Rockridge Shopping Center quarry

51stquarry.jpg

Halfway up Broadway, where it crosses 51st Street/Pleasant Valley Avenue, there used to be the big Bilger quarry. The Oakland Paving Company mined a body of traprock (mapped as Franciscan quartz diorite, a near-basalt), crushed it, and shipped it out via a rail spur that crossed Broadway at 42nd Street and curved toward the former depot at 41st and Shafter streets (you can see the trace in Google Maps). This is what’s left. I’m standing at the very edge of the Catholic cemetery overlooking the Rockridge Shopping Center. Beyond it is a remnant of the original hill where California College of the Arts sits. It was a family estate before it became a school; perhaps they couldn’t stand the quarry operations and decided to give the place away. Still, the views from there are very nice, and the old quarry walls beautifully display the sandstone that adjoins the traprock as well as the faulted contact between them. Click the photo for a bigger version.

The old pit holds water from the Rockridge Branch of Glen Echo Creek after it traverses the Claremont Country Club golf course. A glory hole at the other end carries the overflow into a culvert that runs down the west side of Broadway, daylighted in two small places (by the new Kaiser parking structure and along Brook Street) before it joins Glen Echo Creek proper just north of 30th Street. The photo below shows where the creek joins the pit. I think the little waterfall on the left must be drainage from the country club grounds. It’s still pretty, and both are seasonal hidden treasures. The creek is barely visible from the other side—you have to stand by that little promontory at the front corner of the Longs store.

51stquarryfalls.jpg

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31 Responses to “Rockridge Shopping Center quarry”

  1. Ken Clark Says:

    I pulled up your pic of that gloryhole, you know, that thing is kind of scary, they have one on a large pond near eastern kansas city, but they have a large domed grating over the top. I know the risk is small if a person is smart enough to stay away from them, but then, McDonalds has to warn people that the coffee is served hot.

  2. V Smoothe Says:

    I never knew this. I just stumbled on this blog recently, and I have to say that I absolutely love it. Keep up the great work.

  3. merideth Says:

    That is so cool. Every time we go to that Long’s I wonder what that big hole was.

  4. peter Says:

    great , the views from there are very nice, and the old quarry walls beautifully display

  5. chris Says:

    thanks! i have always been fascinated by this old quarry when i go to long’s. do you know what the walkway in the middle of the water is for? is this very deep or not so much? do you know if the restaurant on the edge that has been closed for at least 4 years is closed because of building safety, eg some sort of erosion at the edge? just things i’ve wondered.

  6. Andrew Says:

    Chris, I don’t know about the operations of the quarry’s lake, but last week EBMUD was doing some work. The lake is drawn down a few meters and workers were probing the wet soil in the Gilbert/Pleasant Valley intersection on the corner farthest from the quarry. I think the culvert is leaky. But maybe EBMUD can answer your questions. The restaurant was Emil Villa’s, and they just went out of business. I think their style of ribs went out of style, but surely others more knowledgeable than I know better.

  7. rob Says:

    i thought the creek running thru the country club was a fork of Temescal creek, no? or is glen echo creek just an alternate name for it?

    [Rob, see the watershed map here]

  8. Kevin Says:

    I have always wondered if this quarry had a rail spur accessing it. The angular parking lot at the old diner at 42 and Broadway seems to be part of an old right of way that extends between this quarry and the old streetcar and rail complex in the vicinity of Yerba Buena, Adeline and San Pablo. Odd angular boxy speculative housing structures (cheap cement block apartments) now fill this curvilinear corridor.

    [Kevin, I refer to that rail line in my post. There was a depot at 41st and Shafter, where the new condos are, and the line went on west between 40th and 41st toward the Oakland moles and ferry wharves.]

  9. Jenn Says:

    I just came across your website. It’s GREAT! fyi, the former owners of the present-day CCA campus once operated a coal mine over by Livermore: http://teslacoalmines.netfirms.com/Tesla.html Geology is everywhere! Something tells me they gave up the estate because the mine bankrupt them, although I’m sure having the quarry as a neighbor wasn’t so pleasant either.

  10. reenie Says:

    Have you read Robins History of Rockridge? It’s wonderful…. spent days tripping around looking at historical sites. you’re doing a neat thing here.

    i was actually olooking for information on the Estate that was converted for The Claremont Country Club (The golf Club down on Bway Terrace) Was is Horatio Livermore?

    [Reenie, I’m sure the out-of-print History of Oakland goes into that, but I haven’t found a copy and an update hasn’t been published.]

  11. Omar Says:

    Andrew: I’m doing some work/research in the shopping center for an engineering firm. I’m specifically looking for some historical or geological data for this quarry. This site seem to be a few of the hits Google came up with. You won’t happen to know of other resources that I can look into?

    [Omar, I don’t have any ideas that an engineering firm wouldn’t routinely have on its checklist. Maybe EBMUD? —Andrew]

  12. Omar Says:

    We’re just trying to obtain as much info as possible on the old quarry. Trying to determine the extent of the site and history of the quarry, more specifically how much of the material that was quarried currently sits underneath the exiting shopping center (fill material). Thanks, I will start with EBMUD or city of Oakland.

  13. suzanne Says:

    Omar, you may like to look in the Oakland History Room, upstairs in the main library on 14th. The card file is a good place to start, and Steve the librarian is amazing if he is still there.

  14. Victoria Says:

    Is the glory hole visible? I would like to see that!

    [It’s not as exciting as the one shown in the link: just a square of concrete with some steel stuff around it. It’s right next to the new CSAA building.]

  15. Naomi Schiff Says:

    Steve has moved to another Oakland library, but the current librarians are excellent and will help.

  16. George S. Says:

    (A little off topic perhaps; if so, my apologies.)

    You refer to “a rail spur that crossed Broadway at 42nd Street and curved toward the former depot at 41st and Shafter streets (you can see the trace in Google Maps).” I’m not at all convinced that the rail spur from the quarry had anything to do with the Sacramento and Northern lines or depot. From the traces it left on the lot lines in the Google maps, it seems to have cut straight across Shafter and continued on toward the Bay. The traces are pretty clear to a little west of Telegraph, disappear for a few blocks, reappear around West St., curve south at Linden St., and disappear near San Pablo and Adeline. I think there was once an AT&SF track on Adeline.

    Do you happen to know when the quarry and its rail spur were last in operation? I’d love to know if the rail spur actually crossed the S&N track(s) on Shafter while both were active.

    [There are two places you can research this further (perhaps you already know them): the nice set of street maps at teczno.com/old-oakland and the online set of successive USGS topo maps at Cal Berkeley’s Earth Sciences Library.]

  17. alan simpson Says:

    A little late here, I just found this site… In answer to Omar, the shopping center site was faily level to begin with, requiring no cut & fill to speak of. This writer, as a boy, “mined” guppies from small depressions, the entire area being rocky, with poor drainage. There was a major excavation at the Broadway corner of the property, solid rock mounds that required the use of dinamite, which then became the vault of the bank on the corner.

  18. Adam on Shafter Says:

    Anyone ever managed to go fishing in the old quarry pond? Every time I pass by it I wonder what (if anything) lurks in its depths…and it looks like it’s pretty deep!

  19. alan simpson Says:

    Adam, the water has looked the same, dark and foreboding, since at least the late 40’s, the fence even at that time was topped with barbed wire, and us kids would have rather fished at the “Three Lakes” in the cemetary anyway.

  20. Bev Chernoff Says:

    My great-grandfather use to work at Bilger Quarry. Infact his home was a boarding house for some of the workers. Is there a place where I can find names of men who worked there? He lived on 43rd and the men that lived in the home all were from Italy. I am doing some family history right now and want to get more information.

  21. jjlasne Says:

    Thank you for the info. Everytime I went to that shopping center, I wondered about that reservoir which definitely looks like a former quarry and went to look at the water. It is tough to get a good sense of it from the parking lot. I also wonder about that bridge crossing the water. And also what kind of fish might be leaving in there. As for the former estate, here is the entry from Wikipedia: “In 1922, the school moved to a new, permanent campus on the former James Treadwell estate in Oakland located just east of the intersection of College Avenue and Broadway where it remains today.”

  22. Ross Says:

    Wednesday 11/21/2012
    A yet unidiified man that resided above that ol’e rock quarry was out searching for his kitty-cat, and somehow fell, 100 ft. down into the quarry lake.
    Rescue workers later recovered his body summerged under 30 ft.

  23. Jeff Says:

    I’m also curious about that rail connection to the quarry. The right of way that crosses Broadway at 42nd was acquired for a Key System route that was planned to run all the way to San Jose – but from all I can find no tracks were ever laid on the section from the Yerba Buena junction through to Arroyo (where a short section was in service up to Oakland Ave). But I have seen several references to a narrow gauge steam line serving the quarry, but have yet to see any trace of it on a map, or any old photos. Anybody have any clues?

  24. John R. Says:

    The 1877 map at Old Oakland (link above) shows the quarry but no right-of-way. The 1912 map shows a rail line passing the quarry and running between 41st and 42nd Streets to Linden Street, where it curves down to Yerba Buena Avenue and the mole.

  25. Andrew Says:

    I think that there is doubt about what I asserted in the post. We know that rail lines ran past the quarry; we know that quarries may ship their products via rail; but those two things do not establish that the Bilger Quarry actually used rail to ship its goods. Photos would help.

  26. sunnymorning2006@yahoo.com Says:

    Andrew, photographic evidence does exist in the form of Google Maps. A long gone right of way is still visible in the existing properties and buildings: Look at the corner of Telegraph and 41st, and take a sweeping curve to beyond the corner of 42nd and Broadway. The Map views is easy to identify this line of buildings, and the satellite view confirms it. Of course this is not proof of an actual spur line, but it does show the right of way to the quarry.

    Jeff, The Key System route ran along 40th st. to Broadway, through a cut to Howe, then curved up to 41st and Piedmont Ave to the terminal that still stands on that corner, thence north on Piedmont Ave to Brandon, and on to Arroyo. I grew up in that neighborhood, and well remember placing pennies on the tracks at Brandon St to be flattened by the train many times, and consumed many donuts sold through the window at the north corner of the terminal on Piedmont Ave! I’d ride the E train to the City and could peer down at the bay waters through the tracks if I sat at the very front of the train.

  27. Jeff Allen Says:

    Hi Sunnymorning,
    I’m glad to see this question about rail service to the quarry is still getting some air! You’ve probably noticed they recently painted over the mural on the Piedmont Ave terminal – very sad!
    I’ve found the property maps showing the right of way acquired by the Key system for the “San Jose Line,” proposed in 1900 and abandoned in 1910 (never built). Here’s a contemporary newspaper account with a diagram that clearly follows the trace of odd-shaped and disjointed vintage buildings that now fill that strip.
    http://www.bayarearailfan.org/photogal/displayimage.php?album=3&pid=52#top_display_media
    The Key line that branched off at the bottom of the grade on Arroyo and terminated at Oakland Ave. on Latham used a portion of that right of way.
    What I haven’t been able to find are references to rail service to the quarry before that proposed San Jose line. I hypothesize that if there WAS a line that served the quarry, that right of way would have been one very sensible place to have put it, and perhaps the Key System used an existing roadbed for that portion of their alignment. I have found references to the proposal for the line along 41st being driven by the crowded conditions of the lines along 40th.
    Incidentally, I teach at a middle school in that neighborhood and have been taking kids on walking tours – inspired and informed by Andrew – and they are fascinated by the “ghost” right of way and the Bilger Quarry pit, and the open mystery of whether there might be a connection between the two.

  28. sunnymorning2006@yahoo.com Says:

    Jeff, I hadn’t been aware of a mural on the key terminal, as that apparently happened much later. I remember that terminal being in service, so no mural would have been permitted in that period.

    I have lots of memories of the area going back to WWll, long before the shopping center and Emil Villas. Even at that time, there was no physical evidence of a spur track on the Bilger property to my recollection. One very good source you may try is the main branch of the Oakland Public library, where you will find many photographs of Rockridge at the turn of the century.

  29. George S. Says:

    There’s more about the mural here: http://blog.ouroakland.net/2014/12/key-route-plaza-mural-is-gone.html

  30. George S. Says:

    Jeff Allen, thank you for that link to the 1906 article about the proposed line to San Jose!

    The 1912 map…
    http://imgzoom.cdlib.org/Fullscreen.ics?ark=ark:/13030/kt2m3nd0z2/z1&&brand=calisphere
    … shows a rail line apparently running along Yerba Buena Ave., then between 41st and 42nd Streets, then past the general area of the quarry, then through Piedmont to the Glenview District. Where the line crosses Park Boulevard, either the rail line itself or the street along which it runs is marked “Key Route” on the map. The line appears to terminate at Sausal Creek in the Dimond District. It matches pretty well what the Chron article calls the “new line to San Jose”.

    I still haven’t figured out when (or if) this line was ever actually in Key Route service. It sounds possible that the Key System took over the western part of the right of way at some point after the Bilger Quarry was done with it.

    Some of the houses on 41st street between Telegraph and Webster seem to date from around 1920. I don’t know if they were built with an active rail line in their back yards (and the right-of-way later divided up and sold to its neighbors) or if it was the removal of the rail line that made those properties available for building on.

  31. George S. Says:

    Well, I finally read the 1906 Chron article and it seems to answer some of my questions. The article mentions that the Key System had been buying the land where the line was going to run. It doesn’t mention that there had been any rails there before, so it’s starting to sounds a bit doubtful that a line from the Bilger quarry followed that route.

    The 1877 map shows a quarry at the Bilger location but no rail lines anywhere nearby. Apparently the quarry was able to operate without rail transport for at least part of its life, perhaps for all of it.

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