Sunday, January 31, 2016

Jack London History Walk

Last Saturday, Oakland Urban Paths and Annalee Allen of the Oakland Walking Tours program collaborated on a special walking tour exploring the Oakland of author Jack London. While Oakland has changed a lot since Jack London's time, there are still a lot of connections to the Oakland he would have known. 71 people (and 2 dogs) braved the chance of rain to join us.

The logical place to start on a Jack London tour is Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon in Jack London Square. Jack studied there as a child, and based some of the characters in his writing on the sailors and others he saw there. And later, Johnny Heinold loaned Jack the money to attend the University of California (though Jack decided after a year that university wasn't for him.) On the back of Heinold's is a large mural called "Hello Jack" that features things from Jack's life: Jennie Prentiss, the woman born into slavery who did much of the raising of Jack; his cabin in the Yukon; the Snark, his boat that he sailed the South Seas on; Wolf House, the mansion he and Charmian had built in Glen Ellen; and more. The cabin from the Yukon is just beyond the deck of Heinold's. Well, part of it, anyway. Part is in Dawson, part is in Oakland, and pieces have been replaced as needed.

From Jack London Square, we went up to the Oakland Grill, where Jack is featured in another mural, along with other figures from Oakland's history. Then it was up to Lincoln Square in Chinatown, where we talked about Jack and Charmian's South Seas voyages, Jack's photography, his time as a war correspondent, and his portrayal of other races in his writing. Jack was raised by a black woman, but wrote about a "great white hope" to defeat black boxer Jack Johnson; he wrote about the "yellow peril" of Asian immigrants, but also wrote full, rich characterizations of non-whites in some of his novels; etc.

We walked past the Hotel Oakland. When it was completed in 1912, Jack and Charmian had moved to Beauty Ranch in Glen Ellen, but it would have been a notable new presence during his return visits to Oakland. A short distance away is the original site of the University of California. By the time Jack attended in 1897, the university had moved to its newly-built campus in Berkeley. But one of the buildings of the original campus became the Dietz Opera House, the first theater in Oakland. Jack later spoke to audiences there, and the local Socialist party had their headquarters in the building.

On the way to the Jack London Oak in Frank Ogawa Plaza, we passed by the Athenian-Nile Club building. Built in 1901, Jack would have known it, because it was home to the "power elite" of Oakland and was just down from city hall and the Oakland Free Library. The oak tree wasn't planted until one year after Jack's death. Further down 14th Street, we stopped between the African American Museum and Library of Oakland (AAMLO) and the First Unitarian Church of Oakland. We talked more about Jenny Prentiss, who took Jack to church at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church (First AME), and about Jack's first wife, Elizabeth "Bessie" Maddern, who attended the Unitarian church.

Around the corner in Preservation Park, we looked at the Remillard House, where a young Jack London may have been tutored by Lillian Remillard (Dandini) in French. We talked about Preservation Park (one of the Oakland Walking Tours focuses on it), the Latham-Ducel Fountain, and the nearby Pardee Home Museum. These homes and ones like them would have been familiar to Jack. A quick walk took us through Old Oakland, where we looked at other buildings Jack would have known and talked briefly about Mayor John Davie (whose autobiography was titled His Honor, The Buckaroo.)

Heading back towards Jack London Square, we stopped to talk about the Hickmott Canning Company and Cole Grammar School in West Oakland. The Hickmott cannery was at 1st and Filbert, and was where Jack had one of his first jobs—stuffing pickles into jars, for 10¢ an hour, working 12-18 hour days. The noisy, dangerous conditions doubtless helped shaped some his views on workers' rights. Jack attended school at Cole, where J.P. Garlick was principal, and Jack's love of books was apparent: according to classmate Frank Atherton, Jack was "occupied with books. Not only did he apply himself diligently to his studies during class, but also during recess and the noon hour, he would sit on one of the benches in the school yard, reading some strange tale of romance and adventure, while other boys and girls were at play. ...he read many books some seeming far beyond the comprehension of a ten year old boy. And it was remarkable how well he remembered the details of so many stories." And Jack was no stranger in principal Garlick's office. Author James L. Haley in The Lives of Jack London wrote: The leader of the Cole School toughs was a budding young thug named Mike Pinella, who called Johnny a sissy, threw a book he was reading across the schoolyard, and was surprised to learn the "sissy" could hold his own. Both boys ended up in Mr. Garlick's office, who ruled that they would not be punished if they would embrace and make up. Mike Pinella was willing, but Johnny, his keen and growing sense of injustice offended, refused. "I'll take the licking, Mr. Garlick," he said. "I know I was in the right, and I'll do it again if I have to."

A brief rain shower sent a lot of people to their cars or other destinations, but others stuck with us to the end of the walk at the statue of Jack London at the base of Broadway. Thanks to everyone who came out for the walk. We hope to do the walk again later this year, though no date has been set.

Pictures from the walk

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Oakland Urban Paths walk: Brooklyn

On Saturday, about 70 people and 5 dogs joined Oakland Urban Paths for a walk exploring the former town of Brooklyn, east of Lake Merritt. There were overcast skies, but we managed to get a break in the (much-needed) rain. Last year local historian Robert Perricone led this walk for OUP, but we changed things up a little this year.

The town of Brooklyn was formed in 1856 by the merger of two smaller settlements, Clinton and San Antonio, and later annexed the town of Lynn just to the north. It was named for the ship Brooklyn which brought Mormon settlers to California in 1846. County supervisor Thomas Eagar suggested the name; he'd been a passenger on the Brooklyn. The town didn't last too long; in 1872, voters approved annexation by Oakland. But it's worth noting that most all of what is now Oakland that wasn't already part of Oakland or the town of Brooklyn was called Brooklyn Township, so an older location name might refer to either.

Next to Clinton Square Park where we met had been the home of Hiram Tubbs, who made his fortune in making rope, and was one of the founders of Mountain View Cemetery. A house built for one of his daughters and son-in-law, the Tubbs-Henshaw House, still stands across International Blvd. Locally, Tubbs was best known for building the palatial Tubbs Hotel, which filled the next block over. Gertrude Stein lived there with her family when they first moved to Oakland. Writer Robert Louis Stevenson stayed there. "Borax" Smith met his first wife Mary at a dance at the Tubbs Hotel (February's walk will be about Cleveland Heights and the former Borax Smith estate.) Unfortunately, the building burned in 1893. The fire department didn't have enough water to fight the huge fire, so all they could do was join the crowd of onlookers and watch the spectacle.

Stein left Oakland in 1891 after her parents died, and didn't return until 1935. During that time, the Tubbs Hotel burned down, the family house was torn down, Oakland's population increased from 35,000 to nearly 300,000, and the bucolic neighborhood where the family had lived was now full of apartment buildings and nearby Highland Hospital. The Oakland of her childhood was gone, and you can't go home again—that's what she meant by "there's no there there".

We stopped and talked about lots of places, some dating back to when it was the town of Brooklyn, and some more recent. One place where we all learned something new as the Vue du Lac Apartments at the corner of Foothill and 3rd Avenue. The building was constructed in 1906 by Charles MacGregor, known as "the builder of Albany" where he constructed about 1,500 homes over the years. He was also called "One-Nail MacGregor", either in a jab at his being overly thrifty, or (more likely) a compliment at the quality of his buildings.

At the Ellen Kenna House, a spectacular Victorian that Ellen Kenna had built in 1888, there were questions about the front door, or more to the point, what appeared to be the lack of one. According to the current owner, "Ellen Kenna owned the block from 12th to 13th Ave. The Valentine Mansion across the street was also situated with its front facing 13th. After Ellen died and it became a hospital, several small homes were built for the staff on the 13th Avenue side (the front). These, too, were eventually subdivided and the stairs coming from the front were awkwardly redirected towards East 21st Street." Alas, he has to sell the home, so while tons of restoration work have restored much of the former glory of the home, he won't have time for the rest of the changes.

Thanks to volunteer Charlie Lenk for helping with the walk, and thank you to him, John Rengstoff and Ed Matney for the use of some of their photos:

Some of the other points of interest and people we talked about include:
Hiram Tubbs
Tubbs Hotel
Tubbs-Henshaw House
Mountain View Cemetery
Intertribal Friendship House
First Swedish Baptist Church
Vue du Lac Apartments
Asa White House
Our Savior Danish Lutheran Church
1819 - 7th Avenue
Tower House
James Presho House
Harbor House Ministries
Clinton Shrine
Quan Am Tu Shrine
Ellen Kenna House
Mother's Cookies
Sunset Telephone Company
St. James Episcopal Church
Brooklyn Presbyterian Church
Brooklyn Firehouse
Fowler Block
Random Parts mural
Olander's Saloon
Brooklyn Basin project
East Oakland Brewing Company
Brooklyn Brewery
Palm Trees
Oakland Gnomes
(And something we don't have an Oakland Wiki page on, the TARDIS, which was seen on a nearby roof.)

There's even more in the area, which we didn't have time to cover, or which only got a brief mention:
Elizabeth Flood
Brooklyn Colored School
Williams Block
John A. Wilds
En El Libro Tu Libertad Mural
Malaquias Montoya
Plaza Theater Teatro
Central Block
Dr. William Bamford House
David Carrick House
Asa Howard House
Palm Terrace
Captain Henry E. Nichols House

Get out and explore on your own! You can also join us on Saturday, January 23rd, for a special walk about author Jack London. Our regular walk on February, 13th, will focus on Cleveland Heights and the former "Borax" Smith estate in Ivy Hill.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

signs: Marcus Books

It's been a while since I did a post about a cool Oakland sign. OK, it's been a while since I did any post. I dropped K off at MacArthur BART today, and the weather was glorious. We were in a rush to make sure she got her scheduled train, but that didn't stop me from noticing how amazing Marcus Books and the murals on the outside looked in the break in the weather. So after I dropped her off, I swung around and took some pictures of the sign, building and murals.