Oakland will celebrate its sesquicentennial in
2002. The city has traveled a long way in 150 years, yet two forces affecting
the economy and demographics today are remarkably similar to those at work
during the city's creation: a rush for riches and an influx of immigrants. The
gold fever of the mid-19th century, which brought the world to California,
created the city of Oakland just as it created her sister across the bay, San Francisco.
Oakland's history is one of power struggles and
"firsts," of creativity and accomplishment, of high achievements and
ignominious failures, of survival and triumph through earthquake, fire and
flood. The good times have been many, and there have been dog years, too. The
city has working-class roots and was for much of its history a prominent
industrial center; it is equally rich in the culture of its people. Its
politics tend to be progressive [and surprising], its social innovations
enlightened or at the very least well-intentioned. . . .
Throughout its growth from village to metropolis, Oakland
has been dubbed many things, often in the attempt to arrive at a definitive
identity for outsiders. An early sobriquet, "Athens of the Pacific,"
expressed satisfaction with the city's cultural institutions and excellent
private schools. "Hub of the West" described Oakland as an essential
crossroads of air, rail and water transport. "Progressive City" made
sense in the 1910s, during the progressive reign of Mayor Frank Mott, and would
work today. "Eden of the Pacific: The Flower Garden of California"
showed the city's pride in its horticulture. Oakland in the 1990s was honored
as an All America City for the cultural and racial diversity and social
programs. I like "My Oakland," from the 1930s, for its settled,
affectionate tone. The only phrase that captures all of Oakland for me,
however, is "Oakland is California, only more so." This acknowledges
both the city's complexity and its inextricable ties to California's own
. . . .Oakland is not a tourist city, despite its many
tourist attractions; it is a place to live. Throughout its history, Oakland has
been thought a good place to live for many reasons: the climate, soil, air,
space, architecture, parks, people, libraries, colleges, culture and small-city
(currently 400,000) atmosphere. I've heard people say that if Oakland was
anywhere else in the world rather than across the bay from San Francisco, it
would be acknowledged as a city of the first rank. But then, Oakland anywhere
else in the world wouldn't be Oakland.
What does the city look like? High, graceful hills
crisscrossed with creeks and verdant with redwoods, bay and oak, descending
into hilly lowlands, deep canyons and sloping meadows, and on to a great
spreading plain with sparse greenery that reaches to the bay. Like all of the
region, the topography is dramatic. The Hayward Fault runs through the hills
from north to south, and there are smaller faults everywhere. The city is
composed of neighborhoods or districts, most with their own small commercial
centers. Oakland grew by annexation, so each district retains its own flavor
and has a colorful history. Parks abound, some of them extensive and
beautifully kept, others sparse and neglected. The city has a full spectrum of
wealth and poverty, but most residents are situated between the two extremes.
In a crisis, people come together. They come together in good times, too, at
festivals or street fairs, where the feeling is overwhelmingly friendly and
inclusive. Highways surround parts of the city, but commercial transport
concentrates near the water. Planes take off next to the bay at Oakland
International Airport, great container ships dock at the Port of Oakland,
trains rumble into the station at Jack London Square and ferries, a couple of
blocks away, start or finish their runs.
Ten books could not do justice to this city's intricate
and multilayered past. Our book seeks rather to illuminate in distinct voices
some aspects of Oakland's history from too seldom-heard perspectives. The
organization is thematic rather than chronological, and the narrative moves
back and forth in time. Each chapter is briefly introduced and the writer
identified, but otherwise the whole can be read as a single narrative.
We begin at the city's beginnings with the "claims,
characters and commerce" of the Oakland waterfront, then segue to Latino
history, starting with the Peralta family, whose land grant comprised all of
Oakland and much of the East Bay. A chapter on the inventive art of politics
follows, then one of the inventive arts, which traces Oakland's history as a
focus for artists and art schools. The story of Oakland Chinese and Japanese
Americans comes next, then a chapter pairing Oakland's little-known automobile
industry with the city's aviation "firsts" and airport. Highlights
and struggles of African Americans in Oakland are the subject of the next
chapter, followed by some remarkable athletes, teams and coaches. Then comes a
chapter with a section on libraries, and another on gardens and parks. Next we
go back in history to find the original inhabitants of this area, the Ohlone,
and look at how, during the last 60 years, Native Americans from around the
country established an intertribal community here. Music and dance, from blues
to classical, ballet to ethnic, comprise the next chapter. Finally, there are
chapters on the growth of downtown in relation to two great earthquakes and on
a spectrum of Oakland writers. And throughout the book there are neighborhood
profiles rich in history. Historian Charles M. Wollenberg concludes with
reflections on Oakland's "regional reality."
The Spirit of
is dedicated to all of the men and women--sung and unsung heroes
and heroines--whose labor, talent and vision created the city we know and love.