Key System Mole (historic site) 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” thoroughly razed the Key System Mole, destroying about 40 stored streetcars, along with 500 yards of trestle leading to the terminus, and the 5-year-old ferryboat Peralta (which had cost almost $1M and was reportedly the Bay’s fastest ferryboat). 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.”2Whatever the cause, the timing could hardly have been better for would-be bridge builders; the Mole’s destruction (1933) conveniently cleared the way for the Bay Bridge (1936) to be built in its place. Key System streetcars then ran on the Bay Bridge’s lower deck for 20 years.

Question / comment

It is incorrect to say that the Mole was destroyed in 1933, since it was still in use in 1936 while the Bridge was under construction. However, if you compare 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), it appears that the damaged portion of the Mole was rerouted to permit construction of the Bridge. Can anybody track down information on the rebuilding of the Mole? It may require review of actual physical printed material (oh, the horror!). — NAParish


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