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May 29, 2012 > History: Old Town Alvarado

History: Old Town Alvarado

By Myrla Raymundo

Formerly an old settlement dating back to l850, Alvarado was also known as New Haven and Union City. The population at the time was over 800. There were a number of substantial buildings, including the beet-sugar factory which had been in operation for many years.

Alvarado was situated on the Southern Pacific Railroad line, l9 miles from Oakland. It was the first capital of Alameda County but later moved to San Leandro and then to Oakland. The first County Courthouse was located at the corner of Smith and Levee Streets.

Alvarado was rich in salt lands and marshes, flowing artesian wells, expansive farmlands and sugar production. The area was very fertile, well adapted to the growth of all kinds of garden produce, fruit and sugar beets. Businesses of all types were well represented.

The Alvarado Fire Department was founded in 1905; the Fire Station went through several building stages: engine bays were built in 1943, a front office followed in 1948 and sleeping quarters were completed in 1962. It was an All Volunteer Fire Department.

Alvarado's first postmaster was Henry Smith. It was likely that the first post office was located in his store, also the County Court house. The Post Office was later moved to a building on the corner of Smith Street and Union City Blvd. It has been in its present location on Smith Street for 40 years. When Union City was incorporated, the Decoto Post Office became the main Union City Post Office and the Alvarado Post Office became a branch.

The old Alvarado Hotel or the "Alvarado Hilton", as it was popularly known, is located on the corner of Union City Blvd. and Smith Street. Everybody, it seems, came to the Alvarado Hotel at one time or another; senators, judges, farmers, truck drivers, policemen, executives, construction workers, doctors, mayors and transients, but mostly men. Some just for coffee and others for all they could eat.

Here also was the Oakland Water Company's pumping plant. The artesian wells have been flowing for 40 years and the works had been pumping millions of gallons of water per day.

By 1902, Alvarado had its first finance firm, the Alvarado Bank.

Alvarado became a busy village and in the '20s became known as a rendezvous for "colorful parties." Then in 1926, after a raid, District Attorney Earl Warren closed "Little Tia Juana" and the town forged ahead rapidly.

The leading merchant in Alvarado during those days was Mr. I.V. Ralph, with a well-stocked store of general merchandise on Levee Street. This was also the office of the Sunset Telephone; Mr. Ralph was the agent. He also owned a carpet and furniture store across the street, where he also carried a good stock of window shades, matting and upholstered goods, etc.

Every afternoon, after school, a crowd of children headed for Matsumoto Grocery, the 80-year-old store in Old Alvarado to buy fistfuls of candy. Like Priego's Market around the corner and Casada's Market in the heart of Decoto, this store was one of the few "mom and pop" grocery stores that managed to survive suburban sprawl and the age of the supermarket.

The store, managed by owner Ben Matsumoto, had become an institution in the tiny Alvarado neighborhood where it was once the community's sole supplier of Oriental foods. Grace Handa, Ben Matsumoto's sister, was the store manager working there since age 5.

The Old Alvarado area is an historical district with older homes and buildings. Some of the homes and buildings are still there, most now designated historical by the City of Union City.



Editor's Note: Information and text for history columns in Tri-City Voice is contributed by area historians who may use documents and writings of others found in historical archives. Attribution to these sources will be noted when appropriate.

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