Clyde Sunderland photo from Wikimapia 1

The Key System Mole and Ferry Terminal (1903-1936) was, in pre-Bay Bridge days, one of several earthen piers extending from Oakland far out into the Bay, to facilitate passenger train/ferry connections. Piers built on wooden pilings (like Berkeley’s) could support light vehicles, but the extra weight of railed transport required a solid foundation (cf. the Oakland Long Wharf or Alameda Mole). Today, the a portion of the Oakland side of the Bay Bridge is built atop—and almost parallels the original route of—the Key System Mole’s landfill 1.

At its terminus about ⅔ of the way to Yerba Buena Island, the Mole widened into a huge ferry terminal, built on wooden trestles, which included several ferry moorings; out-of-service streetcar storage; passenger waiting rooms; concessions, etc.

A January 21, 1933, fire damaged 150 feet of this pier, interrupting service for several days. A little over three months later, on the night of May 6, 1933, a much bigger blaze caused by “a mysterious explosion” caused further damage to the Key System Mole, destroying 22 stored streetcars, the 5-year-old ferryboat Peralta then valued at $1,25 million (reportedly the Bay’s fastest ferryboat), and offices, storage tracks and two main slips at the end of the pier. Key System officials estimated their rolling-stock losses at $725,000 and pier/terminal damage (a total loss) at over $1.25M. Total property damage thus exceeded $3M (≅$52M 2013 dollars). The cause of the suspicious explosion and fire was never determined, but firemen were reportedly “hampered in their efforts to combat the blaze when electric lighting and power circuits to the pier were cut off. Telephone communication lines also were severed.”2

Thankfully for the Key System, one ferry slip and the trestle itself escaped damage, as did three ferry boats and approximately 60 cars.  Three days after the fire, the Key System resumed operations on the Mole for some of its lines, with the others requiring passengers to transfer to the Southern Pacific's lines. At some point thereafter, a portion of the trestle was rerouted to allow the construction of the Bay Bridge, where System streetcars then ran (on the lower deck) for 20 years. The re-routing of the trestle can be seen by comparing later pix of the Mole with the route shown on the older maps (where it runs straight from beginning to end as on the map above). We are still searching for more information on when and how the reconstruction occurred.

18-AA-19-026 6


Images from GenDisasters 2 - need permission

Key Route Ferry Pier Oakland The Peralta The Burning Peralta Ruins of the Peralta The Burned Interior of the Peralta

Links and References

  1. Key System Mole (site) Wikimapia
  2. Oakland, CA Ferry PERALTA Fire, May 1933 GenDisasters (from 1933-05-07 Oakland Tribune)
  3. Oakland, California
  4. In 1920 they were trying for half a bridge to San Francisco Contra Costa Times 2012-12-26
  5. Oakland Trib 5/8/33 (additional information in process)
  6. 18-AA-19-026 National Archives, Digital Public Library of America