What we had before AC Transit busses: the future?

The only constant in life is change.

How did Oakland look before Government Motors (aka GM) and Standard Oil (aka Chevron/Exxon/Texaco…) had their way with it?  And will we ever get it back?  Other US cities have gotten their mojo back — Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix and Charlotte to name a few.  Others are working on it — Detroit, Atlanta stand out in my mind.  Oakland can’t seem to get its transit act together although we DID have it together at one point.  Take a look after the jump.

Here’s a shot of today’s Sear’s and 20th Street “bus stop row” aka Thomas Berkeley Street between Broadway and Telegraph Ave, looking East.  Click below to see how 20th Street used to be.  (Hint: no bare Sears windows and blank walls!)

Here’s how 20th Street looked in the 1910s-20s. The building housed HC Capwell, a department store with awnings that remind me of the SF Ferry Building on Saturday mornings, or perhaps Crocker Galleria on Thursday afternoons.  The streetcar looks like SF’s F-line MUNI street trolleys.  And speaking of Capwell, there are still 19th Street BART doors-to-nowhere with Capwell written on them.

  • “The H.C. Capwell flagship store (now a flagship Sears store) is located at Broadway and 20th Streets in downtown Oakland and opened in August 1929. The landmark structure suffered minor structural damage during the 1989 earthquake and was closed for repairs, but reopened early 1990. It had been a landmark shopping destination for East Bay residents for decades. Emporium closed its doors in February 1996 and, in March, Sears assumed possession.”
  • Yes, change is constant.  H.C. Capwell and Emporium merged in 1979, then after 1991 were parted out to — or out-competed by — Bloomingdale’s, The Limited Group, Nordstrom, Sears, Dillards, Mervyn’s, Macy’s, etc.  As you all well know, US retail chains have been falling like dead leaves since the 1990s.  This really all started in the 1970s which was the peak of American economic power (not to mention domestic OIL PRODUCTION, heh); we’re just seeing more chains collapse or be eaten every year now.  Montgomery Ward, KMart, Linens n Things, Circuit City, Barnes and Noble, Washington Mutual… all the infrastructure of American CONSUMPTION is sinking.  “In Debt We Trust.”
  • Forest City connection: FC built TheUptown apartments by HC Capwell’s former flagship store, now Sears.  FC also co-redeveloped the old Emporium of Emporium-Capwell fame, now known as Westfield Shopping Centre on Market in San Francisco.

You can see more historical photos here courtesy AC Transit.

There’s plenty of “blame” to go around for why this all disappeared.  In the modern day, thanks to a former AC Director’s free Belgian junkets, we received jerkier Van Hool hoop rides.  Certainly, earlier blame can be placed with having a gutless Metro planning organization, or greedy car and oil companies. With any luck though, we’ll soon have Bus Rapid Transit, which makes for faster and RELIABLE 1-R service.  And once BRT proves itself we might later install Light Rail streetcar trolleys in Oakland once again.  That’s my pipe dream, anyway.  Highly unlikely to happen without private donors.

Or if not streetcars, then turn Oakland into a walking, bicycling and BRT paradise.  We’ll have fewer cars in the US every year from now due to inexorably shrinking oil imports… we can respond in two ways.

1) dumb ignorant way: kicking and screaming and fighting at the gas pumps, trying every alt.fuel possible, praying for Hydrogen Highways and Electric Cars in Every Garage, AND keeping all our sacred parking space cows or

2) in a planned downscaling of our present drive-everywhere-in-Oakland-and-Bay-Area arrangements.

Which option do you prefer? Is there a third option?

Since the third world doesn’t have too many trains, I wouldn’t count on us building a streetcar system here anytime soon.  However, I’ll keep rooting for one if Rebecca Kaplan (city council-at-large) does.

Last note: if you want to talk about “GENTRIFICATION” then check out this official Oakland timeline.

One response to “What we had before AC Transit busses: the future?

  1. Pingback: Downtown Oakland needs its rail back « Rebuilding Oaktown

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