Oakland's Chinatown has a personal connection for mayor Jean Quan, and so a special version of the walk was done to celebrate her inauguration back in January. Like thousands of others, her great-grandfather and his family came to Oakland following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Her father attended Lincoln Elementary School. While the school is still largely Asian American, back then it was because of segregation.
The current center of Oakland's Chinatown is at 8th Street and Webster, but it hasn't always been there. Chinese first came to Oakland in the 1850s and settled in shrimp camps along the estuary. Many of them came to work on the transcontinental railroad, dams, and other infrastructure projects. Between moves, fires and forced relocation because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinatown moved 7 more times by 1880. Because of immigration restrictions, early Chinatown was largely a bachelor society.
We walked past the remarkable Asian Resource Center building (formerly Lyons storage) over to Harrison Square, one of the original 7 town square parks in Oakland. While I was growing up, it had historical railroad equipment because the transcontinental railroad ran along what is now 7th Street. Now it features Pioneer Hall and a community center.
From there we walked up to another of the original town square parks, Lincoln Square. It was originally called Oakland Square, but renamed to honor president Lincoln. The park at Lincoln Square is a bustling place, with a community center, basketball courts, and the distinctive Chinese junk ship play structure.
Wa Sung Community Service Club, built back in 1969. That structure was "loved to death", and replaced with a more modern structure in 2003.
The park also serves as the playground for nearby Lincoln Elementary School. Not only did Jean Quan's father attend Lincoln, our guest guide Mr. Wong had attended it as a child, in an earlier building on the same location.
The tour didn't go as far as Madison Square, which is the place for Tai Chi in the mornings. People do lots of other activities there, like badminton, fan dancing, sword dancing, and even line dancing.
There's a ton more to learn about Oakland's Chinatown. You can explore on your own (as I did a while back with yourwaitress), or go on the city-sponsored walking tour (which is free!). An upcoming chance to explore the area and have some fun is the Chinatown StreetFest 2011, August 27-28. Check out any of the 10,000 Steps markers you come across for a bit more history.
Lots more pictures:
|Oakland Chinatown walking tour|
- Oakland Asian Cultural Center
- Chinatown Oral History Project
- Wa Sung Community Service Club
- Wikipedia entry
- Chinatown Chamber of Commerce
- 10,000 Steps
P.S. For those of you who were still with us to the end and wondered about the brass fire hydrant near EBMUD headquarters, Oakland Magazine did a short piece about it. (Follow that link and scroll down until you see the picture of the fire hydrant.) It's a little bit of history, too.
P.P.S. For whoever was wondering about Alice Street among Franklin, Jefferson, Clay, etc., it was named for the sister of one of Oakland's founders, Horace Carpentier. He was also the first mayor of Oakland.