Emeryville is a small city located in Alameda County, California, in the United States. It is located in a corridor between the cities of Berkeley and Oakland, extending to the shore of San Francisco Bay. Its proximity to San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, the University of California, Berkeley, and Silicon Valley has been a catalyst for recent economic growth. It is home to Pixar Animation Studios, Peet's Coffee & Tea, and Jamba Juice. In addition, several well known biotech and software companies have made their home in Emeryville: Electronic Arts' Maxis Software division, LeapFrog, Sendmail, MobiTV, Novartis (formerly Chiron before April 2006), and BigFix (now IBM). The population was 10,080 as of 2010, although it swells considerably on weekdays due to the city's position as a regional employment center. Emeryville has some features of an edge city; however, it is located within the inner urban core of the Oakland/greater East Bay (San Francisco Bay Area), and was heavily industrialized before the First World War.
Before the colonization of the area by Spain in 1776, this area was the site of extensive native American settlements. Mudflats rich with clams and rocky areas with oysters, plus fishing, hunting, and acorns from the local oak trees provided a rich and easily exploited food source for the residents, who disposed of their clam and oyster shells in a single place, over time creating a huge mound, the Emeryville Shellmound.
During the Spanish and Mexican eras, Emeryville was the site of a small wharf near the mouth of Temescal Creek adjacent to the shellmound. The wharf served the Peralta family's Rancho San Antonio, and was used for loading the principal produce of the ranch—cattle hides—onto lighters, and subsequently transferring them to ships, including New England-bound schooners.
Emeryville's first post office opened in 1884.
The Town of Emeryville was incorporated December 2, 1896. It was named after Joseph Stickney Emery who came during the Gold Rush and acquired large tracts of land in what became known as "Emery's". In 1884, Emery was president of a narrow-gauge railroad called the California and Nevada Railroad. The railroad originally intended to extend from Oakland, through Emery's (at the time, just an unincorporated settlement along the bayshore) and then east across the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the gold mining town of Bodie, California. From Bodie the railroad would extend east through Nevada to a connection with the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. Despite its grandiose intentions, the railroad only built from Oakland to Orinda and its right-of-way was sold to the Santa Fe Railway. The Santa Fe then constructed a rail yard and passenger depot below San Pablo between 41st Street and Yerba Buena Avenue. Although located in Emeryville, the depot, which opened in 1902, was called "Oakland".
The Key System, a local transit company, acquired the general offices of the California and Nevada as well as their nascent pier into San Francisco Bay, which was quickly transformed into a long pier reaching nearly to Yerba Buena Island. The Key System established its main rail yard adjacent to the yard of the Santa Fe in a large tract west of San Pablo Avenue in the vicinity of Yerba Buena Avenue (so named because the island was visible in line with the thoroughfare). The Key System's main power plant, used to energize its streetcars and commuter trains, was constructed adjacent to the city limits with Oakland. The immense smokestack was a local landmark for decades, surviving right through the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. It was demolished for safety reasons shortly thereafter. The old Key System mainline to the pier, and later, to the Bay Bridge, ran in a subway below Beach Street and the Southern Pacific mainline near the power plant. That subway survives and is today used as a private entrance to the main sewage treatment plant of East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD, the water utility serving Oakland and many surrounding cities). The rail yards and shops of the Key System and Santa Fe were acquired by Santa Fe's real estate development arm, later known as the Catellus Development Corporation, and this firm proceeded with the development which is today, a sprawling shopping center and multiunit residential district.
In the late 19th century, a large park was built around the shellmound. The park included two dance pavilions, one of which stood atop the shellmound. A trotting park (the Oakland Trotting Park) was built nearby at the junction of the Berkeley Branch line with the mainline of the Southern Pacific. On February 22, 1920 the first dog race track to employ an imitation rabbit opened in Emeryville.
Emeryville used to be as well known for its gambling houses and bordellos as it was for its booming industrial sector; then Alameda County district attorney, later California governor and then Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren once famously called it "the rottenest city on the Pacific Coast". During the Depression, Emeryville was jammed with speakeasies, racetracks and brothels and became known as a somewhat lawless center for entertainment. The popular local restaurant The Townhouse is one such trace, a location that once was a speakeasy during Prohibition. Today, this tradition is carried on to a degree by the Oaks Room Card Club, a legal gambling establishment on San Pablo Avenue.
Emeryville was the site of Oaks Park, the home turf of the Pacific Coast League's Oakland Oaks. The ballpark was located on the block bounded by San Pablo, 45th Street and Park Street (the fourth side was Watts Street). The site is now partly an empty, fenced-off lot, and overlapped by Pixar Studios. Pixar's main gate (on Park Street) lies directly on the old segment of Watts Street. The stadium did not front directly on San Pablo where a strip of various small commercial buildings stood, now replaced by a single one-story commercial building with several chain businesses.
During World War II, Emeryville was the southern terminus of the Shipyard Railway, a specially constructed electric rail line operated by the Key System to transport workers to the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond. The station was located on the west side of San Pablo Avenue on the Key's yard property. The tracks led out to San Pablo Avenue where they were merged into existing streetcar tracks.
From the late 19th into the early 20th century, Emeryville's development as an industrial city grew. Besides the meat-packing plants, other industries were added. Among these were the Judson Iron Works and the Sherwin-Williams paint company. From 1939 until the 1970s, a massive animated neon sign showing a can of red paint tilting, spilling, and covering a globe of the earth, with the slogan "We Cover the Earth" sat on the roof of the plant's main building, a familiar sight to eastbound motorists on the Bay Bridge. It was also once the location of Shell Development, the research arm of Shell Oil Company, which relocated in 1972 to Houston, Texas. A large scrap metal yard (part of the Judson Iron Works) was visible from the Eastshore Freeway for decades until the early 1970s. Also visible, a large facility of the Pacific Intermountain Express (PIE) trucking firm. A heavy truck manufacturing division of what was formerly IH (International-Harvester Company, later Navistar) was located in Emeryville. One of its more popular models in the late 1950s and early 1960s became commonly and affectionately known as "Emeryvilles".
By the late 1960s, industries were beginning to move away from Emeryville and the appearance of the city seriously declined. This began to change in the mid 1970s starting with the development of the marina section of Emeryville. By the 1980s, a large shopping area began to take shape north and south of the Powell Street corridor. Additionally, the Chiron Corporation (now Novartis), a major biotechnology company, established its headquarters just south of the old junction of the SP mainline tracks and the old Berkeley branchline (Shellmound Junction) at the end of Stanford Avenue, the site of the old Shellmound trotting course.
Following the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989, a new Amtrak depot was built in Emeryville to replace the old 16th Street Station in West Oakland, which had been deteriorating even before it was seriously damaged by the quake. The Emeryville station serves Amtrak's California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, San Joaquin, and Capitol Corridor trains. The California Zephyr originates here with service daily to Chicago, Illinois via Salt Lake City, Utah and Denver, Colorado. Buses link the station with San Francisco.
By the 1990s, the old Santa Fe and Key System yards tracts were transformed into a large shopping and residential area, as was the Shellmound corridor. Development of these areas included major roadwork, with the extension of 40th Street, including the construction of a large overpass across the Southern Pacific (now Union Pacific) railroad tracks which connected 40th Street to an extension of Shellmound Street, creating a single thoroughfare linking two sections of the new Emeryville. On the northern stretch of Shellmound Street, the Emery Marketplace and a movie multiplex were built. In 2007, the western end of Yerba Buena Avenue was linked with the northern end of the Mandela Parkway, creating a new through route between Emeryville and West Oakland.
In 2001, the city contracted developer Madison Marquette to build a new shopping center, the Bay Street Shopping Center, on the former site of an Ohlone village and burial ground, which by that point was occupied by a defunct paint factory. Madison Marquette developers worked with archaeologists and Ohlone tribe representatives in order to leave the human remains undisturbed. Some remains were reburied at an undisclosed location on the site. At the mall, there are pictures of the Shellmound, but no mention of the burial grounds. According to an Ohlone rep, the knowledge would make people uncomfortable shopping there.