Agriculture Lingers in West Contra Costa

By: Jason Tilley

El Sobrante Homeowner, Gardener, and a Member of Citizens for a Greener El Sborante

My wife and I were married in 1990 at a charming, privately-owned event venue called the Rockefeller Lodge. It’s located about a block from San Pablo City Hall, and was once owned by oil magnate John D. Rockefeller for use as a hunting lodge.

If the phrases “hunting lodge” and “a block from San Pablo City Hall” don’t seem like they belong in the same sentence, that illustrates just how much western Contra Costa County has changed in the past century or so. Ironically, Rockerfeller himself played a large role in industrializing the area, since his Standard Oil Company (the predecessor of Chevron) built the refinery that is still Richmond’s largest employer. Most of the area remained wilderness and farmland, however, until the second World War.

Thanks to the East Bay Regional Park District, there’s still plenty of wilderness area, though the flora now features many introduced species. Agriculture, however, is hard to find in west Contra Costa these days. Hard, but not impossible. Little reminders of the area’s farming past are still around, if you know where to look.

Though the process started early in the twentieth century, urbanization was supercharged by World War II. The Kaiser shipyards sprung up as part of the war effort and attracted thousands of workers from the south and other economically deprived regions. At the end of the war, most of them stayed, seeing better opportunities in the Bay Area than in the places they’d left. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, and marines who’d served in the Pacific theater streamed back through Treasure Island, and some of them looked around and decided to stay, too. All this created a huge demand for housing, and with the support of the federal government and GI bill, developers built it. The City of Richmond, in particular, grew dramatically in the postwar decades. What was once farmland was annexed and converted to suburban subdivisions.