Captain James S. Higgins Temperance Grocery Store (Captain Bowen’s Inn)
834 Delaware Street, Berkeley, CA
Captain Higgins Temperance Grocery Store (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)
The building designated as a City of Berkeley Landmark under the name Bowens Inn was long thought to have been built in 1854 by Captain William J. Bowen. Thanks to research carried out by Jerry Sulliger, we now know that the original Bowens Inn, called Ocean View House and located on the northwest corner of San Pablo Avenue and Delaware Street, was demolished in 1895 or 96.
The building standing at 834 Delaware Street was built circa 1875 by Captain James S. Higgins, who purchased the southwest corner of San Pablo Avenue and Delaware Street in 1874 and soon thereafter built his Temperance Grocery Store at that location.
Jerry Sulligers research indicates that Higgins sold his grocery store to Samuel Heywood in January 1893. Sam and his eldest son, Frank Brewer Heywood, moved the building down the street to the southeast corner of Delaware and Fifth streets, opening the short-lived Heywood & Son grocery store.
The Heywood & Son grocery store at 800 Delaware Street was listed in the city directory only in 1894 and 1895. (Louis Stein Collection, Berkeley Historical Society)
In 1911 or 12, Dante and Caroline Sormani purchased the building and moved it to its current location at 834 Delaware Street. A barber, Dante Sormani probably used at least one of the storefronts as his barbershop. Beginning in the late 1920s, the building passed through the hands of several owners, even serving as a church for a while. Although the interior was remodeled in 1985 by architect Bart Jones, the exterior still embodies the grocery store built by James S. Higgins in 1875 or thereabouts.
Regardless of errors in attribution and dating, this building is an important reminder of the early days of Berkeley. In chapter two of his book Berkeley, A City in History, Charles Wollenberg describes the beginnings of the town:
The first of the founding communities was Ocean View, an informal, unincorporated settlement located along the bayshore, immediately north and south of the mouth of Strawberry Creek. The key to its existence was the decision of Captain James Jacobs to anchor his sloop at the creeks mouth in 1853.
Heywood & Bowens lumber pier
By that time, the Bay Area was already becoming a metropolitan region, with a number of small communities developing around the bay to provide goods and services to San Francisco. Access to the bay was crucial, since that waterway was the regions chief transportation and communication route, linking communities with San Franciscos urban core. A native of Denmark who had become a New England resident and merchant seaman before coming to California, Jacobs was originally a gold seeker. Like many miners, however, he soon decided there had to be a better way to make a living than standing in cold water shoveling gravel. He bought a small sailing vessel and began hauling cargoes on the bay. Jacobss decision in 1853 to base his operations on what was to become the Berkeley waterfront was certainly linked to Domingo Peraltas land sales during the same year. As the rancho property was transformed into cropland, the areas new farmers desperately needed access to markets. Thats what Jacobss vessel provided. In 1854 he built a small wharf, inevitably called Jacobss Landing, which became the hub of the new communitys commerce.
Also in 1854, another former merchant seaman, Captain William Bowen, opened an inn on Contra Costa Road, a wagon and stage route that extended north-south along the East Bay shoreline. Since the alignment paralleled the old trail to the Castro familys Rancho San Pablo, locals informally called the thoroughfare San Pablo Road. Eventually it became San Pablo Avenue. Bowen initially served food and drink and soon added a general store for the convenience of the growing number of farm families in the region. His inn was thus Berkeleys first retail establishment. If Contra Costa Road, a.k.a. San Pablo Avenue, was Berkeleys first north-south street, the well-worn trail between Bowens Inn and Jacobss Landing, roughly todays Delaware Street, might qualify as the citys first east-west boulevard.
As it turns out, Captain Bowen may not have settled in Ocean View until December 1859, when he leased two four-acre parcels from Josť Domingo Peralta. He did not purchase land until March 1864, and it was between that year and 1870 that he went into the grocery trade.
Contrary to prevailing beliefs, Captain Higgins did not buy Captain Bowens business or his building. In 1876, both captains were listed as grocers in the Oakland directoryBowen on the northwest corner of Delaware Street and San Pablo Avenue, Higgins on the southwest corner. Bowen quickly changed his line of business, abandoning groceries in favor of hay, grain, and coal, but he remained on his corner while Higgins stayed on his.
This article was revised on 22 October 2011.
Read Jerry Sulliger’s article, “Bowen’s Inn Revisited,” in its entirety.
Although built circa 1875 and not in 1854, Captain Higgins Temperance Grocery Store is one of the oldest buildings remaining in Berkeley. On 17 June 1985, it was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark under the name Captain Bowens Inn. It is listed in the California State Historic Resources Inventory.
Workmens Cottages, Sixth Street
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