West Oakland is a district in Oakland, California which is split into 18 or 19 distinctive neighborhoods.

7th Street at Myrtle, 1940


First Transcontinental Railroad

West Oakland was the terminus (the end point) of the Central Pacific line of the First Transcontinental Railroad. With the completion of the railroad in 1869 and the availability of cheap fares, immigrants to West Oakland hailed from the Midwest to the East Coast. Being the terminus, West Oakland held a mystique as a promised land of opportunity. 

Many African Americans were employed as porters for the Pullman Palace Car Company, and the headquarters of their union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was at 5th and Wood Streets.

Turn of the century through post-wartime

Before World War 2 West Oakland had been a very diverse working class area of Oakland: Irish, Italians, Greeks, African Americans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Latinxs, and Asians lived and worked together side by side in West Oakland. Many worked in the various Industrial jobs and for the nearby ship yards and Railroad Yards.

Between the 1910s and 50s, West Oakland became home to a thriving Latinx community that was majority Mexican; many fleeing the Mexican Revolution, and included many Cubans, Central Americans and Puerto Ricans. Many of those Puerto Ricans immigrated from Hawaii after laboring in the sugar plantations there. A number of community members took jobs with the Southern Pacific railroad, as longshoremen, or as workers in canneries and factories. Some people worked in blue-collar jobs as machinists and auto mechanics. Other people ran small home-grown businesses, including small-scale food production. Some women ran boarding houses for young men who had come to labor, providing them with warm meals and laundry service. Important cultural centers included La Estrella (The Star) (1930s), a Spanish-language theater, as well as music and dance halls. Musicians organized local orquestras. There were 3 different Spanish-language Catholic churches at that time, 3 and a Catholic social service organization Saint Marys being one of the first Catholic churches to offer mass in Spanish. Also many Mexican Latinx owned businesses began opening up around 7th st to cater to the Growing Mexican Population Mi Rancho and La Bourinquena were the first Mexican Grocery stores in Oakland. Also Restaurants like Mexicali Rose La Chapala and Enchilada shop to name a few and a Mexican Record store called La Ideal and la Ciudad de Mexico offered local Latinxs music from Latin America. The heart of the Mexican Latinx community was around 7th st 6th st 5th st and Market st and around Brush st and clay st near 7th st many also lived in the South Prescott area as well.

By 1930, West Oakland was a thriving, predominately African-American neighborhood of about 280,000 residents. Seventh Street was lined with jazz and blues clubs. Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association had its West Coast headquarters at 8th and Chester Streets.

The start of World War 2 brought many Workers to fill in the Labor shortages. African American Population of West Oakland increased as thousands of African American War Workers came from the Southern United states. Many found Jobs at the shipyards in Oakland and the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond and at Various Industrial Jobs and many found work in the Southern Pacific Railroad. Many settled in the Lower Part of West Oakland Also many segregated Housing Projects where built in West Oakland to House Black War Workers because of Shortage of Housing Campbell Village being a prime example.

In the 1940s,  West Oakland became the major West Coast blues center, and was considered the "Harlem of the West". The local clubs around 7th attracted military visiting the port, out-of-towners and locals alike. Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, T-Bone Walker, Big Mama Thornton, Al Green and others all performed in the Harlem of the West scene. 

Along with West Oakland's dynamic music venues, a bank, drug store and various African American owned businesses enriched the area.

Slim Jenkins night club was on 7th st and Willow st was part of the Harlem of the west.

In the 1940's during World War 2 the Latinx community grew as Mexican Americans from the  Southwestern United states settled in West Oakland to work in wartime industries. 5000 Mexican Braceros came to Oakland to work in the West Oakland Southern Pacific Railroad yard.

La Ideal Mexican Music store and Barbershop. was on 7th st near Brush st.Star Theater. Mexican Movie Theater was on Market st near 7th st.La Bourinquena on Brush st and 5th Mexican Grocery store and Tortilla factory.

In the 1950s and 60s, wartime jobs dried up, and urban renewal, construction of the Nimitz Freeway, and BART displaced most of the Latinx community. Many Latinxs began to settle in the Fruitvale and East Oakland areas. Redevelopment and the negative changes that carved up the landscape fractured the cultural fiber of the black community.  During this time, people in the Latinx community of West Oakland started forming community and political organizations, such as the: Orden Fraternal de los Hijos de Puerto Rico (Fraternal Order of the Sons of Puerto Rico), the Mexican Organization for Pro-Patriotic Festivities, the Mexican-American Political Association, the Spanish-speaking Unity Council and the Comite de Latinoamericanos de West Oakland (West Oakland Latin American Committee). At this time, there were high poverty rates amongst the Latinx and African-American populations of West Oakland. Community groups organized in response, demanding greater job opportunities.

According to the LA Times

"Homes were razed and families displaced to make way for a postal distribution center. Freeways that promised connection to San Francisco instead surrounded the neighborhood, in effect isolating it. The depot at the western terminus of the First Transcontinental Railroad, which had brought a steady flow of cash-flush black porters to West Oakland and sent them back to the South with fresh-cut records, was shuttered.

In the late 1960s, construction of the Bay Area Rapid Transit's above-ground commuter track drove in a final, deafening nail, sending screeching trains along 7th Street from dawn to midnight."

Groups of African American residents of West Oakland mobilized to resist the "urban renewal" projects during this period. The Black Panthers grew out of this resistance and West Oakland became the center of the Black Panthers in the late 1960s. Their main office was on Peralta Street, and they distributed free breakfasts to children in St. Augustine's church on West Street, as well as taking on other civic projects to better the neighborhood such as installing stoplights and working for literacy. DeFremery Park was the site of Black Panther rallies and social programs.

West Oakland is a district in Oakland, California which is split into 18 or 19 distinctive neighborhoods:

Here's a link to major city planning and re-development projects in West Oakland.

Gentrification in West Oakland (after Loma Prieta Earthquake)

  • Oakland North Video: A brief history of West Oakland
  • October, 2013 article in San Francisco Chronicle about the recent white "influx" displacing African Americans again. Houses are much cheaper in West O, and Oakand is "hot" right now.

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