When the Caldecott Tunnel opened in 1937, it was not the first tunnel to link Contra Costa County with Alameda County. The Caldecott’s predecessor, known variously as the Broadway Tunnel, the Kennedy (L. W. Kennedy, who started work on a tunnel years earlier but got flooded out) Tunnel, and the Inter-County Tunnel, opened in 1903.
Until the tunnel opened, you had to shlep up and down the hills to get from Orinda and Alameda County and vice-versa. It was a long and risky trip with steep roads, hairpin turns and dangerous cliffs.
In 1903 a tunnel was completed about 300 feet above the present location of the Caldecott Tunnel and 320 feet lower than the summit, in the next canyon south of Claremont Canyon. This tunnel was approached by a new road dubbed “Tunnel Road” which started at the top of Ashby Avenue in Berkeley.
The Last Chance was a saloon near Claremont and Alvarado. The Summit House was built at the top of the divide. Stage coaches changed horses here in the 1860s.
On the east end of the tunnel was the Canary Cottage Cafe.
It was a place to stop for food and rest. It became a Shell Oil gas station.
Workers on the east portal averaged three feet a day. The tunnel was just wide enough for one vehicle at a time in one direction. It was financed with both private and public money. There was a four-foot elbow/jog in the middle because diggers had miscalculated the meet-up.
The ceremony honoring the opening of the new tunnel was described in the San Francisco Call of 5 November, 1903:
TUNNEL DEDICATION MARKS PROGRESS OF THE NEW TIME
It required almost thirty years to complete the inter-county tunnel that connects Alameda and Contra Costa counties, but today that work was dedicated to the use of the public, and the only wagon road tunnel in the State was declared finished and a success. There were special exercises for this event, and the. people of Contra Costa County and the people of Alameda County, who have been more closely united by this event, assembled to congratulate one another. Supervisors, Mayors, public officials and private citizens met, first at the tunnel at the summit of the ridge and later in Oakland, and finally at the banquet table. The rain of the night before and the threatening sky did not dampen the ardor of those who had labored so long and so earnestly for this result. The affair was in charge of the tunnel committee of the Merchants’ Exchange and the Boards of Supervisors of the two counties. The exercises were, attended by a large party of guests from Alameda County, who were first taken on a tour of inspection to the tunnel, where a basket lunch was served, after which the party repaired to Idora Park, where the formal dedicatory exercises were held. The Alameda County delegation left the headquarters of the Merchants* Exchange at 9:30 o’clock this morning, many of the guests arriving late, as they thought that the dedication would be postponed on account of the threatening weather. It was necessary to notify a number by telephone that the programme would be carried out rain or shine, and this delayed the start nearly half an hour. The party occupied three large buses, and on the way to the tunnel Supervisor H. D. Rowe pointed out the difficulties which were overcome in building the new road and called, attention to the great amount of work which had been accomplished In the last three months.
INSPECTION MADE. On arriving at the tunnel the party was given time to Inspect the work of the engineers, after which refreshments were served. During the lunch, which was spread In picnic fashion. Secretary Wilbur Walker of the Merchants’ Exchange proposed the following toast: “The Intercounty tunnel may it be the forerunner of many similar children of prosperity.” George H. Smith then called for three cheers for the tunnel committee and the Boards of Supervisors of both counties, and the cheers were given wlth a will.
The western portal of the new tunnel was at the top of Tunnel Road.
“Oakland Geology” recounts that “The other old tunnel is at the top of Shepherd Canyon, where the train used to go.”
This refers to the Redwood Peak Tunnel.
The 3700-foot long Redwood Peak Tunnel (c.1910–1957) was used by the Sacramento Northern Railway (SNR) to go under the Oakland Hills between upper Montclair Havens Station and its Eastport station in Contra Costa County. The tunnel’s west portal emerged near the intersection of Saroni Drive and Shepherd Canyon Road (then part of Park Boulevard), and its east portal was adjacent to Pinehurst Road outside Canyon.
This photograph was made in 1957 after the line was abandoned. It shows the Contra Costa County Eastport portal.
This website is where I learned about it.
Back to our Inter-County/Kennedy Tunnel. In 1858, The Claremont Canyon was chosen as the route for stringing transcontinental telegraph cable between Oakland and the eastern states. As was the case throughout the west, development followed the telegraph wires. A road was bulit beneath the cable, aptly named Telegraph Road. A stage coach run by J. Bamber and Company and the Western Union telegraph system also followed the telegraph path.
Nobody was sad to see an alternative to the road over the summit, which was was described as being rickety, scary, dimly lit, and wet because water dropped onto your windshield.
The tunnel was widened in 1915 to accommodate cars, and lights were added in 1920. During the Great Depression, unemployed men with lanterns charged twenty-five cents to escort cars exiting the west end of the tunnel until they reached roads with streetlights.
When the Caldecott opened in 1937, there were 30,000 horse-drawn buggies, pedestrians, and cars passing through the Kennedy tunnel daily. Once Caldecott opened, the old tunnel was left for pedestrians and then eventually was closed for safety reasons in 1947. Even the Suicide Club has failed to make it through to the old tunnel.
No, not that Suicide Club, the San Francisco-based group of urban spelunkers and pranksters. Actually there is a possibility that I favor – the Club has made it through and simply chosen not to publicize their success.
Will you permit an aside within an aside within an aside?
Frank Colton Havens (November 21,1848 – February 9, 1917) was an attorney and major real estate developer in Berkeley, Piedmont and Oakland. Havens and his business partner F. M. Smith developed over 13,000 acres of real estate,
The bare East Bay hills were a challenge. Under the direction of Havens, the Mahogany Eucalyptus and Land Company planted somewhere between 1,000,000 and 3,000,000 eucalyptus seedlings in the East Bay Hills. Thanks!
Havens envisioned a rapidly growing hardwood forest, not knowing that the trees were unsuitable for construction. The railroad ties made from eucalyptus had a tendency to twist while drying, and the dried ties were so tough that it was nearly impossible to hammer nail spikes into them. The young trees being harvested in California could not compare in quality to Australia’s centuries-old eucalyptus timber. The older trees didn’t split or warp as the young California trees did.
Plus – Eucalyptus oil is highly flammable; ignited trees have been known to explode. Bushfires can travel easily through the oil-rich air of the tree crown.
Plus – they compete with and drive out native plants and do not support native animals.
It doesn’t hold up as a good idea, does it?
Lest we think of Havens as just another rich developer, his Bernard Maybeck home in Piedmont had its own private meditation chamber, with opium smoking bed, complete with an Eastern philosophical inscription regarding opium and meditation. His mansion also had an unfinished and unused tomb room. The Chicago Tribune described the house: “Havens, an Oakland pioneer and real estate tycoon, built the house as a lavish present to his second wife, Lila Rand Havens. She was a yoga disciple, and it shows throughout the home. The exterior is reminiscent of a Cambodian temple. The interior – much of it designed by New York jeweler Louis Tiffany, who imported dozens of Asian artists for the work – includes a Chinese temple hall, a Chinese temple room and a Japanese room.”
For further information on the tunnel before the tunnel, here are links to articles both new and old about the project.
- 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
- Mary Solon and Mary McCosker: Building the Caldecott Tunnel. Charleston, South Carolina (2014)
And a few video clips:
I showed the draft post to my friend. He flipped through the pages with interest but really perked up when he got to the end. “I dig history and think maybe in a past life I was one of those dudes who led the cars out of the tunnel with a lantern – but what really rocks my socks is the mention of the Suicide Club.”
“I won’t say that I knew the dude Gary Warne who started the Suicide Club, but I surely knew of him. I did the Clowns on the Bus flash mob action with them on the Geary Muni line but I don’t think I met Warne.”
He went to his quarters and brought back a small filing box and handed me this card. He clearly had stories to tell.
As anxious as I was to hear more about clowns on the bus and flash mobs and all, I wanted to get this post published. What did he think of it?
There is much more to say about about Gary Warne and those brilliant free spirits.
I rise now to say a little more on Gary Warne and his clubs and societies and trips. You can check out the Suicide Club’s website, but it is kind of limited. The Cacophony Society website, however, is robust.
According to the Burning Man Journal, The Suicide Club spawned the Cacophony Society, “a randomly gathered network of free spirits united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society. Early Cacophonists were the ones who invented Burning Man, after 89 people took one of Cacophony’s newly-notorious Zone Trips [See this and this] out to the Black Rock Desert in 1990, inviting Larry Harvey and Jerry James to bring along their wooden statue the cops wouldn’t let them burn at Baker Beach.”
The Burning Man Journal further explains: “Carnival Cosmology stands as one of the two founding documents of the Cacophony Society, along with Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zone. It’s the only essay printed, in full, in not one but two core Cacophony books — Chicken John’s The Book of the Is and Galbraith/Evans/Law’s Tales of the SF Cacophony Society.
Without further ado, the main event in the main arena:
“Carnival Cosmology” by Gary Warne (1977)
The world is a midway; cities are its sideshows. The only difference between children and adults is that there is no one to take care of us. When we left home it meant we were lost on the midway and, unlike God, the carny boss will only let us ride as long as we pay.
No one will come to find us. Some children will hurt us, others will stop to play … some are still deciding. But you can sneak in too.
I have been exploring a world of adventures, exotic locales, mystic essences, confronting my fears was the immediate goal, the predominant focus of the explorations and challenges. Now, nine months later, my fears have become wafer like and crumbling, shadows of their former selves. Now I find fear only a final, non-evolving image that stills other possibilities, the creation of more intoxicating future images, that prevents me from entering into a visionary dialogue with whom I could become. […]
Recently I have walked past the place where my fear images blotted out what would have come next if I had not been afraid. I climbed the Golden Gate bridge three weeks ago immersed in images of falling thru space into the ocean. There was nothing to fantasize beyond this one, final, deadly image.
Fantasies of my friend’s deaths were perhaps even more vivid and recurring. People who didn’t go asked their companions to call them when they returned, no matter what the hour. Those unable to express their love in this way simply asked for the rent before their roommates left for the climb. The image of death, for many THE culminating fear image, blots out all other possibilities.
The subject of fear has fascinated me for many years. That night I felt I understood it much better. Fear is a freeze on the future, the filter or floodgate that stops our imaginings; something within us that stops us from becoming more powerful and loving, rather than fearing those things that are more vivid than our fantasies, more powerful than our magic, more mysterious than our own mysteries. […]
I buried the predominance of fear in my own cosmology that night. After many months of incredible experience and a rich new flood of images and emotions I began to see the colours and textures beyond the death images, beyond the fantasies of authority and arrest, beyond inner visions of my own failure of stamina or confidence. And something more began to emerge.
I am not speaking at all metaphorically when I say that it was the bright lights and moving colours of the bigtop, carnival, amusement park-midway. Once I was on the bridge I was greeted instead by moonlight on still waters and the skyline of the city diminutively reduced to scale on a plywood board, ready for display.
The outline of the city floated across in, all of shades, autumnal colours of yellow and orange. Our height did not make them that way; it allowed me to see them that way as the houses, ships and lights below took on a bathtub, toy like countenance. The height silhouetted by sky and underscored by the sea allowed me to place it within a gigantic midway, rather than myself as a stick figure man within the reality of the cities overwhelming back buildings.
Two months before I had climbed the Oakland Bay Bridge and for the first time the metaphor had become real. The bridge was obviously a jungle gym made to climb rather than drive over: the cars just using it for the in between times. The girders were so huge that you could climb inside them like chimps, risking nothing but a strained heart from the excitement. It was then that I was first struck with the feeling that we were here to play, if nothing else, here to play with the world and other people. […]
Before that I visited a ghost town in central California and it became the spook house of a long bankrupt carnival, disappearing into a marshy bog at the same pace it was swallowed up by the past.
As I walked along the tracks at night that led to the town, unsure if I was going the right way, a bouncing yellow light appeared behind and we waited for the predictable “hey you kids, get out of here!” only to have it explode instead in to a supernaturally silent coal black train screaming into the night ahead, shaking the ground in great heaps and gulps of air as it roared past.
My mind elongated with it, as it did as a small child in front of the tv, when Daffy Duck sold Elmer Fudd a new house and then turning to leave, opened the front door and let a train rush straight at the camera, straight at Elmer, straight at me, right through his living room and mine, my child’s mind simply gasping at the possibilities.
Other possibilities are becoming much more apparent. The world is becoming a total play environment and I am becoming something else entirely. The future is no longer on a circuit like the news, entertainment something an entrepreneur plans as I expectantly read the notices in the bleached parchments on the corner stands. It is an imagination away.
DARE TO BE DUMB
Thanks, Tom! Nice piece.
Dare to be dumb indeed! My last name suits. The legend says that Dalzell means “I dare” (the family motto) and comes from a Dalzell “daring” to rescue from a gibbet (gallows) the body of a son of Kenneth McAlpin from the Scots’ enemies. I DARE!
I loved this post! The tunnel story is fantastic and the historical photos very interesting. I’d take the overland route any day rather than go through that scary former tunnel hidden in the hillside, under the Eucalyptus. Creepy.
As I child, those trips through the Caldecott tunnel were way too long for me. (But not as bad as that tunnel bored through the Swiss Alps, 14 miles long which I experienced years later going from Zurich to Innsbruck, Austria) Then there was the 1958 Garfield Jr. High experience of being snowed in on a weekend ski trip to Donner Summit, forcing us to extend our stay a few days, surviving on pancakes. We trekked up to the snow sheds where the passengers were stuck in their trains for the duration. All pointing to future tunnel fear.
Definitely not interested in duplicating the Warne hi-jinks up on the tops of bridges, but loved
reading about it. Thanks for the tip about the show at Pro Arts. Your “digressions” are always welcome in my book.
Great story! If you were afraid of tunnels, all you had to do was to hold your breath and touch the roof of the car until you got out of the tunnel.