Deep Oakland chapter 7: Indian Gulch

After introducing the Fan and its deep history, in this chapter I zoom in on a special corner of it for a closer look at a braided set of topics. Indian Gulch is the stream valley that today is better known as Trestle Glen. I single it out because it embodies several geological and social ideals:

Indian Gulch may well have been the Ohlones’ favorite neighborhood, and maybe we should be calling it Ohlone Vale. It had, and lost, chances to become a great city park. Although Indian Gulch has seen many changes and the stream in it has largely been culverted, geologically minded visitors can perceive despite all a stream valley with a soul.

I’ve posted a few times already about the valley’s geology, its lower reach and its upper reach. Briefly, it has the textbook dendritic, or treelike, pattern of a stream that has completely settled into the landscape, evident here as it curves across the bottom and up the right side of this map.

Like the ideal stream, its head is in high bedrock and its foot lies at sea level, grading from stony slopes to level beds of clay.

The Ohlones had a large village in this valley, and its traditional name recognizes how that memory lingered among the tribespeople, even generations later as they toiled for the Mexican ranchers of the Peralta family. Indian Gulch has supported a rock quarry, a brickyard, a hay farm and a stinky factory that processed eucalyptus leaves.

But from the 1890s through the 1910s, Indian Gulch was a battlefield between developers and City Beautiful visionaries. Researching this story in the old newspapers was fun, and my account is more detailed than any other I’ve seen.

Indian Gulch became “Trestle Glen” when an amusement park by that name opened in the spring of 1893, part of a real-estate scheme that extended an electric streetcar line across the valley on a tall wooden trestle.

Courtesy Oakland Library

The streetcars were supposed to keep going into the Crocker Highland hills and serve a new development of fine homes, but the Panic of 1893, a deep depression that lasted four years, put the kibosh on that plan.

It was thirty years before developers moved in and built it out. During that time, four different attempts were made to preserve the picturesque valley, its grassy floodplain studded with large native trees. Proponents envisioned “a gem of a natural park” in Indian Gulch, while opponents called it “a rugged canyon of revolting appearance” and “a big ranch which we never can reasonably improve.” The bond issues needed to finance a proper park never passed, and the city leaders were divided. Instead, it was Lake Merritt that became the city’s dream park, full of diverse pleasures for the whole range of citizens.

I spend a few paragraphs indulging my own vision for what “Ohlone Vale Park” could have been after a century’s history, from gardens to rock-climbing preserves. “But stop the daydream. Oakland voters probably recognized that it takes a lot of work to civilize wild land—to improve a big ranch.” Instead, just a few outcrops peek out here and there to suggest what could have been.

The city and regional parks higher in the hills are closer to “natural parks,” a term I revisit in a later chapter.

5 Responses to “Deep Oakland chapter 7: Indian Gulch”

  1. petertparrish Says:

    Thank you Arleen! I just downloaded the Oakland Berkeley watershed map. Thanks so much. I lived in the Albany-Berkley-Oakland-Piedmont area from the time I was born (1945) to 1956. Then for 6 more years in Orinda. But back to Univ. of CA from 1967 to 1976. Around 1954-1956, I was introduced to the stormwater system and spent untold hours exploring the Berkeley-Oakland stormwater system. Hence my interest in the watershed maps. If you would like, send me your email address at and I will send you back a reminisce about my explorations. Thanks again.

  2. Arleen Feng Says:

    Peter, it’s unclear whether paper copies of the watershed maps can still be purchased from the Oakland Museum, but some (including the one for Oakland-Berkeley) can be downloaded as pdfs or as map files for GIS or Google Earth at;

    USGS online store still sells the base topos (without the watershed overlays)

  3. petertparrish Says:

    Yes indeed! This map is just what I wanted. Thanks you, Andrew. It is still possible to buy the old 7.5′ and 15′ topos? I used them a lot when I was wandering around the Sierra in my youth.

  4. Andrew Alden Says:

    I think you want this map:

  5. petertparrish Says:

    Hello Andrew. I am still in the early gathering mode. So, we might call Lake Merritt — San Antonio Slough? Got it. And we might call the creek that feeds the NE arm of San Antonio Slough — Trestle Glen Creek. Got it. Can you point me to a good map that depicts all the creeks that feed Trestle Glen Creek? I can see Wildwood Creek, Bushy Dell Creek…Your map on “A stroll up Indian Gulch, or Trestle Glen” cuts off San Antonio Slough and some of the other feeder creeks. I love your work.

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