25 February 2011

Oakland Marathon neighborhood tour - # 15 - West Oakland

The marathon continues from the Jack London Square area west to the area known as West Oakland.

This is an area that some would say epitomizes what Oakland is known for.  And, yes, there are parts that are quite tough.  Yet there are also splashes of color, some nice quiet streets with lovely Victorians, and a large portion that improved, but sadly only in the aftermath of a tragedy.

West Oakland historically has been an African-American community.  Proximity to the old Oakland train station, and the facilities of the Southern Pacific Railroad led many black men who worked for the railroad and their families to locate here.

In addition to the railroad, the port, the Oakland Army Base, and many industrial concerns employed a lot of blue collar workers of many backgrounds.

After WWII, the area went into a slow decline as the railroad needed to employ fewer to staff the declining number of passenger trains.  In the 1950s, the double-decker Cypress Freeway was constructed through the heart of West Oakland creating an unsightly concrete wall through the area.

That came to an end on 17 October 1989, when the Loma Prieta quake struck and caused the structure to collapse, leaving 42 people dead.

Years of political bickering after the quake led to the wise decision to rebuild the 880/80 connection to the west of West Oakland.  The right-of-way where the Cypress structure once stood was made into the much more aesthetically pleasing Mandela Parkway.  Most of the route of the race in West Oakland is along the parkway.

Depressing public housing that was literally in the shadow of the freeway emerged back into sunlight.  Some was torn down, while some was dramatically renovated.

Gentrification is coming to parts of West Oakland.  It makes sense because it has a great location (West Oakland BART is one stop away from downtown San Francisco through the Transbay Tube), excellent weather, and a large stock of Victorian homes.

West Oakland was where the Black Panther Party was founded in 1966, and from where it would grow to have chapters in many American cities with substantial black populations.  Here is a map that locates a number of the sites of historical significance during the era of the Panthers.  Guided tours are also conducted.

As an historical footnote, Bobby Seale, one of the founders of the Black Panther Party and defendant in the Chicago Eight trial/circus, would run for mayor of Oakland in 1973.  He came in second.

The African American Museum & Library (part of the Oakland Public Library) isn't exactly in West Oakland but it is just west of downtown Oakland at 14th Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.

Oakland Marathon neighborhood tour - navigational links:
Backward to: Jack London Square
Forward to: Adams Point
Oakland Marathon website

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