Ashby Station

A classic American streetcar suburb

Lesley Emmington, Anthony Bruce & Dale Smith

Prince Street Colonial Revival cottages: repeating rhythm of bay
windows and hipped roofs (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

February 2004

The Ashby Station neighborhood (originally called Newbury Station) has been in the news lately, and probably will be for some time, as the design for the new Ed Roberts Campus moves into the public discussion stages. This new campus is planned as a memorial to the pioneering work of Berkeley activist Ed Roberts on behalf of the disabled community and will be sited on the east side of Adeline Street north of Woolsey Street, sitting over the eastern entrance to the Ashby BART Station and over part of the BART parking lot. Thus, it will incorporate in its design a new BART station entrance, with the expectation that it will enhance the distinct architectural character of this Berkeley neighborhood. Last fall, BAHA was asked by the City of Berkeley, upon request of the State Office of Historic Preservation, to help identify historic structures within the Area of Potential Effects (APE).

It is almost uncanny that the APE, bounded by Shattuck Avenue, Ashby Avenue, Martin Luther King, Jr. Way (previously Grove Street), and Woolsey Street, is concurrent with the 1879 boundaries of Mark Ashby’s working farm, then outside the southern boundary of the recently incorporated City of Berkeley. The BAHA staff, along with BAHA members Jerry Sulliger and Dale Smith, surveyed the neighborhood and in the process gained new perspectives on the history and architectural significance of the Ashby Station district. We discovered that the area had been developed during the very brief time span comprising the heyday of the East Bay streetcar suburb, which is why it maintains an especially pleasing architectural continuity.

A High-Peaked Gable Colonial Revival house on Woolsey Street (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

What, exactly, is or was Ashby Station? The name itself, of both the district and of Ashby Avenue, comes from the Ashby brothers, Mark and William, who migrated to California in the first half of the 1850s. Several years later, they purchased some 187 acres for a ranch that was sustained by a tributary of Derby Creek. In 1876, when Mark Ashby had become the title holder for the western portion of the property, California’s former governor Leland Stanford and former Alameda supervisor and real estate developer Francis Kittredge Shattuck succeeded in connecting Oakland to Berkeley by purchasing a right-of-way for a steam train spur line to travel from the main Central Pacific Railway up what is now Stanford Avenue and Adeline Street, cutting through Mark Ashby’s property and terminating at Shattuck and University avenues. The Ashbys’ farming days were now numbered. In 1882, Mark Ashby filed a property subdivision map for the Newbury Tract, so named for his hometown of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Four station stops in what was to become the town of Berkeley were established on the original steam train route: Lorin Station at Adeline and Alcatraz, Newbury Station on Adeline just south of Ashby, Dwight Way Station at Dwight Way and Shattuck, and Berkeley Station at Center and Shattuck. The Lorin Station district, often advertised in the local press as “one of the most attractive portions of Oakland’s surroundings,” began to emerge in the 1880s as a village with its own community of Victorian cottages, a growing commercial center, and a school.

In contrast, Newbury Station, generally defined by Wheeler, Russell, Harper, and Fairview Streets, remained relatively undeveloped. Until after 1900, the stop on Adeline was still just a flag stop where “you climbed twelve wooden steps to get to the train tracks from street level” (elevated perhaps because of swampy land around a reported “frog pond”). It could be said that Newbury Station was neither here nor there, too far beyond Oakland and too far from central Berkeley. In fact, its early cluster of 19th-century homes and businesses sprang up around the intersection of Shattuck and Ashby, where a post office was located, rather than along the steam train route on Adeline. In 1891, when the Newbury Station district was annexed to Berkeley and its name was changed to Ashby Station, the local neighbors gathered at the four corners of Shattuck and Ashby to celebrate.

The red “Shattuck” car. Notice Mark Ashby’s surrounding fields planted with corn stalks. Published in “Early Day Trolleys of the East Bay,” The Western Railroader, Vol. 22, No. 4; February 1959.

The year 1891 was also important for Ashby Station because in that year, two electric streetcar lines laid by the Oakland Consolidated Street Railroad linked it to the greater East Bay. The Railroad, first established in 1889 as the Oakland-Berkeley Rapid Transit, with one of its primary investors again being Francis Kittredge Shattuck, was planned in anticipation of the big real-estate opportunities just waiting to happen across the landscape. As most people had neither the means nor the property to maintain a horse and buggy, the coming of the electric streetcar became the dominant force that enabled a dynamic expansion in the East Bay. The growing workforce could now travel conveniently from the “suburbs”—the new residential tracts where hayfields, orchards, and frog ponds used to abound—to places of work, commerce, or recreation, anywhere in the East Bay or San Francisco.

Running on the two electric streetcar lines that served Ashby Station were the red car and the blue car. The red car, called the “Shattuck,” came up from Oakland, veering at 47th Street to travel along Shattuck Avenue, crossed Ashby Avenue to Dwight Way, where it turned up Ellsworth Street, then turned north to Allston Way (site of Edwards Stadium). The blue car, called the “Lorin,” used the same track from Oakland, but continued on 47th Street to travel along Grove Street to Downtown Berkeley at Center Street (in 1898, these streetcar routes were consolidated to become a part of the future Key System). Still, it was not until after the turn of the century that the influence of the streetcar finally stimulated the development of Ashby Station. And it was not really until after the commencement of the construction of the Webb Building on Ashby Avenue in 1905 and the aftermath of the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire the following year that Ashby Station’s lots were filled up with homes.

The blue “Lorin” car. Published in “Early Day Trolleys of the East Bay,” The Western Railroader, Vol. 22, No. 4; February 1959.

The Ashby Station district comprises two development tracts, the Newbury and the Central Park tracts. When Mark Ashby filed the first subdivision map for the Newbury Tract in 1882, it created the residential lots bounded by Shattuck, Ashby, Adeline, and Prince streets. His second Newbury subdivision, for the two blocks south to Woolsey Street, followed in 1883. The later Central Park Tract subdivision incorporates the western portion of the district.

However, the Amended Map of Central Park dated 29 April 1896 does not reflect the pivotal change that occurred in 1902 to what was then called Mason Street. It was joined to Ashby, at Adeline, by physically altering it with a sweeping curve. Nor did anyone then foresee that in 1903, the Key System, a major transportation investment company, originally called the San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose Railroad, would run its first suburban electric train—the F Line—between San Francisco and the East Bay along Adeline. The 1903 Sanborn Atlas still shows noticeable blank spaces on the four corners of Ashby and Adeline, even as houses began filling the residential lots. Only two commercial buildings were in existence then, both still standing today: a picturesque shop building at 3011 (now 3021) Adeline, and a Colonial Revival at 3025 Adeline. These early buildings defined what was to become a significant commercial district.

Postcard published by the Pacific Novelty Company for Caldecott’s Pharmacy. The Webb Block (1905), with its commanding presence, seems to have been an impetus for development in Ashby Station.

It was Christopher Webb, a native of Weymouth, MA who had the vision and capital to give the four corners at Ashby and Adeline a central focus and commercial vitality. The handsome Webb Block, with its curving fa´┐Żade reflecting the curve of the street, was a landmark that distinguished Ashby Station as a place not simply to pass through, but also as a place to live and shop. Designed by Charles W. McCall, who is known for many large Arts-and-Crafts homes in Oakland and Piedmont, the Webb Block was fashioned in the Mission Revival Style and is complementary to its architectural surroundings of predominately Colonial Revival–style shops and residences. Today, the historic commercial buildings at Ashby and Adeline give a unique charm to Ashby Station and create an appropriate setting for its cluster of antiques shops.

  One of the intriguing turn-of-the-century commercial buildings at Ashby Station is this picturesque structure at Adeline and Ashby that for over fifty years has been the location of Jack’s Antiques. Records show that it was built in 1901 by contractor A.E. Hargraves and enlarged by him over the next few years. The architect’s name remains elusive (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005).

Still, following the construction of the Webb Block, Ashby Station was to be crossed by two additional streetcar lines! In 1909, the Key System established the Ashby Avenue Line, with a very small streetcar known as the “Dinky,” running from San Pablo east on Ashby to curve around the Webb Block at Ashby and Adeline and continue on to the Claremont Hotel. In 1911, Southern Pacific added a local line: the Ellsworth Line, that began at Adeline and Woolsey—then called Woolsey Junction—where it ran on Woolsey, crossed Shattuck, and proceeded north on Ellsworth.

So it was that Ashby Station, by 1911, had become the thriving classic American streetcar suburb of homes and community life that had been envisioned long before. By then, the area was almost entirely built up around the handsome, commanding Webb Block (listed on the State Historic Resources Inventory), with four churches, other commercial buildings, and countless residences built in the popular style of the day: the Colonial Revival. The brief period that the Colonial Revival style was popular in the East Bay almost exactly coincides with the development of Ashby Station. The district abounds with three distinct types: the two-story Colonial Revival house, identified by a hipped roof and Neoclassical ornamentation such as columns, pilasters, and a dentil frieze under the soffit of the cornice; the Colonial Revival cottage, which is a one-story version of the Colonial Revival house; and the High-Peaked Gable Colonial Revival, which was locally introduced in 1894 and was originally called high-peaked roof Dutch Colonial. These three house types all lend themselves to row-house construction and are most effective when several are grouped together to present a unified streetscape. The character of the residential streets of Ashby Station is enhanced by the careful placement of its Colonial Revival houses.

  Two High-Peaked Colonial Revival houses on Woolsey Street at Tremont. These were built in 1900 by contractor John C. Rogers and are part of a group of five in this block of Woolsey. The architect is unknown, but in 1899 the local press reported that Oakland architect A.W. Smith had popularized this house type that year, and these early examples may be his (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004).

Interspersed among the Colonial Revivals are remaining 19th-century structures linked to the district’s earliest development, as well as noteworthy structures built later within the first half of the 20th century. The later contributing structures include such buildings as the former South Berkeley Library at the corner of Martin Luther King and Woolsey (James W. Plachek, 1925) and the Storybook-style Hull & Durgin mortuary complex at 3049–51 Adeline (Hutchison & Mills, 1923; Francis Harvey Slocombe, 1928), listed on the State Historic Resources Inventory.*

Developed principally between 1900 and 1910, Ashby Station remains today a district linked to its historic transportation heyday and unified by its architectural consistency. Ashby Station still exists as a truly prominent transportation hub, serving the greater San Francisco Bay Region with the BART Richmond Line and the buses of Alameda-Contra Costa Transit. While several of the central blocks of the historic Ashby Station district were removed in the 1960s to make way for BART construction, including undergrounding the BART tracks, building the Ashby BART Station, and creating the adjacent parking facilities, a distinct historic context is still visible today. Collectively, these buildings, both commercial and residential, appear to be even more prominent today as they form the perimeter of the plaza-like open space of the Ashby BART Station.

* The Hull Undertaking Co. & Little Chapel of the Flowers were designated a City of Berkeley Landmark on 3 September 2015.

Continue to:
Historic Buildings, Part 1

Historic Buildings in Ashby Station

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