Exploring Oakland in the age of COVID-19

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.”

Another problem I’ve seen over the years is that some walking tours have largely disappeared from view. Two in particular are Once Upon a Time, Happily Ever After, and Walking the Invisible City. No fault of the creators, because it costs money for a website and time promoting it.

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.

screen shot of walk app on a phone

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!

OUP: Black History Month

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.

Other tours featuring black history in Oakland include This is Oakland Bike Tours, led by Rehema Allen, whose family stretches back to early California and Oakland history; and Black Panther Power Walking Tours, led by Saturu Ned, a BPP member.

Oakland Auditorium

  • 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.

Alameda County Courthouse

Oakland Library

  • 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

Malonga Casquelord Center for the Arts

Alice St. Mural
  • 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.
  • “I enjoyed every day” – East Bay Yesterday podcast on Ruth Beckford

Oakland Post newspaper

Thomas Berkley
  • Thomas Berkley – lawyer, founder of Oakland Post, and later Oakland Port Commissioner; oversaw containerization of Port of Oakland.
  • Chauncey Bailey – journalist and editor-in-chief of Oakland Post; gunned down by Yusuf Bey IV and Devaughndre Broussard while investigating Your Black Muslim Bakery.
  • Paul Cobb – current editor and publisher of Oakland Post

Athenian-Nile Club

Joyce Gordon

City Center

Delilah Beasley

City Hall

Federal Building

1937 Map showing redlining
  • Ronald V. Dellums – longtime representative in U.S. Congress; mayor of Oakland for 1 term
  • C. L. Dellums – Ron Dellum’s uncle, and one of the organizers of the Pullman Porters union
  • Barbara Lee – current representative in U.S. Congress
  • Donald P. McCullum – civil rights attorney, judge, and creator of youth court
  • William Byron Rumford – pharmacist, community leader, and politician; passed Fair Housing Act to fight redlining and restrictive covenants
  • Redlining – systematic practice of denying services to people in specific areas, generally along racial lines.
  • “Unfair Housing” – East Bay Yesterday podcast about Byron Rumford and redlining

African American Library and Museum at Oakland

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!