February 11, 2011

In its heyday...

Oakland City Hall
The City of Oakland, south of Berkeley and across the bay from San Francisco, became the gateway to the gold country in 1849 after gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California.  Horses and wagons loaded with supplies would begin from this point, cross through the Sacramento Valley and reach the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in the dry brown hills on the south fork of the American River.  It's familiar to me because Coloma was where I went camping in summer when my children were young.  Panning for gold was grueling, backbreaking work and few actually found any nuggets to speak of.  Those who worked mines and sluices made out better, but those who stood in the water and hoped something would land in their pans eventually gave up, or died trying.

Oakland very quickly became a settlement and incorporated as a city in 1852.  Previously, of course, the land had been inhabited by the Ohlone peoples who were displaced by the Spanish in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Then Russia began to lay claim to the land moving in from Alaska.  Then in 1849, American troops conquered the territory mostly influenced by the discovery of gold.   In the late 1860s, the Transcontinental Railroad completed its western journey at Oakland and the city became an important port for the delivery of supplies to the western cities.

Downtown building for offices and condos
It was also a resort area for people fleeing the cold winds of San Francisco.  Ferry boats brought people across the Bay to the warmer climate and they built lovely summer homes and estates in the hill country overlooking the water and beyond the fog region that locks San Francisco into its grip in summer.  After the big San Francisco earthquake in 1906, many people moved to the East Bay and it further developed.

Numerous immigrants moved to Oakland during World War II and the city became a center for industries supporting the war effort.  Consequently, it has a very high ethnic diversity.  While the San Andreas earthquake fault line runs through San Francisco, the equally treacherous Hayward fault runs right through Oakland.  The surrounding hills make it a gorgeous place.  It has a difficult reputation since there is a high level of unemployment, poverty, and crime.  Although those social issues are present, it isn't the complete story as the city is also balanced by thriving neighborhoods, excellent public transportation, rich cultural opportunities, museums, music and superb regional parks.  In many ways, the reputation is undeserved.

I was downtown on Thursday to have lunch with my daughter.  Since I went by bus, I could enjoy a look at the magnificent buildings and architecture that grace the downtown region.  I can't help feeling this is an up and coming city that will be restored to a deeper safety and will overcome its hardships.  Jerry Brown was once mayor of Oakland and is now governor of the state.  I have to admit he's one of a kind.  The other day he needed to fly from Sacramento to Los Angeles.  He demonstrates what a politician should demonstrate.  He flew coach on a standard flight and sat with the real people having conversations with everyone listening to what they had to say.  I suspect that's how he'll continue to travel throughout the state.  He has a soft spot for Oakland and still keeps his condo at Jack London Square.  He's my kind of governor.