Crown Beach Reborn Again

Tons of sand from the bottom of the Bay restore Alameda’s main attraction.


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Courtesy EBRPD

Crown Memorial State Beach offers magnificent views of San Francisco, boasts easy pedestrian access, and has (relatively) warm water at its shore. The beach stretches 9,000 feet and attracts more than 600,000 visitors per year, making Crown Beach the longest and most heavily used beach on the Bay. And a shoreline that length needs lots of sand—which is why last fall the East Bay Regional Park District completed an almost $5.7 million project to replenish the park with approximately 82,000 cubic yards of the stuff.

The beach was created in the 1950s, when the area’s marshes were filled in to make room for new residential buildings. At that time, the city of Alameda managed it. In 1966, the regional park district agreed to take over management from the state of what was then known as Alameda Memorial State Beach—eventually renamed for Robert W. Crown, the state assemblyman who campaigned to protect the area—and in 1967, to run the city’s section of public beach as well. Fifteen years later, the park district used a heavier, coarse-grained sand to engineer a beach system that would protect the shoreline from erosion and offer Alameda residents a beautiful recreation area. Now Crown Memorial State Beach includes a marine reserve at Crab Cove and the Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary, a habitat for water and salt marsh birds.

But between 1990 and 2006, Crown Beach lost more than 82,000 cubic yards of sand to both ordinary erosion and severe storms. In October, the park district began its effort to restore the beach to its 1987 footprint—the last time it was replenished—by mining sand through a dredge barge off Angel Island, transporting it to an offshore pump barge, and depositing it on the beach through a 14-inch pipe. Despite a few delays, the park district finished the job before the end of the year.

“The beach was intended as a low-cost solution to protect the shoreline from wave and wind erosion that would also allow for public recreation,” says Diane Althoff, the park district’s chief of design and construction. Althoff contributed to the early phases of the Crown Beach build in the 1980s. “Most of the people who use it don’t even realize all the protection it offers. When the beach was engineered, its projected life before it would need to be restored was 20 years. We pushed that to 25 years, but the beach has held up well.”

And it’s a good thing, too, since for many Alamedans, the beach plays an integral part in family memories.

“When my kids were young, we used to walk far, far out into the Bay when the tide was out,” says long-time resident Laurie Wagner. “It was magical to see what was on the Bay floor, but spooky, too, because you knew the tide would come back in. Even though my kids are older now, I still walk Crown Beach a couple times a week with friends—and I’m always touched to live so close to the water.”

Local birder and songwriter Deborah Crooks says Crown Beach is what makes Alameda home for her. “The new sand makes the park a nice walking beach again, a tranquil spot to check in with nature, especially in the early mornings or the evenings,” she says. “When I first moved to Alameda and went down to Crown Beach, I knew everything was going to be OK.”

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