Richmond is a city in western Contra Costa County, California, United States. The city was incorporated on August 7, 1905. Located in the eastern region of the San Francisco Bay Area, Richmond borders the cities of San Pablo, Albany, El Cerrito and Pinole in addition to the unincorporated communities of North Richmond, Hasford Heights, Kensington, El Sobrante, Bayview-Montalvin Manor, Tara Hills, and East Richmond Heights, and briefly San Francisco on Red Rock Island.
Under the McLaughlin Administration, Richmond was the largest city in the United States served by a Green Party mayor. As of the 2010 U.S. Census, the city’s population is at 103,710, making it the second largest city in the United States named Richmond. The largest, Richmond, Virginia, is the namesake of the California city.
The Ohlone Indians were the first inhabitants of the Richmond area, settling an estimated 5,000 years ago.
The name “Richmond” appears to predate actual incorporation by more than fifty years. Edmund Randolph, originally from Richmond, Virginia, represented the city of San Francisco when California’s first legislature met in San Jose in December 1849, and he became state assemblyman from San Francisco. His loyalty to the town of his birth caused him to persuade a federal surveying party mapping the San Francisco Bay to place the names “Point Richmond” and “Richmond” on an 1854 geodetic coast map, which was the geodetic map at the terminal selected by the San Francisco and San Joaquin Valley Railroad; and by 1899 maps made by the railroad carried the name “Point Richmond Avenue,” designating a county road that later became Barrett Avenue, a central street in Richmond.
The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad had its terminus at Richmond. The first post office opened in 1900.
Richmond was founded and incorporated in 1905, carved out of Rancho San Pablo, from which the nearby town of San Pablo inherited its name. Until the enactment of prohibition in 1919, the city had the largest winery in the world; the small abandoned village of Winehaven remains fenced off along Western Drive in the Point Molate Area. In the 1920s the Ku Klux Klan was active in the city. In 1930 the Ford Motor Company opened an assembly plant called Richmond Assembly Plant which moved to Milpitas in the 1960s. The old Ford plant has been a National Historic Place since 1988, and in 2004 was purchased by developer Eddie Orton and has been converted into an events center (Ford Point Building – The Craneway). The city was a small town at that time, until the onset of World War II which brought on a rush of migrants and a boom in the industrial sector. Standard Oil set up operations here in 1901, including a what is now the Chevron Richmond Refinery and tank farm, which are still operated by Chevron. There is a pier into San Francisco Bay south of Point Molate for oil tankers. The western terminus of the Santa Fe Railroad was established in Richmond with ferry connections at Ferry Point in the Brickyard Cove area of Point Richmond to San Francisco.
USS General A. W. Greely (AP-141) built in Richmond
At the outset of World War II, the four Richmond Shipyards were built along the Richmond waterfront, employing thousands of workers, many recruited from all over the United States, including many African-Americans and women entering the workforce for the first time. Many of these workers lived in specially constructed houses scattered throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, including Richmond, Berkeley and Albany. A specially built rail line, the Shipyard Railway, transported workers to the shipyards. Kaiser’s Richmond shipyards built 747 Victory and Liberty ships for the war effort, more than any other site in the U.S. The city broke many records and even built one Liberty ship in a record five days. On average the yards could build a ship in thirty days. The medical system established for the shipyard workers at the Richmond Field Hospital eventually became today’s Kaiser Permanente HMO. It remained in operation until 1993 when it was replaced by the modern Richmond Medical Center hospital, that has subsequently expanded to a large multiple building campus.
Point Richmond was originally the commercial hub of the city, but a new downtown arose in the center of the city. It was populated by many department stores such as Kress, J.C. Penney, Sears, Macy’s, and Woolworth’s. During the war the population increased dramatically and peaked at around 120,000 by the end of the war. Once the war ended the shipyard workers were no longer needed, beginning a decades-long population decline. The Census listed 99,545 residents in 1950. By 1960 much of the temporary housing built for the shipyard workers was torn down, and the population dropped to about 71,000. Many of the people who moved to Richmond were black and came from the Midwest and South. Most of the white men were overseas at war, and this opened up new opportunities for ethnic minorities and women. This era also brought with it the innovation of daycare for children, as a few women could care for several dozen women’s children, while most of the mothers went off to work in the factories and shipyards.
A “Wendy the Welder” at the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards contributing to the war effort.
In the 1970s the Hilltop area including a large shopping mall was developed in the northern suburbs of the city; this further depressed the downtown area as it drew away retail clients and tenants. In the late 1990s and early 2000s the Richmond Parkway was built along the western industrial and northwestern parkland of the city connecting Interstates 80 and 580.
In the early 1900s, the Santa Fe railroad established a major rail yard adjacent to Point Richmond. The railroad constructed a tunnel through the Potrero San Pablo ridge to run a track from their yard to a ferry landing from which freight cars could be transshipped to San Francisco. Where this track crosses the main street in Point Richmond, there remain two of the last operational wigwag grade crossing signals in the United States, and the only surviving examples of the “upside-down” type. The wigwag is an antiquated type of railroad crossing signal which was phased out in the 1970s and 80s across the country. There was controversy in 2005 when the State Transportation Authority ordered the BNSF railroad company to upgrade the railroad crossing signals. A compromise was achieved that included installing new modern crossing gates, red lights and bells while not removing, but simply shutting off the historic ones and preserving their functionality for special events.
The Pullman Company also established a major facility in Richmond in the early 20th century. The facility connected with both the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific and serviced their passenger coach equipment. The Pullman Company was a large employer of African American men, who worked mainly as porters on the Pullman cars. Many of them settled in the East Bay, from Richmond to Oakland, prior to World War II.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had planned to visit Richmond just prior to his assassination.
In 2006 the city celebrated its centennial. This coincided with the repaving and streetscaping project of Macdonald Avenue. The city’s old rundown commercial district along Macdonald has been designated the city’s “Main Street District” by the state of California. This has led to funding of improvements in the form of state grants.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 52.5 square miles (136 km2), of which 30.1 square miles (78 km2) is land and 22.4 square miles (58 km2) (42.71%) is water. The city sits on 32 miles (51 km) of waterfront, more than any other city in the Bay Area. The city borders San Francisco Bay to the southwest and San Pablo Bay to the northwest, and includes Brooks Island and the Brother Islands entirely, and half of Red Rock Island.
There are several cities and unincorporated communities surrounding or bordering Richmond. To the south is the city of Albany which is in Alameda County and the city of El Cerrito. The unincorporated communities of East Richmond Heights, Rollingwood, Hasford Heights, and El Sobrante lie to the east. North Richmond to the west and San Pablo to the east are almost entirely surrounded by Richmond’s city limits. To the north, Richmond borders the city of Pinole and the unincorporated areas of Bayview, Montalvin Manor, Hilltop Green, Tara Hills. Richmond borders Alameda, San Francisco, and Marin counties in the Bay and Red Rock Island.
The city is within the 94801, 94803, 94804, 94805, and 94806 ZIP Codes.