EL CERRITO -- The bustling downtowns in Richmond and Oakland during the 1940s are well-documented.
Less known is that the East Bay population explosion caused by an influx of World War II defense workers also created boom times for other commercial areas, including El Cerrito's.
The city even went to the lengths of installing 113 parking meters on the southern end of San Pablo Avenue in 1944 because the district was so busy.
Retired El Cerrito merchant Harry Kiefer will discuss the city's San Pablo Avenue business district before, during and after World War II at a free talk at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
The talk is part of the annual El Cerrito Historical Society business meeting at the Open House Senior Center, 6500 Stockton Ave. The public is invited to attend.
Kiefer was a teenager working at Kiefer Furniture, the family business that opened in late 1938, giving him a perfect vantage point to see the changes on San Pablo Avenue.
Kiefer later assumed the job of running the business, which started at Fairmount and San Pablo avenues and later became a fixture at Central Avenue and San Pablo, lasting until 2001.
"It was a completely different time," Kiefer said last week. "The Depression was still on. The Depression really didn't start to end until 1941."
The area between the county line and Central grew into its own as a compact and concentrated business district that had shops, salons and at least half a dozen night clubs and taverns serving the entertainment-starved population of war workers. Many lived at the trailer court operating on the grounds of what is now El Cerrito Plaza.
"Things started picking up at the beginning of 1941 with the first shipyard, when Kaiser came to Richmond," Kiefer said. "The big boom came in 1942."
While the overall population swelled, other segments vanished. Kiefer noted that all the Japanese-Americans were incarcerated and said that his and other families had to relocate for a time because the area was deemed too near sensitive defense industries.
"We had to move out of El Cerrito in 1942 because we were restricted enemy aliens (as refugees of Nazi Germany)," he said. "We ended up in Oakland because my mother had family there. They finally allowed aliens to come back (during the war), but not the Japanese."
The war years created some interesting sights on the avenue, including super structures for ships coming down the street.
"When Kaiser built the shipyards, a lot of parts were built somewhere else, and the easiest way to move them was down San Pablo Avenue," Kiefer said. "You'd see two- and three-story parts going down the street. There was a signal hanging over the middle of the street on wires, and they had to raise that up."
Businesses thrived in the 1940s, particularly during the war years, limited only by the lack of goods.
"During the war, it wasn't a question of selling things, it was a question of getting things," Kiefer said. "A lot of the furniture manufacturers switched to war work."
For the record, the El Cerrito City Council voted to remove the parking meters in 1953.
The talk will follow a business meeting where the historical society will discuss its accomplishments and goals, elect officers, and consider a small increase in annual dues.
For details, contact Dave Weinstein at 510-524-1737 or firstname.lastname@example.org.