Tuesday, July 24, 2012

10 (or so) Ways to Learn About Oakland History

Oakland has an interesting history, but you may not have learned much about it in school. While there are some great books about Oakland history like Oakland: The Story of a City and the Arcadia series, some of the best ways to learn about history involve going out to see where it happened and hear about the people who made it. Fortunately there are lots of great ways to do that in Oakland.

(On a related note, I'm pleased to report that in the budget that the city council recently passed, the half-time position of the downtown walking tours coordinator was saved, so the future of that program is less cloudy, at least for the next fiscal year. Those tours are just one of the great ways to learn about Oakland history, but they would be sorely missed.)
  1. Downtown Walking Tours The city sponsors free walking tours near downtown. They're a great way to learn about Oakland, and feature a series of 8 different tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays:
    They're all fairly level, easy walks, and they're free.
  2. Oakland Heritage Alliance walking tours The Oakland Heritage Alliance gives walking tours on Saturdays and Sundays through the summer. Most of the tours are in various neighborhoods around Oakland, and some focus on a particular theme or person. They usually involve more walking than the downtown tours, and depending on the tour, they may have more hills. They cost $10-$15, with lower prices for children. Some of the walks require advance registration, but most you can show up on the day of. During the winter they offer lectures on various subjects, like the great neon sign lecture in January. Read more about OHA tours and lectures.
  3. Oakland Urban Paths walks Oakland Urban Paths is part of Walk Oakland Bike Oakland which works to improve neighborhood quality of life by making walking and biking in Oakland safe, easy, accessible and fun. Oakland Urban Paths focuses on various urban pathways, from historic stairways to unexpected trails through Oakland. The walks involve more walking than OHA or downtown tours, almost always involve hills and stairways, and they're free. Read more about OUP walks.
  4. Mountain View Cemetery tours On the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, Mt. View Cemetery offers free tours. The cemetery is full of interesting (albeit dead) people who shaped the history of Oakland and all of California. There are general tours on second Saturdays, and tours focusing on different topics on fourth Saturdays. Read more about Mt. View Cemetery tours.
  5. Visit the 5 Historic Houses Oakland is fortunate that five houses of historic interest have been preserved as museums with regular tours. But one of the easiest ways to ease kids (and yourself) into a history visit to one of the houses is to go there for a special event. Camron-Stanford is hosting jazz concerts this summer; the Pardee Home had a Fourth of July picnic and will have a Ghost Investigation in August; Peralta Hacienda has a summer camp for kids. I'm working to organize a bicycle tour of the 5 houses this fall.
    • Camron-Stanford House The last of the magnificent Victorians next to Lake Merritt, the first residents were the Camrons in 1876. Later residents included Josiah Stanford, brother of Leland Stanford of university and The Big Four fame, and David Hewes (the 'fifth member' of the Big Four). Camron-Stanford House served for many years as the Oakland Public Museum.
    • Pardee Home - The Pardee Home was built in the 1860s by Enoch Pardee, gold rush immigrant, and later mayor of Oakland. More famous was his son, George Pardee, who was governor of California in 1906 when San Francisco was ravaged by an earthquake. Later he helped wrest the Oakland waterfront from the Southern Pacific Railroad and founded the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD).
    • Peralta Hacienda - The Peralta Hacienda Historical Park includes the Peralta Hacienda, a large Italianate home dating back to 1870 which belonged to Antonio Peralta, son of Luis Peralta. The grounds also include the sites of the earlier adobe houses, the first of which was built in 1820 by Luis Peralta to establish his claim on the land grant from Spain.
    • Dunsmuir-Hellman House Dunsmuir-Hellman is an impressive 37-room mansion built in 1899. Equally impressive are the 50 acre landscaped grounds, with a carriage house, gardens, and more. It was built by Alexander Dunsmuir as a wedding present for his new bride, Josephine. Tragically, he fell ill and died on their honeymoon; she lived there a scant two years before dying.
    • Cohen-Bray house This stately home in East Oakland was built in the 1880s by Julia Moses and Watson Bray for their daughter, Emma, upon her marriage to attorney Alfred Cohen, on February 28, 1884. Remarkably, descendants of the family still live in the home and help with the preservation.
  6. Oakland History Room at main library The Oakland History Room houses a variety of collections of photos, maps, postcards, sports programs, and other items, as well as materials helpful for those doing genealogical research or trying to find out the history of their home. I used it when researching the history of the Oakland Scenic Tour signs. The History Room also has regular shows of historical photos and other items, such as the recent Lost Amusement Parks of the East Bay which included Idora Park in Oakland.
  7. African American Museum and Library of Oakland The AAMLO has several amazing collections, including oral histories and a variety of artifacts, plus an extensive set of materials on microfilm. The second floor is a museum with displays that are changed over time. When you go, be sure to check out the remarkable mural above the stairs.
  8. Oakland Museum of California The OMCA has extensive collections from Oakland and California history. Besides ongoing displays, they put together special exhibits like the current 1968 exhibit. And they hold a variety of special events, like the Summer Nights series, which includes half-price admission after 5pm and a festive atmosphere.
  9. 10,000 Steps Project 10,000 Steps is a combination of permanent sidewalk markers and accompanying oral histories. It's focused on 4 of the original downtown Oakland parks, covering Old Oakland, Downtown and Chinatown. Read more about 10,000 Steps.
  10. Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After Project The Once Upon A Time project is named for the saying at the gate of Children's Fairyland. Like 10,000 Steps, it has an oral history component, but is focused around Lake Merritt. The project is about 50% complete. Read more about Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After project.

That list doesn't even include the numerous books about Oakland history, the Society for Industrial Archaeology (which organized the Bay Bridge tour), the Alameda County Historical Society, the USS Potomac, or various blogs that feature Oakland history. Those will have to wait for another post. As it is, I cheated by counting the 5 historic houses as one item, but they're each worthy of attention.

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