Before the Tunnel
Before the completion of the Broadway tunnel, later renamed Caldecott after the east
bay legislator who worked for its approval in the state legislature, access to Contra
Costa County from the bay cities was difficult and slow. Orinda and Moraga remained rural,
as they had been for a century, areas of large ranches and a few scattered residences. The
Rheem brothers owned large ranches in both Orinda and Moraga. The Moraga Company owned
most of the property south of what became known as the `Cross Roads.’ Edward de la Veaga
was the principal property owner in the Orinda area. The EBMUD owned most of the land from
the crest of the hills to the San Pablo reservoir.
Along El Toyonal, residents of Oakland and Berkeley beginning in the 1920’s built a
number of small summer vacation cottages. About this time de la Veaga began subdividing
his ranch, the early Orinda village began to take shape and the Park Pool off El Toyonal
was built by him as an attraction to prospective buyers, but development was slow.
The completion of the Broadway tunnel begun in the 1930’s, but delayed by World War II,
began the surge of new residents into Contra Costa County. By 1950, the transition of the
Orinda / Moraga areas from rural to suburban was well under way, as the population of the
Bay Area and all of California boomed.
At this time many Orinda houses were surrounded by open space. There was plenty of land
for grazing and many families owned horses. It was common for local teenagers to get
together and ride along Miner Road to the village, tie their horses and have a coke at the
Orinda store (now Phairs). It was a great place to grow up. But times were changing
rapidly. The Rheem property became Sleepy Hollow. Houses were being built around the
Orinda Country Club and the surrounding hills. By the 1960’s, free pasturage had largely
disappeared. The last remaining undeveloped area of any size within 3 miles of the village
was the `Kite Hill’ area, or Altarinda, now developed as Orinda Woods, of about 250 acres.
The owner, Mr. J. P. Marchant, generously had permitted local teenagers, mostly girls, to
run their horses on the property, free of charge, to keep down the grass and prevent
fires, until such time as development was to commence. About 20 horses were being grazed
there. The girls loved the informality of Altarinda and insisted on no club or organized
activity, only a low cost place to keep their horses. An informal group of parents
monitored the situation and tried to keep the ancient fences around the pasture in
I recall being at the saddling area one Saturday afternoon. About a dozen girls were
grooming their horses or were saddling up for a ride, perhaps downhill to the village, a
favorite destination. A group of perhaps 10 boys was there also, not with horses, but with
motor scooters, two at a time, charging up the hillside in a cloud of dust, testing their
mounts, oblivious of the girls and their horses.