The Kennedy (aka 'Alameda-Contra Costa County' or ‘Inter-County’) Tunnel (1903–c. 1940) was a single-bore tunnel connecting Oakland with Contra Costa County. Begun in 1870 by Chinese laborers using pick and shovel, the tunnel opened in 1903. Its purpose was twofold: to provide a safer alternative to the dangerously steep roads over the Oakland-Berkeley Hills, and to encourage Contra Costa residents to come shop in Oakland.
It was referred to as the Kennedy Tunnel for L. W. Kennedy, who is said to have first conceived the idea of a toll road and tunnel between the counties. He started a company which built a road and began work on a tunnel, but "Work was begun upon the hole in the hill, but a rush of water was struck to the extent that it collapsed the tunnel and the company at the same time." 1 Note that other sources claim that Wright F. Kelsey was the first to propose building a tunnel between the counties. Note also that a plaque installed by E Clampus Vitus says it was called the Broadway Tunnel, but we cannot find any contemporaneous sources using that name and there was never a direct connection between Broadway and Tunnel Road, so this name seems unlikely..
Only one horse carriage or wagon could cross through the problem-plagued Kennedy Tunnel at a time; this led to long waits. The road up to the tunnel was treacherous, and the tunnel was dark, so travelers had to carry lanterns. Even after the tunnel was widened a bit and lights installed so cars could drive through, water seepage from the hillside still caused frequent closures.
During its heyday, as many as 30,000 horse-drawn buggies, pedestrians and cars traversed the Kennedy Tunnel weekly.
In 1935 the Berkeley Gazette reported that “on April 19, the small automobile tunnel through the East Bay Hills was closed due to landslides at the east end caused by rain-soaked hillsides.”
After the Caldecott Tunnel opened in 1937, the Kennedy Tunnel continued to be used by pedestrians until the 1940s. Safety concerns led to the Kennedy Tunnel being permanently sealed in 1947. Today it stands dark, empty and mysterious 300 feet above the Caldecott Tunnel.
Photos from Our Oakland:
Links and References
Tunnel Dedication Marks Progress of The New Time San Francisco Call November 5, 1903
Before Caldecott opened, mysterious tunnel connected counties Contra Costa Times November 10, 2013
Photos: Memories of the East Bay’s “mystery tunnel” San Jose Mercury November 8, 2013
- The Kennedy Tunnel The New York Times
Days Gone By: Depression gives the Caldecott Tunnel a leg up Oakland Tribune
- Caldecott Tunnel - 100 years of History Orinda Historical Society Newsletter
- The Old Tunnel (one of them) Oakland Geology
- Berkeley History by Steven Finacom/Berkeley Historical Society
- ”The Work Begun,” Oakland Tribune May 24, 1897 Oakland Trib - May 24, 1897.pdf