Saturday, September 3, 2011

walking tour: the Dimond shines!

Last Sunday was the last Oakland Heritage Alliance walking tour of the season, led by local historian and author Dennis Evanosky.

the Boy Scout hut

A large group met in Dimond Park near the Boy Scout Hut. Long-time residents of the Dimond knew where that was, but I had to look it up, and it apparently caused confusion for a number of people. Regardless, the Boy Scout Hut was a great place to meet. It was originally a cottage built by Dennis Dimond, using adobe bricks from the Peralta homestead. Dennis was the son of Hugh Dimond, who purchased the land in 1867.

Hugh made his fortune in the mercantile and liquor trade. In 1873 he retired from business life at age 41. He decided to settle on the 267 acres he had purchased in 1867 in the Oakland foothills along Sausal Creek, an area including the Luelling spread near the cherry orchards and the hay farms. While the old Luelling house was being enlarged and refurbished for his family, he and his wife traveled in Europe. Daughter Nellie was born in Switzerland in 1873, and son Hugh in France in 1875, son Dennis back in Oakland in 1876.

They moved into their new home in 1877. Eyewitness accounts say the home was an imposing two-story white wooden structure surrounded by a spacious one-story veranda. Dimond Avenue began as the carriage entrance to the Dimond place, which was situated just beyond the grove of redwood trees in today's Dimond Park.

A big part of the Dimond's history is Sausal Creek (read more about the creek), from the logging of the redwoods in the upper canyon to the construction of a reservoir*, to the current state of much of the creek being underground in culverts. The presence of the creek as a water supply was no doubt part of why it was a desirable place to settle.

(* Caspar Hopkins, an early settler of the Fruitvale District, formed the Sausal Creek Water Company and built a dam and reservoir at the upper end of Dimond Canyon near where Highway 13 is now. The reservoir later became part of the East Bay Water Company and remained until the early 1920s.)

The Altenheim

We got more bits and pieces of Dimond history as we walked along, including seeing where one of the houses in Preservation Park came from. Our next big stop was the Altenheim senior housing. Various history buffs on the tour were excited because in the past the OHA tours hadn't gotten access, and it's on the National Register of Historic Places. An added bonus is that we had Elke, one of the residents, to show us around.

The Altenheim was founded by San Francisco and Oakland's most prominent German-American families, including the Sutros and others, as an upscale home for older German-Americans to live out their golden years. Adolph Sutro wanted it built in San Francisco, and even donated land in Sutro Heights, but it was ultimately built in Oakland. The original structure was built in 1893 (finished in 1894), and was a towering wooden building which burned in 1908. Undaunted, they rebuilt, constructing the current building in 1909. (It's since undergone a major renovation, and reopened in 2010.)

Tepper's - from the Oakland Tribune

From there, we walked over to the heart of the Dimond, where Fruitvale Ave. and MacArthur Blvd. meet. Along the way we saw where Sausal Creek briefly resurfaces, and the location of a former beer garden. The Dimond was home to not one but 3 beer gardens. The building where Charlie Tepper's beer garden and hotel was still stands, though other structures have been built in front of it. There was also the Neckhaus Garden, and Bauerhofer's, which featured a boxing ring and was where "toughs and their janes" hung out. But most (in)famous was the "Hermitage House". 'Gentlemen' were picked up and discreetly transported there to be entertained by "French dancing girls".

There's lots more to the history of the Dimond that was covered, including the Rhoda family, how the Presbyterians kicked out the Hermitage, real estate development by F.M. "Borax" Smith's Realty Syndicate, and more. Another great OHA tour, worth checking out when it's offered again.

lots more pictures:


nan crawford said...

Gene, I'm looking for your DIY blog. Is it gone?

Gene said...

Still there, at It's just not as active as it used be, because I'm done with the addition and kitchen remodel. Well, mostly. And older houses are never done :-)

Gene said...

Hmm...seems to have been hacked somehow. It redirects to another website. :-/

Gene said...

OK, mischief managed, I think. There was a DIY blogroll I had that redirected to another site.

nan crawford said...

Thanks. It was the redirection that confused me, and it happened so quickly I couldn't click on anything on the sidebar.