The abandoned landscape of shipwrecks, collapsed docks and fenced off buildings which greet a visitor to Point Molate hide a story of a once bright future envisioned for the area hoped to rival San Francisco and Oakland.
At the turn of the last century, things looked bright for the cove now just to the east of the Richmond-San Rafael bridge. Local papers enthused about the booming businesses and opportunities for ports and piers, and estimated that the population of the tiny town of Point Richmond would reach 400,000 residents.
As it turned out, despite a short boom time, these dreams were never to be.
The boom that did come, came because of wine: In 1906 the California Wine Association fled the destruction of San Francisco and moved to the promising shoreline of Point Molate where they built Winehaven, then known as the “world’s largest winery.” The red brick castle was built adjacent to land that had been used since 1871 as a Chinese shrimp camp, then still also booming. The construction cost a million dollars and was modeled on the crenelated form of Rhineland castles in Germany. From their dock they shipped out 500,000 gallons of California wine a month bound for the East Coast and Europe. Housing for as many as 400 workers and a magnificent home for the head winemaker overlooked the port.
It all came to an inglorious end with Prohibition in 1919. Winehaven attempted to keep afloat with production of non alcoholic grape juice, but ultimately failed.
Winehaven and all of its support buildings remained empty until 1941, when the area was taken over and converted into a fuel depot by the US Navy, who turned the former home of the winery supervisor into the commanding officer’s home.
Since the Navy’s departure in 1995 the land has been 90% owned by the City of Richmond, and although it has sat empty and abandoned for nearly twenty years, there are plans to develop the land into a commercial hub and a proposed Indian Casino. The developers and the city claim that the historic buildings will be preserved.
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