its power to make sure its own economic interests were
served, regardless of the impact on the public good. Competitors were
not tolerated. For example, in 1893, John L. Davie launched the "Nickel
Ferry" from the Franklin St. pier in an attempt to break the railroad
monopoly on ferry service to San Francisco. But the railroad had the
resources to win in a fare war and drove Davie out of business in a
couple of years. Political opposition was not tolerated. Newspaper
accounts tell of railroad workers marched to the voting booths to follow
their employer's instructions. City politicians were regularly described
as "railroad men" who voted against any measure that might curtail
The railroad's ruthless control fueled numerous attempts to oust them.
Opposition to the railroad usually met defeat. But by the end of the
century, the political forces of the Progressive Movement were
determined to break the power of Central Pacific's successor, the
Southern Pacific Railroad.
From Beth Bagwell, Oakland, The Story of a City
"Walk Along the Water"
© Oakland Museum of California, used with permission.