Creating the Oakland Estuary Turned Alameda from a Penisula to an Island

The dredge Olympian, pictured here by the High Street Bridge, pitched in to help clear the channel that became the Oakland Estuary.
Oakland History Room

Creating the Oakland Estuary Turned Alameda from a Penisula to an Island

Dennis Evanosky

On Sept. 15, 1902, Alameda began a three-day celebration to mark its new status as an Island City. Five weeks earlier, on Oct. 9, the San Francisco Bridge Co. announced that it had made its final cut through to San Leandro Bay.

The accomplishment marked the finish of a plan that the United States Army Corps of Engineers had put in place in 1874. The Corps began by surveying the land it planned to cut through to create the waterway.

In a story he wrote for the March 2019 Alameda Museum quarterly newsletter, historian Woody Minor described the property the Corps would carve through as “a treeless expanse bordered by marsh and traversed by Park Street and High Street, as well as train tracks at Fruitvale Avenue.”

The first order of business was settling with the owners who would lose their property to the project. That took some six years and $40,000 to complete. Everyone was paid with the exception of the largest landowner, A. A. Cohen. He sued to stop construction but lost.

Finally, in 1888, some 14 years after the Corps of Engineers surveyed the land, Congress awarded an additional $40,000 to begin cutting through the Earth. Alameda’s own Hermann Krusi won the contract, and his San Francisco Bridge Co. turned the first “spade” of Earth on Feb. 18, 1889.

Minor describes the scene: “A rail-mounted steam shovel broke ground at a point in a field of wild mustard near Fruitvale Avenue.”

Rain held up the project, flooding Krusi’s handiwork. His company lost thousands of dollars but Krusi stepped up and took the second part of the project, which involved cutting through Brickyard Slough on the eastern end of the cut. The marshland gave way easily to Krusi’s huge shovels.

Now it was time for the bridges. The first to appear was the Park Street Bridge, which was scheduled to open to traffic on Dec. 7, 1891. A worldwide financial crisis struck, and work stopped. The bridge did not open as scheduled.

Sewage from both Oakland and Alameda flowed into the channel and created a noxious mess. Work finally resumed in 1899.

The second bridge was built to accommodate traffic on High Street. It was scheduled to open in 1901, but, like the Park Street Bridge, ran into difficulties, and did not open. The Fruitvale Bridge opened to rail traffic in 1902.

Finally, contracts were awarded to complete the project. A dredge went to work on the west end of the channel, while the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific Co. got busy cutting and trimming its way through to San Leandro Bay.

“Once again, Krusi was in charge,” Minor said.

Krusi and his men used temporary dams to coax water through the channel. At last, on Aug. 7, 1902, Alameda was a peninsula no longer. As water from the San Leandro Bay met the water that Krusi’s men were holding back, they had created the Island City that we know today.

This called for a party, and for three days, from Sept. 13 to 15, Alameda celebrated with a water carnival. The bridge’s swung open and fireworks lit the night sky as boats lined up a made their way through Krusi’s creation.

Courtesy Oakland Heritage Alliance-Edgar Cohen took this photograph in 1899, three years before the San Francisco Bridge Company cut the Oakland Estuary through to San Leandro Bay. The people in the photograph are sitting on a footbridge that pedestrians used to take them to the small town of Melrose and its railroad station. The bridge was located east of today’s High Street Bridge. A channel marker warns boaters of the presence of the bridge pilings that remain below the surface.


Bette's picture

sounds like Krusi stole from Cohen if he didn't get paid.