East Bay Yesterday’s podcaster shares the history of the region’s most fascinating

Did you know that Bruce Lee taught dance in Auckland? Or that the nut groves that covered Walnut Creek are thousands of years old?

Liam O’Donoghue does. Independent product builder based in Auckland East Bay Yesterday Podcastavailable via Apple, Spotify and other platforms, is an expert on all the cultural, political, and fascinating stories that shaped Oakland, Berkeley and other cities in Contra Costa and Alameda counties.

O’Donoghue, a former journalist, began podcasting in 2016 to “feel more connected” to his hometown and offer the kind of full-blown stories and realistic voices you won’t find on Atlas Obscura.

O’Donoghue has produced 83 episodes to date on everything from the first baseball teams in East Bay to the creation of the country’s first black league. O’Donoghue’s popular boat trips and walks return this spring.

s: How do you see the history of the East Bay in general?

a: When we look around and see how fast things are changing, especially in the last 20 years with the tech boom, real estate development and real estate prices, we have to remember that when we look back at the last 150 years of California’s history, things have always changed fast. You can choose almost any contract to prove it. The exciting thing about this is that we can look back at this crossroads and get this critical point of view. I hope we can look at issues like development and say, “It might not have been a good idea to get through thriving neighborhoods.”

s: You dedicate an episode to John Muir Martinez. Any unknown facts or stories?

a: Not everyone knows that the reason John Muir moved to Martinez in the late 1800s is that he met and married Louisa Strinzel and went to work with her father running the orchards on his farm. People would see him come to the bank with dollar bills stuffed into pillowcases. Think burial site is a truly overlooked destination in East Bay.

Q: We all know that the Transcontinental Railroad changed the rules of the game. But, where did it stop? And how did people and goods get the rest of the way?

a: You really changed everything. Auckland was a small town before the railways got there. Tons of industry was developed around the station. There was a stop in downtown Oakland and then basically went all the way to Bay Bridge – at Oakland Long Wharf, people were getting off and taking the ferry to San Francisco. Another stop was Point Richmond, where people were taking the ferry to San Rafael. At one time, the Bay Area was the most numerous passenger ferry system in the world. History goes in cycles. Those ferries stopped working for trains, but now there’s a lot of traffic trying to get the ferries back on.

Q: Who was CL Dellums and how did he help create the first black union in the country?

a: One of the defining struggles in the years leading up to the 1960s marches for racial equality was the Brotherhood of Porters of Sleeper Cars. In the early 1900s, the Pullman Car Company was the largest employer of black men in the country. The company hired them to keep their trains clean and serve white passengers. But by the 1920s, workers were tired of low wages and abusive conditions. Oakland activist CL Dellums helped them organize and it was a training ground for future struggles, including the struggle in the 1940s for desegregation in the US military. People like Thurgood Marshall would come to Auckland and meet the Dellums at his house.

OAKLAND, CA – DECEMBER 1: Liam O’Donoghue, the host behind the East Bay Yesterday podcast, poses for a photo at Township Commons Park located on the former site of Oakland’s historic 9th Avenue station. (Anda Chu Group/Bay Area News)

Q: Any little-known facts about East Bay pop culture?

a: The Matrix reboot is coming out in a month, and there’s a famous car chase scene filmed in a bussy tube between Oakland and Alameda.

Bruce Lee spent a few years in Auckland. Before he became a kung fu master, one of his side struggles was as a dancer and coach. He would hang out at different hotels, like The Leamington, and charge $1 couples for a dance lesson.

On a walking tour of Auckland, a 96-year-old man said that as a child he would come down to the airport and watch Amelia Earhart fly her plane. She had an office in Auckland when she was raising funds for her trip.

Q: Which Contra Costa County curious cubs would you share?

a: An abandoned hotel in Byron, the Byron Hot Springs Hotel, is collapsing and closing to the public. But in the 1920s, it was a haven for Hollywood’s elite. I was going cherry picking in Brentwood with my wife and some friends and decided to check it out, but the security guard chased us away and was driving around the area. What is interesting about the site is that it was taken over by the government in 1941 as a place to interrogate prisoners of war during World War II.


Liam O’Donogue’s Five Favorite East Bay Spots:

Redwood Provincial Park: “The county line dividing Alameda and Contra Costa was laid there because the old orchards were one of the most valuable resources for the many lumber mills operating in the region. The counties divided it in the middle.”

Lake Merritt:I just love walking around the lake. There are a lot of pieces in Auckland’s history, like Cameron’s Stanford home and the Grand Lake Theatre.”

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