When the City of Oakland has made its mark in history, it often has been because of the Port of Oakland.
The Port attracted attention in literature, as the home base for Jack London's sailboat Razzle Dazzle and his fellow teen-age "oyster pirates." His favorite saloon, Heinhold's First & Last Chance, still stands today at Jack London Square, adjacent to a portion of his 1898 Yukon cabin which was moved to Oakland in 1969.
But Oakland also was the first major port on the West Coast to build terminals for the then-revolutionary containerships, becoming the second largest port in the world in container tonnage in the late 1960s and second only to New York in its container terminal acreage.
To begin this new era in international shipping, Sea-Land modified four ships and invested in a fleet of 5,000 trailers that "detach from their chassis to become giant shipping boxes." The Port of Oakland, in turn, spent $600,000 to upgrade piers to accommodate the line's revolutionary operations.
"This marks a new milestone in low-cost ship transportation," Sea-Land Chairman Malcolm P. McLean told 600 Oakland dignitaries at the opening ceremonies on Sept. 27, 1962. "Through the use of sealed trailers we are able to load and unload a vessel in one-sixth the time of conventional ships."
Oakland International Airport, whose new runway and passenger jet terminal was dedicated in 1962 at a cost of $20 million, has shown the same historic spirit in accommodating new ventures and new technologies.
It is a tradition that began in 1927 when crews worked around the clock for 23 days to prepare what was then the world's longest runway, a 7,020-foot strip that served as the takeoff point for the first flight across the 2,400 miles from the mainland to Hawaii. At the official dedication of the original airport that same year, Col. Charles A. Lindbergh arrived in his "Spirit of St. Louis" and declared, "You have here one of the finest airports I have ever seen. Oakland is setting an example to the cities of the country."
The Port has gained prominence not only because of its natural advantages, but also because of a leadership that has known how to develop and market them to the benefit of the local economy. Oakland is almost 300 nautical miles closer to Asia and its now-booming economy than Southern California ports. This means reduced transit times, lower fuel and vessel costs and faster turnaround for ocean carriers. It is served by two major railroads, Union Pacific and Santa Fe.
But while realizing that its most important task is to create jobs, the Port also has been committed to involving the community in its activities, whether through sponsoring civic events or simply providing one of the rare places where the average family can watch a working port.
The Port's Jack London Square is the only restaurant/retail center in the Bay Area where a diner can sit at a table and watch as a giant containership passes by less than 50 yards from the window. There are numerous waterfront parks in Oakland, several of which afford close-up views of working marine terminals.
Jack London Square is a good spot to reminisce about the Port's colorful past. This is where Captain Thomas Gray, grandfather of the famous dancer Isadora Duncan, began the first ferry service to San Francisco in 1850. Here is where Jack London borrowed the entrance fee for the University of California from the owner of Heinhold's First and Last Chance Saloon. The unusual name came from the fact that it was the "first and last chance" to get a drink for residents of Alameda, then a "dry" city, who commuted to Oakland by ferry.
Here the normally sedate Port Commissioner George Pardee, then mayor of Oakland, personally kicked down a fence that the Southern Pacific railroad, which once claimed exclusive ownership of Oakland's waterfront, had erected across Broadway in 1893. Finally, in 1906, the California Supreme Court ended the lengthy disputes by ruling in the city's favor.
The airport, too, is rich in history. It is perhaps best known as the departure point for Amelia Earhart on her fateful round-the-world flight in 1937. It also was the departure point for Australian World War I ace Sir Charles Kingford-Smith, who made the first flight between North America and Australia in 1928, as well as for the first civilian flight to Hawaii. It also was the West Coast terminus for United Airline's newly introduced service to New York in 1937. The new DC-3s carried 14 passengers and made the trip in 15 hours and 20 minutes, with three stops.
In more recent times, Oakland Airport found room for the revolutionary idea of 28-year-old Memphis entrepreneur Fred Smith and his new overnight delivery service known as Federal Express. Today the Federal Express sorting center here handles 51.5 percent of Oakland International Airport's annual freight volume of 1.4 billion pounds.
The 27,000 passengers who use the airport each day can thank the Port for its leadership role in the airline deregulation that has led to today's lower fares. A lawsuit filed by the Port in 1961, charging that the eight airlines holding authority to serve the Bay Area gave Oakland "inadequate and unjustly discriminatory service," became the legal basis for airline deregulation. Four years later, in 1965, Pacific Southwest Airlines pioneered low-cost service with 32 weekly flights between Oakland and Los Angeles at a fare of $11.43.
The Western Aerospace Museum at the airport's North Field features civilian, military and commercial aircraft, and emphasizes the contributions made to aviation history at Oakland Airport and the former Alameda Naval Air Station.
Today the tradition of innovation continues -- at both the airport and the seaport. And when citizens of Oakland travel abroad in any of the commercial centers of the world, they often find that the Port is Oakland's best-known feature.
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