The lavas of Easter Hill

It all started in the Oakland History group, on Facebook, when someone posted an image from a glass-plate negative for sale on eBay: a road-building crew at work somewhere in the East Bay hills. Was it Oakland?

We quickly determined the view overlooked the area that would become Richmond, but what was that little round hill in the rear center? It was too large and rounded to be a shellmound. It must have been bedrock; however, modern maps show nothing like it. But Andrew Lawson’s geologic map of 1913 did — an outlier of Franciscan lava at a locality named Cerrito.

The 2000 geologic map shows it too. Incidentally, I love the old map because it shows that Potrero San Pablo, the rocky ridge on Richmond’s west side, was essentially an island a hundred years ago.

The handsome little hill of Cerrito was called Easter Hill, because it was popular for Easter sunrise services once upon a time. Photos in Calisphere’s Richmond Local History Photograph Collection show it in about 1910:

and in 1912, behind the Stauffer Chemical Company plant, which used to process sulfur-bearing ore from mines in the Oakland hills:

The hill was laid out with roads and called El Cerrito Terrace at the time, but apparently never got more than partially settled before the World War II years because the Kaiser industrial combine acquired it for a quarry, to help fill in the marsh and build the tremendous shipyards of Richmond.

And that was pretty much the end of Easter Hill the hill, but in the 1950s the site became a pathbreaking low-income housing development, Easter Hill Village. After a few decades the neighborhood had gone sour and the buildings had deteriorated, but in the early 2000s Richmond renovated part of it, added new small multifamily homes and renamed it Richmond Village.

I had to go see if the rocks were still there. They are! Take the 23rd Street exit from 580 west and go right on Cutting Boulevard for two blocks, then right on South 26th Street.

Remnants of the hill add topographic interest to the site, and large boulders from the old quarry are placed all around.

Those boulders display a variety of igneous textures and rock types that’s remarkable in an exposure so small. There’s fine-grained, vesiculated (bubbly) andesite.

There’s lava jammed with centimeter-sized feldspar crystals (phenocrysts).

There’s lava ground into fragments by movements of the hot lava around it (autobreccia) — actually two kinds of autobreccia, hot and cold.

I wasn’t sure that all of these came from the same body of rock until I saw them all in one place, packed cheek by jowl in the same outcrop.

But wait there’s more — a textbook-quality outcrop of pillow lava.

Close up, the pillows look almost as fresh as the day they squeezed their way red-hot onto the seafloor and froze in this distinctive form, the outcome of cold water playing whack-a-mole with rising lava.

If you make your way to the hilltop, the rock is kind of punky but the views are inspiring whether you’re looking west, southeast or southwest.

So Easter Hill is still an excellent place to geologize. The village seems like a good place to live, too.

7 Responses to “The lavas of Easter Hill”

  1. withak30 Says:

    Excellent detective work!

  2. Janet Bauder Thornburg Says:

    Fascinating and well illustrated!

  3. mpetrof Says:

    Wow! I was excited when I found vesicular lava in Orinda and pillow basalt on Mt. Diablo but this, in a place I’ve driven by often….I think that this should be written up in the NCGS newsletter and I’d like photos for the Local Rocks activity.
    What is the little bleb of a hill w. of San Pablo and near the eastern extension of Barrett Ave. (it looks like Jf)?

  4. Jef Poskanzer (@jef_poskanzer) Says:

    Nice. I’ve biked through there many times (they don’t make it easy), but never thought to look at the rocks.

    There’s a smaller & taller hill to the north, on Clinton between 35th and 38th. I don’t recall any rock exposures there.

  5. Andrew Says:

    That little hill is mapped as Franciscan sandstone. I haven’t been there yet, but Google Streetview shows very little rock (just a bit at 699 Mesa Way).

  6. oaklanddots Says:

    I am the someone who posted the image.

  7. George Says:

    This is great! My wife found this hill many years ago on a big topographical map in the Tilden Nature Area Environmental Education Center, and we have wondered all this time where it is now and what its story is. I can’t believe it has all those great rocks! I will be checking it out soon….

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