During the Spanish and Mexican eras, Emeryville was the site of a small wharf near the mouth of Temescal Creek adjacent to the shellmound. The wharf served the Peralta family's Rancho San Antonio, and was used for loading the principal produce of the ranch—cattle hides—onto lighters, and subsequently transferring them to ships, including New England-bound schooners.
The handling of cattle continued into the American era with the establishment of numerous meat packing plants along the bayshore in Emeryville between 67th and 63rd Streets in an area called "Butchertown". The cattle processed here were raised in nearby ranches and farms, and brought in by rail or barge. The odors emanating from this district were notorious and often mentioned in local newspapers of the 19th and early 20th century.
The Town of Emeryville was incorporated December 2 1896. It was named after Joseph Stickney Emery who came during the Gold Rush and acquired large tracts of land in what became known as "Emery's". In 1884, Emery was president of a narrow-gauge railroad called the California and Nevada Railroad. The railroad originally intended to extend from Oakland, through Emery's (at the time, just an unincorporated settlement along the bayshore) and then east across the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the gold mining town of Bodie, California. From Bodie the railroad would extend east through Nevada to a connection with the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. Despite its grandiose intentions, the railroad only built from Oakland to Orinda and its right-of-way was sold to the Santa Fe Railway. The Santa Fe then constructed a rail yard and passenger depot below San Pablo between 41st Street and Yerba Buena Avenue. Although located in Emeryville, the depot, which opened in 1902, was called "Oakland".
The Key System, a local transit company, acquired the general offices of the California and Nevada as well as their nascent pier into San Francisco Bay, which was quickly transformed into a long pier reaching nearly to Yerba Buena Island. The Key System established its main rail yard adjacent to the yard of the Santa Fe in a large tract west of San Pablo Avenue in the vicinity of Yerba Buena Avenue (so named because the island was visible in line with the thoroughfare). The Key System's main power plant, used to energize its streetcars and commuter trains, was constructed adjacent to the city limits with Oakland. The immense smokestack was a local landmark for decades, surviving right through the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. It was demolished for safety reasons shortly thereafter. The old Key System mainline to the pier, and later, to the Bay Bridge, ran in a subway below Beach Street and the Southern Pacific mainline near the power plant. That subway survives and is today used as a private entrance to the main sewage treatment plant of EBMUD (the water utility serving Oakland and many surrounding cities). The rail yards and shops of the Key System and Santa Fe were acquired by Santa Fe's real estate development arm, later known as the Catellus Development Corporation, and this firm proceeded with the development which is today, a sprawling shopping center and multiunit residential district.
In the late 19th century, a large park was built around the shellmound. The park included two dance pavilions, one of which stood atop the shellmound. A trotting park (the Oakland Trotting Park) was built nearby at the junction of the Berkeley Branch line with the mainline of the Southern Pacific. On February 22 1920 the first dog race track to employ an imitation rabbit opened in Emeryville.
Emeryville used to be as well known for its gambling houses and bordellos as it was for its booming industrial sector; then Alameda County district attorney, later California governor and then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren once famously called it "the rottenest city on the Pacific Coast". The popular local restaurant The Townhouse is one such trace, a location that once was a speakeasy during Prohibition. Today, this tradition is carried on to a degree by the Oaks Room Card Club, a legal gambling establishment on San Pablo Avenue.
Emeryville was the site of Oaks Park, the home turf of the Pacific Coast League's Oakland Oaks. The ballpark was located on the block bounded by San Pablo, 45th Street and Park Street (the fourth side was Watts Street). The site is now partly an empty, fenced-off lot, and overlapped by Pixar Studios. Pixar's main gate (on Park Street) lies directly on the old segment of Watts Street. The stadium did not front directly on San Pablo where a strip of various small commercial buildings stood, now replaced by a single one-story commercial building with several chain businesses.
During World War II, Emeryville was the southern terminus of the Shipyard Railway, a specially constructed electric rail line operated by the Key System to transport workers to the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond. The station was located on the west side of San Pablo Avenue on the Key's yard property. The tracks led out to San Pablo Avenue where they were merged into existing streetcar tracks.
From the late 19th into the early 20th century, Emeryville's development as an industrial city grew. Besides the meat-packing plants, other industries were added. Among these were the Judson Iron Works and the Sherwin-Williams paint company. From 1939 until the 1970s, a massive animated neon sign showing a can of red paint tilting, spilling, and covering a globe of the earth, with the slogan "We Cover the Earth" sat on the roof of the plant's main building, a familiar sight to eastbound motorists on the Bay Bridge. It was also once the location of Shell Development, the research arm of Shell Oil Company, which relocated in 1972 to Houston, Texas. A large scrap metal yard (part of the Judson Iron Works) was visible from the Eastshore Freeway for decades until the early 1970s. Also visible, a large facility of the Pacific Intermountain Express (PIE) trucking firm. A heavy truck manufacturing division of what was formerly IH (International-Harvester Company, later Navistar) was located in Emeryville. One of its more popular models in the late 1950s and early 1960s became commonly and affectionately known as "Emeryvilles". Today, if one were to query any astute trucker from the second half of the twentieth century, he would instantly think of an IH DCO-405 at the mention of the name "Emeryville".
By the late 1960s, industries were beginning to move away from Emeryville and the appearance of the city seriously declined. This began to change in the mid 1970s starting with the development of the marina section of Emeryville. By the 1980s, a large shopping area began to take shape north and south of the Powell Street corridor. Additionally, the Chiron Corporation (now Novartis), a major biotechnology company, established its headquarters just south of the old junction of the SP mainline tracks and the old Berkeley branchline (Shellmound Junction) at the end of Stanford Avenue, the site of the old Shellmound trotting course.
Following the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989, a new Amtrak depot was built in Emeryville to replace the old 16th Street Station in West Oakland, which had been deteriorating even before it was seriously damaged by the quake. The Emeryville station serves Amtrak's California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, San Joaquin, and Capitol Corridor trains. The California Zephyr originates here with service daily to Chicago, Illinois via Salt Lake City, Utah and Denver, Colorado. Buses link the station with San Francisco.
By the 1990s, the old Santa Fe and Key System yards tracts were transformed into a large shopping and residential area, as was the Shellmound corridor. Development of these areas included major roadwork, with the extension of 40th Street, including the construction of a large overpass across the Southern Pacific (now Union Pacific) railroad tracks which connected 40th Street to an extension of Shellmound Street, creating a single thoroughfare linking two sections of the new Emeryville. On the northern stretch of Shellmound Street, the Emery Marketplace and a movie multiplex were built.
In 2001, the city contracted developer Madison Marquette to build a new shopping center (Bay Street Shopping Center) on the site of an Ohlone village and burial ground. Madison Marquette worked with archaeologists and Ohlone tribe representatives in order to leave the human remains undisturbed. Some remains were reburied at an undisclosed location on the site. At the mall, there are pictures of the Shellmound, but no mention of the burial grounds. According to an Ohlone rep, the knowledge would make people uncomfortable shopping there.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 1.9 square miles (5.0 km²), of which, 1.2 square miles (3.2 km²) of it is land and 0.7 square miles (1.8 km²) of it (36.79%) is water.
In the 1970s, one of the last man-made marinas in the San Francisco East Bay was built in Emeryville; named Watergate, the Emeryville marina is home to a mixed use development including two marinas (one public, the other private), a park, a residential condominium community known as Watergate, a business park with several office buildings, and several restaurants, including Hong Kong East Ocean and the historic Trader Vic's.
There were 3,975 households out of which 10.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 18.0% were married couples living together, 8.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 70.7% were non-families. 55.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.71 and the average family size was 2.69.
In the city the population was spread out with 11.4% under the age of 18, 13.4% from 18 to 24, 42.2% from 25 to 44, 23.3% from 45 to 64, and 9.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 100.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 100.0 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $45,359, and the median income for a family was $57,063. Males had a median income of $49,333 versus $39,527 for females. The per capita income for the city was $33,260. About 6.3% of families and 13.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 4.5% of those under age 18 and 8.0% of those age 65 or over.
It is very important to note that these numbers are 7 years old. Emeryville has had profound growth, particularly in housing, in recent years. Several housing developments capable of holding multiple hundreds, if not thousands of people have been completed and opened since the census.
At one time, the Emeryville Mudflats were famous for their stench. In the 19th and early 20th century, this was caused by the effluent from the several meat-packing plants along the bayshore called "Butchertown". Stripped carcasses were also dumped in the bay here. Later on, untreated sewage from Emeryville, Oakland, and Berkeley flowed directly into the bay over the mudflats producing hydrogen sulfide gas, particularly noticeable on warm days. In the 1950s the East Bay Municipal Utility District constructed a regional sewage treatment plant near the eastern terminus of the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge, which, for the most part, cured the noxious problem.
The Emeryville Mudflats became famous in the 1960s and 1970s for public art, erected (with neither permission nor compensation) from driftwood timbers and boards by professional and amateur artists and art students from local high schools, the UC Berkeley, the California College of Arts and Crafts and the Free University of Berkeley. The mudflats were even featured in the 1971 film Harold and Maude. These unsanctioned works were admired by some drivers heading westbound on the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge from Interstate 80.
In the late 1990s, the sculptures and materials were removed in the interest of establishing a more natural and undisturbed marshland for the nurturing of wildlife. This process continues around the bay in many other wetlands, former diked grazing fields, and salt production evaporation ponds.
Historically, Emeryville had been the location of a number of heavy industrial uses such as P.I.E, whose properties were developed by bringing in waste and construction debris fill from San Francisco in the early 1900s. Correspondingly much of the underlying soil contained heavy metals, hydrocarbons and other soil contaminants. Much of this contamination was removed in the 1980s when the considerable wave of redevelopment occurred.
As part of a huge urban renewal project, several enormous shopping centers have opened next to the intersection of Interstate highways 80 and 580, capitalizing on Emeryville's unique access to San Francisco as well as East Bay customers. Among their anchor tenants is the first IKEA store in Northern California, as well as more familiar merchants such as Home Depot. A new retail and residential development named Bay Street Emeryville now sits along Highway 80 and is home to such merchants as Banana Republic, GAP, Coach and the Apple Store, and restaurants such as California Pizza Kitchen and Pasta Pomodoro. The complex is anchored by AMC Theaters and is located next to IKEA.
Emeryville has an Amtrak station, and also sits about two miles west of the MacArthur BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Station in Oakland. To supplement the bus service provided by AC Transit, the regional transit agency, the city runs a free shuttle service called Emery Go Round that serves MacArthur BART, the Bay Street shops, the Marina and other places.
As for freeway access, it sits on a key section of Interstate 80, just north of where that freeway meets Interstate 880 and Interstate 580 in a gigantic interchange known as the MacArthur Maze. Highway 24 is also accessible from Emeryville, which connects southbound to Interstate 880 via Highway 980 and continues eastward to Highway 680, towards Walnut Creek and Concord.
Emeryville also maintains a small marina with limited services. There is a standing citizen Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee.