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A copy of the 1912 city-commissioned report, which assessed the city's past, present and future.

A glimpse into a time of limitless promise

on February 23, 2010

In the Fall of 1912, much of the nation was captivated by the closest three-way presidential race in U.S. history. The Titanic – and the aura of scientific perfectibility – came to rest in a dark grave months before.  Fenway Park in Boston was America’s newest ballpark.

And out West, a little town nested against a deep-water point in San Francisco Bay stood poised before a seemingly limitless future. Standard Oil operated the West coast’s largest refinery, and Santa Fe Railroad linked goods and people to the rest of the continent. Six newspapers flourished locally, and industrial growth had meant harmony between business and labor.

The detailed and optimistic exploration of Richmond is contained in an independent report by a private consulting firm dated September 1912. The 229-page report, titled “Report on Richmond Harbor Project,” was commissioned to assess the young city’s development and provide a blueprint for its future.

The report was provided to Richmond Confidential by a resident who requested it from city records.

The city was only seven-years-old at the time the report was produced, having been incorporated in 1905.

Some of its predictions and documentations held remarkably well. Nearly a century later, the oil refinery is still the city’s biggest employer, and among the largest facilities in the country.

The growth in Richmond, however, did not prove as limitless as the report suggested. The city’s population, about 103,000 and among the poorest and most crime-riddled in the Bay Area, is virtually the same as the report estimated would have arrived by 1950. The authors said that early estimate was so conservative that it could easily be “greatly exceeded” due to Richmond’s bustling industries.

The document reveals a rare glimpse into the city's beginnings.

Among the observations made in the report:

“Richmond owes its original foundation to the opportunity afforded for the construction of wharves and piers reaching out into deep water close to the natural shore line.”

“The Standard Oil refineries are the largest in this country west of New Jersey, and on account of their favorable location, and particularly because of their connections by pipe lines with the great oil fields of the upper San Joaquin Valley, should ultimately be the largest oil refineries in the world.”

“The main transcontinental line of the Santa Fe Railroad was built to what has now become Point Richmond in the years 1899 to 1901. Ferry boats transfer passengers from Point Richmond to the Union Depot and Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street in San Francisco.”

“Near the center of the city are the extensive car shops and repair plants, employing a large number of men. … the aggregate investment of the Santa Fe in Richmond is very large.”

“The present valuations of property within the city are approximately as follows:

Outlying residence section, $15 to $25 per front foot; close in residence property, $25 to $50 per front foot; outlying business property, $60 to $100 per front foot …”

“There are 12 churches in the city of Richmond.”

“In spite of the fact that Richmond is primarily an industrial community, the death rate of the city is only 5.3 per 1,000.”

“Richmond has several theaters, including a new one which has just been completed, with a seating capacity of 1,200 and a well-equipped opera house.”

“The industrial growth of Richmond has been greatly facilitated by unbroken harmony between labor and employers. The Standard Oil Company, the largest employer in the city, has been noted throughout the country for the absence of serious strikes.”

“… from a standard and conservative method of computation, a probable future population in 1920 of about 37,000 and in 1950 of about 103,000. The present population, including the recent annex, is about 12,000.” (in 1920, the population reached about 17,000, and in 1950 about 99,000)

“Richmond is one of the few cities which has been primarily developed as an industrial community … Its promise as a manufacturing center early attracted the most substantial and energetic men, who have advertised it widely, and promoted its growth by inviting manufacturing enterprises and by sub-dividing the surrounding large land holdings into city lots.”


  1. george boscoe on February 23, 2010 at 8:58 am

    Look how the residents of Richmond have squandered the blessing of nature and industry. Instead of celebrating the benefits of industry and manufacturing, the residents blame these creators of wealth for all their ills, attempt to kill them off with confiscatory taxation and whine about why its someone elses fault that young boys have reached the brazen state of walking into a church and shooting parishioners during a church service.


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Richmond Confidential is an online news service produced by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for, and about, the people of Richmond, California. Our goal is to produce professional and engaging journalism that is useful for the citizens of the city.

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