Thursday, May 17, 2012

Oakland: The Story of a City

If there's a "must read" for people interested in Oakland, it would have to be Oakland: The Story of a City, by Beth Bagwell. In order to fully understand Oakland in the present, it helps to know the story of the people and events that shaped it. As Living in the O blogger Rebecca Saltzman says, "it should be required reading for anyone who cares about Oakland." Unfortunately for Oakland supporters and history lovers, it's been out of print for many years, but thanks to the Oakland Heritage Alliance, not only is it back in print, but it's been updated to bring the story of Oakland up to the present.

This place we call Oakland was very different when the Ohlone lived here, with huge oak trees, towering redwoods in the hills, numerous creeks draining 1,000 acres of wetlands, and even grizzly bears roaming the area. Bagwell's book begins there and traces the formation of Oakland, from the Spanish land grants to Luis Maria Peralta to the murky dealings of Horace Carpentier, Edson Adams and Andrew Moon up through the early 1980s when the book was first published.

The new edition adds 17 new images and a 32-page afterword, written by local historian Erika Mailman. It begins with Elihu Harris defeating Lionel Wilson to become the second African American mayor of Oakland, proceeds through significant events like the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and the 1991 Oakland-Berkeley Hills Firestorm, and finishes by noting recent additions like the Art Murmur and Oaklandish. The OHA also re-scanned the original photos and re-set the text for the new edition, so it's clearer than ever.

The new text also describes the restoration of Oakland. After the 1989 quake, city hall was damaged and was in danger of being demolished. Now it's restored and sits on 112 base isolators to help protect it from future quakes. The Fox Theater was abandoned in the 1970s and falling apart. The theater and its amazing marquee sign were restored, and reopened in 2009. The 12th Street Project is working to restore some of the natural beauty and water flow between Lake Merritt and the estuary and should be done later this year.

Although the book is "the story of a city", it's not just about the place. It's about the people and events that have shaped the place we call home. Bagwell's book helps bring those stories to life so we can understand Oakland's present. If you're interested in a copy of the new edition of Oakland: The Story of a City, see the Oakland Heritage Alliance website. The book can be pre-ordered through the OHA for $22 (regularly $25), and should be available at independent Oakland bookstores soon.

Thanks to Naomi Schiff of the OHA for photos and information about the updated book.

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