What up!

Your world…
as I see it.

Not this guy!This Mike D (aka “The Commenter Formerly Known as”) grew up in Adams Point. When he returned after two decades abroad, Tha Town’s distinct character began asserting itself as never before. It was time to apply today’s new-fangled series of intartubes to the old-school Oakland legends, winnowing nuggets of verifiable/linkable truthiness from squishy, pre-internet-reality hearsay and scuttlebutt.

2013-09-11 Update

Now here’s a quote (slightly paraphrased for brevity, and the emphasis is mine): “We experience cultural continuity with our parents’ and our children’s generations. Even when we [disagree] with our parents on political questions or [despair over] our kids’ tastes in fashion or music, we generally [understand them]. But a human lifetime seldom spans more than three generations, and the sliding window of one’s [life] screens out that which came before and that which comes after; they lie outside our personal experience. We fool ourselves into thinking our national culture is static and slow-moving, that we are the inheritors of a rich tradition. But if we could go back three or four generations, we would find ourselves surrounded by aliens … people who took for granted that some races were naturally inferior, and that women were too emotionally unstable to be allowed to vote. The bedrock of our cultural tradition is actually quicksand. We reject many of our ancestors’ cherished beliefs and conveniently forget others, not realizing that, in turn, our grandchildren may do the same to ours.” — Charles Stross

2013-06-08 Update

An old thought which keeps getting more true: have you noticed how “many hands are making light work” here? For example, with OW’s historical aspects alone (but one small part of the operation!) … while back in the ’80s, someone like Ted Wurm or Beth Bagwell had to do every … last … stinkin’ … bit of research themselves, slogging back and forth on countless trips to and from the OHR … today, thanks to the internet, a dedicated handful of us obsessives can assemble high-quality, detailed, sourced research, with less effort, in a fraction of the time – research which has, often by the time it’s posted, already been cross-checked in a variety of ways. We may not be as committed than researchers a generation ago, but we don’t have to be … today’s collaboration tools are soooo much better! (We must still bring the diligence, though – our tools also enable bigger, faster and more public mistakes)

2013-05-31 Update

I returned to Oakland yesterday, after a month of East-Coastal peregrinations (don’t ask). I already knew some time would be needed to process all I saw and did outside of The O … but then, emerging from 19th St. BART, I was overwhelmed by a veritable riot of architectural variety, representing well over a century of hopes/dreams/schemes which now (thanks to the oakwiki crew’s ceaseless efforts!) it is finally possible to begin to appreciate on more than just a surface level. As I schlepped my carryon down Broadway, happy to be on foot and thus moving slowly enough to take things in, a woman of indeterminate ethnicity walked past and smiled (was it you, JL?); I realized that in a way, she might well have embodied the multifaceted face of Oakland itself! TL;dr: I fully intend to get back into things as fast as I can – but between feeling overwhelmed, and scrambling to get a handle on what oakwiki’s elves have wrought since April, I may stay on the down-low for awhile.

Special Interests

I’m into long-gone structures/institutions (Piedmont Baths, Piedmont Grounds, The Horton School) - vanished estates (Arbor Villa, Cedar Croft, Fernwood, Level Lea, Mosswood, Oak Tree Farm, Palm Knoll, etc.) - certain neighborhoods (Adams Point, Vernon Heights) - anything to do with F.M. Smith - fin-de-siècle architects (yer Mathews, Maybecks and Morgans) - Mountain View Cemetery - Astro Park - the Schilling Secret Garden - local Flora and Fauna - CCR, and much more (hey, it’s history; it all eventually connects anyhow). Extra-big props to the OHR and CDNC. As for turn-offs, well … I imagine I’m not alone in feeling increasingly fed up with the practice of paywalling century-old public domain content.

Upcoming plans

As others’ similar pages also say, let not my stated intentions deter anyone who already possesses good info from updating/creating any of these:

Palm Trees : Amedee Sourdry : Sarah Horton & her school : [add more ideas here]


They made a tag to replace me, which itself was quickly replaced … by folks learning to do stuff for themselves! (Always a good thing.) But here, for historical purposes, are that tag’s results (if any):

Add new "needs mike"

Oakwiki’s elves even made me a tribute page <blush> which I’m finta update soon.

I’m not here; leave a message. BEEEEP!

2013-07-12 Mike, I bantered with you before about Horace W. Carpentier. We have 2 decidedly different takes about him. Yeah he liked wealth and land but, have you ever read what San Francisco harbor was like in 1849? My theory is that HWC, basically starting with a clean sheet of paper (Oakland), did not want the same thing to happen to the Oakland waterfront. By the accounts I have read, SF bay was a mess, with docks/wharves being built helter skelter by anyone who thought they owned a piece of it.…Thoughts?..…Ralph

Hi again Ralph! Was waiting to hear back, and am still really interested to hear if your research should turn up any new info on our boy. Actually I agree with everything you say above; however, it sounds like you may be willing to ascribe semi-altruistic motives to HWC’s actions, whereas nothing I’ve so far encountered leads me to believe his interest in Oakland was motivated by much more than pure unadulterated greed. In other words, yes, he cared about Oakland – but only inasmuch as if Oakland faltered, he might lose income! Now I’ll admit, I’ve not yet seen – much less read – any definitive biographies on the guy, probing his inner workings etc. Maybe it was more complicated than I’m portraying. But in the absence of personal papers etc., the man’s actions are left to speak for him – and speak they do. Have you perused the clipping file I tacked on to his entry? (That reminds me, I have an updated version to upload, now with even more damning details!) Please stay in touch - I value your thoughts on this. - M.

Mike, I don’t think HWC was motivated by greed. He enjoyed a somewhat lavish lifestyle but, don’t forget, he gave it all away. And contrary to popular belief … Some of it came back to California. He also took care of his friends and family. I think he was mostly motivated by the game. He was extremely intelligent (1848 Columbia class valedictorian) and I think he actually thought what he was doing was for the greater good as well as profit…Kind of a win-win in his eyes. The problem with trying to research HWC is that there are NO books. He was an intensely private person who apparently could not have cared less what others thought. He made no attempt to correct false or mistaken stories about him. You can not rely on newspapers to tell Horace’s story. I can show you 3 stories of what is the same event and they are all different, and equally wrong! I don’t want to portray him as a Saint … He wasn’t. But if you want a little different view on HWC … Look up his mayoral inaugural address. He was also on the commission of prisons, find out what he thought about how prisoners should be treated/housed. When he gave $100,000 to Columbia for Chinese Studies … Look up what he said about the Chinese and why he thought it was important to advance our education about them, as well as provide education FOR them. He was way more than just a greedy opportunist, and I think that people should see every side of HWC. Hopefully in a year or 2, I and Alan Cohen will be able to do just that!

Wow, thanks for the thoughtful reply. I can tell you’ve put substantial time into the topic, and I respect your efforts to find and present a balance. You forced me to consider more carefully the subtle distinctions between “classic” greed (as manifested by typical acquisitive robber barons) and HWC’s unique pathology, which – though it did involve the raking in of much cash, unconscionable (though de rigeur) high living, and the prolonged subjugation of Oakland – does seem to fit with “the game” (as you put it) as motive. And as you note, he clearly was a highly intelligent individual. (That, in fact, may be what irks me most: to see such sharpness untethered by a moral compass.) Extreme one-upmanship seems to have mattered greatly to him; from much reflection on patterns seen in his exploits, my belief is that his true #1 goal was … to prevail. He didn’t even covet lasting personal “power”, so much as he craved winning every confrontation. Such indefatigability could be useful in a chess player, or – in a “lawyerly” context – for someone principled, doggedly fighting for, say, human rights. But this guy … resorting to any means necessary to crush all opposition, simply because it existed? Wait, what am I saying? He’d fit right in to today’s political climate …!

Kidding aside, while skimming through particulars of HWC’s Columbia donation just now, I was thinking about the marvelous freedom his money gave him to reinforce his side of the story for perpetuity … when really, it’s the nameless, silent thousands of working people whose stories we’ll never hear – whose lives were bleaker, grittier and shorter due to HWC’s actions – that compel me to withhold too much cutting of slack here. Still, I’d be glad to help you in any way I can with your book project – it sounds like you’re doing great research, and must be getting near the edge of what’s currently known!

Part of my point is that he never did tell his side of any story. He was a trustee at Columbia for years and yet most of the other trustee’s had no idea what HWC’s background was. Not sure how his actions made other lives bleaker, grittier or shorter…In actuality the man was principled, he neither smoked or drank, he championed nature and animals. You mention human rights.…He was a man ahead of his time in that regard. (trust me on that)…small, small example.…Horace had a coachman/servant for over 40 years. Robert F Baptist, when Baptist died in 1917 he was buried with other Carpenter family members in the Carpentier plot, a good sized section fenced off by wrought iron inside the Barkersville NY cemetery. Baptist’s headstone reads “Loyal and True”…Robert F Baptist was a Black man buried in a white cemetery…Something that wasn’t all that popular back then……

As for the research, I am probably past what is currently known. It seems the more I find out, the more there is left to find out. Each little tidbit of information seems to be it’s own Pandora’s box. HWC and his family, even his circle of friends (cohorts), are fascinating. If nothing else, I am having a great deal of fun (if it can be called that) doing this, with a side benefit of expanding my knowledge…A win-win for me! Ralph

Although I have not done the extensive research on Carpentier that the two of you have, there does appear to be so much more to his story. In addition to his kindness for animals [a huge plus in his favor as far as I am concerned] and appreciation for nature, was his treatment of Mary Canning, his Irish cook. At a time in America when Irish immigrants faced some of the worst treatment imaginable, not only did Horace Carpentier hire Mary Canning, when with his wealth he could have employed just about anyone, but he took the time and interest in her financial stability to provide valuable guidance which enabled her to amass a fortune! And now the information on how he provided for Robert F. Baptist, who stayed with him for 40 years … if Carpentier had truly been nothing more then a greedy bastard, Baptist probably could have found employment with another wealthy family. But it sounds as if there was genuine affection between the two men, and that Robert Baptist saw qualities in Horace Carpentier that we will never know. ~ JL

End of new messages. (old ones archived)