Borax’ Smith Takes Over The red lines on this 1911 map depict the Alameda streetcar system under the aegis of the Oakland Traction Company, which was part of Francis Marion “Borax” Smith’s Key System. The black dotted lines show the Southern Pacific Railroad’s broad-guage tracks that would become part of the East Bay Electic Lines the year this map was created. East Bay Electric Lines carried the Big Reds. Note the absence of today’s Coast Guard Island at the word “Harbor.” The federal government did not create

Borax’ Smith Takes Over

Dennis Evanosky

Part two in a series

Streetcar service began here in 1875, when the Alameda, Oakland & Piedmont’s (AO&P) horsecar line first carried passengers through town from the Central Pacific Railroad Station at today’s Tilden Way and Lincoln Avenue.

AO&P created three more lines before selling out to AO&P Electric in 1892. This new service electrified Alameda’s streetcar lines before selling to Key Route-creator Francis Marion “Borax” Smith. (“Horse- Drawn Streetcars Once Plied Our Streets,” April 15).

Oakland Traction steps in

Smith purchased AO&P Electric on Jan. 28, 1897. The following year, he assigned the Alameda operations to the Oakland Traction Company (OTC), which transformed the streetcar system here to four lines: the High Street Loop, the High Street-San Jose Line, the No. 1 and the No. 9.

OTC converted all 3-foot, 6-inch wide tracks west of Park Street to standard gauge 4-foot, 8.5-inch wide tracks. This isolated the narrow-gauge High Street Loop

This line ran south on Park Street from Santa Clara Avenue, turned left on San Jose Avenue and traveled east to High Street. The streetcar turned left on High, right on Santa Clara and back to Park Street.

The High Street-San Jose Avenue Line carried passengers along San Jose from High to Ninth Street, where passengers could transfer to the No. 1 line for a ride to Oakland.

The No. 1 Line ran across the Webster Street Bridge to and from Oakland. It carried passengers into Alameda by running south on Webster Street, then east on Santa Clara Avenue to Park Street.

In Alameda by Rail, Grant Ute and Bruce Springer tell us that by late 1912, OTC had extended the standard-gauge Santa Clara Line from Park Street to High Street.

This spelled the end of the narrow-gauge High Street Loop. The line closed on Christmas Eve, 1912, and partially reopened as part of the No. 1 line on standard-gauge tracks two months later.

In 1920, the Key System replaced the streetcars on the line with smaller, lighter ones known as “one-man Birneys,” named for inventor Charles Birney.

Collision closes bridge

The ship Lancaster collided with the Webster Street Bridge on Jan. 5, 1926. This forced the No. 1 Line to use the Park Street Bridge for more than eight months.

The Key System closed this route when the Webster Street Bridge was removed and replaced by the Posey tube in 1928. “The replacement of the Webster Street Bridge by the Posey Tube doomed the No. 1 Line,” Ute and Singer write.

Residents hoped that the line would run through the tube to Oakland. However, Alfred Lundberg, president of the Key System, refused to spend $350,000 ($5 million in 2021) on paving and laying streetcar tracks through the tube.

The No. 9 Line

OTC converted Meetz’ 1886 horsecar line into Line No. 9, which traveled on Park Street from San Jose Avenue, across the Park Street Bridge to 23rd Avenue in Oakland (shown as “Park Avenue” on the map accompanying this story).

The line carried passengers east on today’s International Boulevard and east along 14th Street to San Pablo Avenue across from Oakland’s City Hall. .

Streetcar service ended in Alameda in 1928, when the Posey Tube blocked the No. 1 Line. That same year, a bus replaced the High Street-San Jose Avenue line, and authorities condemnation of the original Park Street Bridge ended the No. 9 Line and, with that streetcar service in Alameda.

In the next segment, the Alameda Sun will describe the Southern Pacific Railroad’s Big Reds. These trains began running in 1911 on the old Central Pacific Rail Road tracks on Lincoln Avenue and on Encinal Avenue tracks that once carried South Pacific Coast trains.

Oakland Wike Francis Marion “Borax” Smith already had Alameda connections when he purchased the streetcar lines here. In 1893, he built a borax refining plant at today’s Alameda Point (pictured above).