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From Temescal Creek to Emeryville: An Ecological and Social History

Historical Essay

by Jason Budge, 2015

Native Peoples of the Central California Coast.jpg

Map from A Gathering of Voices: The Native Peoples of the Central California Coast

Once the site of a Chochenyo fishing town, present-day Emeryville and North Oakland evolved through a series of identities as ranchland, slaughterhouse district, industrial area, center of entertainment and vice, destination for sailors and soldiers, and an area that welcomed queer culture. The oldest continuously operating gay bar in the country, since 1933, the White Horse Bar, is located here.

Temescal Creek was an important ecological feature of the East Bay, as it provided a source of freshwater for those who lived along it. The area surrounding Temescal Creek in the San Francisco East Bay’s present day Oakland was once populated by the Chochenyo-speaking people, an ethnic group within the larger California Ohlone indigenous peoples.(1) When the Spanish missionaries arrived in 1776, they brought diseases, Western labor practices, and cattle ranching. Much of what is now known as Richmond, Berkeley, and Oakland was once Rancho San Antonio, miles of ranchland for cattle herds(2) who roamed the picturesque hills and valleys of the South and East Bay regions. Ranching was just one of the many land uses of settlers obliterating traditional subsistence practices of the native peoples.(3) As San Francisco began to develop to the west after the Gold Rush, the East Bay continued to act as a land of ranches. Soon the open space surrounding Temescal Creek began to shrink as the City of Oakland expanded to the south and a new university was developed to the north. The mouth of the creek that opened into the bay, once the site of a Chochenyo fishing town, eventually became known as Emeryville.

Emeryville emerged as the principal slaughtering center for all the cattle raised in the East Bay, and developed into a port city to ship out all the beef that was being processed. It was widely known in the 19th and 20th centuries for its intolerable stench of slaughtered cattle.(4) Because of its industrial, working-class character (reminiscent of Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle) and its busy port that brought in all kinds of folks, Emeryville grew into a city full of gambling houses, horse tracks, brothels, and bars.(5) So infamous was Emeryville’s vice businesses that Chief Justice and former Governor of California Earl Warren is rumored to have called Emeryville the “rottenest city on the Pacific coast.”(6) Just to the east of Emeryville in today’s Golden Gate neighborhood, in the 1880s and 1890s a new settlement called Klinknerville was devised by a wily German rubber stamp industrialist.(7) Klinknerville was eventually absorbed into the City of Oakland but the culture of vice from Emeryville had seeped into Klinknerville’s character. East Bay historian Don Hausler has recorded over fifty bars that operated in the then newly-named Golden Gate neighborhood.(8)

The area surrounding Temescal Creek, in fact, was an incredibly popular region for all forms of entertainment. While Emeryville and Klinknerville were home to all sorts of illicit and immoral activities, this region was also home to two amusement parks. Emeryville hosted the Shellmound Park, an amusement park built atop the enormous Ohlone shellmound there.(9) In the late 1990s this area drew attention for the Emeryville Redevelopment Agency’s plans to construct a mall on top of the newly uncovered shellmound. To the east in the modern day Temescal neighborhood was Idora Park, an amusement park at the end of the Oakland trolley line. It featured “roller coasters, a zoo, a skating rink, an amphitheater and an opera house”.(10) Both parks eventually closed due to the passage of prohibition legislation and, in the case of Idora Park, the rise of the automobile and the subsequent decline of trolley use.(11)

The Bushrod neighborhood is where the White Horse Bar is located, an unassuming white building that might easily be passed over as part of the city scenery but for the sign of a white horse and rainbow flag hanging outside the entrance. Bushrod is situated between the City of Oakland to the south, the University of California, Berkeley, to the north, and Emeryville and the Golden Gate neighborhood to the west. The bar at the southwest corner of Telegraph and 66th was officially established in 1933, but rumor has it that the White Horse was in operation before 1933 as a speakeasy during the prohibition era. The opening of the White Horse in the Bushrod neighborhood fits well with the Temescal Creek region’s reputation for vice, immorality, and entertainment. While it is not clear when the White Horse first began to attract a queer clientele, a history of the bar written by David Olson suggests that a quiet but noticeably queer clientele had emerged by the 1940s and 50s.(12)

Queer historians Gerard Koskovich(13) and Nan Alamilla Boyd(14) assert that vice districts that served working class neighborhoods and port hubs were often centers of early queer activity. Sexual degeneracy and deviance found their home in the immorality and debauchery of these vice districts, where alcohol, sex, and gambling were its principal industries. Vice districts typically served single men who were workers in the local industries or were sailors stopping briefly in a nearby port. Located near the industrial and maritime activities of Emeryville, the White Horse likely catered to this population of single working men.

WWII was also incredibly significant in the development of the queer community in the San Francisco Bay Area. Thousands of gay soldiers were dishonorably discharged from the army and settled in the Bay Area in order to avoid persecution at home. These new gay residents formed a distinct culture and community here and after settling in the Tenderloin and along Polk Street in San Francisco, eventually formed the gayborhood now famously known around the world as the Castro.(15) Although not enough research has been done on East Bay queer history, it is likely that many of these gay GIs also settled in the East Bay and began patronizing the White Horse.

Notes

1. Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, “Historical Overview,” Tribal History, (accessed May 9, 2015).
2. Office of Historic Preservation, “Rancho San Antonio (Peralta Grant),” (accessed May 9, 2015).
3. Phillip Dreyfus, Our Better Nature: Environment and the Making of San Francisco (Oklahoma City: University of Oklahoma Press, 2009), 23-25.
4. Brad Stone, “A City That Shopped Till It Dropped,” New York Times, 20 Dec 2008, (accessed April 14, 2015).
5. Kelly Vance, “E’ville Ways,” East Bay Express, (accessed April 14, 2015).
6. Ibid.
7. Ryan Phillips, “Stop here, this is the place: Klinkerville,” Oakland North, (accessed April 15, 2015).
8. Oakland North History Series, “Golden Gate,” Oakland North, (accessed April 15, 2015).
9. Cassie McFadden, “An Amusing East Bay History,” East Bay Express, (accessed April 14, 2015).
10. Ibid.
11. Oakland Wiki, “Idora Park,” (accessed April 12, 2015).
12. David Olson, “Sanctuary: The inside story of the nation’s second oldest gay bar, Berkeley’s White Horse Inn,” Gay Bears: The Hidden History of the Berkeley Campus, (accessed April 3, 2015).
13. Gerard Koskovich, talk for ShapingSF, "A History of LGTBQ Spaces… Where you Least Expect Them," ShapingSF, (accessed February 13, 2015).
14. Nan Alamilla Boyd, “‘Homos Invade S.F.!’”, in Creating a Place for Ourselves: Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community History, ed. Brett Beemyn, (New York, NY: Routledge, 1997), 71-95.
15. Chris Carlsson, “The Castro: The Rise of a Gay Community,” FoundSF, (accessed April 20, 2015).