Oakland Tribune Oct. 17, 1968 2

Howard Eliot Rilea (September 21, 1884 – October 17, 1968) was a long-time member of the Oakland city council representing district 3. For most of his career, he was a railroad engineer. So it's no surprise he was the force behind the creation of the Harrison Railroad Park.

Rilea's father and brothers were also railroad men; his father, Ira Moore Rilea was a conductor; his brothers, Robert E. Rilea and Ira Rilea, Jr. were fireman; his brothers Walter I. Rilea and Eugene F. Rilea were brakemen. 3 Rilea's career began at age 17 in 1902, when he worked for Southern Pacific. He would ride out by bicycle from the roundhouse to notify engineers and and firemen that it was their turn to take a locomotive out. He moved up the ladder, and in 1912 became an engineer, a position he held until he retired from the railroad in 1948. 1

Rilea married Louise Ried (Rilea) on July 10, 1910. They lived at 1474 - 12th Street from the day they were married.2 Howard and Louise didn't have any children.

Rilea served on council from 1950 to 1967. He faced Raymond Eng three times, and defeated him twice. He was known as a staunch opponent of urban renewal and public housing. 2,6,10

In 1957, Rilea arranged to have the Southern Pacific give the city a locomotive, Engine 2471 and its tender, for display. The problem immediately became: where to put it? Rilea wanted to put it in Jack London Square. Fellow council member Frank Youell thought it an eyesore, "There's nothing beautiful about a locomotive." Rilea replied, "That locomotive is a lot more beautiful than a hearse." (Youell was a mortician). 7 But a year later, a location still hadn't been found. 8 Finally, in 1960, Engine 2467 became the first railroad equipment moved into Harrison Railroad Park.

There was also apparently a locomotive outside Peralta Playland, Engine 233, a gift from the California-Nevada Railroad Historical Society in 1951. 5

Death and Legacy

In July, 1968, Rilea had a ruptured artery in his stomach. He survived that, but in October, 1968, died during surgery to repair it. 2

In 1976, EBMUD built the Rilea Reservoir, named in his honor. 9 Note that nearby Rilea Way probably wasn't named for him, as the name appears as far back as 1950, when Rilea had just been elected. 11

Links and References

1959 campaign ad

  1. Best Known Train Engineer Began Career on Bicycle Oakland Tribune October 7, 1962

  2. Ex-City Official Howard RIlea Dies Oakland Tribune October 17, 1968

  3. The Knave: Railroadiana Oakland Tribune July 6, 1956

  4. Rilea Faces Eng In Council Run-Off Oakland Tribune May 11, 1967

  5. Councilman, Ex-Engineer Get Passes on Park Line Oakland Tribune August 17, 1956

  6. Oakland Urban Renewal Foe To Attend Alameda Meeting Oakland Tribune April 4, 1964

  7. The Knave: Love Me Loco, Love Me Tender Oakland Tribune May 24, 1957

  8. The Knave: The Life of Rilea Oakland Tribune May 30, 1958

  9. Rilea Reservoir Work Begins Oakland Tribune February 2, 1976

  10. Councilman Cold To Model City Plan Oakland Tribune August 3, 1966

  11. Legal Notices Oakland Tribune July 1, 1950