Backwards Glance: Flooding At The Waterfront In 1950

Photo courtesy of the Benicia Historical Museum
Flooding at the Benicia Depot, 1950. Below: Benicia Depot today; photo by Malcolm Slight

After the recent December rain, we thought we would use rain as our theme for this issue, and how it used to affect First Street and the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot before they were both raised to their current elevation.  The photo was taken in December 1950; the truck is dumping dirt ready to be raked out as a barrier to the flooding. In 1992, the end of First Street from B Street on towards the strait, was substantially augmented with landfill and raised to its present level. To the left of the Depot you can still see remnants of A Street, now lying several feet below First Street. In the year 2000, the Depot building was temporarily moved to one side while lengthy pilings were driven and a new foundation installed.  The building was then moved back to its present location, and remained empty until 2002, when it became the current location of the Benicia Main Street organization. Along the water’s edge, a number of structures appear to be houses. They are actually boats, houseboats (arks) and barges, the majority of which were owned and occupied by Benicia’s fishing fleet. This predominantly Greek (and in other Benicia locales, Portuguese and Italian) fishing community sought out salmon and shad, which were brought to market in Benicia and San Francisco until 1955, when commercial fishing for those varieties was banned due to over-fishing and species depletion. By 1959, this large congregation of anchored vessels presented a variety of health and safety issues and was condemned as a public nuisance. Boats that were not removed were set alight in a controlled burn event—as  determined by the Benicia police and fire departments—a sad ending to a colorful era with an unmistakable conservation and sustainability message. “To everything there is a season” is the phrase that comes to mind. Our hope this New Year is for plentiful rains and a shower of blessings on all. Happy New Year, Benicia!

Categories: Arts + Culture, History
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