Tuesday, May 28, 2013

walking tour: churches and temples

It's been a while since I went on any of the city of Oakland's walking tours. The tours are available May through October, so it's been at least since last fall. And although I've been on all eight of the tours, there's no reason not to go on them more than once. I still learn things, different guides emphasize different things, and they're free! I also look at things differently as I learn more about Oakland and its history. There are connections between things that I didn't know about before.

(note: if you're new to Our Oakland, links with the Open Oakland oak logo in front of them go to Oakland Wiki where you can learn more. Several of the tour participants and I discussed the desire to preserve our the amazing Oakland knowledge of our guide and others; the Oakland Wiki is an attempt to do some of that.)

First Presbyterian

This tour was focused on some of Oakland's historical churches and temples. We met in front of the First Presbyterian Church of Oakland. The current building was constructed in 1914, but the congregation goes all the way back to Oakland's founding, and began meeting in a tent near the waterfront at the foot of Broadway in 1853. Our guide was Don Tyler, a retired Oakland history teacher, and the same guide who led the tour when I last took this one two years ago. Don began by telling us about the various religious services that pre-dated the first congregation, including the Ohlone people and the Spanish.

Then we headed to nearby Temple Sinai, the current home of Oakland's First Hebrew Congregation. Like many other houses of worship in Oakland, it had started downtown, but had moved over the years as Oakland grew. Since it was Saturday, services were in progress, so we couldn't go see the interior. The architect of the building also designed movie theaters, so there are a few features reminiscent of the movie palaces of the day.

We walked over Pill Hill to Saint Augustine's Episcopal Church. It's a bright red wooden church building on Telegraph. Through a bit of luck, we were able to go inside to see the interior and hear about the church's history. It began as two separate churches, Trinity Episcopal Church and St. Augustine's. The wooden building narrowly avoided being badly damaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake; seismic retrofit work was finished weeks before the earthquake struck in 1989.

Further down Telegraph we came to First Baptist Church. We were shown around by church member and historian Phil Meads (whose grandfather was one of the church founders). The remarkable building had just been completed in 1904, and Julia Morgan hired to finish the interior in 1906. It was badly damaged by the 1906 earthquake, and so Ms. Morgan was instead hired to repair the structure as well as finish the interior. First Baptist and the nearby Cathedral of St. Francis de Sales had a close relationship, working together on many projects. After the Loma Prieta earthquake, the church was used by the Oakland diocese for services. For more info about First Baptist, see Phil Meads' website.

Then it was over to Lake Merritt to check out the new Catholic cathedral, the Cathedral of Christ the Light. There was some sort of event going on (possibly the installation of the new bishop), with overflow seating filling the plaza, so we couldn't get a very good look at it.

Around the end of Lake Merritt we walked past the Veteran's Memorial Building, and Don told us a bit about it. Before it was built, there were questions about whether a building could be constructed there because it was donated park land. The building was designated a "memorial", and the structure built.

A short distance away is St. Paul's Episcopal Church. The all-brick building is built on land that had been the marshy edge of Lake Merritt, and so was damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake. It required significant seismic retrofit work. Almost next door is the Whole Foods Market, which is the third major thing that's been in the building. Before the grocery store, it was a car dealership, the Cox Cadillac Showroom. But originally it was a car barn and power plant for the Piedmont Consolidated Cable Company's cable car line. The waste steam was used to heat water for the Piedmont Baths next door. Don and I talked a bit about "Borax" Smith and the Key System since most of people on the tour didn't know about them and were curious about Oakland having cable cars and street cars.

The tour was already running long, but we crossed Harrison to the last church on the tour, the First Congregational Church. Unfortunately we weren't able to go inside, but while Don was checking on that I told people about the Judith Offer play that was going to be performed that evening. Compared to What? is a story set against the backdrop of the Pullman Porters in West Oakland.

A long tour, but a good one!

Lots more photos from the walk:

Read more about the churches and temples on the tour on my post from 2011. There are pictures of the interiors of some of the churches we didn't get to go into this time.

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