Oakland's waterfront has been rebuilt many times in response to changes in marine technology. In 1900 coal-laden schooners discharged their cargo into bunkers on Howard Terminal's pier. Dockside warehouses, known as transit sheds, held break-bulk cargo (such as bags of wheat) for the return trip. Longshoremen moved cargo between shore and vessels with hand trucks, shipboard derricks, and cargo nets. Finger piers reached out from the shore to deeper water. When shipbuilding transitioned from wind-powered wood hulls to fuel-powered steel hulls, the city built a quay wall along the shoreline west of Clay Street to provide deep-water berths for increasingly larger, deeper-draft vessels. Later, a paved wharf and several piers with transit sheds were added to the area. After the Port of Oakland was established in 1925, these municipal facilities were reconfigured as Grove Street Terminal, including a larger pier and u-shaped transit shed that served as the Port's headquarters from 1928 to 1966.
Containerization, introduced in Oakland in 1962, brought speed and standardization units to cargo handling. The Port bought the private Howard Terminal site in 1978, and built a modern container facility, Charles P. Howard Terminal, to replace outmoded break-bulk facilities.
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Constructed between 1910 and 1914, the quay wall was a long bulkhead that measured forty feet from top to bottom, and tapered from twenty-two feet wide at its base to eighteen inches at the top. Because the quay wall was built inland from the shore, tons of soil were removed on the harbor side. Dredging created a berthing basin with a depth of 27 feet at low tide. Sediment placed on the shore side of the wall became a 150-foot-wide wharf.