For those who don't know, I have long been fascinated with the East Bay's Key System. Granted, I'm obsessed with Oakland history generally, but the Key System is a favorite because I feel like we can still learn so much from it in the present. If you need to catch up a bit, the Key System was a transit network that connected much of the East Bay via trains, streetcars and buses from 1903 to 1960. This exhaustive system was founded by Bay Area hustler Francis "Borax" Smith long before AC Transit or BART were even blips on the horizon.
I don't mean to get too nostalgic, but it seems that the K.S. is still a relatively relevant transit model. Let's face it, BART has never been the expansive system it should be in the metropolitan Bay Area, and AC Transit is cutting bus routes left and right. The Key System served Oakland, San Leandro, Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Piedmont and Emeryville- AND it even connected to San Francisco, first via ferry and then via the lower deck of the Bay Bridge. Many say that the Key System perished due to a post war boom that allowed families to buy cars, but in reality the Key System was bought and dismantled by a conglomerate comprised of General Motors, Standard Oil and Firestone Tires to help usher in the era of the automobile.
The video below is something I came across the other week that should be quite a turn on to my fellow Town historians and transit heads. I have studied the Key System in depth, but had never seen it in action until this- a promotional video from 1945 that takes us inside the Key System. Be forewarned that the beginning is a pretty cheesy brief history of California. Hang in there though, it gets better. Enjoi!
In other news, the original Key System building (pictured bottom right with roof garden) is still standing and will be preserved and renovated by this proposed LEED certified building at 1100 Broadway in Downtown Oakland.
The building will include a mural by Oakland's Rocky Rische-Baird that commemorates the Key System. The mural will not be the one pictured at top, but is featured in the video interview of Rische-Baird below. The new mural utilizes "pictorial iconography" that represents micro-stories of past and present. The most interesting manifestation of this approach seems to be the depiction of Barack Obama on a commuter's newspaper.