OUP walk: Legendary Locals of Oakland

Saturday we had perfect weather for an Oakland Urban Paths walk focused on some of the people in my new book, Legendary Locals of Oakland. The book has profiles and images of 180 of the people who have shaped Oakland over the years, both historic and contemporary. About 70 people and 6 dogs joined us to explore Lakeside Park and Adams Point, and learn about a few of the people in the book.

We started near the Rotary Nature Center where I talked about Lake Merritt being the oldest wildlife refuge in the country, dating back to 1870, even before the National Park System. To protect birds, neighbors, and property values, Dr. Samuel Merritt lobbied California governor Henry H. Haight to make the area surrounding the lake into a wildlife refuge. Nearly 80 years later, Paul Covel was hired to be the first municipal naturalist in the country, who taught countless children I also talked a bit about current naturalist, Stephanie Benavidez, who’s not in the book but is a legendary local, too.

I also talked about mayor Melvin Chapman and Oakland founding scoundrel Edson Adams (along with Horace Carpentier and Andrew Moon). In the Gardens at Lake Merritt, we talked about WWII internee Frank Ogawa, namesake of the garden center Marsha Jean Corprew, world-renowned music producer Harold Lawrence, and Calvin Simmons, the first black conductor of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra. We could see the bandstand across the way, and I talked about Fred Morcom, mayor of Oakland and namesake of the Morcom Rose Garden,

At nearby Children’s Fairyland, there were a lot of people to talk about: Oakland Parks superintendent William Penn Mott, Jr., puppeteer Frank Oz and master puppeteer Lewis Mahlmann (both pictured above with Oz’s character, Bert of “Sesame Street”), restaurateur and inventor of the mai tai “Trader Vic” Bergeron, and businessman Joe Shoong.

Near Lake Merritt I talked about then-mayor Jerry Brown and the story of Measure DD that brought about the improvements to the lake, and about industrialist and healthcare creator Henry J. Kaiser. Over on Webster, I told people Sid Hoff and the Ali Baba Ballroom, and 3-time restaurateur James Syhabout of Hawker Fare, The Dock at Linden Street, and the Michelin-starred Commis.

Over on Broadway, we stopped in front of The Hive. There I talked about legendary newspaperman Robert Maynard and his wife Nancy, one-time owners of the Oakland Tribune. One of the buildings that makes up The Hive is a former automotive business designed by Oakland architect Julia Morgan, better known for designing Hearst Castle. Someone asked about the church that had been where the YMCA building across the street now stands; that was the First Methodist Church, which was destroyed by a spectacular fire in 1981.

At 27th Street we stopped between the First Presbyterian Church and Temple Sinai. Connected with the former are Henry Durant one of the founders of the University of California, and Laurentine Hamilton, who was charged with heresy and left (along with much of the congregation) to form what became the First Unitarian Church. Members of Temple Sinai include writer and art patron Gertrude Stein, of the infamous but misunderstood “there is no there there”, and Rachel “Ray” Frank, the “girl rabbi of the Golden West”, whose students included a young Gertrude Stein.

Walking up 28th Street we climbed our first set of stairs to Hamilton Place. Down Harrison took us to the First Congregation Church. Notable members included “Borax” Smith, borax miner and creator of the Key System, and his first wife, Mary R. Smith, who started an orphanage for girls. (The walk in February will focus on Cleveland Heights and “Borax” Smith.)

Across Harrison we climbed another set of steps to Vernon Terrace and Vernon Street. There we saw the home of judge and Chief Justice Earl Warren. He was head of the U.S. Supreme Court that ruled on the historic Brown v. Board of Education which banned segregation in public schools. As California District Attorney, Warren had been”the moving force” behind the WWII internment of Japanese Americans, but he later said he deeply regretted that.

The next streets we went past included Adams Street, named for Edson Adams, and Jayne Avenue, named for his wife, Hannah Jayne. She was Oakland’s first, and for a time, only teacher. I talked briefly about Alice Street downtown, named for the sister of Horace Carpentier, Alice Carpentier.

With a large group on the walk and so many people to talk about, we didn’t have time to go over to MacArthur Blvd., but instead we walked to the back side of Temple Beth Abraham. It’s named for Abraham Bercovich. His brother Edward Bercovich and later his nephew Sam Bercovich ran a furniture business, and supported youth athletics in the East Bay. Many of the athletes went on to college and pro careers, including baseball player Curt Flood. His refusal to be traded by the St. Louis Cardinals led to free agency in sports.

Our last stop was at the home of Rose and Joe Shoong, founder of National Dollar Stores. To keep the connections going, the home was designed by none other than Julia Morgan.

A great walk—thanks to everyone who came out for it, and to everyone who bought a book! Special thanks to Alan Forkosh and Paul Rosenbloom for the use of some their photos, thanks to whoever carried the speaker, and thanks to volunteer Charlie Lenk for helping with all sorts of stuff. More pictures from the walk:

OUP walk: Water and Change

Nearly 100 people (plus a record 8 dogs) turned out for the Oakland Urban Paths walk exploring the changes along the estuary and the Lake Merritt channel. Led by city planner and WOBO member Ruth Miller, we started in front of the historic Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon.

We began by viewing some historical maps of Oakland that help show just how much we’ve changed the shoreline of Oakland over the years. The 1857 map in particular shows clearly that Lake Merritt isn’t a lake, but a tidal slough, and much of West Oakland is filled land. (You may also notice that much of Alameda is fill, and that it wasn’t originally an island.)

Ruth told us some about Measure DD, a 2002 bond measure that has paid for numerous improvements around Lake Merritt and the estuary. Part of that is to improve the flow of water in and out of Lake Merritt. While the channel won’t be as wide as it was in 1857, it is being widened and made more friendly to wildlife and people. We crossed over the channel on the bridge at Embarcadero. Like the other bridges across the channel, this one is slated for replacement, too. The new bridge will be wider and include bike lanes and proper sidewalks, and should provide better clearance for kayaks and other small boats.

Then we went in to the 5th Avenue Marina, a small community of artists in the middle of an otherwise industrial area. They’ll be getting some neighbors in the form of the $1.5 billion Brooklyn Basin project, but not all of them are very happy about it. All around them will be shiny new buildings, a mixture of residential and retail, some as tall as 22 stories. The neighborhood will still exist, but how will it be changed?

We then walked up the channel a ways and over one of the pedestrian bridges back to the other side in the midst of the Laney College campus. Ruth told us about more of the Measure DD work, first mayor of Oakland Horace Carpentier and his ‘bridge of sighs’, and the pottery studio at Laney. From there we followed the channel to 7th Street. We were going to go under the street, next to the 7th Street pumping station, but ironically the walkway was too flooded. The pumping station was built in 1971 because of flooding around Lake Merritt in the 1960s. Now they mostly let the water flow in and out with the tide, but if a big storm is forecast during a high tide, they can bring down the lake level to make room, and even pump against the tide if they need to.

More meandering took us to Victory Court, near the Oakland Fire Department’s training center. I told people about what had been there before. It’s filled land, but before Laney College was there, it was Frank Youell Field, where the Oakland Raiders played from 1962 through 1965 while the Oakland Coliseum was built. (And did you know the Raiders were almost called the Oakland Señors? It was the winner of a naming contest, but fortunately didn’t go through.) And before the football field was the Auditorium Village Housing Project, “temporary” housing built for some of the many people who came to work in the Bay Area shipyards during WWII. That’s where Victory Court got its name. (The WWII housing project in West Oakland that someone asked about was the Harbor Homes Housing Project.)

A few people returned to Heinold’s for more talk and a post-walk beer (though Heinold’s didn’t open until close to 1PM, instead of 12-ish). Another great walk! Thanks to everyone who came out, and special thanks to Ruth Miller for guiding us on the walk. The location of next month’s walk is to be determined, but it will be the 2nd Saturday, December 12th at 10AM.

More pictures from the walk. Thanks to volunteer Charlie Lenk and walk participant Ethan Lavine for the use of some of their photos.

OUP walk: Three Jellyfish, Two Creeks and One New Book

On every Oakland Urban Paths walk, we try to include some history, art, current events, and to hook up with people in the neighborhood whenever we can. On last Saturday’s walk, “Three Jellyfish, Two Creeks, One New Book”, we had all that and more. About 80 people joined us for an exploration of the Fruitvale district, led by OUP co-founder Paul Rosenbloom.

We started the walk at the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park. While the centerpiece is the home that Antonio Maria Peralta lived in with his family, Peralta Hacienda covers local history from the days of the Ohlone people to the present day and regularly hosts cultural events. It’s also part of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, a unit of the National Park Service.

We crossed the first of the two creeks, Peralta Creek, then headed down 35th Avenue to the Calvin Simmons Middle School. There Paul told us a bit about Oakland Symphony Orchestra director Calvin Simmons, who died tragically young just a few years into a promising career.

Across 35th and up Galindo Street, we came to the 3 jellyfish, part of a new art installation on the Carrington Steps. A few years ago, the steps were a dumping ground and an eyesore. The neighbors got together and cleaned them up, got a grant and created a beautiful mosaic, and got another grant and had Oakland muralist Dan Fontes create a colorful and unique staircase mural. Fontes is probably best known for murals around Oakland like the Giraphics murals under I-580. We heard from Fontes and Cynthia Elliot of Keep Oakland Beautiful about the whole process. Now local students and their parents happily use the stairway, and so far, the stairs are staying clean. (For whoever was wondering, the school beyond the top of the stairs is the Global Family Elementary School.)

Continuing our walk took us along part of Foothill Blvd., where we could see some of the results of the Fruitvale Alive! Community Transportation Plan that was completed in 2005. The streetscaping includes stamped intersections, colorful wayfinding signs, and more. Then it was on to the first of two city parks, the recently revamped Cesar Chavez Park, which includes a stretch of Peralta Creek. We walked near St. Elizabeth Church which was originally organized by German Catholics, but now the congregation is mostly Latino. Crossing Fruitvale Avenue took us to the next city park, Josie de la Cruz Park, named for a local community activist and home to the Carmen Flores Recreation Center. There we got our first glimpse of our second creek, Sausal Creek.

Then it was on the new book portion of our walk. We were a bit surprised to enter Austin Square Park along Sausal Creek by a different entrance than when we’d scouted the route before. We were quite surprised to find the approach required climbing down the hillside to the creek with the aid of a rope. But there we got to hear about the new bilingual children’s book, I Am Sausal Creek / Soy El Arroyo Sausal. We heard from the publisher, Josh Fowler of Nomadic Press, book illustrator Robert Trujillo, and author Melissa Reyes. When she was a teacher, she was told to teach Oakland history to young students, but found few age-appropriate resources, and the idea for the book was born. Reyes read from the book, which tells the story of Sausal Creek from the days of the Ohlone up to present times. It’s full of beautiful watercolor illustrations by Trujillo, and also has a section for parents and older children with a bit more detail about the history.

All around a great walk! Thanks to everyone who came out for the walk, to Paul for organizing and leading the walk, and new OUP volunteer Charlie for helping with the walk logistics. And thanks to Charlie, Noël and Tom for the photos. Be sure to check out Tom’s video at the end of this post.

Next month’s walk will be a more strenuous hike, from the Dimond district up to Skyline Blvd. with a return by bus. See more info here.

Some other notes: the 20th annual Creek to Bay Day is this Saturday, September 19th. This is a fun, free, family-friendly way to help make Oakland more beautiful and protect our local environment. There are work projects along Sausal Creek, Peralta Creek, and all the other creeks that flow through Oakland to the bay. Find a project near you and see more info here.

Sunday, September 20th is the 3rd annual Love Our Lake Day. Some of the streets around Lake Merritt will be closed to vehicle traffic, so people can walk, run, cycle and dance in the streets with a variety of events. I’ll be leading a special walk at Lake Merritt — see more info here.

Speaking of the creeks, check out the Guide to San Francisco Bay Area Creeks on the Oakland Museum of California website. There’s online info and a printed version of the map, too.

More pictures from the walk:

To make sure we had enough time for the book event, we skipped part of our route that included seeing the Cohen-Bray House. The home was built by Julia Moses and Watson A. Bray as a wedding present for their daughter Emma, who married attorney Alfred H. Cohen on February 28, 1884. The sprawling Bray family estate was across the street, and while it’s gone, the Cohen-Bray House is an elegant reminder of times past. Tours are available by appointment.

We also didn’t have time to talk about Patten University near Peralta Hacienda. It was founded by evangelical Dr. Bebe H. Patten as the Oakland Bible Institute, after the Pattens led a revival at the Oakland Auditorium that went on for 19 weeks and had as many as 5,000 people a night.

OUP walk: Glen Echo Creek

Saturday, 35 people (and one dog) joined Oakland Urban Paths for an exploration of the Glen Echo Creek watershed, led by Chris Kidd.

The local topography is something like a hand with the fingers spread, with ridge lines alternating with shallow valleys cut by streams like Glen Echo Creek. The creek starts as two branches, Cemetery Creek that comes through Mountain View Cemetery, and the Rockridge branch, which comes through the Claremont Country Club’s golf course and feeds into the Bilger quarry. Heading east from our start outside the Cat Town Cafe and Adoption Center, we descended slightly then began climbing the next ‘finger’ on the other side.

There are lots of beautiful houses and stairways along the way. One interesting stop was at Oak Park. The site was formerly Edison Elementary School which one person on the walk had attended as a child. The school was closed in 1971 because it wasn’t up to earthquake standards. It was subsequently sold and converted into condominiums. While the playground became a city park, the city doesn’t maintain it, the neighbors do.

Like many creeks in the East Bay, much of Glen Echo Creek runs in underground culverts. Glen Echo does have more open segments than many creeks, but it almost disappeared completely. Back in the 1950s, there was a plan to build the Richmond Blvd. Freeway which would have run from near Snow Park downtown, over Glen Echo Creek and through Piedmont, and to highway 13. Fortunately it wasn’t built…the freeways that were built were hard enough on Oakland as it is.

We meandered through part of Piedmont and to the Morcom Rose Garden. It was created in originally called the Oakland Municipal Rose Garden and the first rose was planted by then-mayor Fred Morcom in 1933. We took a brief break there while people checked out the roses, watched the labors of the Dedicated Deadheaders who take care of the roses, and looked at the names on the Oakland Mother of the Year walk of fame.

A different route took us back to our starting point, a bit tired but a lot more knowledgeable. Thanks to everyone who came out for the walk, and thanks to Chris for leading it!

Next month’s walk is still being worked out, but check www.oaklandurbanpaths.org for details. As usual, it will be the 2nd Saturday, starting at 10AM. See you on the paths!

A map of our route (PDF).

More pictures from the walk:

OUP walk: Montclair and the Sacramento Northern Railway

Note: Many of the links below are links to OaklandWiki.org, where you can find more information about the subjects. At the end of the article there are some additional links to other sites I mentioned, plus a link to a map of our route.

Saturday we had about 50 people (and two dogs) turn out for a walk exploring Montclair and the Sacramento Northern (SN) Railway with Oakland Urban Paths. The Sacramento Northern was an all-electric railroad running from Oakland to Sacramento to Chico.

We started in Montclair Park near the duck pond. From there you can see some traces of railroad, including the bridge abutments on Mountain Blvd. We headed up Moraga Avenue to the nearby Montclair Firehouse. The lovely storybook structure hasn’t been used since the 1989 earthquake, because it’s seismically unsafe, and the Hayward fault is basically out its front door. There are some people who’d like to turn it into a firefighting museum, but without a lot of money that’s not going to happen soon. From there we headed to the corner of Moraga and Thornhill Road, and I showed people a picture of an SN train crossing the bridge that used to be there.

Then we walked over to Fernwood Drive, which is named for the historic estate that once filled the valley. It first belonged to Jack Coffee Hays, who gained fame as a Texas Ranger hunting down the Comanche people. After a stint as San Francisco sheriff, he moved to Oakland. He improved the county road that is now Moraga Road to access his estate; for many years the area was known as “Hays Canyon” or “Jack Hays Canyon”. After Hays’ death, his widow sold the beautiful Fernwood estate to William Dingee of the Oakland Water Company.

A bit of backtracking took us to the Montclair library, another local storybook gem, and the Montclair Women’s Club. We talked a bit about the controversy surrounding it. After decades as a women’s club, it’s been sold, and a group wants to put in a Montessori school. Nearby neighbors are concerned about the increased traffic, because there are two elementary schools within a half mile of the already busy intersection.

Then it was up our first flight of stairs to Cabot Drive. If you approached from the top, you might think you were trespassing, but the stairs are a public right of way. They’re just unmarked, so you have to know that they’re there. We walked down the hill to Mountain past one of the elementary schools, then climbed another flight of stairs up to Magellan Drive.

Finally, we dropped down to the Montclair Railroad Trail. This follows the actual right of way that the trains followed, and so has a very gentle grade and wide curves. We viewed one of the information signs about the SN, and another about Highway 77, the highway that fortunately was never built up Shepherd Canyon. We walked a bit further up, and I talked about the tunnel that the trains went through to get over to the Moraga side of the hills.

We backtracked, then went through Montclair Village and checked out some of the new murals. Including some in the first-ever-OUP parking garage traversal, as several of the latest murals are inside. We crossed Highway 13, climbed up to Bruns Court, then returned to our starting point via a pedestrian bridge back over Highway 13 (and Hayward fault!).

Thanks to everyone who came out for the walk and for your donations, and special thanks to those who carried the loudspeaker and clipboard for me at different points. Hope to see you on the paths again soon!

Additional Links

  • East Bay Hills Project – Stuart Swiedler’s amazing web site with lots of photos of the Sacramento Northern
  • Sacramento Northern on the OB&E – Daniel Levy’s great web site with photos and more, including info about the Key System and other local transit. Daniel was the Eagle Scout behind the project that placed the informative signs along the SN right of way
  • Western Railway Museum – a museum near Rio Vista on the way to Sacramento. They’ve preserved some of the engines and cars of the Sacramento Northern (as well as the Key System)

Our Route

A Google map of our route.

More Photos

Some more photos, both from the day of the walk and other

OUP walk: Laurel to the Redwoods

This past weekend was the monthly Oakland Urban Paths walk. Saturday a group of about 60 people (and 6 dogs) joined us for a strenuous, somewhat less urban hike from Laurel up into the redwoods of Leona Heights Park. The walk was led by local historian Dennis Evanosky.

As we wound our way along streets and pathways, Dennis told us about some of the local history including the granting of Rancho San Antonio to Luis Maria Peralta by the Spanish government. Peralta never lived on the nearly 45,000 acre land grant, but his four sons did. Peralta was given everything from the water’s edge to the crest of the hill, except for the port and the redwoods which the government kept for themselves.

Our route took us through George E. McCrea Memorial Park, which is home to some fly-casting pools. The park was originally nearby next to the McCrea family home on what is now part of Holy Names University. A pedestrian bridge took us across Highway 13, and it was into Leona Heights Park. The trail follows the stream, and starts off fairly wide and easy to walk on. At one point, the WPA crews didn’t go any further, and the trail becomes narrower, steeper and unsurprisingly, less well maintained. But most people (and dogs) stuck with us. We stopped at one point to look at an albino redwood tree, and Dennis told us about the cutting of the redwoods and how they were transported to the sawmills.

More climbing took us up to a fire road, and from there we could see out across the bay. We also saw the Old Survivor Redwood Tree, one of the few trees in the area to not be cut 150 years ago. A core sample was taken years ago by city naturalist Paul Covel, and it’s estimated the tree is about 450 years old. We followed the fire trail down the hill, past the old sulfur mine, and got views of the previous location of the Chabot Observatory. The newer Chabot Space and Science Center near Redwood Regional Park opened in 2000, but the first location of the observatory was downtown, in what is now Jefferson Square Park.

The return to our starting point took us past the Home of Peace, which was started by the Montgomery family in 1893 as a waystation for missionaries. Special thanks to Dennis for leading the hike, and thanks to everyone who came out for it! Be sure to look for Dennis’ various local history books next time you’re at Laurel Bookstore downtown at 14th and Broadway.

Lots more pictures from the hike:

An approximate map of our route on Google Maps.

OUP walk: Highland Terrace

Saturday 40 people joined Oakland Urban Paths for a walk exploring the staircases of Highland Terrace and several parks near Reservoir Hill. We had unusually humid and warm weather, so it was fortunate the sun was partially blocked by clouds.

We started our walk in front of Highland Hospital, which back in the days of the Key System, had its own stop built in the style of the hospital. From there we went up and down several stairways from 14th Avenue to the streets above. A few of the residences can only be accessed via the stairs. Our route took us past numerous beautiful Victorians and a few that are in need of some attention. There were also countless barking dogs, which is why we had the unusual ‘no dogs’ request for this walk.

Along the walk was the John C. McMullen House. McMullen was a well-to-do lawyer and banker who had the home built in the late 1800s. When we got there, we heard from the current owner, who has lived there since he was two years old and is slowly restoring the home to its former beauty.

From there we wound our away through several Oakland parks, the Central Reservoir Recreation Area and William D. Wood Park. As you might guess, the first is near the Central Reservoir just below I-580. Less well-known is that Wood Park was formed because of leakage from the reservoir. In the 1950s it destabilized the hillside and took out a dozen homes and part of McKillop Street. The area wasn’t turned into a park until 1976. And oddly enough, in the 2000s, more seepage took out some more homes.

We looped around the reservoir, crossed I-580 twice, then wound our way back to our starting point, with different views of Highland Hospital, the palm trees of Borax Smith’s Arbor Villa estate where we walked in February, and other unexpected sights. The walk for April is yet to be determined, but hope you can join us Saturday, April 11th at 10am wherever in Oakland it is!

View some pictures from Robert Perricone.

Special thanks to Eric Nomburg for the use of some of his photos. More pictures of the walk:

Oakland Women’s History Tour

This past Sunday we had a great turnout for a Women’s History Tour around downtown Oakland, led by historian Annalee Allen of the city’s Oakland Walking Tours and co-sponsored by Oakland Urban Paths. 60 people (and two dogs) met up in front of city hall for a walk through Oakland to learn about some of the amazing women who have called it home.

Our first stop was near the Rotunda Building, originally known as Kahn’s Department Store. There a plaque remembers the women of the 1946 Oakland General Strike, which shut down the city completely. Near the Jack London Oak tree we heard about about Jack London and the woman who raised him, Jennie Prentiss, a woman who had been born into slavery.

Then it was on to the first of several beautiful murals we were to see. Mitzvah: The Jewish Cultural Experience is 7 stories tall, and features people and scenes from Jewish history from Oakland and beyond. Two of the people included in the mural are Gertrude Stein and her life-long partner, Alice B. Toklas. Kitty Hughes from the Oakland Heritage Alliance told us more about Stein, her growing up in Oakland, and the infamous “there is no there there” line from her book, Everybody’s Autobiography published in 1937. The line refers to Stein’s childhood experience being completely gone. The magnificent Tubbs Hotel where the Steins first lived had burned down; the bucolic neighborhood where the Stein’s lived was now built up with numerous homes and apartments, and the population of Oakland had grown from 35,000 in 1880, to nearly 300,000 by 1935 when she returned.

A walk down Mural Lane took us to the former YWCA Building, designed by talented and prolific Oakland architect Julia Morgan, then to the site of the former Ebell Society clubhouse, and finally to what is now the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts. It was originally built as the Oakland Women’s City Club, then became the Alice Arts Center, so named because it’s on Alice Street. Alice Street is one of the few streets downtown not named for a dead white guy; instead it’s named for Alice Carpentier, sister of Oakland founding scoundrel Horace Carpentier. There we met up with Jerri Lange, pioneering Bay Area journalist. She’s one of the many people featured on the amazing mural across Alice Street, including center namesake Malonga Casquelourd.

Jerri later met up with us at our final stop, Camron-Stanford House next to Lake Merritt. It was home to various families over the years, including the Camrons, the Hewes, and the Stanfords (Josiah, brother of Leland). But more recent Oaklanders know it as the Oakland Public Museum, one of the predecessors of the Oakland Museum of California. There we heard from Reenie (one of the docents who was on the walk with us), Ann Swift (executive director) and several of the docents about the truly amazing women of the Ebell Society. I highly recommend checking out the great exhibit about the Ebell Society that Camron-Stanford House has put together.

Another great walk, and thanks to Annalee for leading it!

More photos from the walk:

OUP walk: Cleveland Heights and “Borax” Smith

Saturday we had amazing weather for an Oakland Urban Paths walk exploring Cleveland Heights and the nearby former estate of F. M. “Borax” Smith. This was a good follow on to last month’s walk in the former town of Brooklyn just south of Saturday’s walk.

During the walk I mentioned a Oakland map website that has a series of maps of Oakland, from 1877, 1912, 1936, 1950s, 1967 and present day. It’s a great way to see how Oakland has changed over the years. If you look at the 1912 map, you’ll see the outline of “Borax” Smith’s estate, Arbor Villa. The portion of the map shown here is even older, from about 1869, before Oakland annexed Brooklyn in 1872.

I also promised to provide a map in lieu of the one I didn’t have ready for Saturday. Here’s a link to a Google map with our route shown, but also some of the points of interest along the way, and as an added bonus, it also shows the approximate bounds of the Smith’s Arbor Villa estate and of the Mary R. Smith Home for Friendless Girls.

We started the walk at the Cleveland Cascade, designed by landscape architect Howard Gilkey and built in 1923. It was likely shut down during WWII, but was reactivated after the war. At some point it was turned off, fell into disrepair, and became overgrown and full of trash. In 2004, a group of neighborhood volunteers including Barbara Newcombe uncovered and cleaned up the cascade. Since then they’ve put in new railings and lighting, and are raising money to restore the water portion of the cascade. If you want to help, the Friends of the Cleveland Cascade has garden work parties on the first Saturday of each month.

From there we meandered across Cleveland Heights, keeping an eye out for gnomes, sidewalk stamps, murals and other things. We eventually crossed over Park Blvd. into the Ivy Hill neighborhood, and what was once the estate of “Borax” Smith, Arbor Villa. While the 42-room Oak Hall, gardens, out buildings and observation tower are all gone now, a row of palm trees marks one edge of what was once the estate. Seeing an old palm tree in Oakland is often a good sign that someone notable lived nearby, but the Arbor Villa palm trees are the best example.

Then it was back across Park Blvd. and along some buildings that are left from the Mary R. Smith Home for Friendless Girls. Frank’s first wife, “Mollie”, was inspired by Benjamin Farjeon’s Blade O’ Grass about orphans in London, and started an orphanage for girls. One of the “cottages” is an impressive structure at 3001 Park Blvd., which was designed by noted architect Julia Morgan. Our route back to the Cleveland Cascade took us past a home once owned by industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, some stairs at the end of Haddon Rd. that are no longer accessible, and down some beautiful stairs to Beacon St.

Another great walk! Thanks to everyone who came out for the walk, and to Tim for carrying the speaker. In March, we’ll have two walks, our regular second Saturday walk (location to be determined) and a special Women’s History Walk led by local historian and writer Annalee Allen. Hope to see you there!

Lots more pictures from the route (some taken during the test walk):

OUP walk: Brooklyn

This post is a week late because I’ve been busy working on the Legendary Locals of Oakland book. Also note that I included some pictures in the slideshow at the end that are from when I did the test walk. It’s all things we saw on Saturday (except the cat and the squirrel), but that I didn’t have time to take during the walk.

“Oakland is nobody’s Brooklyn, but part of Oakland was once Brooklyn.”

We had an amazing turnout for last Saturday’s Oakland Urban Paths walk exploring the former town of Brooklyn. About 100 people and 8 dogs joined us as local historian Robert Perricone showed us around what was once a separate town east of Lake Merritt. Brooklyn was named for a ship that brought Mormon settlers to the area, not (directly) for the city in New York.

We started the walk in Clinton Square Park, which is another name from history. Moses Chase was the first American citizen to settle in what is now Oakland. He left his fiancee Mary Ellen Clinton to seek his fortune in California. After falling ill in the gold fields, Chase settled east of Lake Merritt and founded the town of Clinton, named for his fiancee. Sadly, she died before he returned to marry her. The town of Brooklyn was formed in 1856 by joining the settlements of Clinton and San Antonio.

We wound our way around various sites, some dating back to the town of Brooklyn or early Oakland, and some modern ones. Our final stop was one major building that’s no longer there, the Tubbs Hotel. It was a large, luxurious hotel, which covered the entire city block. Gertrude Stein’s family lived there for almost a year when they first moved to Oakland. As happens with many large, wooden structures, the Tubbs Hotel burned. There wasn’t enough water to fight the fire, so the fire became a spectacle with people coming to watch.

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 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. That’s what she meant by “there’s no there there”.

Thanks to everyone who came out for the walk, and many thanks to Robert for leading the walk. Below is a slideshow of photos, and below that are more links to the Oakland Wiki about some of the things we saw and talked about.

Pictures from our walk: