Brief History of the Point San Pablo Peninsula
Donald Bastin, Executive
Director, Richmond Museum of History
On New Year’s Day
of 1903, the Richmond Record Herald warmly touted the
impending construction of a belt line railway, along Richmond’s western
waterfront and around Point San Pablo, tying together “…the
dozens of factories and great system of docks which are projected
to entirely encircle the vast waterfront.” In ten years,
it was confidently predicted, the population of the little town
of Point Richmond would reach 40,000, and its future of this “magnificent
city” would “…exceed the expectations of the
most optimistic.” Bold words. And, all things considered,
not terribly unrealistic.
Indeed, within a few short years, the
northern portion of the western waterfront was home to many commercial
enterprises, including the Standard Oil Long Wharf, a whale oil
processing plant, an oil can factory (owned by Standard Oil)
at Point Orient, a brick factory (Central Brick, just beyond
Point San Pablo), two rock quarries (Blake Bros. and Healey & Tibbetts),
winery complete with worker housing, a hotel, and a school
(Winehaven), and, of course, at Point San Pablo a ship terminal
to handle all the cargo being produced at these enterprises.
In 1915, the area became even busier, with the opening, at Point
Castro, of the Richmond-San Rafael Ferry system. It seemed that
the early predictions of economic boom were to be proved correct.
by 1920, the summit had already been reached, and a slow commercial
decline set in, which has continued to the present day. Prohibition
was the death blow to the
winery, which struggled along for a
few years in the 1920s, selling grape juice and sacramental wine.
At the same time, the Healey & Tibbetts quarry, near
Point Molate, went under, as did the Central Brick Company.
can company at Point Orient was never very successful, and was
moved onto the refinery. Things picked up in the early 1940s,
when the Navy acquired Winehaven, and set up a fuel depot, using
the old winery housing for naval families. Around 1930, Captain
Clark, who had begun the Richmond-San Rafael Ferry, strung some
old hulks together, and created the Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor,
just beyond Point San Pablo. And between the Point and the harbor,
there sprang up some fish-processing plants, to handle the tons
of sardines brought in by Italian (and other) fishermen. The
failure of the sardine run killed this industry, and in its place,
in 1956, a whale-rendering plant was erected. In business for
15 years, it closed in 1971, when all whaling in the United States
In 1956, with the completion of the Richmond-San
Rafael Bridge, car-ferry service on San Francisco Bay came to
an end. For a time, the old ferry pier was used for recreational
fishing, but by the 1980s, due to lack of maintenance, the pier
was no longer usable.
For a time, some people were attracted
to the peninsula by the operation of some steam trains and cars,
run by a group of steam train buffs, using part of the old belt
line Railway. But the club moved their equipment to Niles, and
by the late 1980s, local residents had little reason to venture
out on Western Drive. Even the Navy was leaving, and by 1995, the
last family had moved out. By 2000, about the only draw was Point
San Pablo Yacht Harbor, which was (and is) still in operation,
and which provides boat access to the East Brother
Light Station, a bed and
breakfast facility on the National Register of Historic Places.
Point Molate Beach, once the site of a Chinese shrimp camp (which
operated until about 1912), had been turned into a city park,
but, due to lack of maintenance funding, has been closed for
the Point San Pablo Peninsula is a quiet place, and for most local
residents, quite unknown. Its 4.5 miles of waterfront (largely
unchanged from its 19th century configuration) await a new future
in a new world. Plans are afoot to create (perhaps) a casino out
of the old Winehaven
building (now also on the National Register).
No doubt there will be a struggle between those desiring residential
and commercial development and those preferring that the site remain
in its natural state, as park land. Whatever the outcome, the Point
San Pablo Peninsula represents one of the most beautiful and surprisingly
unspoiled segments of waterfront territory on the entire San Francisco
Bay, and its future deserves very careful consideration.
Point Molate Beach Recreational History:
learn about the recreational history of Point Molate Beach
from 1930 to 2013.