Alameda Celebrates Rebirth as ‘Island City’

These illustrations, perhaps appropriate and stylish for the time, accompanied an article and advertisements in the Encinal. The depictions of policemen in the image at left may have meant to discourage drunken revelers and “roughs” known to frequent Alameda’s bayside resorts and multiple drinking establishments.

Alameda Celebrates Rebirth as ‘Island City’

On an auspicious date in Alameda history often overlooked, Aug. 8, 1902, at 7:30 a.m., the Alameda peninsula was detached from the mainland after decades of engineering work. “The city attained to insular importance ... this morning, when the dredger spooned a breach in the narrow strip which separated the canal waters from the tidal basin of San Leandro Bay,” reported The Daily Evening Encinal newspaper.

The new man-made waterway stretched roughly from today’s Park Street Bridge to the High Street Bridge. Its original purpose, an ill-designed tide-powered dredging system, had proved impractical. Yet the project stumbled forward ostensibly to aid in industrial shipping along the estuary.

First to cruise through the breach were Miss Louisa Daul representing Oakland and Miss Naomi Blake rep-resenting Alameda. Also on board was a singular news reporter who gave three cheers for Alameda and tossed his hat in the air.

The Encinal, now under editor George W. Weeks, had carried updates on the progress of the tidal canal for years. Weeks honored two people with the canal’s completion in an article titled “Honor to Whom Honor is Due” on that fateful date. He credited Dr. John T. McLean who tirelessly appealed to U.S. Congress for support and Frederick K. Krauth, “Pioneer editor of the Encinal, whose hopes until the end of his career of good works centered in the completion of this undertaking.”

Weeks played a key role in promoting and planning a water carnival celebration of the new Island City set for Sept. 15, 16 and 17. The event promised to be “Absolutely Unique and Unparalleled” according to advertising. The event’s primary feature, a boat parade through the new canal attracted the attention and involvement of thousands of Alamedans.

At the very least, consider the outpouring of support shown for candidates for “Queen of the Water Carnival” coordinated through the newspaper. Winner Tot Decker and her runners-up each received thousands of votes. There didn’t seem to be a limit to how many times someone could vote since a ballot could be obtained simply by cutting out a designated corner of the newspaper writing your chosen candidate’s name on it and placing it in a box at the Encinal office and various other locations in town including a couple of cigar stores.

Riding alongside King Neptune in the yacht parade, Decker took her role as Queen quite seriously. Her proclamation, published Sept. 9, 1902, started by greeting the faithful subjects of the Island Kingdom. “It is ... our sovereign pleasure that we observe the lavish preparations for the prodigal feast of enjoyment at the fete to be celebrated on the shores of our Dominion ... our justly lauded Isle, wherein dwell peace and contentment.”

Decker went ahead and issued an edict commanding “... the following named unregenerate and unworthy vassals be forthwith banished from our wide domains ... under pain of the rack, excommunication, or fire, sword or water, without benefit of clergy ...” The vassals turn out to be: melancholy, strife and bickering, selfishness and gossip.

“It is our solemn will and pleasure that the Great Gates of our Island Dominion be thrown wide to Gaiety, Joy, Revelry and Happiness, and that hospitalities be accorded to these without stint from the hearts of the faithful,” she wrote in closing and signed, “Tot I, Queen of Alameda and Empress of Bay Farm Island.”

Among the dignitaries who attended the historic celebration were the eventual Governor of California, Republican candidate, George C. Pardee and San Francisco’s new mayor Eugene Schmitz. The public enjoyed carnival games and food in tents and viewing stands near the Park Street Bridge which had been extensively decorated along with the rest of the street.

“The decorations on Park Street are crimson, green and gold and the arrangement is very effective,” the Encinal stated.

Eric J. Kos is a historian who has contributed to a number of titles including Lost San Francisco and Bay Farm Island: A Hidden History of Alameda.