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Celebrating Culture & Community is putting together interviews of 25 El Cerrito residents, a project aimed at showing the diverse communities that have contributed to the city's history.

The interviews have been made possible largely through support from the California Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

For more information about Celebrating Culture & Community , contact Eve Ma at 236-3255 or ccandc_97@yahoo.com

Following is one of the interviews:

Interview with Harry Kiefer, 4/12/00

                (interviewer=Eve A. Ma—Dr. L. Eve Armentrout Ma, Esq.)

[NOTE:  Harry Kiefer is the owner of Kiefer’s Furniture on San Pablo  Ave.]

1.        (answer to set question 1)

                His family has been in El Cerrito since 1939.  He was born in Germany.  They cam straight to California form Germany.  They lived first in Oakland and moved to El Cerrito from Oakland..

The family opened their store in El Cerrito in 1939.  They rented the property from Mr. Rust in February or March of 1939.

                Theirs is not the oldest store in El Cerrito;  there are a few older ones, like Tradeway, and Pride’s.  The Pastime Club was a bar down the street.  But certainly, Kiefer’s is one of the oldest.

2.        (answer to set question 3):

El Cerrito was kind of a backwater when they moved here. The action was in Berkeley and Oakland, or Richmond.  It was starting to change; there were still farms and fields up around Navallier but the blocks in the vicinity of the store were subdivided around 1900.  Some of the owners were living in San Francisco,  and just had an undeveloped lot in El Cerrito.  After the 1906 earthquake, they decided to build on their El Cerrito lot and move over to this side of the bay.

                In the 1930s, there were quite a few homes in this area (Central and San Pablo) and also homes in the Annex.  As for the ethnic make-up, there were lots of Italians.  There were Portuguese, but especially, lots of Italians.  As for Germans, Stege, for example, was down at the old Eastshore Park, and this was Stege station.

                Before the Kiefers moved to El Cerrito, there had been streetcar tracks down San Pablo Ave. and down Carlson.  There were also buses.  He finished high school at Oakland High.  He took the bus at County Line at the creek.

                The Santa Fe RR ran from Richmond to Oakland.  The track was along the Ohlone Greenway—along the present BART right-of –way.  The railroad had only one track.  Kiefers got some of their furniture that way (from the Santa Fe railroad) and the lumberyards got their lumber that way.  The railroad was one of the most important ways of getting from El Cerrito to Oakland.  The railroad was here until the 1960s; maybe even a little later.

3.        (set question 4--memorable events):

There was a town fiesta in the 1940s or 1950s.  They had a parade down San Pablo Ave..  The El Cerrito Historical Society may have a movie of it.  This was a one-time event.  They probably lost money on it, but they had incorporated, so it didn’t cause hardship for any individuals.

4.        (set question 6)

El Cerrito was a blue collar town in those days.  It was also had the fastest commute to San Francisco.

You could take the “L” bus down San Pablo to Eastshore Highway (past Berkeley) to the bridge and San Francisco.  The Bay Bridge was built in 1937.  The Eastshore Highway started at Potrero.  Berkeley people had to get down out of the hills and drive all the way across town, but El Cerrito people had a fast, 20 minutes commute.  There were lots of factories in Berkeley and Oakland;  there were canneries and other factories.  Jacuzzi was already here.  Lots of Italian women worked in these canneries.  Richmond had factories, too;  there was Ford, there were canneries there (Filice and Perelli, for example, canned fruit and vegetables, and Heinz was at San Pablo and Ashby).  There was also Standard Oil in Richmond.  There were also lots of shops in Berkeley and Emeryville, and Colegate had a factory in Emeryville, and there was a paint manufactory.

5.        (set questions 7 & 8)

In terms of importance to the area, El Cerrito is about as important as Albany and Berkeley.  As for Kiefer’s business, it comes from a 10 miles radius of the store, for the most part.

6.        (set question 10—ethnic community)

Jews in El Cerrito are seldom businessmen.  Most in this area don’t affiliate with any particular temple. 

There is no real Jewish organization in the El Cerrito area except the Tehiya School, which was founded in Berkeley by liberal Jews.  Some schools were closing here so they were able to get a location here.  (He doesn’t know if they lease or if they purchased the site.)  The school moved to El Cerrito about 10 or 15 years ago.  When it was in Berkeley, it used to be down on 6th Street.  He thinks they outgrew their old location.

7.        (set question 11)

His family was not the first Jewish family in El Cerrito.  There are Jewish organizations  in Berkeley, Oakland and Richmond.  The Richmond one started out in connection with a Jewish Community Center that used to be there.  [Now, there’s a Berkeley/Richmond Jewish Community Center in Berkeley.]  The Richmond temple is a reform temple but the reform service is changing.  They use more Hebrew now, and follow some of the dietary laws.  As for converts, most converts are spouses of Jews who convert in order to make family life more cohesive, so there won’t be two religions in the family. 

        Probably only about 10% of Jews in this area are religious.

8.        (set question 12)

The Jewish Federation in Oakland might know more about the number of Jews in the El Cerrito area, but maybe not, since lots of Jews are not affiliated with any temple.  There are quite a few Jews in El Cerrito.

9.        (any special Jewish celebrations maintained in El Cerrito, or celebrations special within the family)

Passover commemorates the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, and comes at about the same time as Easter.  If you don’t go to temple often, you will still probably go for the high holidays, not necessarily for Passover.

        Most Jews in the El Cerrito area are pretty assimilated and share in the common culture.  Important celebrations include birthdays, Dec. 31/Jan. 1 (but Jewish New Year is on a different day). 

10.     (other)

They moved to El Cerrito when he was 14.  They got out of Germany just in time.

11.     (if he had a magic wand…)

El Cerrito’s biggest mistake was annexing its school system to Richmond Unified/West Contra Costa Unified.  We live in a racist society and lower economic groups drove others out of the school system.  This has affected property values, as well.  He knows of a family who, when they learned their child was supposed to go to Kennedy High School, simply dumped their home on the market and moved into the central part of the county to avoid Kennedy High.

        Other changes—El Cerrito has a different city council, now.  The old one overestimated the marketplace and the city’s economic double funnel (because of the geography), and doesn’t have that large a market to draw from.

12.     (best part of living in El Cerrito)

El Cerrito is quiet, it has good weather (not too hot), there are good views, its nice, and he enjoys living close to work.  He has no desire to have a long commute.

Other—he remembers the Rust family, including Mr. Rust’s second wife.  He seems to remember that Mr. Rust fought in the U.S. Civil War after coming to this country from Germany.


1900 International MarketPlace, San Pablo, CA., 94806

(510) 236-3255;  fax (510) 233-3068

e-mail:  CCandC_97@yahoo.com


Run dates: 2000-06-05 - 2000-06-23

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