Railyard Becomes Jean Sweeney Park
In 1918, the City of Alameda invested some of the profits from its Municipal Lighting Plant into a railroad. The “belt line” — so called because it traveled around, rather than into a city — ran 1.16 miles along Clement Avenue from Pearl Street to Grand Street. It served the industrial zone that the city had recently created on its north shore along the Oakland Estuary. The railroad’s customers included Dow Pump & Diesel Engine Company at Oak Street and the newly minted Barnes & Tibbitts Shipyard that stretched along Clement from Chestnut Street to Grand Street.
In 1924 the City Council voted to extend the railroad to Sherman Street in order to serve the California Packing Corporation’s Del Monte warehouse and the Alaska Packers Association. On Dec. 15 of that same year, the city sold its railroad to the Western Pacific Railroad and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway for $30,000. Less than a month later, the new owners incorporated as the Alameda Belt Line (ABL). By the end of 1928, ABL had added 5.6 miles of tracks, including those in the railroad yard, today’s Jean Sweeney Open Space Park.
Bart Thurber and Liz Bogan tell us that during World War II, ABL kept pace with Alameda’s busy war effort, delivering up to 100 cars a day to the U.S. military and to supporting industries like Bethlehem Steel.
ABL served Alameda’s north shore for 70 years, closing on Nov. 10, 1998. The Union Pacific Railroad ran its trains along Clement Avenue for two more years to accommodate Pennzoil-Quaker State. In 2003, the late Jean Sweeney discovered a contract that required the railroad to sell the ABL property back to the city at 1924 prices, plus improvements. After winning a court fight, the city purchased the property that includes the railyard — today’s park — for $966,207. To honor Sweeney, the park bears her name today.