If it’s a Sunday between the hours of 9 am and 1 pm in 2015 (or thereabout), you are surrounded by the sights, sounds, and feels of the bustling Temescal Farmer’s Market. Isn’t it lovely? On any other day, you’re standing in a parking lot for the Department of Motor Vehicles. If it was between the years of 1877 and 1890, however, you would be standing on the grounds of the Lusk Cannery, one of the largest fruit and vegetable packing factories in the world at this time. Behind the cannery stood a substantial industrial compound comprising a blacksmith, stables, and men’s and women’s dormitories for hundreds of employees. Today, most of the canneries have been repurposed into loft apartments or warehouse spaces. Then, however, the presence of a cannery would have seemed commonplace. For the fertility of its fields and the bounty of its yields, California was known around the 19th century world as the “promised land.” With the terminus of the transcontinental railroad conveniently located in its heart, Oakland became the site of many late 19th century canneries. You may recall Jack London’s words about working in an Oakland canning factory as a teenager in the 1880’s:
"I have worked in that hell-hole for thirty-six straight hours, at a machine, and I was only a child…I knew no horse in the City of Oakland that worked the hours I worked."
Conditions were grim. Safety measures were largely non-existent. Limbs were lost. Workers’ rights were not a consideration. But the country had better tasting canned fruit than ever before.
Directly under the DMV runs the Temescal Creek, around which several populations have organized their livelihood for over 2,500 years. The first of these of record were the dozens of small, politically independent communities of Ohlone-speaking people, who are believed to have lived in the area since ~500 BCE. By the mid 1800’s, however, mostly due to European-borne diseases, the native population had been reduced in numbers by three-quarters, and in dignity by having little option but to work for low wages on Spanish missions.
In 1836, Vicente Peralta moved into a modest, forty-by-forty foot adobe dwelling one thousand feet from the DMV on his father’s Spanish land grant. While his dwelling may have been modest, the size of his father’s land grant was not. In 1820, the King of Spain, then ruler of Mexico, had granted Luis María Peralta, Vicente’s father, all the land that is now Oakland, Piedmont, Berkeley, Emeryville, Alameda, Albany and part of San Leandro combined. Luis María Peralta, who had been a loyal member of the Spanish-Mexican army, was the first person of European descent to settle here. His son Vicente would be the last person to lead this part of California in the name of Mexico. By the late 1800’s, Oakland had been an incorporated city of the United States for decades, and the creek was a popular location for American boys and men alike to fish.
It was the Gold Rush of 1849 that caused the area’s first sudden population boom and led to its incorporation into the United States of America. As the area swelled with daring gold-seekers from New England and all over the world, few gave any regard for pre-existing and established residents like the Peraltas (who, to be fair, had given hardly any regard for the pre-existing and established residents before them). The Spanish and Mexican rancho families and missionaries had been living there so long at this point, however, their uniquely Californian culture and identity had born them a name, the Californios. Nevertheless, in typical early American fashion, a handful of American gentlemen wasted no time in planning the city they would call Oakland, a translation from the Spanish name Encinal, which means oak grove. These men, Horace Carpentier, Edson Adams, and Alfred Burrell forged ahead with their designs assuming the US leaders in the East would work out a deal with the Spanish-Mexican land grant holders, which the US leaders eventually did. Oakland became an incorporated city of the United States in 1852 under Horace Carpentier’s governance.
Temescal, however, remained unincorporated until 1897, at which time they voted to become part of Oakland City for better police coverage and improved public schools.