Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Gustave B. Hegardt (1859 -1942): First General Manager at Port of Oakland

Gustave Hegardt's official Port portrait

Gravestone of Gustave Hegardt (photo by Michael Colbruno)

Gustave Hegardt was born in Sweden in 1859 and came to the U.S. as a boy. He  graduated from several technical schools and was naturalized as a kkU.S. citizen in Cook County, Illinois in 1885. His earliest work records show him employed with the Illinois Corps of Engineers in 1887. The Portland city directory shows him working as a "U.S. Assistant Engineer" based in Ft. Stevens near the Oregon/Washington border as early as 1888. For fourteen years he supervised the construction of locks, jetties and fortifications on the Columbia River.

Hegardt moved to Portland in 1905 and founded the consulting firm Hegardt & Clarke, which specialized in land surveys, irrigation systems, and reclamation projects. In 1911, he was appointed as chief engineer of the newly established Portland Commission of Public Docks, which later merged with the Port of Portland.

In 1925, Oakland voters approved bonds for an expanded port with an autonomous Port commission. In 1926, the newly created Port of Oakland hired Hegardt as its first General Manager along with his assistant from Portland, Arthur Abel.

Hegardt had been on a three member board of consulting engineers appointed by the Oakland City Council who created a general plan for harbor improvements in Oakland. The other members were Charles Leeds, consulting engineer at the Port of Los Angeles and Charles Marx, a professor of engineering at Stanford University. The trio recommended a series of new priorities for the Port, which included a wharf and watershed on the western waterfront, a pier with a double transit shed on the estuary, a pier and shed between Clay and Washington, and a larger facility near Brooklyn Basin. The total cost was estimated at $9,960,000 ($135 million in 2017 dollars).

(Left to right-standing) Retsu Kiyosawa-NY representative Hochi Shimbun R.H.Tibbits -Mitsubishi Co.  B.H.Pendleton Seiji Yoshihara Gustave Hegardt (Seated)
The trio also recommended that Port administration be "vested in a board or commission of competent, responsible men, serving without compensation and free from political interference." Oakland Mayor John L. Davie opposed the expansion of the Port, believing that it could not compete with San Francisco and wanting to turn it over to private development. The first Board of Port Commissioners were sworn in on February 12, 1927 and included former Oakland Mayor and Governor George Pardee (who is also buried at Mountain View Cemetery).

After meeting with Commissioner LeRoy Goodrich, who outlined his duties, he made his first order of business the construction of two double-fill piers at the foot of Grove Street and Clay Street, which were 520' long and 450' long respectively. The cost of the piers was approximately $1,000,000 (approximately $13.5 million in 2017 dollars). He also made the dredging of the inner harbor a top priority. Under Hegardt's leadership, the Port rapidly developed new terminals to accommodate larger cargo vessels, which served the Port for 40 years until the advent of containerized shipping.
Charles Lindbergh (center) and Gustave Hegardt (far right)

Hegardt and Abel also initiated studies in 1927 for a municipal airport in Oakland. Construction began later that year and was completed in 1929 and became Northern California's largest and best-equipped airport. In a July 5, 1927 report to the Board, Hegard wrote, "The grading of a runway, 150 feet wide and 7000 feet long, was completed on June 25th, in readiness for the Oakland-Hawaiian flight by an Army and a private plane...The details of this flight have been so fully covered by the press that it seems unnecessary to make further comments thereon in this report." The flight he references was that of the Fokker Bird of Paradise, piloted by Army Lieutenants Lester Maitland and Albert Hegenberger.

When Hegardt stepped down as general manager in 1932, he was replaced by Arthur Abel. Hegard remained with the Port as a consulting engineer and was paid $400/month ($5,400/month in 2017 dollars). He died in 1942 and was honored by the Board of Port Commissioners.

SOURCES: Port of Oakland, Oregon Historical Society, SF Call, Pacific Gateway by Woodruff "Woody" Minor, Oakland Tribune, Oakland Aviation by Ronald Reuther and William Larkins, Portland City Directory

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