Friday, March 13, 2015

Oakland Women's History Tour

This past Sunday we had a great turnout for a Women's History Tour around downtown Oakland, led by historian Annalee Allen of the city's Oakland Walking Tours and co-sponsored by Oakland Urban Paths. 60 people (and two dogs) met up in front of city hall for a walk through Oakland to learn about some of the amazing women who have called it home.

Our first stop was near the Rotunda Building, originally known as Kahn's Department Store. There a plaque remembers the women of the 1946 Oakland General Strike, which shut down the city completely. Near the Jack London Oak tree we heard about about Jack London and the woman who raised him, Jennie Prentiss, a woman who had been born into slavery.

Then it was on to the first of several beautiful murals we were to see. Mitzvah: The Jewish Cultural Experience is 7 stories tall, and features people and scenes from Jewish history from Oakland and beyond. Two of the people included in the mural are Gertrude Stein and her life-long partner, Alice B. Toklas. Kitty Hughes from the Oakland Heritage Alliance told us more about Stein, her growing up in Oakland, and the infamous "there is no there there" line from her book, Everybody's Autobiography published in 1937. The line refers to Stein's childhood experience being completely gone. The magnificent Tubbs Hotel where the Steins first lived had burned down; the bucolic neighborhood where the Stein's lived was now built up with numerous homes and apartments, and the population of Oakland had grown from 35,000 in 1880, to nearly 300,000 by 1935 when she returned.

A walk down Mural Lane took us to the former YWCA Building, designed by talented and prolific Oakland architect Julia Morgan, then to the site of the former Ebell Society clubhouse, and finally to what is now the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts. It was originally built as the Oakland Women's City Club, then became the Alice Arts Center, so named because it's on Alice Street. Alice Street is one of the few streets downtown not named for a dead white guy; instead it's named for Alice Carpentier, sister of Oakland founding scoundrel Horace Carpentier. There we met up with Jerri Lange, pioneering Bay Area journalist. She's one of the many people featured on the amazing mural across Alice Street, including center namesake Malonga Casquelourd.

Jerri later met up with us at our final stop, Camron-Stanford House next to Lake Merritt. It was home to various families over the years, including the Camrons, the Hewes, and the Stanfords (Josiah, brother of Leland). But more recent Oaklanders know it as the Oakland Public Museum, one of the predecessors of the Oakland Museum of California. There we heard from Reenie (one of the docents who was on the walk with us), Ann Swift (executive director) and several of the docents about the truly amazing women of the Ebell Society. I highly recommend checking out the great exhibit about the Ebell Society that Camron-Stanford House has put together.

Another great walk, and thanks to Annalee for leading it!

More photos from the walk:

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