The 100 Most Influential East Bay Residents of All Time

People who helped shape the region, the nation, and the world.



Published:

Luis Maria Peralta and his family once owned most of what we now know as the East Bay.

Photo courtesy of Gene Anderson

(page 1 of 6)

From politics and the environment to science, education, sports, and arts and culture, the East Bay has been blessed with numerous legendary figures throughout its history. So we thought it would fun and interesting to assemble a list of The 100 Most Influential East Bay Residents of All Time.

But the question was: How to do it? We knew it would be a daunting task, so we did what journalists normally do. We enlisted the help of experts—four noted East Bay historians: Annalee Allen, Gene Anderson, Dennis Evanosky, and Paul Brekke-Miesner. We also leaned heavily on Anderson’s terrific book, Legendary Locals of Oakland, along with historical texts, Alameda: A Geographical History by Imelda Merlin, Berkeley: A City in History by Charles Wollenberg, and Alameda at Play by Woodruff Minor.

We quickly realized, however, that with so many deserving people to choose from, we needed to narrow the geography of our list to three inner East Bay cities: Oakland, Alameda, and Berkeley. We also worked to ensure that our list reflected the real diversity of the area.

As you might imagine, a lot of lively arguments ensued as we culled our list to about 150 people or so before voting on our final choices. One main criterion we employed was that to make our list, a person needed to have lived in the East Bay for an extended period or his or her impactful work had to have occurred here. Magazine staffers Stephen Buel, Judith M. Gallman, Robert Gammon, and Andreas Jones also cast ballots for the top 100. Our final list is on the following pages, along with six stories about some of the most interesting and influential people from the region’s history.

We expect there will be many disagreements about our list—especially regarding the deserving people we left off. Send us your suggestions for who else deserved inclusion and we’ll compile the names in our September issue. Nonetheless, we hope you’ll find this roster intriguing and educational.

 

1759-1851

The First Family

Luis Maria Peralta and his family once owned most of what we now know as the East Bay.

By Dennis Evanosky

The Peralta heritage in today’s East Bay finds its roots deep in the soil of Sonora, Mexico. Gabriel Antonio Peralta came into world there about 1731 at Real de San Juan de Sonora. He served in the army and was stationed at the Tubac presidio in today’s Arizona. On June 1, 1756, he married Francisca Javier Valenzuela. Together they had four children—Juan José, Luis Maria, Pedro Regalado, and Maria Gertrudis. Luis Maria would play an important role in shaping the East Bay.

Gabriel was serving at Tubac when Juan Bautista de Anza announced that he wanted the garrison’s help blazing a trail north to Monterey and into areas that Gaspar Portola had explored six years earlier. Thirty-eight families agreed to join him, among them Gabriel Peralta’s. On Oct. 23, 1775, a party of 240 set out from Tubac; 118 days later, on June 27, 1776, they arrived in what would become San Francisco.

The Spanish established a presidio and a mission; the families settled in. Five years later, on Dec. 2, 1781, Gabriel and Francisca’s second oldest, Luis Maria Peralta (1759-1851) made a decision that would greatly impact East Bay history: He enlisted in the army. He rose in the ranks to sergeant, serving 44 years. When he retired, he asked for and, on Aug. 3, 1820, received an 11-square-league land grant—the largest allowed under Spanish law. The grant encompassed most of what we know as the East Bay.

In 1804—16 years before he retired—Luis Maria had purchased an adobe in El Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe, today’s San Jose. He continued living there after his retirement. He left the running of his vast land grant to his four sons—Ignacio (1791-1874), Domingo (1795-1865), Antonio (1801-1879), and Vicente Peralta (1812-1871). They went to work, seeing to it that their vaqueros drove the first cattle onto the property.

When Don Luis Maria visited his property in 1827, he was pleased that his holding included 1,300 head of cattle. A census taken in 1828 recorded 14 people living at the settlement that the family had established in today’s East Oakland.

In 1842, the aging Don Luis Marie divided the land among his sons. Ignacio received the 9,416 acres from San Leandro Creek to approximately today’s Seminary Avenue in Oakland. At first, Ignacio and his family lived in an adobe. In 1860, his son-in-law William Toler built a brick home for the family. That home stands today as the Alta Mira Club.

Antonio received 15,206 acres, land from Seminary Avenue to modern-day Lake Merritt. The grant included the Bolsa de Encinal, today’s Alameda. Antonio lived on the 1820 grant’s original homestead. He built two adobes, one in 1821, another in 1840. The 1868 Great San Francisco Earthquake destroyed the 1840 adobe. The family moved into the 1821 adobe while a frame house was being built. The family moved into the frame house in 1870. That home stands as the centerpiece of Peralta Hacienda Park today.

Vicente and Domingo split 18,848 acres of the grant. Don Luis Maria gave Vicente the land north and west of Lake Merritt to what we know as Alcatraz Avenue. By 1848, Vicente had built a home for his family in Oakland’s Temescal district. The street where his house stood bears his name today.

The Don endowed Domingo the northwest portion of the original grant from Alcatraz Avenue to El Cerrito Creek. By then Domingo had already begun building an adobe on Cordornices (Quail) Creek in today’s Berkeley. He became the first of the sons to build a frame house. The house stood on the 1500 block of Hopkins Street in Berkeley, was later moved to Sacramento Street, and razed in 1933.

Nearly everything that the Peraltas would have recognized is gone today. On Jan. 21, 1848, John Sutter discovered gold on the American River. The gold that Sutter held in his hand that winter morning changed everything. 

 

In Brief

Ishi

1861-1916

Known as the “last wild Indian;” was emblematic of native peoples who inhabited California.

 

 

 

Bobby Seale

1936-

Huey Newton

1942-1989

Founders of the Black Panther Party in Oakland.

 

 

Philip K. Dick

1928-1982

Berkeley High grad and celebrated sci-fi author

Ursula K. Leguin

1929-

Berkeley native and acclaimed sci-fi and fantasy writer.

 

Alfred Peet

1920-2007

Started the specialty coffee revolution in U.S. and founded Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Berkeley.

 

 

 

Francis Marion Smith

1846-1931

Borax magnate who created Oakland’s Key System of streetcars and ferries.

 

 

 

William Worthington Chipman

1820-1873

Gideon Aughinbaugh

1816-1897

Business partners who purchased the Encinal property in Alameda and later founded the city of Alameda.

 

Richard Diebenkorn

1922-1993

Berkeley painter and abstract expressionist involved in Bay Area Figurative Movement.

 

 

 

Kate Kirkham

1823-1897

Founder of Oakland’s first hospital, Fabiola Hospital.

 

 

 

Marcus Foster

1923-1973

First African American to lead a major school district, in Oakland. Killed by the SLA.

 

 

Charles MacGregor

1871-1954

A prolific East Bay homebuilder who constructed thousands of small, well-built homes in the East Bay and is known as “the builder of Albany.” Also active throughout Oakland.

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