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The Bret Harte Boardwalk was a small shopping district in a stretch of historic buildings on 5th Street, near where writer Bret Harte lived as young man in 1854. The boardwalk was created in 1962 by Jan Mills and Dixie Stoll, who owned shops in the block. The boardwalk consisted of 4 Victorian houses and a barn. 1,2

The house on the northwest corner of 5th and Clay where Bret Harte lived is no longer standing; it was demolished for the freeway. It was owned by Harte's stepfather, Colonel Andrew Williams, who became Oakland's 4th mayor in 1857.

Jan Mills was married to Paul Mills, the director of the Oakland Art Gallery (later part of Oakland Museum of California.) She owned a shop in the boardwalk, Roaring Camp Mercantile.


Actress June Lockhart, of star of TV's Lassie and later Lost in Space, visited the boardwalk in 1964. She was reportedly thinking of buying into the project. Columnist Bill Fiset notes that she did not bring Lassie with her. 12

Would-be politician and long-time government gadfly, Gene Hazzard, was co-owner of The Caribbean, a restaurant in the Bret Harte Boardwalk. He opened it in 1980 along with Sandra Blair, Elaine Fripp and Nathaniel Fripp. 13


1981 5

Several of the addresses had separate businesses at street level and upstairs, and the "barn" at the corner with Jefferson has several spaces. Years are earliest and latest known.

1951 Sanborn excerpt

Business Address Years Notes
The Public House 591 1966-1969 tavern, run by attorneys Don MacLeod, Fred Jenner, Frank Ollerdessen
The Town Squire 589 1965-1969 men's clothes
Boardwalk Beauty Shop 587 1985 co-owner Marilyn Moore killed 9
Shady Lady Nail Salon 587 1978 owned by Linda Ricard
Mister Bret Hair Dresser 583 1967 hair salon and wig gallery
Golden Gallery 583 1968-1969 art gallery
Colonel Starbottle's Cafe 581 1967-1985 cafe and bar named for a Bret Harte character
Candles by Warren 581 1966 upstairs
Roaring Camp Mercantile 577 1962-1976 owned by Jan Mills; later Peter and Tari Sigman Bowman 11
Harbor Gallery 577 1962-1965 owned by Dixie Stoll 7
Emmanuel Art Gallery 577 1966-1967 upstairs
Four Winds Trading Post 577 1966 upstairs
Chic Murray's Polynesian Patio 571 1969 women's apparel; upstairs
Harte of Gold 571 1967-1969 dress shop
Pioneer's Trunk Antiques 567 1966-1967  
Chez Joseph et Marjorie 567 1969-1970 restaurant run by Joseph and Marjorie Salas 8
Chez Joseph 567 1974 restaurant run by Nick Melis and Mike Ghilarducci
La Cigale 567 1978-1979 French restaurant
The Caribbean 567 1980-1985 restaurant; co-owned by Gene Hazzard
Harbor Bazaar 567 1962-1964 owned by Dixie Stoll 6,12
Lennell's Tearoom   1962-1965 cafe owned by Nell Lennon 6
California House   1963  
D'Lar Candle Shop   1963  
Roaring Camp Cafe   1981  
Hair Tailor   1982 owned by Donald Shamblin 10
Hitching Post   1963-1968  
Coffee and Sweet Shop   1985 an ad lists 557 - 5th St. 18

from 1962 ad 7

Present Day

The buildings still exist and there are some businesses in them, but the boardwalk moniker isn't used much anymore. Newspaper references to it as a shopping and dining area faded from view in the late 1980s. Ads for a law office at 571 - 5th Street in 1994 17 mention Bret Harte Boardwalk, but references after that refer to the boardwalk in the past tense.

The old-timey street lights were gone by 2008. c.2008 most of the buildings appeared to be vacant; c.2011 they had been fixed up and the Autobahn Cafe had opened. Other businesses have moved into some of the spots.

Links and References

1963 14

  1. Bret Harte Boardwalk Previewed Oakland Tribune September 12, 1962
  2. The Dynamic Mrs. Mills Robin Orr Oakland Tribune September 19, 1969
  3. Bret Harte Boardwalk parking by Perry Phillips Oakland Tribune October 25, 1985
  4. Where Bret Harte Used to Walk San Francisco Examiner June 23, 1968
  5. A haven of tranquility in Oakland Oakland Tribune January 18, 1981 (p2)
  6. Era of Bret Harte Recreated Oakland Tribune July 15, 1962
  7. Gallery to Open on Boardwalk Oakland Tribune December 9, 1962
  8. The 'Marjorie' Behind the Sign Oakland Tribune October 28, 1969
  9. Frustrated bandit executes woman in beauty parlor Oakland Tribune January 25, 1985
  10. Oaklander hair style winner Oakland Tribune April 8, 1982
  11. Young couple has knack of converting junk The Columbian (Vancouver, Washington) September 7, 1972
  12. Man Alive by Bill Fiset Oakland Tribune May 25, 1964
  13. A Caribbean influence Oakland Tribune June 8, 1980
  14. 1st birthday ad Oakland Tribune September 20, 1963
  15. 4th birthday ad Oakland Tribune September 14, 1966
  16. Man Alive by Bill Fiset Oakland Tribune June 3, 1966
  17. ad for Curotto Law Offices Oakland Tribune September 1, 1994
  18. ad for The Coffee and Sweet Shop KPFA Folio March 1985