Negro League Baseball: San Pablo Park And The Berkeley Colored League

San Pablo Park

San Pablo Park

This is the story of San Pablo Park.

When we think of the Negro Leagues, we rarely consider how difficult it was to secure a park for league play. My friend, Bill Staples, sent me a zip file on the Oakland Pierce Giants, which was a tremendous gift of generosity. It actually placed some things in perspective for me. In it, there was a “Community” article, in the Oakland Tribune, dated December 26, 1975. It was called “Still Throwin’ ’em Out“, by Richard Spencer, of the Oakland Tribune’s Richmond Bureau. It was a grand article about the East Bay Area pitcher extraordinaire, Charles Rodgers Reid Sr. also know as Charlie Reid.

This story is not about Charlie Reid though. I promise I’ll get to him in another blog soon enough. I mentioned him in “Negro League Baseball: The Oakland Pierce Giants“, as one of the founding participants in the Berkeley Colored League. In the a article, “Sitll Throwin’ ’em Out”, Mr. Spencer happens to mention that Charlie “was an original member of the San Pablo Park Boys team in Berkeley, in 1914″.

BG-San Pablo Boys Win Over The Emeralds-3-15-1915

Berkeley Daily Gazette, March 15, 1915

The importance of this statement for me, validated a few articles I found concerning the development of San Pablo Park and the surrounding neighborhoods, which nurtured a community of baseball fanatics, through good times and bad times.

San Pablo Park Ad-San Fransico Call-11-28-1906-Page 5

Mason-McDuffie advertisement San Francisco Call, November 28, 1906

When I was a kid, there were two teams that everyone want to play for, based on their sponsorship.

One was Mason-McDuffie and the other was Golden State Mutual. It wasn’t until I became older that I understood the power that these two well established companies had when it came to financial support of teams they sponsored. Mason-McDuffie of course is a real estate company that has been around since 1887. The Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company was started by William Nickerson Jr. and was a black-owned and operated. If you want to understand how powerful the Mason-McDuffie ties are to the baseball community in the East Bay, Debbie DiMaggio, a distant cousin of Joe DiMaggio works for them selling luxury properties in the San Francisco Bay Area.

From the onset, in 1906, shortly after the 1906 Earthquake in San Francisco, there was a mass exodus from San Francisco to the East Bay. Oakland and Berkeley, which happened to be farm land for the most part, would soon be placed up for sale as residential areas, safe enough to raise large families and conduct day-to-day business. The East Bay became a safe haven for those who feared another major earthquake and subsequent firestorm in San Francisco. The farm land that stretched from the Carquinez Straits down to San Jose became prime property. 200,000 people made an exodus from San Francisco and only 50,000 ever returned.

San Francisco Earthquake 1906-Cropped

San Francisco 1906 Earthquake Damage

Perhaps you didn’t buy a San Pablo Park Lot because you had to have a house NOW. DON’T WAIT. WE’LL BUILD FOR YOU…”, said the advertisements, for the early tract homes of South Berkeley.

San Pablo Park Ad-San Fransico Call-12-2-1906-Page 44

Mason-McDuffie advertisement San Francisco Call, December 2, 1906

5 Bedroom Home- The “Swiss Chalet”-San Pablo Park Tract-1215 Ward Street

1907 “Swiss Chalet” type home built by Mason-McDuffie near San Pablo Park, located on Dohr Street

The real estate development of the San Pablo Park tract, initially ran all the way from Park Street to San Pablo Avenue, and beyond. It was a huge tract of land, that had to be advertised and sold in more than one phase.

San Pablo Park Ad-San Fransico Call-12-16-1906-Page 40

Mason-McDuffie advertisement San Francisco Call, December 16, 1906

Even though the San Pablo Park development offered a “park”, centrally located between phase one and phase two, the actual 15 acre ‘San Pablo Park’ that was advertised, was still only a dirt lot and and it would remain a dirt lot for years to come, until the land itself was donated to the City Of Berkeley by Mason-McDuffie in 1910. Many bond measures for the development of the park failed consistently between 1906 and 1912, and it would take a couple of more years before build-out action was taken, making land improvements for the park that was initially promised to the people of the San Pablo Park tracts.

Oakland Magante Hold Busines Meeting-San Pablo Park-12-28-1912-Page 8

San Francisco Call, December 28, 1912

In 1912, The Oakland Baseball Association leased the land at San Pablo Park for its own use, but no new developments ever came of it. It would be another year before the final decision was made to make the park a place beyond its ‘sandlot’ diamond status by the Berkeley Playground Commission. By 1913, park development got underway. A rough cut baseball diamond and a field house was built. The Berkeley Playground Commission of 1913, in its June minutes, included recommendations that “San Pablo Park be put in first class condition that it may be used at its earliest possible moment as a recreation center”. [1]

In an article from the Berkeley Daily Gazette, dated February 13, 1914, called, “San Pablo Park To Be Approved At Once“, the Berkeley City Council adopted and approved a plan to make San Pablo Park one of the most “approved” parks in the state of California. A.G Freeman, Chairman of the Berkeley Playground Commission, along with his Secretary, Mrs. W.H. Marston, presented detailed blueprints accompanied by colored maps of the future look of San Pablo Park, and the City Council voted unanimously, expenditures in excess of $20,000 extra to compliment the already existing $6,000 playground fund, with an extra $1,000 for planting of trees and shrubbery. [2]

Plans for the improvements of San Pablo Park were designed by Professor J.W.Gregg, of the landscaping and gardening department, of the College of Agriculture at the University of California at Berkeley. He had recently become an associate professor, and Cal Berkeley was one of the five colleges in the nation, at that time, that offered courses and a degree in Landscape Architecture and Floriculture design. San Pablo Park was in the hands of one of the best park designers in the nation.

By the 1930’s the neighborhoods surrounding San Pablo Park would become predominately African American, and would become the home field for all Negro League games played in the Berkeley and Oakland area. With two diamonds, league play was continuous years around, and both summer league and winter league flourished for many years in the East Bay. It was also the home field for the Berkeley High Yellow Jackets baseball team since its inception. Just recently, the Tim Moellering Field on Derby Street was constructed at a cost of $4.5 million dollars for the Berkeley High Yellow Jackets baseball team to play on, and the days of the BHS Yellow Jackets taking home field at San Pablo Park are no longer seen there. Yes, people in Berkeley take their baseball seriously. Yes, almost 100 years to the day, San Pablo Park has been replaced as the home field for the Berkeley High Yellow Jackets, which is hard to believe, based on the social dynamics that it created in the East Bay.

I stress this point because you’d have to know who some of the Berkeley High Yellow Jackets who played baseball at San Pablo Park.

1) Red Kress

2) James “Chick” Hafey

3) Augie Galan

4) Merv Connors

5) Billy Martin

6) Ruppert Jones

All of these men began their baseball careers at San Pablo Park. 98 years of collective baseball history has passed through San Pablo Park. Of course, there were many more baseball stars that found their way to San Pablo Park’s baseball diamonds; some of them during the era of Jim Crow, like Jim Tobin, and some of them well after. The development of the Berkeley Colored League brought the park recognition and prominence that extended beyond the East Bay area. As a matter of note, Chick Hafey, Charlie Reid and Jack LaLanne all grew up together on on Spauding Avenue in Berkeley, a few blocks from San Pablo Park, and they were all a part of each others lives during the early days of San Pablo Park’s notoriety.

The current home price for a home that is located near San Pablo Park, according to the most recent Zillow comparables, is $841,000 to $950,000, and they have not changed all that much since I was a kid playing baseball at San Pablo Park. San Pablo Park has a noble history, and it is one I hope to share with others while I blog about the Berkeley Colored League and their baseball exploits. To understand the history of West Coast Negro League baseball, especially that of Northern California. it’s important to understand the social dynamics of the people that lived there and built the history from the sandlot up.

San Pablo Park  plaque READ

San Pablo Park Historic Plaque

1) Five Views : An Ethnic Historic Site Survey of California.; The History Of Black America: Historic Sites: San Pablo Park, Berkeley, Alameda County

2) San Pablo Park To Be Approved At Once, Berkeley Daily Gazette, February 13, 1914, Page 1 cont. page 6

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2 thoughts on “Negro League Baseball: San Pablo Park And The Berkeley Colored League

  1. Pingback: Negro League Baseball: African American Baseball, History And Archaeology | The Shadow Ball Express

  2. Pingback: Negro League Baseball: The Reid Factor; Charles Rodgers “Iron Man” Reid-Part I | The Shadow Ball Express

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