History of Oakland, California facts for kids
The history of Oakland, a city in the county of Alameda, California, can be traced back to the founding of a settlement by Horace Carpentier, Edson Adams, and Andrew Moon in the 19th century. The area now known as Oakland had seen human occupation for thousands of years, but significant growth in the settlements that are now incorporated into the city did not occur until the Industrial Revolution. Oakland was first incorporated as a town in 1852.
The earliest known inhabitants were the Huchiun tribe, who lived there for thousands of years. The Huchiun belonged to a linguistic grouping later called the Ohlone (a Miwok word meaning "western people"). In Oakland, they were concentrated around Lake Merritt and Temescal Creek, a stream that enters the San Francisco Bay at Emeryville.
Conquistadors from New Spain claimed Oakland, and other Ohlone lands of the East Bay, along with the rest of California, for the king of Spain in 1772. In the early 19th century, the Spanish crown deeded the East Bay area to Luis María Peralta for his Rancho San Antonio. The grant was confirmed by the successor Mexican republic upon its independence from Spain. Upon his death in 1842, Peralta divided his land among his four sons. Most of Oakland fell within the shares given to Antonio Maria and Vicente.
The Peralta ranch included a stand of oak trees that stretched from the land that is today Oakland's downtown area to the adjacent part of Alameda, then a peninsula. The Peraltas called the area encinal, a Spanish word that means "oak grove." This was translated more loosely as "Oakland" in the subsequent naming of the town, as recounted by Horace Carpentier in his first address as mayor: "The chief ornament and attraction of this city consists, doubtless, in the magnificent grove of evergreen oaks which covers its present site and from which it takes both its former name of 'Encinal' and its present one of 'Oakland.'"
As part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo following the Mexican–American War, the Mexican government ceded 525,000 square miles (1,360,000 km2); 55% of its pre-war territory (excluding Texas) to the US in exchange for $15 million. The Treaty also provided for the safeguarding of the land and property of Mexican citizens. This provision was regularly ignored by squatters and land speculators, some of whom began settling on the Peralta Ranch, particularly during the Gold Rush. Before Congress created a Land Commission in 1851 to pursue a settlement of property claims, a group of three men---Horace Carpentier, Edson Adams, and Andrew Moon---backed at one point by a small army of some 200 men hired from San Francisco, began developing a small settlement on Peralta land initially called "Contra Costa" ("opposite shore", the Spanish name for the lands on the east side of the Bay) in the area that is now downtown Oakland. Carpentier was elected to the California state legislature and got the Town of Oakland incorporated on May 4, 1852. By the time the Land Commission got around to confirming the Peraltas' claims in 1854, Oakland was quickly being further developed. The Peraltas in the meantime had been persuaded to sell various parcels of their vast holdings. In 1853, John Coffee "Jack" Hays, a famous Texas Ranger, was one of the first to establish residence in Oakland while performing his duties as sheriff of San Francisco.
On March 25, 1854, Oakland was re-incorporated as the City of Oakland. Horace Carpentier was elected the first mayor. His tenure did not last, however. He was ousted in 1855 by an angry citizenry when it was discovered that he had acquired exclusive rights to the waterfront from the Town Board of Trustees in 1852. Charles Campbell replaced him as Mayor on March 5, 1855.
The city and its environs quickly grew with the railroads, becoming a major rail terminal in the late 1860s and 1870s. In 1868, the Central Pacific constructed the Oakland Long Wharf at Oakland Point, the site of today's Port of Oakland. The Long Wharf served as the terminus both for the Transcontinental Railroad and for local commuter trains of the Central (later, Southern) Pacific. The Central Pacific also established one of its largest rail yards and servicing facilities in West Oakland, which continued to be a major local employer under the Southern Pacific well into the 20th century. The principal depot of the Southern Pacific in Oakland was the 16th Street Station located at 16th and Wood, which is currently being restored as part of a redevelopment project. In 1871, Cyrus and Susan Mills paid $5,000 for the Young Ladies' Seminary in Benicia, renamed it Mills College, and moved it to its current location in Oakland, adjacent to what is now Seminary Boulevard. In 1872, the town of Brooklyn was incorporated into Oakland. Brooklyn, a large municipality southeast of Lake Merritt, was part of what was then called the Brooklyn Township.
A number of horsecar and cable car lines were constructed in Oakland during the latter half of the 19th century. The first electric streetcar set out from Oakland to Berkeley in 1891, and other lines were converted and added over the course of the 1890s. The various streetcar companies operating in Oakland were acquired by Francis "Borax" Smith and consolidated into what eventually became known as the Key System, the predecessor of today's publicly owned AC Transit. In addition to its system of streetcars in the East Bay, the Key System also operated commuter trains to its own pier and ferry boats to San Francisco, in competition with the Southern Pacific. Upon completion of the Bay Bridge, both companies ran their commuter trains on the south side of the lower deck, directly to San Francisco. The Key System in its earliest years was actually in part a real estate venture, with the transit part serving to help open up new tracts for buyers. The Key System's investors (incorporated as the "Realty Syndicate") also established two large hotels in Oakland, one of which survives as the Claremont Resort. The other, which burned down in the early 1930s, was the Key Route Inn, at what is now West Grand and Broadway. From 1904 to 1929, the Realty Syndicate also operated a major amusement park in north Oakland called Idora Park.
The original extent of Oakland, upon its incorporation, lay south of today's major intersection of San Pablo Avenue, Broadway, and Fourteenth Street. The city gradually annexed farmlands and settlements to the east and the north. Oakland's rise to industrial prominence, and its subsequent need for a seaport, led to the digging of a shipping and tidal channel in 1902, which created an island of nearby town Alameda. In 1906, its population doubled with refugees made homeless after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. Concurrently, a strong City Beautiful movement, promoted by Mayor Frank Kanning Mott, was responsible for creating and preserving parks and monuments in Oakland, including major improvements to Lake Merritt and the construction of Oakland Civic Auditorium, which cost $1M in 1914. The Auditorium briefly served as an emergency ward and quarantine for some of the victims of the 1918 flu pandemic. The three waves of the pandemic killed more than 1,400, out of 216,000, Oakland residents.
The 1920s were economic boom years in the United States as a whole, and in California in particular. Economic growth was fueled by the general post–World War I recovery, as well as oil discoveries in Los Angeles and, most notably, the widespread introduction of the automobile. In 1916, General Motors opened a major Chevrolet automobile factory in East Oakland, making cars and then trucks until 1963, when it was moved to Fremont in southern Alameda County. Also in 1916, the Fageol Motor Company chose East Oakland for their first factory, manufacturing farming tractors from 1918 to 1923. In 1921, they introduced an influential low-slung "Safety Bus", followed quickly by the 22-seat "Safety Coach." Durant Motors operated a plant in Oakland from 1921 to 1930, manufacturing sedans, coupes, convertibles, and roadsters. By 1929, when Chrysler expanded with a new plant there, Oakland had become known as the "Detroit of the West."
Oakland expanded during the 1920s, flexing enough to meet the influx of factory workers. Approximately 13,000 homes were built between 1921 and 1924, more than between 1907 and 1920. Many of the large downtown office buildings, apartment buildings, and single-family houses still standing in Oakland were built during the 1920s; and they reflect the architectural styles of the time.
In 1926 Dr. William M. Watts (pictured left) opened a 22-bed hospital facility to provide in-patient care to Oakland's citizens of African descent who were not welcome at other health care institutions. The facility also offered training for African-American nurses.
The Rocky Road ice cream was created in Oakland in 1929, though accounts differ about its first promoter. William Dreyer of Dreyer's is said to have carried the idea of marshmallow and walnut pieces in a chocolate base over from his partner Joseph Edy's similar candy creation.
Russell Clifford Durant (called "Cliff" by his friends) was a race car driver, speedboat enthusiast, amateur flier, President of Durant Motors in Oakland, and son of General Motors founder William "Billy" Crapo Durant. In 1916, he established Durant Field at 82nd Avenue and East 14th Street. The first experimental transcontinental airmail through-flight finished its journey at Durant Field on August 9, 1920, with Army Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker and Navy Lt. Bert Acosta (pictured right) at the controls of the Junkers F 13 re-badged as the model J.L.6. The airfield served only secondary duties after 1927, as its runway was not long enough for heavily loaded aircraft. In April 1930, test pilot Herbert "Hub" Fahy and his wife Claire hit a stump upon landing, flipping their plane and mortally wounding Hub without injuring Claire. Durant Field was often called Oakland Airport, though the current Oakland International Airport was soon established four miles (6.4 km) southwest.
On September 17, 1927, Charles Lindbergh attended the official dedication of the new Oakland Airport. A month earlier, on August 16, participants in the disastrous Dole Air Race had taken off from Oakland's new 7,020-foot (2,140 m) runway headed for Honolulu, Hawaii 2,400 miles (3,900 km) away—three fliers died before getting to the starting line in Oakland; five were lost at sea, attempting to reach Honolulu; and two more died searching for the lost five.
On May 31, 1928, Charles Kingsford Smith and his crew departed Oakland in Southern Cross on their successful bid to cross the Pacific by air, finishing in Australia. In October 1928, Oakland was used as a base for the World War I aircraft involved in the final filming of Howard Hughes' Hell's Angels. In 1928, aviator Louise Thaden took off from Oakland in a Travel Air to set a women's altitude record, as well as endurance and speed records.
On January 11, 1935, Amelia Earhart became the first person to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii to Oakland, California.
On St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1937, Earhart and her crew, Paul Mantz, Harry Manning and Fred Noonan, flew the first leg of her attempt to circumnavigate the globe, from Oakland to Honolulu, Hawaii. That attempt ended in Hawaii when her Lockheed Electra 10E was severely damaged. Later in the year, Earhart began her second, ill-fated attempt with the unpublicized first leg of her proposed transcontinental flight mapped from Oakland to Miami, Florida.
World War II
During World War II, the East Bay Area was home to many war-related industries. Among these were the Kaiser Shipyards in nearby Richmond. The medical system devised for shipyard workers became the basis for the giant Kaiser Permanente HMO, which has a large medical center at MacArthur and Broadway, the first to be established by Kaiser. Oakland's Moore Dry Dock Company expanded its shipbuilding capabilities and built over 100 ships.
Valued at $100 million in 1943, Oakland's canning industry was its second-most-valuable war contribution after shipbuilding. Sited at both a major rail terminus and an important sea port, Oakland was a natural location for food processing plants, whose preserved products fed domestic, foreign, and military consumers. The largest canneries were in the Fruitvale District and included the Josiah Lusk Canning Company, the Oakland Preserving Company (which started the Del Monte brand), and the California Packing Company.
Prior to World War II, blacks constituted about 3% of Oakland's population. Aside from restrictive covenants pertaining to some properties in the hill neighborhoods (invalidated after 1948), Jim Crow laws mandating racial segregation did not exist in Oakland, and relations between the races were mostly harmonious. What segregation did exist was voluntary; blacks could, and did, live in all parts of the city.
The war attracted tens of thousands of laborers from around the country, though most were poor whites and blacks from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas—sharecroppers and tenant farmers who had been recruited by Henry J. Kaiser to work in his shipyards. These immigrants from the Jim Crow South brought their racial attitudes with them, and the racial harmony that Oakland blacks had been accustomed to prior to the war evaporated. Southern whites expected deference from their black co-workers, and initially Southern blacks were conditioned to grant it. As Southern blacks became aware of their more equal standing under California law, they began to reject subservient roles; the new immigrants prospered, though they were affected by rising racial discrimination and informal post-war neighborhood redlining.
Many Latinos, especially Mexican Americans from southwestern states like New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, came to Oakland to work in the many war time jobs as did many Mexican workers who came under the Bracero Program 5000 braceros. Many worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad, at its major rail yard in West Oakland (see traquero). While some of the rail workers lived near the yard, most of the Mexican community was concentrated as it always had been since the early days of the Peralta ranch in the Fruitvale District. Oakland experienced its own "zoot suit riots" in downtown Oakland in 1943 in the wake of the one in Los Angeles.
The Mai Tai cocktail was first concocted in Oakland in 1944, and it became very popular at Trader Vic's restaurant. Established in 1932, just four years later, Trader Vic's was so successful San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen was inspired to write, "the best restaurant in San Francisco is in Oakland." Trader Vic's was chosen by the State Department as the official entertainment center for foreign dignitaries attending United Nations meetings in San Francisco. The restaurant continued to grow in popularity and was running out of room when, in 1951, founder Victor Bergeron opened a larger one in San Francisco. In 1972, the flagship Oakland restaurant moved to the nearby Emeryville Marina.
Post-WWII (1940s and 1950s)
In 1946 National City Lines (NCL), a General Motors holding company, acquired 64% of Key System stock; during the next several years NCL engaged in the conspiratorial dissolution of Oakland's electric streetcar system. NCL converted the Key System's electric streetcar fleet to diesel buses, tracks were removed from Oakland's streets, and the lower deck of the Bay Bridge was converted to automobile traffic, which reduced the passenger carrying capacity of the bridge. Freeways were constructed, which partitioned the social and retail fabric of neighborhoods. In the 1948 federal case "United States v. National City Lines Inc.," the defendants were found guilty on a count of conspiring to monopolize the provision of parts and supplies to their subsidiary companies. The companies were each fined $5,000, and the directors were each fined one dollar. The verdicts were upheld on appeal in 1951. The state Legislature created the Alameda and Contra Costa Transit District in 1955, which still exists today as AC Transit, the third-largest bus-only transit system in the nation.
Soon after the war, with the disappearance of Oakland's shipbuilding industry and the decline of its automobile industry, jobs became scarce. Many of the poor blacks who had come to the city from the South decided to stay in Oakland, and longstanding black residents complained that the new Southern arrivals "tended towards public disorder." The segregationist attitudes that some Southern migrants brought with them disrupted the racial harmony that Oaklanders had been accustomed to before the war. Many of the city's more affluent residents, both black and white, left the city after the war, moving to neighboring Alameda, Berkeley, Albany and El Cerrito to the north; to San Leandro, Hayward, Castro Valley and Fremont in Southern Alameda County; and to the newly developing East Bay suburbs in Contra Costa County, Orinda, Lafayette, Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek and Concord. Between 1950 and 1960, about 100,000 white property owners moved out of Oakland—part of a nationwide phenomenon called white flight.
By the end of World War II, blacks constituted about 12% of Oakland's population, and the years following the war saw this percentage rise. There was also an increase in racial tension. Starting in the late 1940s, the Oakland Police Department began recruiting white officers from the South to deal with the expanding black population and changing racial attitudes; many were openly racist, and their repressive police tactics exacerbated racial tensions.
Oakland was the center of a general strike during the first week of December 1946, one of six cities across the country that experienced such a strike after World War II. It was one of the largest strike movements in American history, as workers were determined not to let management repeat the union busting that followed the first World War. Oakland, which had been racially harmonious and prosperous before the war, by the late 1950s found itself with a population that was becoming progressively more poor and racially divided.
Beginning in the mid-1950s, much of West Oakland was destroyed, after then-Highway 17, now I-880 (or Nimitz Freeway) was built. Many homes and businesses were destroyed to build the Cypress Viaduct and the rest of the Nimitz Freeway. Also urban renewal caused the destruction of the area around Market and 7th streets to make way for the Acorn High Rise apartments. This urban renewal of West Oakland continued into the 1960s with the construction of BART and the Main Post Office Building at 1675 7th Street. Many families were displaced from West Oakland by the construction of the Nimitz Freeway and the urban renewal of West Oakland. The majority of these were African-American and Latino. African Americans relocated to East Oakland as well especially the Elmhurst district and surrounding areas.
1960s and 1970s
In 1960, Kaiser Corporation erected its headquarters at the former site of Holy Names University, at the corner of 20th and Harrison Streets. It was the largest skyscraper in Oakland, as well as "the largest office tower west of Chicago" up to that time. During this era, the oldest section of Oakland at the foot of Broadway, Jack London Square, was redeveloped into a hotel and outdoor retail district. During the 1960s, the city was home to an innovative funk music scene that produced well-known bands like Sly and the Family Stone, Graham Central Station, Tower of Power, Cold Blood, Azteca, and The Headhunters. Larry Graham, the bass player for both Sly and the Family Stone and Graham Central Station, is credited with the creation of the influential slap and pop sound still widely used by bassists in many musical idioms today.
By 1966, only 16 of the city's 661 police officers were black. Tensions between the black community and the largely white police force were high, and police malfeasance against blacks was common. The Black Panther Party was founded by students Huey Newton and Bobby Seale at Merritt College.
It was also during the 1960s that the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club began to grow into a formidable motorcycle gang and organized crime syndicate. The Hells Angels clubhouse is still located on Oakland's Foothill Boulevard.
1980s and 1990s
Starting in the Late 1960s and continuing into the early 1980s, the number of Latinos, mostly of Mexican origin, began to increase in Oakland, especially in the Fruitvale district . This district is one of the oldest in Oakland, growing up around the old Peralta estate (now a city park). It always had a concentration of Latino residents, businesses and institutions, and increased immigration, continuing into the 21st century, has added greater numbers in Fruitvale and throughout East Oakland.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Oakland's black plurality reached its peak at approximately 47% of the overall population. Oakland was the birthplace or home at one time of several rap acts, including MC Hammer, Digital Underground, Hieroglyphics (including Souls of Mischief and Del tha Funkee Homosapien), The Luniz, Tupac Shakur, and Too Short. Outside of the rap genre, artists such as the Pointer Sisters, En Vogue, Tony! Toni! Tone!, and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day also emerged from Oakland (actually the members of Green Day hailed from suburban Pinole area).
On October 20, 1991, a massive firestorm (see 1991 Oakland firestorm) swept down from the Berkeley Hills above the Caldecott Tunnel. Twenty-five people were killed, and 150 people were injured, with nearly 4,000 homes destroyed. The economic losses have been estimated at $1.5 billion. The economic losses, in combination with injuries and loss of life, make this the worst urban firestorm in American history. Many of the original homes were rebuilt on a much larger scale.
In late 1996, Oakland was the center of a controversy surrounding Ebonics (African American Vernacular English), an ethnolect the outgoing Oakland Unified School District board voted to recognize on December 18. This was later dropped.
During the mid-1990s, Oakland experienced an improved economy compared to previous decades, with new downtown land development such as a $140 million state government center project, a $101 million city office building, and a 12-story office building for the University of California, Office of the President. The City Center redevelopment project was bought by Shorenstein Co., a San Francisco real estate firm. Office vacancies dropped to 11 percent from 16 percent in 1996. Officials at the Port of Oakland and Oakland International Airport, began multimillion-dollar expansion plans to keep pace with rival shipping ports and airports on the West Coast.
Loma Prieta earthquake
The 6.9 Mw Loma Prieta earthquake occurred on October 17, 1989. The rupture was related to the San Andreas fault system and affected the entire San Francisco Bay Area with a maximum Mercalli intensity of IX (Violent). Many structures in Oakland were badly damaged including the double-decker portion of Interstate 880 that collapsed. The eastern span of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge also sustained damage and was closed to traffic for one month. Oakland became the home of the emerging nonprofit preparedness movement in the aftermath of the earthquake when local agencies formed CARD (Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters) to address the unmet emergency readiness needs of the nonprofit and faith sectors.
After his 1999 inauguration, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown continued his predecessor Elihu Harris' public policy of supporting downtown housing development in the area defined as the Central Business District in Oakland's 1998 General Plan. Since Brown's stated goal was to add 10,000 residents to downtown Oakland, it became known as the "10K" plan. It resulted in redevelopment projects in the Jack London District, where Brown purchased and later sold an industrial warehouse, which he used as a personal residence, and in the Lakeside Apartments District near Lake Merritt, where two infill projects were approved. The 10K plan touched the historic Old Oakland district, the Chinatown district, the Uptown district, and downtown. The 10K plan and other redevelopment projects were controversial due to potential rent increases and gentrification, which would displace lower-income residents from downtown Oakland into outlying neighborhoods and cities. Additional controversy over development proposals arose from the weakening of the Bay Area and national economy in 2000, 2001, 2007, and the credit crunch and the recession of 2008. These downturns resulted in lowered sales, rentals and occupancy of the new housing and slower growth and economic recovery than expected.
The Oakland Athletics have long sought a site to build a new baseball stadium. A deal announced in 2006 to build a new park in Fremont, to be called Cisco Field was halted three years later as a result of opposition from businesses and local residents. Local efforts have been put forth by both fans and city politicians to retain the A's, including three potential locations near downtown and the Oakland waterfront. The South Bay city of San Jose has shown continuing, strong interest in becoming the team's new home, and is the preferred destination for current team owner Lew Wolff.
The Oakland Ballet, performing in the city since 1965, folded temporarily in 2006 due financial problems and the closure of their performance facility, the Calvin Simmons Theater at the Kaiser Convention Center. The following year, founder Ronn Guidi announced the revival of the Ballet under new director Graham Lustig, and the program continues to perform at the Laney College Theater.
In February 2009, the Fox Oakland Theatre reopened. The theatre had been closed for most of the previous 42 years, with few events held there. After a thorough restoration, seismic retrofit, and many other improvements following years of severe neglect (including a fire as recently as 2004), the historic landmark theater started drawing patrons from all over the Bay Area.
Throughout the 2010s, the city's Oakland Medical Center, the first HMO and first Kaiser Permanente hospital, underwent a $2 billion retrofit including numerous new buildings.
On December 2, 2016, a fire at a Fruitvale District warehouse, which was hosting a music event, killed at least 36 people. It was the deadliest fire in the city's history.
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