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Slaughter Houses and More Past History

When the city was incorporated in 1917 the council members were Kirk Gray, Jon Sandvick, Phil Lee, George Adams, Peter Larson, and George Scott, treasurer. Mrs. Grace Castner was elected the first city clerk and George Barber was appointed the first city marshal. His job also consisted of tax and license collector, street inspector, building, plumbing and electrical inspector.

The first thing the city council members did after being incorporated was to levy large license fees for each of the saloons in town to pay the wages of the marshal, city clerk, and treasurer and to pay for other needs of the city. A large revenue was collected for the city as there were almost twenty saloons scattered about the city, most of them along San Pablo Avenue.

In 1917 in El Cerrito, which means Little Hill in Spanish, the population was in the neighborhood of 1,500 people. The city was without fire or police protection. This was the main reason that El Cerrito was incorporated so the city could raise tax money to provide services which the people needed. Soon after the incorporation the driving of cattle down San Pablo Avenue was stopped. The farmers used to drive large herds down the streets to the slaughterhouses to be slaughtered. This would cause the dust to fly and people started to complain and demanded that it be stopped.

On the south side of Fairmount Avenue, just west of the Santa Fe tracks, was a corral where ranchers drove their cattle to be shipped by rail or to store them for a drive to the slaughterhouse on Central Avenue. They would drive them down Fairmount Avenue causing the dust to fly or in winter the hooves would make holes in the mud. This was long before they paved Fairmount Avenue.

On Central Avenue near Belmont at the present Central Park site, was the Lewis and McDermott slaughterhouse. One could go there and watch the cattle going down a narrow chute and a man with a large sledge hammer standing on top of the chute to hit the steers over the head, killing them.

There was also a large slaughterhouse near the Albany Hill. Kids would go there and pick up bladders that had dried out on the fences and use them to play football. Near this slaughterhouse is where the Judson Powder Company plant had been. The plant was destroyed during an explosion on August 16, 1905 killing a number of Chinese workmen.

When the slaughterhouse on Central Avenue burned down it was two days before all of the hay stored there stopped smoldering as it all had to be pulled apart, bale by bale, by the volunteer firemen.

At the foot of Central Avenue in Richmond there were railroad tracks leading out to Point Isabel. This point was named after Isabella Castro, the daughter of Victor, born at the Castro Adobe on July 10, 1848. She later became Mrs. O’Neil.

Dynamite was hauled out and stored there. Barges pulled into the Point to load as they had a wharf protruding out into the bay. The Vigoret Powder Works (E. I. du Pont de Nemours Powder Company) was once located at the Point.

The area where the Golden Gate Fields now stands in Albany was known as Fleming Point. This area was owned by the Giant Powder Works and the plant blew up on July 13, 1892.

Chinese workers used to go clamming out in the mudflats. One can still see at low tide stakes from the old fence that was put up to protect the clam beds from the sting rays. In those early days one could see the Chinese running down San Pablo Avenue with baskets hanging over their shoulders on a bamboo pole. These baskets would be loaded with clams they had dug up and were going to sell.

Between Fleming Point and Isabel Point along the Southern Pacific tracks in 1930, a train was held up and robbed near the Nobel Loading Station in Albany. In their hurry to get away, the bandits dropped several bags of money, which were picked up by a couple of El Cerrito children who were going out to Fleming Point to swim. One of these children, Vincent Lombardo, was a witness at the trial that convicted the bandits when they were captured. He received a reward for his services.

Copyright Mervin Belfils, October 1975
Copyright El Cerrito Historical Society, June 2006