OUP: Cleveland Heights and “Borax” Smith

panorama from base of Cleveland Cascade

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:

We covered a lot of topics in our 2.5-3.0 hour walk. Here are links to the Oakland Wiki pages on some of the things we saw:

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.

excerpt from 1905 map

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.

MLK Day of Service: Hyacinth Paths cleanup

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.

More photos here.

OUP walk: Walk of the Dead

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.

No August Walk

Unfortunately, there won’t be an OUP walk for August. But there are plenty of other ways to explore Oakland, whether by foot or by bike!

Check the Visit Oakland website for more tour ideas, or go explore Oakland on your own!

OUP hike: Dimond to Joaquin Miller Park

On Wednesday, July 4th, Stan Dodson of OaklandTrails.org led a large group on a hike from the Dimond to Joaquin Miller Park, with a return by bus. We had near-perfect weather for a hike, a bit overcast at the start to keep things cool.

A larger than expected group of 55-60 people set out from La Farine Bakery on Fruitvale Avenue. Despite the group size, we made good time as we followed trails up the Sausal Creek watershed.

Some people opted to return by bus at the 4 mile mark near the meadow; others continued to the 5 mile mark near Roberts Recreation Area. But a hearty group stuck around for the full 7.5 mile hike, ending in front of Joaquin Miller’s Abbey. I think we were all relieved to get on the bus to take us back to our starting point.

More photos from the hike are here.

Special thanks to Stan for leading us on the hike, and to his brother Gary for being the caboose to our long train. Here’s a note from Stan:

A special thanks to Oakland Urban Paths for inviting Oakland Trails to lead a hike on July 4! As promised, here are some links that may be helpful:

Thanks again, and see you on the trails!

Stan Dodson
Oakland Trails

Oakland Trails is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to promoting, maintaining, and enhancing the City of Oakland’s wildland parks and trails.

OUP+WOBO walk: Downtown Murals

Saturday was a walking tour of some of the murals downtown, organized by Oakland Urban Paths and our parent organization, Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, and led by local artist and organizer Sorell Raino-Tsu. The walk was originally scheduled for March, but rescheduled for this month because of the weather. And the weather definitely cooperated—it was warm and sunny, not too hot, perfect for a walk around downtown.
After an introduction and safety reminder by WOBO president Chris Hwang, Sorell led us up Telegraph to view the first mural.

On the back of the Cathedral Building is the United Nations Mural. Sorell told us about the challenges in getting permission (separate permission for every floor of the building) and painting it (the height caused the crane to start tipping). And in an echo of the past, the mural was originally intended for San Francisco. But the artist Zio Zigler wanted to do it in Oakland, and Sorell helped make it happen. The mural was probably intended for San Francisco because that’s where the United Nations Conference on International Organization was held in 1945. But in 1966 when it came time to fly the UN flag, San Francisco said no, and the flag ended up in at Jack London Square in Oakland.

Then it was up a ways and over to Broadway to view another large piece, by far the largest of the Beacon Mural Series by Joshua Mays. On 19th near Flora is a smaller piece by Argentinian artist Pastel (aka Francisco Diaz), featuring his trademark deadly flowers. On Thomas L. Berkley Way on the back the I. Magnin building is a large, striking mural of flowers by Jet Martinez. it’s painted in shades of green to echo the green terra cotta tiles of the building shown at the start of the post. On Franklin St. there are two notable murals on opposite sides of the same building: Water Writes on one side, painted by Estria and crew, and a striking human rights mural on the other, painted by Ricky Lee Gordon from South Africa. Over on Webster, there’s a combination fence and ground-based mural by Brett Flanigan. Brett broke his foot during the painting, and finished the job with help from others while he was in a wheelchair!

Near 19th and Webster is a large mural sponsored by the Oakland A’s, painted by Illuminaries. Going down Webster a bit we passed a temporary mural by Sorell on a construction fence. Across the street on the back of Howden Market is another piece by Zio Zigler. It was painted shortly after he broke up with his girlfriend, and so fittingly, it features a man with his heart being ripped out. A couple doors down on the side of the former Oakland Business and Professional Women’s Club building is a piece by Irot. And across the parking lot is a work in progress called Elevate. And next door to that was our final mural, a somewhat disturbing rabbit mural painted by Nychos, an artist from Austria.

Thanks to WOBO for organizing the walk, and to Sorell for sharing his knowledge!

See the Athen B Gallery website for lots more photos, including some of the murals in progress.
See here for more photos from the walk.