Oakland’s Key Routes


Some advice: never try to move while you’re in the middle of one of the busiest semesters ever!

I recently decamped from Berkeley to Oakland, a move of about four miles in physical distance, and about a million miles in social distance. Needless to say, I have been happy with Uptown, my new neighborhood right next to downtown Oakland. So, like the nerd I am, I decided to find out a bit more about it.

Without getting too specific, I moved to Grand Avenue, a street that runs east from highway 580 along the north side of Lake Merritt and then turns north toward Berkeley. It’s a major thoroughfare and I expected it to be fairly old, as the path it takes is irregular and the name is, well, Grand. Not so much!

The earliest Sanborn fire insurance maps of the area date from 1889 and Grand isn’t listed. Instead it appears to have been carved out of smaller streets, among them “Charter” and “Jones”. Grand first appears in the 1952 Sanborn maps, as I’ve included above, but I’ve found references to the street from 1930 in local photographs and there’s a reference to it in the San Francisco chronicle in 1903. Anyway, from the 1952 Sanborn it looks like they changed 21st street to become 22nd street and the old 22nd street became Grand. There’s also a curious set of lines down the middle of the street–a Key Route?


Apparently there was a system of electric streetcars in the East Bay before the Great American streetcar scandal, wherein thousands of streetcars were taken off the streets of America through a series of illegal actions by major US companies who bought the systems and replaced the streetcars with buses.

Sadly, these streetcars were junked or sold to other countries and the tracks were largely replaced by medians. At least I can buy a Key Route t-shirt…sigh.

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