Is Oakland San Francisco’s Brooklyn?

April 4, 2013


“Don’t get us wrong: We hella love Oakland, in all its urban, slightly dangerous, Brooklyn-in-the-90s sort of glory.” – SFist

“Think of it as a less twee, more D.I.Y. version of artisanal Brooklyn.” – The New York Times

“San Francisco finally has a Brooklyn to call its own.” – T Magazine

“Knave!” What a name for a newspaper!

“Knave!” What a name for a newspaper!

“Knave!” What a name for a newspaper!

Is Oakland San Francisco’s Brooklyn?

Despite – no, because of, definitely because of – the basic silliness of the premise, it’s a throw-away line I’ve used to explain what I like about Oakland. Young people! Art galleries! Fussed-about food! Richard Florida would totally approve!

But Oakland was Brooklyn. Kinda.

In 1872, Oakland was just 20 years old, not yet a street-car suburb of San Francisco. The tidal lagoon east of downtown had just become a wildlife refuge (after do-gooding Mayor Merritt stopped the city from using it as a sewer).

East of the lake was the city of Brooklyn, established 1870. An earthquake had destroyed the county courthouse, and Oakland promised Brooklyn the county seat in San Antonio Park. So they were welcomed into Oakland proper, and Brooklyn ceased to exist.

Brooklyn, California, lived for 31 months.

Oakland’s first brewery was in Brooklyn – 2,000 barrels a year issued from East Oakland Brewery on East 12th Street, a site now home to a liquor store and an auto-body shop. Its second was there, too: Amor Eterno Tattoo and Art Space was Brooklyn Brewery. (I can’t say for sure that it’s the same building, but it’s an uncannily beautiful structure and that makes me think it’s old.)

A shoe and boot factory and cotton mills employed the locals. The first black public school was in Brooklyn, though it closed in 1872 when Oakland integrated students. People there were from other places, like a lot of us are in California.

In 1976, the Oakland Tribune called the area “mostly black,” as it absorbed West Oakland residents displaced by BART construction. It was “the New Chinatown” in a 1992 article. Tool down East 12th Street or International Boulevard and you’ll see bahn mi, pho, dim sum, seafood markets – but you’ll also see taco trucks, a cantina that’s been around since 1964, and a factory that makes salumi for farmer’s markets in Temescal and the Ferry Building.

Tubbs Hotel

Tubbs Hotel

San Antonio Park, where a bear fought a bull to the death and cattle rustlers were publicly lynched in the 1850s, is now a place for pickup soccer games and community gardens. The people who live here spoke 34 languages at one recent count. Brooklyn was also the site of the palatial Tubbs Hotel which opened in 1871. Hiram Tubbs, the owner, wanted to lure an affluent crowd for vacations and temporary residences. Gertrude Stein’s family lived there for about a year before moving into their own home in East Oakland.

Brooklyn doesn’t really exist anymore, as a city or as a neighborhood. It’s one of those indistinct Oakland neighborhoods that lay east of the lake and center around International Boulevard, where poverty and crime increases as numbered streets do.

A city’s story can be told in waves of changing names. The more famous Brooklyn was once Breuckelen, and though part of New York City has a free-standing identity.

Our Brooklyn was Lynn and Rancho San Antonio before it was Brooklyn, and then one day it was just Oakland. Now it’s East Oakland, or Eastlake, or Clinton, or Jingletown, or the New Chinatown.

Why do some neighborhood names seem to stick and others come and go or seem perpetually nameless? Produce Market became Jack London Square or the Warehouse District. Business boosters hung banners from light poles in someplace called KONO. Occupiers renamed Frank Ogawa Plaza for Oscar Grant.

What is your neighborhood called – and who named it?

Miranda Everitt  found lots of stuff for this article at the Oakland History Room, the Oakland Public Library’s main branch. It was fun! You should go. Snow Park was a zoo!

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About Miranda Everitt

Miranda Everitt is from Northwest Ohio, came to Oakland by way of San Francisco in 2010, and is glad to have moved "back East," if only slightly. She works at a nonprofit, was once on the board of OBUGS, and found a $20 bill in Lake Merritt once. She spent it on poutine.

View all posts by Miranda Everitt

2 Responses to “Is Oakland San Francisco’s Brooklyn?”

  1. Patrick Cant Says:

    I am disappointed that my neighborhood bears the “KONO” label. First, it’s an absurd, real estate-driven contrivance that wipes out Koreatown and Northgate. Second, the flags on the light poles look like ads for a TV station. Like “Watch KONO 5 action news at 10!” But what irks me the most is they missed a golden opportunity. Koreatown and NorthGate? Why not “KONG”? I would totally tell people I lived in the Kong.


  2. Dorothy Says:

    FYI The Knave was not a newspaper. It was a column in the Oakland Tribune, for about 50 years.


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