Here it is, a year since the last in-person OUP walk. A lot has changed in the last year, but it’s still not possible to do in-person walks like we normally do.
In recognition of that, and in honor of Black History Month and Black Lives Matter, I’ve created a digital version of the Black History walk that we’ve led in previous years. You can either do it as a self-guided tour with your phone, or do it virtually from your computer.
As with the other digital walking tours we’ve published, the tour page gives some basics about the walk: the topic, where to start, how long the walk is, etc. When you’re ready to take the walk, either self-guided in the real world, or virtually from your computer, click on Start the tour and go from there.
The goals of Oakland Urban Paths are to teach people about Oakland, and to encourage them to explore Oakland (and elsewhere) on foot. So how do we do that under the current shelter in place order?
Even before COVID-19 was a thing, I’d been working on a side project. The schedules of walking tours and those who want to go on them sometimes conflict; people often ask (both about OUP walks and City of Oakland walks): “When will this walk be offered again? I can’t make the scheduled walk.” Too often the answer is: “next year” or “I don’t know.”
Then came COVID-19. Then came the Bay Area-wide shelter in place order. Then the state-wide shelter in place order. If you’re not in quarantine, you can (and should) still go out to get exercise, buy food, etc., but while minimizing opportunities for contamination. Some people are able to work from home, but many aren’t. And many people are scrambling to continue educating and entertaining their children.
So it seemed like this might be a good time to release the walking tour app as I have it so far. There are only 3 tours: Old Oakland (based on what I lead for the City of Oakland, though this is a bit longer), 10,000 Steps (based on Walking the Invisible City by Sue Mark and Bruce Douglas), and Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After (based on Scott Oliver’s audio tour).
But I post what there is so far here as a way for you to keep exploring and learning about Oakland, even if you can’t have a live guide. Point your phone to https://walk.ouroakland.net, pick a tour, and go. Click Start the tour to begin, Directions to get directions to the stop, and Next to go to the next stop on the tour. Note that 10,000 Steps is in two parts and has audio at some stops, and Once Upon A Time… is in three parts, and is 99% audio. (The more audio, the more data it will use up on your phone.)
Please email gene @ oaklandurbanpaths.org to let me know if you take one of the tours, and let me know if you notice any problems with the tours or have any suggestions. See you (from at least 6′ away) on the paths!
Nice weather for our walk for Black History Month. A little chilly at first, but nice once we got going. We talked about a lot of people, organizations, and events, so here’s a brief recap.
The walk was a fundraiser for Friends of the Hoover Durant Public Library, which is working to get one again in the Hoover Durant neighborhood near San Pablo. Read about the old North Oakland branch library.
Calvin Simmons – namesake of the theatre, first African American director of a major symphony
Martin Luther King, Jr. – spoke at auditorium December 28th, 1962, the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863. The Apollos of Oakland Tech worked to get MLK Day made a holiday here in California before it became a national holiday.
Bobby Seale – co-founder of the Black Panther Party, and 1973 candidate for Oakland mayor announced his candidacy at the auditorium.
1200 Lakeshore – Huey Newton lived for a time in the penthouse, under heavy security, in part because of COINTELPRO.
Marcus Foster – first black superintendent of the OUSD, first to head a major U.S. school district. Assassinated by Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA, of Patty Hearst fame) in 1973 with cyanide tipped bullets because they mistakenly believed he supported mandatory student ID cards, police in schools and other Big Brother-esque stuff. See Paul Robeson Administration Building.
Elizabeth Flood – she and husband Isaac Flood helped desegregate Brooklyn (town east of Lake Merritt) and then Oakland school in 1872.
Oakland History Center – run by Dorothy Lazard; a great place to learn more about Oakland history and research your own family
Morrie Turner – first nationally syndicated African American cartoonist with “Wee Pals”. Initially in 5 papers; after assassination of Dr. MLK, Jr. it was in over 100. Also one of the founders of what became AAMLO.
Royal Towns – early black firefighter, and first to be promoted
Alice Street Mural – amazing multi-story, multi-wall mural; alas no longer visible. Featured numerous people from Oakland history.
Malonga Casquelord – Cameroon-born drummer and dancer; died in auto accident in 2003 and center renamed in his honor.
Ruth Beckford – dancer and dance instructor; In 1947, she founded a recreational modern dance for Parks and Rec in Oakland: the first in the United States. Also organized the BPP free breakfast for school. We heard from one of her students and friends, who also taught dance.
Great weather and turnout for Saturday’s walk exploring Cleveland Heights and the former estate of F.M. “Borax” Smith. Plus we saw a hawk flying over a couple of times! Special thanks to Meryl and Grey from our parent organization, WOBO, for helping with the walk logistics.
There were a number of groups represented and various resources for other walks and research mentioned:
A number of people asked about researching the history of older buildings, especially homes. Someone asked specifically about the house behind us as we viewed 552 Montclair Ave. (the Robinson House). I didn’t know anything about it, but it is an interesting looking house.
One of the challenges of researching history is that what we consider landmarks (streets, addresses, neighborhood names, etc.) change over time. Below is part of a 1905 map; “Arbor Villa” and “Mary Smiths Trust” (i.e., the Home for Friendless Girls) are clearly visible on the map. But if you look more closely, you’ll notice there’s no Cleveland Street (it’s Prospect Avenue), no Park Blvd. (it’s 4th Avenue), and no Montclair Avenue (it’s East Oak St.) And there’s a vague “Boulevard Heights” labeling what is now known as Haddon Hill.
If that wasn’t enough, the addresses have changed, too. 552 Montclair was 252 East Oak St. And really old locations might not have had an address number. But none of this is unique to the area–street names and addresses have changed all over Oakland, and more than once. A big part of this is because Oakland grew in stages. It started small (previously the village of Contra Costa) near the foot of Broadway, and grew, and then annexed other nearby towns like Brooklyn and Elmhurst. It didn’t grow to it’s current bounds until 1909. Annexing those other towns mean absorbing their existing streets and street names, and sometimes those conflicted with the street names in Oakland.
All confusing stuff if you’re trying to find the history of a particular building (and that’s not even getting into the possibility the building has been physically moved to a new location.) Putting all those thing together is a big part of why the Oakland History Room is the best place to start when doing this kind of research.
Join Oakland Urban Paths as we explore Hiller Highlands and Claremont Hills and get different looks at the Claremont Hotel. This is a variation on a walk we’ve done before, and it is hilly with a lot of stairs. Read more and signup (required) on Eventbrite.
A chilly start to the morning, but a nice turnout to clean up the paths near Hyacinth Avenue. A combination of neighborhood residents and volunteers from elsewhere in Oakland…and Fremont! Thanks to Nancy, Kat, Jody, Tom and his family, and “Team Fremont”. Special thanks to Chris from Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, who picked up the tools, brought coffee and La Farine pastries, water, more debris bags, and her seemingly boundless energy, and still found time to work on the cleanup.
After the smoke from the fires up north forced a reschedule, we had a small but “lively” group for the Walk of the Dead. In addition to clearer skies in December, we also had great weather—sunny and not too warm. After talking a bit about customs around death like the Day of the Dead, a brief glossary of terms, and some of the symbols we might see on grave markers, we headed off.
Our first stop was Chapel of Memories, also known as the Oakland Columbarium. It opened in 1901 as an independent business, but now is run by nearby Chapel of the Chimes. The buildings are mostly full of smaller niches. While a few are tagged “before need”, most are occupied.
Just up Howe St. is Oakland’s oldest existing cemetery, St. Mary’s Cemetery, a Catholic cemetery which started a bit before nearby Mountain View Cemetery. There were earlier cemeteries closer to downtown, but as Oakland grew, they got in the way of development. The Oakland Cemetery (1852-1857) was at 8th and Oak. The Webster St. Cemetery (1857-1867) was between Webster and Snow Park. Most of the residents
moved to Mountain View or St. Mary’s c.1872-76, but not all:
An excavating machine hit a metal coffin and spilled the contents: “the left hand and arm
nearly to the elbow protruded from the ground, the hand drooped over gracefully from the
wrist. Portions of the coat and vest were visible, as were the outlines of the face, but over these
still rested a coating of fine earth.” Oakland Tribune April 28, 1877
After a brief stop at 4460 Howe Street, which was home at different times to a superintendent of St. Mary’s, a florist, and a granite and marble showroom, we went in the top entrance of Chapel of the Chimes. That took us into the newer areas, but down some flights of stairs and around a couple of corners, and we were into an older part, which was designed by noted architect Julia Morgan. Five different architecture firms worked on the structure over the years. The oldest part was originally a station for the streetcar which stopped at the top of Piedmont Avenue.
From there it was through the gates of Mountain View Cemetery, but into Home of Eternity Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery run by Temple Sinai. They purchased land from Mountain View in 1865. Besides more familiar religious symbols on the grave markers, there we saw some kohanim hands, which mean the person was of the priestly tribe of Aaron. Leonard Nimoy used a modified version of the gesture as the Vulcan greeting in Star Trek.
Stepping past a row of trees took us into Mountain View Cemetery, which at 224 acres, is by far the largest cemetery in Oakland.
First we went into one of several large mausoleums on the Mountain View grounds, which contains the remains of Oakland city council member Frank Ogawa and his family. He and his wife were imprisoned in an internment camp along with other Japanese Americans during WWII. Their daughter, Nancy Lynne Ogawa, was born in the Topaz camp and died there. That mausoleum also contains the remains of my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, and my aunt’s father, Dr. Edward Lundegaard. Dr. Lundegaard served as a surgeon in the county coroner’s office from 1946 to 1954, and then was elected coroner in 1954.
We wound our way up the hill to “Millionaire’s Row”, where the likes of “Borax” Smith, mayor Samuel Merritt, and the Crockers of Crocker Bank fame are buried in some sizable and lovely mausoleums. The air quality was better than November, but it was hazy enough it didn’t show off the great view. That view, plus the park-like setting (MVC was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York City) are part of why people used to visit their grave sites before they needed them, and countless Oaklanders still walk, run and admire the views today.
We finished by the Infant’s Plot by the Main Mausoleum, in view of the Pauper’s Plot. We didn’t have time to continue down Piedmont Avenue and check out the cemetery-related businesses, including florists, grave marker carvers (former), and funeral homes, but we got a nice overview of part of Oakland inhabited mostly by the dead.