Tag Archives: key route system

Key Route Plaza Mural

Here’s another mural by artist Rocky Rische-Baird commemorating the history of the Bay Area’s Key Route Train System…

Key Route Plaza, piedmont avenue plaza

Located at Key Route Plaza at the intersection of Piedmont Ave and 41st, the spot marks the site where the first key route electric train arrived in 1904 from a new ferry pier on the bay off Emeryville.  Later in 1937,  a new train station was built here to accommodate new streamlined trains which would run across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, transporting passengers downtown (1st and Mission) in just 27 minutes. (historic plaque)

The mural is full of symbolism, and as guest commenter Oakland Daily Photo pointed out, this one is significantly more political that the downtown version featured yesterday.  In just one section of the mural we can see figures representing Black Power, Women’s Suffrage, and our country’s military might linked to our need for petroleum.

rocky rische-baird, key route plaza, key route station piedmont ave

The primary figure in the upper right-hand corner, Francis Marion Smith
(known as “Borax” Smith for the riches he acquired in mining borax in Nevada), was the visionary behind the Key Route System.  The key he is holding “has three rings at its handle to symbolize the three lines to Berkeley, Oakland and Piedmont. The long stem represents the Key Pier, which carried trains about 3 miles over the bay, and the teeth represent the ferry slip.”

Borax Smith, Key Route System visionary

Artist Rische-Baird raised money for the production of the mural by literally selling the seats on the train.  Passengers portrayed in the windows are real live residents who contributed funds, some who actually rode the train system before its last run in 1958.

Borax Smith, Francis Marion Smith, key route mural

Much of this information and more about the artist and the production of the mural can be found in this article:  Key to the Past / A Piedmont mural captures the glory of a bygone transit system by Sam Whiting.

rocky rische-baird, key route mural

key route plaza, key route station history

The Downtown Key Route Mural

Hey everybody… I’m back from an unexpected hiatus.  Did you miss me?

I thought I could get to some quick posts this past week, but was quickly deluged by streams of cardboard, packing tape, and mountains of goods destined for other homes.  It was a crazy week, but the house is coming together, our garage sale was moderately successful, and though I feel as though I’ve been run over by a freight train, I’m now somewhat back in the swing of things.

Hoping to finish up my bookstore series in the near future, but in the meantime, here’s a little something else…

key system building, early skyscraper oakland

rocky rische-baird, oakland heritage alliance

key system building, key system transit line, rocky rische-baird

oakland heritage alliance, history of key system building


Great historical information in this video, thanks to the Oakland Heritage Alliance:

Mural designed by Rocky Rische-Baird
Mural painted by Rocky & Erica
Rische-Baird (2008)