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New Park to Honor Beloved Alameda Business Owner Svend Svendsen

On May 21, City Council directed the park at Alameda Marina to be named Svendsen Maritime Park in honor of longtime and beloved Alameda business owner and community member Svend Svendsen, who co-founded Svendsen’s Boat Works at the Alameda Marina with his wife in 1963.  The business continues to thrive as Svendsen’s Marine and Industrial Supply, even after Svendsen’s passing in 2013.

Alameda Post - A mock up of a green park with a water channel running down the middle.
Alameda Marina Park concept drawing. Photo City of Alameda.

Background

The new park will be located on the Alameda/Oakland Estuary between Grand and Willow streets along the Alameda Northern Waterfront. It will include a continuation of the San Francisco Bay Trail, open lawn, a waterfront promenade, seating, picnic areas, and a floating dock to launch, store, and instruct on non-motorized watercraft such as kayaks, small sailboats, and paddleboards. It will serve Alameda Marina residents as well as the community at large.

The City of Alameda Policy for Naming City Facilities and Streets requires a focus on names of local significance reflecting inclusivity and diversity. If named after a person, the person must be deceased for at least three years. The Recreation and Parks Commission additionally called for the Alameda Marina Park’s name to reflect its history of waterfront shipyards.



Staff conducted a community-wide survey to solicit ideas for the new park’s name, and in March 2022, the Commission approved ten names and conducted a second community-wide survey to solicit further feedback. The ten names were Alameda Boatworks Park, Dockside Park, Riveter’s Waterfront Park (for Rosie the Riveter), Shipbuilder’s Park, Shipyard Harbor Park, Shipyard Landing Park, Tibbitt’s Shipyard Park (after the shipbuilding company, Barnes and Tibbitts), Waterfront Park, and Waterway Park.

Then, in July 2022, the Commission received a request from Svendsen’s family to name the park after him due to his longtime maritime history at the site. While this name was not on the list created through the Naming Policy community process, the Commission unanimously recommended two names to City Council: Svendsen Maritime Park and Riveter’s Waterfront Park.

Who was Svend Svendsen?

Alameda Post - A close-up of a man scratching his head in a baseball cap.
Svend Svendsen. Photo @svendsenmarine / Instagram.

An immigrant from Denmark, Svend and his wife Suzanne founded Svendsen’s Boat Works at the Pacific Marina (now Marina Village) in 1963. In 1966, he moved the business to Alameda Marina, working there until his passing in 2013, and growing it from a small shop with one employee into an operation encompassing boat manufacturing, rigging and metal fabrication, and the largest marine chandlery on the West Coast. While the chandlery remains in Alameda as Svendsen’s Marine and Industrial Supply, the boatyard, rigging, and metal works division has since merged with Bay Marine to become Svendsen’s Bay Marine in Richmond.

Svendsen constructed the first Nordic Folkboat made of fiberglass, earning him the nickname of the “Godfather of Folkboats.” The transition from wood to fiberglass construction helped save the Folkboat class, causing it to grow into one of today’s most active racing classes in Europe and San Francisco Bay.

He developed the first state-of-the-art system for capturing and treating stormwater runoff from the boat yard, receiving honors from the state and an official proclamation from the Governor for this innovation. Along with his son Sean, he was instrumental in luring the 2013 America’s Cup to base its operations in Alameda.

He fostered youth development by sponsoring junior sailing programs at Encinal Yacht Club, Island Yacht Club, and the Sea Scouts. Also an avid golfer, he served as the Treasurer of the Alameda Commuters Golf Tournament for 30 years, volunteering as a course marshal for decades.

Public comment

Public comment, in-person and through correspondence, was unanimously in favor of the Svendsen Maritime Park name, with letters coming in from Alameda, the Bay Area, out-of-state, and even Denmark.

Many praised Svendsen’s positive influence on Alameda’s status. City Treasurer Kevin Kennedy wrote that Svend’s “quality work and stellar reputation enhanced the perception of Alameda throughout the Bay Area.” John Arndt, publisher of Latitude 38, a Northern California sailing magazine, wrote, “Alameda has always been a standout within the sailing community …  Svendsen was an outstanding leader within that community. Svendsen’s Marine was at the foundation of the local industry.”

Others praised him as an employer. Anna, a former employee, said, “As a Latina, I witnessed firsthand the positive influence he had on the Hispanic population of his employees…” Amanda, a second-generation employee whose mother also worked at Svendsen’s Boat Works, said, “Svend’s leadership created a community.” Svend’s daughter, Sabrina, testified, “Svend sponsored numerous immigrants looking for work visas, from Scandinavia, Australia, Mexico, Vietnam, and Japan, giving them their first American work opportunities, with fair wages and benefits.”

Still others praised his community service. Michael Gorman, President of the Encinal Sailing Foundation and past City Council member, called Svend a “pillar of support to the community for youth organizations,” noting how Svend served on the city golf commission, championing support for young golfers and sponsored regattas for junior sailors.

Alameda Post - A mock-up of a park scene. A woman pushes a scooter next to a little boy.
A park concept illustration of the Alameda Marina Master Plan. Image City of Alameda.

Council discussion and vote

Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said while she thought Svendsen’s name should be considered, she didn’t want to approve it at this meeting, arguing the name had not correctly gone through the Recreation and Park Commission’s Council-approved process. She wanted staff to conduct additional public engagement regarding the name and for the public to also consider the names of women who had an historical impact in Alameda.

Councilmember Trish Herrera Spencer countered that the mayor was misrepresenting the process and called upon City Attorney Yibin Shen to confirm the issue was placed on the agenda correctly and that the public had just had the opportunity to weigh in and also comment at a previous Council meeting. Shen responded affirmatively.

Vice Mayor Tony Daysog said the Council relies on commission members to exercise good judgment and discretion. He argued that the Svendsen Maritime Park name was fitting given the maritime industry’s contribution to Alameda. He said the other proposed names were not compelling, and he understood why the Commission was excited to memorialize someone who contributed so much to the community.

Councilmember Tracy Jensen said that the main thing Alameda has going for it is its people, and Svendsen epitomized Alameda’s ideals through his business success, his support for employees, his community contributions, his care for the environment, his work to improve estuary maritime activities, and his love for the city.

The mayor responded by suggesting that Jensen disclose personal relationships or campaign contributions that might influence her views. Taken aback, Jensen responded that she hadn’t been influenced or received any contribution in exchange for her vote. Councilmember Herrera Spencer added that she wanted to validate her colleague, saying she had worked with Jensen for many years on school and hospital boards and that she would never question her integrity.

Herrera Spencer’s motion to approve “Svendsen Maritime Park” as the new name of the Alameda Marina Park passed three to one, with the mayor opposed. Councilmember Malia Vella was absent.

Other council decisions

In other decisions, Council:

  • Received the FY 2024-25 Proposed Mid-Cycle Budget report and provided direction to staff in preparation for adopting the Mid-Cycle Budget update in June. The City’s finances are stable, although economic headwinds have impacted some revenue categories.
  • Voted to revise the fee schedules for the Alameda Recreation and Parks Department, Planning, Building, and Transportation Department, Public Works Department, Finance Department, and Fire Department.

Contributing writer Karin K. Jensen covers boards and commissions for the Alameda Post. Contact her via [email protected]. Her writing is collected at https://linktr.ee/karinkjensen and https://alamedapost.com/Karin-K-Jensen.

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