On Saturday, about 70 people and 5 dogs joined Oakland Urban Paths for a walk exploring the former town of Brooklyn, east of Lake Merritt. There were overcast skies, but we managed to get a break in the (much-needed) rain. Last year local historian Robert Perricone led this walk for OUP, but we changed things up a little this year.
The town of Brooklyn was formed in 1856 by the merger of two smaller settlements, Clinton and San Antonio, and later annexed the town of Lynn just to the north. It was named for the ship Brooklyn which brought Mormon settlers to California in 1846. County supervisor Thomas Eagar suggested the name; he’d been a passenger on the Brooklyn. The town didn’t last too long; in 1872, voters approved annexation by Oakland. But it’s worth noting that most all of what is now Oakland that wasn’t already part of Oakland or the town of Brooklyn was called Brooklyn Township, so an older location name might refer to either.
Next to Clinton Square Park where we met had been the home of Hiram Tubbs, who made his fortune in making rope, and was one of the founders of Mountain View Cemetery. A house built for one of his daughters and son-in-law, the Tubbs-Henshaw House, still stands across International Blvd. Locally, Tubbs was best known for building the palatial Tubbs Hotel, which filled the next block over. Gertrude Stein lived there with her family when they first moved to Oakland. Writer Robert Louis Stevenson stayed there. “Borax” Smith met his first wife Mary at a dance at the Tubbs Hotel (February’s walk will be about Cleveland Heights and the former Borax Smith estate.) Unfortunately, the building burned in 1893. The fire department didn’t have enough water to fight the huge fire, so all they could do was join the crowd of onlookers and watch the spectacle.
Stein left Oakland in 1891 after her parents died, and didn’t return until 1935. During that time, the Tubbs Hotel burned down, the family house was torn down, Oakland’s population increased from 35,000 to nearly 300,000, and the bucolic neighborhood where the family had lived was now full of apartment buildings and nearby Highland Hospital. The Oakland of her childhood was gone, and you can’t go home again—that’s what she meant by “there’s no there there”.
We stopped and talked about lots of places, some dating back to when it was the town of Brooklyn, and some more recent. One place where we all learned something new as the Vue du Lac Apartments at the corner of Foothill and 3rd Avenue. The building was constructed in 1906 by Charles MacGregor, known as “the builder of Albany” where he constructed about 1,500 homes over the years. He was also called “One-Nail MacGregor”, either in a jab at his being overly thrifty, or (more likely) a compliment at the quality of his buildings.
At the Ellen Kenna House, a spectacular Victorian that Ellen Kenna had built in 1888, there were questions about the front door, or more to the point, what appeared to be the lack of one. According to the current owner, “Ellen Kenna owned the block from 12th to 13th Ave. The Valentine Mansion across the street was also situated with its front facing 13th. After Ellen died and it became a hospital, several small homes were built for the staff on the 13th Avenue side (the front). These, too, were eventually subdivided and the stairs coming from the front were awkwardly redirected towards East 21st Street.” Alas, he has to sell the home, so while tons of restoration work have restored much of the former glory of the home, he won’t have time for the rest of the changes.
Thanks to volunteer Charlie Lenk for helping with the walk, and thank you to him, John Rengstoff and Ed Matney for the use of some of their photos:
Some of the other points of interest and people we talked about include:
Mountain View Cemetery
Intertribal Friendship House
First Swedish Baptist Church
Vue du Lac Apartments
Asa White House
Our Savior Danish Lutheran Church
1819 – 7th Avenue
James Presho House
Harbor House Ministries
Quan Am Tu Shrine
Ellen Kenna House
Sunset Telephone Company
St. James Episcopal Church
Brooklyn Presbyterian Church
Random Parts mural
Brooklyn Basin project
East Oakland Brewing Company
(And something we don’t have an Oakland Wiki page on, the TARDIS, which was seen on a nearby roof.)
There’s even more in the area, which we didn’t have time to cover, or which only got a brief mention:
Brooklyn Colored School
John A. Wilds
En El Libro Tu Libertad Mural
Plaza Theater Teatro
Dr. William Bamford House
David Carrick House
Asa Howard House
Captain Henry E. Nichols House
Get out and explore on your own! You can also join us on Saturday, January 23rd, for a special walk about author Jack London. Our regular walk on February, 13th, will focus on Cleveland Heights and the former “Borax” Smith estate in Ivy Hill.