Spanish & Mexican Era – 1760s to 1840s

European Settlement
The California coast was explored by the Spanish and English from the early 1500s to the mid-1700s. In the 18th century, Spanish soldiers and missionaries traveled north into Alta California from their home base in Mexico to Christianize the native people and facilitate Spanish colonization by building a series of missions (churches), presidios (forts), and pueblos (towns).

The 1st such expedition was in 1769, when a mission and presidio were established at San Diego; a company led by Gaspar de Portola then marched up the coast to establish a colony at Monterey. Due to heavy fog he was unable to locate the Monterey harbor and continued up the coast to near the present-day City of Pacifica. From a hill there, he was the 1st European to sight San Francisco Bay, on October 31, 1769.

The 1st European to enter the bay is believed to have been the Spanish explorer Juan de Ayala, who passed through the Golden Gate on August 5, 1775. Just 8 months later, on March 28, 1776, El Presidio Real de San Francisco (Royal Presidio of San Francisco) was established at the northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula, protecting the entrance to the bay at the Golden Gate. This presidio (which remained a military base for 218 years until it was finally decommissioned by the U.S. government in 1994) served the 4th Military District of Alta California, which included all Spanish territory from Santa Cruz north. It was the 1st permanent European settlement in Northern California.

Additional Settlements
Shortly thereafter, on June 29, 1776, Mission San Francisco de Asís (commonly called Mission Dolores) was founded nearby. The mission was 9 miles west of present-day Emeryville, on the other side of the bay. Other settlements in the Bay Area included:
  • 1st town in Alta California, El Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe (San Jose) at the south end of the bay, founded in 1777, about 40 miles to the southeast of present-day Emeryville
  • Mission Santa Clara de Asís, in Santa Clara, founded in 1777, about 38 miles to the southeast
  • Mission San Jose, in the present-day City of Fremont, founded in 1797, about 29 miles to the southeast
  • Mission San Rafael Arcángel, in San Rafael, founded in 1817, about 16 miles to the northwest across the bay
  • Mission San Francisco Solano, in Sonoma, founded in 1823, about 33 miles to the northwest
There were no Spanish missions or pueblos on the east side of the bay anywhere near the area that would later become the Town of Emeryville.

Rancho San Antonio
Peralta.gif Another part of Spain's strategy for colonizing Alta California, and thereby solidifying its claim to the territory, was to encourage settlement with large land grants. The land grant that included the area that was to become Emeryville was Rancho San Antonio, granted to Luís María Peralta in 1820. Peralta was born in Sonora, New Spain (now Mexico) in 1759 and arrived with his family in Alta California at the age of 17 as part of Juan Bautista de Anza's expedition in 1776.

The Peralta family was among the group of settlers who helped found the Presidio of San Francisco, Mission Santa Clara, and the pueblo of San José. As was traditional, when he reached the age of 21, Luís entered into the military of the King of Spain. He was a soldier for over 40 years, serving in Monterey, San Francisco, San Jose, and Santa Cruz.

In 1807, he was appointed "comisionado" in charge of Pueblo San José, the highest military and civilian official of the town. On August 3, 1820, as a reward for his long and dedicated service to the Spanish crown, Don Luís María Peralta was granted Rancho San Antonio, a 44,800-acre (70-square-mile) land grant covering the present-day cities of San Leandro, Oakland, Alameda, Piedmont, Berkeley, Albany, and Emeryville. In 1821, when Mexico gained independence from Spain, Rancho San Antonio retained its status as a Mexican land grant, and the Peraltas and other "Californios" became citizens of Mexico.

Houses & Livestock
Don Peralta never lived on the rancho himself, but his 4 sons and their families did. The main hacienda became the social and commercial center of this vast rancho. It contained 2 adobes and some 20 guest houses, and became an established stop for travelers along the only "camino real" (King's highway) on the eastern side of San Francisco Bay. Annual rodeos and cattle round-ups, horse racing, and games often took place here. The Peraltas eventually had over 8,000 head of cattle and 2,000 horses grazing on the rancho, and built a wharf on the bay near the hacienda headquarters in order to trade the rawhide and tallow produced by their cattle. The Peralta family built a total of 16 houses over a 50-year period on Rancho San Antonio.

Vicente Peralta
In 1842, Don Peralta divided the rancho among his 4 sons. Vicente Peralta received the portion encompassing present-day West Oakland, North Oakland, and Emeryville. He built corrals and a slaughter house for his cattle in the area around the Emeryville Shellmound. The hides could be transported across the bay to the little Village of Yerba Buena (later to become San Francisco) directly from an "embarcadero" slightly north of Temescal Creek.

His hacienda was farther up the creek, about 2 miles to the east, near the present-day eastbound freeway on-ramp from Telegraph Avenue. Vicente Street in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland is named for him and runs near the site of his hacienda. There is a historical plaque at the corner of 55th Street and Telegraph Avenue, erected by the adjacent Chevron gas station, that provides some Ohlone history and includes a map and description of the Vicente Peralta hacienda.

Domingo Peralta
Vicente's brother Domingo received the northern portion of Rancho San Antonio, encompassing present-day Berkeley and Albany. Following California statehood they merged their ranchos, so maps sometimes refer to the "Vicente and Domingo Peralta Rancho" or the "V and D Peralta Rancho."

Don Peralta
Don Peralta lived to see Alta California transformed from a Mexican territory to a state of the United States, dying in 1851. He advised his sons to steer clear of the Gold Rush, stating "the land is our gold." But his prophesy was short-lived, and the pastoral life of Rancho San Antonio came to an abrupt end when the East Bay was overrun by American settlers in the 1850s. For further information about the Peralta family and Rancho San Antonio, visit the website of the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park, which is the hacienda of Vicente's brother Antonio in the Fruitvale District of Oakland.