The Point Richmond History Association
A Brief History of Point Richmond
by Donna Roselius
Before Our Time...
- Long before the industrious white man "discovered" Point
Richmond, Indians were enjoying the easy life of this area,
living off the bounty of the Bay and creating the shell mounds
that researchers have pondered and studied. Early in the
1800's, the Spanish settled here, and Point Richmond became
known as The Potrero (pastureland) of the huge Rancho San
Pablo owned by Don Francisco Castro. Point Stevens was the
next name applied to Point Richmond, appearing on charts of
the Bay in 1850. Shortly afterward, Rancho San Pablo was
divided among more than 100 land owners, who began developing
the towns that eventually emerged. A U.S. Government survey
party designated the point of land jutting into the Bay as
"Point Richmond". At that time, the point and hilly land
attached to it were an island. The waterway separating it from
the mainland was government-owned
Tewksbury Found a Gap and Filled It
- Jacob Tewksbury, M.D., who came to the Bay Area from
Argentina, owned much of the land now occupied by Chevron,
USA. He found that sewing up land was more profitable than
sewing up people. Though much of his acquired property was
marshland, the enterprising Tewksbury constructed levees
extending across the waterway, which began a silting process
that was assisted by the deepening of channels around Mare
Island. When the silt was sufficient to make the island
accessible by foot at low tide, Tewksbury petitioned the
government to have the waterway declared land, making it
available for private ownership.
Macdonald "Discovered" Point Richmond...
- In 1895, Augustin Macdonald, who was on a duck hunting
trip, took a hike up Nicholl Nob and "discovered" Point
Richmond. Noting the breathtaking beauty of the spot, he also
noticed the deep water off what we now call Ferry Point, and
recognized its potential as the westernmost terminus being
sought by Santa Fe Railway Company. And, on July 4, 1900,
Santa Fe's first Ferry, the "Ocean Wave" initiated service to
San Francisco from its Ferry Point Terminal by carrying a
large crowd of revelers over from San Francisco. Santa Fe's
tracks, leading through the tunnel to Ferry Point, provided
the first 'solid land' connection between Point Richmond and
the mainland. Mrs. Emily Tewksbury, who by 1901 was a wealthy
widow, made use of her husband's legacy by selling several
acres of his previously underwater land to Standard Oil
Company. Soon a fast growing refinery completed the closure of
a waterway that had served as a shortcut from San Francisco to
San Pablo Bay.
Booming Bustling Point Richmond...
- The boomtown, now officially part of the mainland town of
Richmond, grew faster than buildings could be built. Tents
provided temporary housing for Santa Fe and Standard Oil
workers while hastily constructed hotels and boarding houses
popped up from semi-solid land. The first really permanent
building was the Critchett Hotel, at the corner of West
Richmond and Washington Avenues (now the site of the Point
Richmond Market). When the Critchetts were settled, Mr.
Critchett considerately provided a way to get his wife
acquainted in her new community. He sent invitations to an
afternoon tea to wives of the men he had met here, assuming
that the women they had seen in the new town had accompanied
his fellow pioneers. Only one guest arrived, the wife of Lyman
Naugle, who was publisher and editor of the Point Richmond
Record Herald. She was the only other "lady" who had arrived.
Boarding houses, bars and bawdy houses were replacing the
tents, most of which blew away in the first winter's storms.
Insufficient fill on the flatland made streets spongy all
winter, and some of the first structures also blew off their
shaky foundations. Women who came to join their husbands found
it difficult to travel from their new abodes on foot, without
high top boots and skirts pulled up beyond usually allowed
By 1902, downtown Point Richmond was acquiring the
necessary amenities -- a fine bank building, opposite the
Critchett Hotel at 201 Washington (now "Sherry and Bob's")
clothing stores, grocery stores, a funeral parlor, a livery
stable. a drug store -- with new businesses opening in rapid
succession. Private residences began dotting the hillsides,
and Point Richmond took on the appearance of a settled
community. A large Opera House served as a center for
everything from church services to medicine shows to
legitimate opera. Bordellos, though still numerous, were
concentrated on Railroad Avenue, and saloons dotted the
downtown landscape. Some took on fanciful or sophisticated
names, as "The Louvre", "The Eagle's Nest", and "The Gilt
Edge Saloon". Established church buildings and reform
movements were a few years away.
Point Richmond in 1913
Botts and His Flying Machine
- The adventurous and enterprising nature of Point Richmond
pioneers was embodied by Professor R. H. Botts, who
established the "World's Aerial Navigation and Construction
Company of Point Richmond, California". Professor Botts
arrived here in 1900, announcing his intention to build two
steam-powered flying machines which would make aerial
expeditions to the North Pole. He built a model, and stirred
people's imaginations with photos of the model soaring above
Richmond. He convinced many local businessmen to buy shares,
and began construction. On January, 1903, the machine with its
"patented improved steam engine" was taken to the top of
Nicholl Nob in preparation for its maiden voyage the following
morning. But that night a storm blew in, forcing a premature
abbreviated flight, head-first down to Glenn Avenue, where it
landed in a heap. Botts' finances and his pride were in much
the same condition as his machine. He left town quickly, never
to know whether Botts and Point Richmond would have taken the
place of Wright Brothers and Kitty Hawk in history, but for
the forces of nature and the law of Murphy.
Bott's flying machine, superimposed over Point
- Demand for land was so great that buyers didn't wait for
the marshland to be filled. Poles with lot numbers on them
were stuck in the mud, and purchasers waited for their land to
appear. By 1905, the town was incorporated, and expanding
rapidly. Enthusiastic developers called Richmond "the
Pittsburgh of the West", predicting that it would become the
greatest port on the West Coast.
The First Park...
- Hard working pioneers needed recreation and relaxation.
Early on, a Mr. Loomis created a bayshore park, which later on
became Kozy Kove Resort. Loomis Park covered the beach area
west of Keller's Beach, and continued up the hill. In 1906,
after the Big Quake, many people came to the park just to sit
and watch in amazement the eerie glow of the fire following
the quake. Point Richmond received many refugees of the quake,
housing them in local church basements. By that time, there
were four churches, all of which are still standing, and all
essentially the same as when they were built. Kozy Kove soon
had bath houses and a dancing pavilion where bands played for
- Three brick companies were located in the Point. The red
clay soil in parts of the Point made bricks called "the famous
Richmond Reds". Largest, and latest to shut down, was the Los
Angeles Pressed Brick Company (later called the Richmond
Pressed Brick Company). Advertising the "finest fancy facing
bricks anywhere", they provided the original paving material
for the Bay bridges as well as many buildings in the area
including the old Palace Hotel in San Francisco. The company
operated until the late "60s, and bricks produced there can be
seen on many Point buildings.
Looking up Washington Avenue
The Chinese Shrimp Camp...
- Life in the Point became increasingly civilized, with
milliners, tailors, dressmakers, department stores, bakeries,
and even a candy maker. There were billiard halls, a bowling
alley, the Opera House and small theatres showing silent
movies. There were daily deliveries of milk, ice, and shrimp!
The Chinese Shrimp Camp near Point Molate exported dried
shrimp to China, and a man that kids referred to as "Shlimpy"
made a daily trek across the hills with huge buckets of fresh
shrimp on either end of a pole slung over his shoulders. He
was an impressive sight, his gait causing the buckets to
bounce up and down, alternately weighing him down and taking
him off the ground, as he delivered shrimp to waiting
Chinese Shrimp Camp, 1904
- Refinements were needed in the young town, so in 1908,
some ladies formed the Women's West Side Improvement Club. (It
is still active in the Point.) They established a library,
which eventually became a branch of the Richmond Public
Library; they provided improvements to the small park called
Janice Playlot, which had been sold to the City for a
one-dollar gold piece by the Baptist Church next door; and
they took on the project of providing public drinking
fountains. They eventually decided on just one large fountain,
to be erected at the apex of the downtown Triangle at Park
Place and Washington Avenue. After considerable research, they
selected a large fountain which could accommodate horses dogs
and humans. Ordered from J.L. Mott Iron Works in San
Francisco, it was unveiled in 1909, revealing an impressive
Indian statue atop the large fountain structure. The statue
presided over the business district until one night in 1943,
when a local truck driver, leaving one of the local bars,
backed into the fountain, knocking the statue to the ground.
This was in the midst of World War II, when every scrap of
metal was precious, and, as the story goes, city maintenance
crews picked up the pieces, which were used either for the
'war effort' or for local repair parts. The fountain sat
topless until, in 1984, local contributors funded a statue
created by sculptor Kirk St.Maur.
First Indian Statue
- The brick fortress at Point Molate was built by the
California Wine Association. It became "the largest winery in
the Universe", exporting wine to all parts of the world; even
furnishing France, when that country suffered a drought.
Winehaven was a popular spot. All visiting dignitaries were
given a tour of the winery. When the Prohibition Law passed,
all wine had to be disposed of. Tales of catching drunken fish
by hand may or may not be true, but certainly the Bay was
polluted in a way it has never been before or since, when
tanks of wine were poured out. Wine bottles, too, were
evidently thrown away, because glass 'pebbles' were collected
for years by beachcombers. The Navy eventually took over
Winehaven, making it a Naval Fuel Depot.
The Oil Well that Led to the Plunge...
- John Nicholl, who owned a preponderance of Point Richmond
land, was a promoter and entrepreneur who, in one case, found
himself on the receiving end of a promotion. Smooth-talking C.
L. Coffer came to town with his "Terrestrial Wave Detector".
The apparatus, tied around Coffer's waist, detected oil in the
Point Richmond hills. Choosing a spot at the base of the
hills, now the yard in front of the "Plunge", Coffer convinced
Nicholl to drill an oil well. Nicholl drilled, and drilled,
until he met solid rock. Unwilling to admit defeat, he pounded
through the rock while Point hills quivered. Eventually, he
struck an artesian well, yielding 1,000 gallons per minute.
This was capped off, and drilling continued for two more
years, reaching down over a thousand feet. Bleachers were
built around the fenced-in well, for spectators. In the
meantime, harbor and tunnel bonds were passed by voters, and a
tunnel through the hill allowing easier access to the Bay was
planned. Nicholl's well was in the path of the planned road,
but he refused to give up his project, which explains the
commodious triangular intersection at Garrard, Cutting and
West Richmond Avenues. Finally, in 1924, Nicholl gave up his
plot to the city for an indoor swimming pool -- the Richmond
Municipal Natatorium (The 'Plunge') -- which made use of the
artesian well water. The Municipal Tunnel increased Kozy
Kove's popularity, and led to the construction of a road to
Brickyard Cove. The resultant lagoon between the road and the
railroad tracks became a favorite "skinny dipping" spot for
local boys. Their fun came to an abrupt stop one day when they
saw returning cattle cars emptying their remains into the
A Little Reformation...
- Those who grew up in the Point in those early days
remember that Railroad Avenue was out-of-bounds. No 'decent'
woman walked that street, either. By 1913, complaints by
concerned citizens coincided with the passing of a State Red
Light Abatement Act, and the Railroad Avenue bordellos were
made illegal. Enforcement was convenient, since the jail
behind the Firehouse was close at hand.
World War I, and Prohibition...
- The First World War was at least partially responsible
for the numerous independent, active older women residing in
Point Richmond. It was a common practice during those years
for companies to send their representatives to local high
schools, to recruit girls prior to their graduation. With jobs
so available, many young women found a relatively easy path to
successful careers. During the Prohibition era, many of Point
Richmond's Italian families managed to continue their custom
of making their own wines, taking their equipment to basements
or enclosed garages. However, the fragrance could have easily
been detected, if an official came within smelling distance.
- During the 'Roaring '20s', it became popular to move to
the more exclusive area called Mira Vista hills, which was
farther away from the expanding Standard Oil refinery. And, in
the Great Depression of the '30s, lots and houses here could
be purchased by paying delinquent taxes. Even so, Point
Richmond fared better than some other areas, largely because
Standard Oil kept its employees by cutting back salaries
instead of firing employees.
Burst and Bust: World War II and Beyond...
- Realizing that Point Richmond was protected from smog and
odors by incoming sea breezes, people again began building
here. However, during the Second World War, Point Richmond
boomed beyond capacity. The Kaiser Shipyards brought in
workers from all over the country. Every available space was
used to house wartime workers. Local Washington School, built
to accommodate 350 students, bulged with 1500, attending in
shifts. All local schools were conducted in shifts; people
even slept in shifts, sharing apartments. Wartime housing
popped up almost overnight, covering the flatlands along Canal
Boulevard. Larger houses were divided into apartments. Local
businesses flourished with frenetic activity. After effects of
the war, however, were almost as devastating as a bomb blast.
Empty and worse-for-wear apartments, shops and schools, trying
to adjust to a 'normal' existence, brought a worn-out feeling
to the town. Some shop owners retired, leaving empty hulls
behind; some stayed, but felt no financial need to upgrade
their buildings or businesses.
Back to the Old, on with the New...
- Gradually, wartime housing was torn down, temporary
school rooms were removed, and a few new businesses moved in.
But Point Richmond seemed to be in a state of confusion during
the fifties and even into the sixties. Some older houses were
reconverted to single family dwellings, some became permanent
apartment houses, often with absentee landlords. The "sleepy
little village" was largely ignored in the growing
metropolitan area of the East Bay. But it was gradually
rediscovered by people searching for a peaceful place to live.
Once again, Point Richmond became an active, cohesive, yet
heterogeneous area. The wave of positive energy spread, and
Brickyard Cove was developed in the early '70s. A Regional
Park expanded from Keller's Beach to Ferry Point. New homes,
condominiums, shops and high-tech businesses have changed the
Point over the years. But, largely because residents valued
the historic nature of the Point, and worked toward its
inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, Point
Richmond retains much of its original charm
The author, Donna Roselius founded the Point Richmond
History Association in 1982. She now lives in Oregon and was
kind enough to update this history for us...we are grateful.
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