Black History Month Special: Golden Gate Key & Lock – A 3rd Generation Black-Owned Family Business returns to Emeryville

Published On February 13, 2018 | By Joey Enos | History & Archive

Golden Gate Key & Lock holds an impressive legacy that may have been overlooked by residents of Emeryville. The African-American owned business goes back 72 years and three generations. They have witnessed massive changes in the community yet they have survived when many surrounding businesses have not. Now the historic locksmiths are back in the Lower Triangle District after moving to Oakland 17 years ago.

You can feel the amazing history of the business when you walk into their storefront which is a block south of their original Emeryville location. Today, Ralph Edwin Scott runs the shop with two of his children, John Edwin and April. “Our family has always been entrepreneurs,” explained Ralph Edwin, now the elder of the Scott family. “Ever since the time my great, great, great-grandfather walked out of slavery.”

Golden Gate has been at their latest 37th and San Pablo Avenue location for over two years.

Edwin Scott, Ralph’s Father, started the business in 1946 in the epicenter of the African-American community in West Oakland. At the time, the community in West Oakland along 7th Street was going through a post-war boom. This thriving neighborhood was dubbed The Harlem of the West for its output of cultural strength. As soon as their thriving community gained voting and legislative strength in the city of Oakland, the neighborhood of black-owned shops and home owning families were systematically displaced and dispersed. This happened by continual racist redevelopment plans from the city and the federal government. In 1959, when the West Oakland Post Office building was built on top of the black business district in Oakland, the Scott Family business was forced to move.

The Scott’s moved their business to Emeryville in 1959.

Neighboring Emeryville was widely known as a business-friendly town and one where both large and small operations benefited. The large operations like the Sherwin-Williams paint factory and Westinghouse Corporation were as successful as the smaller, family-run operations that dominated Emeryville at the time.

Ralph Edwin stated,”We had to go somewhere … and [Emeryville] was a business town, it invited you in.” A family friend who was a realtor found a building on MacArthur and 37th that was owned by a Chinese gentleman. The owner was willing to lease the building to a black-owned business and in May of 1959, The Scott Family moved their business to Emeryville.

A circa 2000 photo prior to when GGK&L moved to Oakland.

The Scott Family became familiar with Emeryville’s locally infamous beat police officer known as ‘Frenchie’ who patrolled San Pablo Avenue on a 3-wheeled motorcycle. During that time, Emeryville had a reputation within the black community for being unfriendly to African-Americans, but ‘Frenchie’ didn’t reinforce that reputation. “Frenchie was the friendliest guy you would ever want to meet,” Ralph explained. “Especially to the folks at the Doggie Dinner on San Pablo and MacArthur,” Ralph chuckled.

Edwin & Ralph Scott (far right) at GGK&L’s 1968 annual Banquet at Rivazza Italian in Emeryville.


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After about a year of being open, the city installed parking meters along the strip of San Pablo that included his father’s business. “In those days parking meters were a kiss of death for businesses,” Ralph recalled. As city workers were busy installing the meters, Ralph’s father was having a typical afternoon conversation with Frenchie. He expressed how the meters were affecting his business’ bottom line. Within a day, public works were back on the scene to remove the meters. Ralph recalled this level of intimacy with officials and businesses was the way the City of Emeryville functioned at that time.

Golden Gate Key & Lock founder Edwin Scott in 1972.

Remembering Frenchie’s response to The Scott Family Business, Ralph explains the relationship with city officials including the notorious Police Chief,  John LaCoste. “I know there were other issues… but what could be called corruption could also be easily called ‘efficiency’ in those days. He got things handled in the neighborhood,” explaining how Emeryville’s small size and preference for commerce was preferred by business over a larger, more bureaucratic Oakland. “Doing business here, whether you liked them or not, you knew city officials personally. Emeryville was basically run by two families. The City ran like a family business,” and Police Chief John LaCoste and his family were part of that ‘family business’.

The Scott family not only had to navigate local politics, they had to negotiate the politics of racism that was prevalent in that era. Black-owned business servicing white communities were rare in those days and threatening to a lot of white folks. Invoices were looked at as illegitimate coming from a black man and some refused to pay. The workaround for the Scott family was including the ‘white’ sounding name ‘John L. Reedsburg’ on the invoice to encourage prompt payment. The real John Reedsburg was, in fact, Ralph’s Jewish-German immigrant grandfather on his mother’s side. “Racism is not what people think it is, it is not that I don’t like you for the color of your skin. It is capitalism at work, racism is the face of an economic system steeped in a zero-sum game… it is a lack of moral fiber,” Ralph explained.

Scott Family Celebrating their 50th year in business in 1996 (Photo: The Oakland Tribune).

Their business offers a connection to the community that cannot be monetized. They have worked with generations of customers and many people take pride in doing business with a black-owned company. “You can get a key made anywhere. So why do people come back after being gone for 17 years? It is based on the friendliness we offer, the service we offer, and the fact is that we will be here when they need us.” Those kinds of long-term commitments and outlooks come out of the multigenerational business model.

Golden Gate Key & Lock has a successful history over the years opening a locksmith school and having multiple locations in the Bay Area. “When people hear that you are a locksmith, they think of cutting keys or having a kiosk, they do not realize how far-reaching it is,” Ralph Edwin explained. “Even for us, as a company, we have been flown to Guam, Hawaii, Japan, Philippines, Hong Kong, all cutting keys and changing locks.” As Ralph remembered all those trips around the world, he explained that the Scott Family had security clearances with all branches of the government. As much as Ralph enjoyed those trips, he now looks forward to retirement and continuing painting, a passion he went to school for at CCA before working at the Family business.

The strip of San Pablo that their business is on has been marked for redevelopment by the City to build a Shelter/Supportive Housing Project. Golden Gate notes they have not been approached by the city and not sure what this will mean for their business longterm. “I have never understood why no one from the city has walked by that door, besides getting a personal key made, to say hey, what do you guys think about the area? Maybe they do not know that we exist, which I find difficult to believe.”

John Edwin Scott, Son of Edwin Scott, and his daughter

April, Khalil, and Leon.

All the generations of Scotts have been entrepreneurs and they are very proud of that legacy. Ralph Edwin explained to me, “This country was not built for the worker, it was built for the entrepreneur.” The family outlook is that becoming an entrepreneur makes you your own person and gives the family a structure of independence. “You get to decide how you work, when you work, where you work, as long as you work for Google or any other company, you are at the mercy of someone else.”

Despite an uncertain future of their block, The Scott Family Entrepreneurship shines brightly. Their history and legacies give rare perspectives of surviving change. John, Ralph Edwin’s son who runs the business with his father, told us, “As my father is so fond of saying we are in business to be a business. It is about being able to feed my family. With Locks and Keys, as long as people do not trust each other, you will always have a job.”


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Without any sentimentality, John explains how his family has had a larger game in focus. “If they clear-cut this whole area, there still be locks and keys. There will be work to be done. When times were good, people were buying houses, boats, cars, and they wanted us to protect those house cars and boats. When Times are bad, when the banks are trying to repossess those things, again, they called us to lock them up. So either way, we were working.”

There is a lot of history on this uprooted end of Emeryville and they deserve their due representation. In this time of vast change, we have already lost people, buildings, and landscape in the southern end of Emeryville that have not been honored for their historic value to the community. But there is time to learn, honor, and save what is still here. “In the Black Community, it has a lot of value. It has landmarks … They don’t give this area the same amount of concern as they give the rest of Emeryville.”

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Feature Image: Ralph Edwin Scott, now the elder of the Scott family, poses with a photo of his great, great, grandfather. The painting in the back is of his son, John Scott, when he graduated from High School.

About The Author

is an artist and historian who is a 5th generation East Bay Resident and resided in Emeryville for many years. His family has a long history in Emeryville and operated the Michel & Pelton Company off of Horton from 1929-1982. His great-grandmother was Earl Warren's secretary when Emeryville was coined "The Rotten City." Joey works as a Collections Manager for The National Pastime Museum. Follow Joey's curated collection of Mudflat Art pics on Instagram @emeryville_mudflats

13 Responses to Black History Month Special: Golden Gate Key & Lock – A 3rd Generation Black-Owned Family Business returns to Emeryville

  1. Angel-Max Guerrero says:

    Excellent article. Thanks for sharing about this family and family-owned business. I’ll make sure to patronize their business in the future.

  2. Bob Hughes says:

    Congratulations, Rob, on Joey Enos’ excellent article on the Scott family and their Golden Gate Key and Lock business. A balanced article like this helps make up for, but doesn’t excuse, your constant denigration of our current excellent City Council.

    Bob Hughes

    • WTF? says:

      Bob, how civil of you to drag an unrelated topic into one intended to spotlight a bit of Emeryville’s culture that only Rob’s site covers and written by someone else. Is your metric for this city council being “excellent” our massive increase in crime, how they’ve completely solved income inequality as evidenced by our growing homeless encampments or how they’ve destroyed our budget with their pet projects – or all of the above?

    • Fotchface says:

      denigration? that is a matter of opinion. it is my opinion, and obviously that of several other regular commenters here, that rob’s criticism of the city council is fair.

    • Anonymous says:

      Bob, what exactly is excellent about the current city council? The city is a mess. Between the needles all over the streets, the lack of response to the homeless, the budget problems, the auto burglaries, the shootings, the business exodus, and the New Seasons fiasco, what does the “excellent” city council have to hang its hat on? It directly or indirectly caused most of these and failed to respond to the rest, so what are you giving them credit for that the rest of us aren’t seeing? They just do whatever the current progressive headline is or whatever the Tattler guy tells them. What’s the current crazy thing he wants? Removing signs on a bike path near his house, more traffic calming on his block, singing This Land is My Land instead of saying the pledge of allegiance because of its communist overtones, banning half court basketball because it’s racist, removing any reference to black people from the police blotter? Or just trying to overthrow the school superintendent by lying his butt off?

      The EvilleEye is the only publication that represents the residents here. It tells the stories, good and bad, of our community.

      That there’s more bad than good lately is because if you look around, it’s obvious to everyone (minus the 10 people in RULE) that the place is going to shit. Ask the kid shot in front of Amtrak Sunday what he thinks of the “excellent” city council or the dead guy in the Target parking lot or the employees at Toys R Us or the police beat whose new chief views “mindfulness” as the answer to everything, or the fantastic and experienced senior city staff who all left in the last 3 years.

      Excellent? They’re going to have to approve a lot more cannabis businesses than they have to get anyone believing that.

    • Anonymous says:

      Bob Hughes, a young man is fighting for his life on a hospital bed right now due to the policies of your current “excellent” city council.

    • Sarah says:

      Way to push back, my dear neighbors. I’ll just chime in Bob, to say that I echo and endorse all the replies you have received to your lazy, passive-aggressive Trump-style attack. That has nothing to do with the article, the writer, or anything else that is happening on this page. If you disagree with some specific article, write your comments there or get up and take some action- if city council is “excellent” I would love to know about it. Maybe you can write that article and Rob would be kind enough to publish it.

      • Rob Arias says:

        Well, at least when Bob throws daggers at me he has the courage to sign his work, I’ll give him that (I actually thought Bob was starting to like me!). We definitely take guest posts from the community as long as they have some discussion value and I’d especially appreciate an angle that might provide a different perspective than my own.

  3. Phil Epstein says:

    Great article, loved the history angle

  4. C Leonard says:

    I know Ralph Edwin Scott personally. A great guy with a great sense of humor.

  5. AL says:

    Great history!
    I first started going to GGL&K in 1966, 10 years old riding my bike.
    Lots of trucking companies, as well as the small family businesses he mention.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I’m sure City Council will now reward them with recognition.

    They are hell bent on “reaching out to the community” to take photos and let POC think they care about their interests, when they are just using them for their political advantage.

    They’re no better than tobacco industries preying on the same communities.

    What exactly have they offered them? Fair Work Week and the MWO? Ask our POC neighbors how much that has really changed their community.

    I hear they all can’t wait for Bike to Work Day.

  7. wendy patterson hardy says:

    Wonderful to able to read apart of the city history as well as the family history. City should recognize the hard work the family has done to beat the odds and provide a service to the community. Congratulation Scott Family prayers are with you for long life to continue in this business and more history….

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