Origins of the OCNA

The Oak Center Neighborhood Association’s first official meeting gathered more than 300 people in the McClymonds High School Auditorium on July 1st, 1963. The topic of the meeting was the proposed redevelopment of Oak Center, the second neighborhood of five in West Oakland to be targeted by local authorities for demolition and new development.

The group described the following as its primary purpose:

To work together to try to keep this neighborhood intact and to get as many properties rehabilitated as is possible.

Over the course of the meeting, chaired by Lillian Love of 1223 Adeline St, neighbors gathered more than 40 questions for Nat Frankel, Chairman of the Board of the Redevelopment Agency for Oakland:

  • Can our house be repaired so that I can keep my property?
  • Will my home be demolished and how much will I be paid?
  • I want to keep my property and bring it up to standard. Would I be able to accomplish this aim?
  • Do we have to improve our home in six months or move?
  • Will I be appraised as to when and where I can to to find out about finances?
  • How many bad houses in a block will determine a blighted block?
  • If you do not feel able to go into several thousand $ debt to improve, what will happen then?

Complete demolition of 50 blocks of the adjacent Acorn neighborhood had already begun.

The official OCNA meeting was precipitated by a number of informal block meetings, including one on April 29th in the home of Missouri Riley at 1311 Magnolia Street. Neighbors May Williams, Virginia Harvey, Marguerite Jones, and Mr. and Mrs. Dick Weathers were in attendance, as well as Rose E. Sherman, social planning consultant with the City of Oakland.

Over the course of the next two years, the OCNA forged alliances inside City Hall while placing consistent pressure on those opposed to preserving Oak Center, such as Redevelopment Agency executive director Thomas Bell and Mayor John C. Houlihan. The pressure made a difference. By February 1965, Bell had resigned and OCNA received a public commitment from the city that nearly three-fourths of Oak Center would be rehabilitated rather than razed.

First OCNA Minutes, 1963 Minutes of the OCNA's First Meeting, 1963

Recognition as a Historic District

Nearly 40 years later, the OCNA scored a second major victory in its campaign to have the neighborhood recognized as Oakland’s largest Historic Preservation District.

Of the approximately 500 residences in Oak Center, about 350 were built before 1925. Of those, 125 were built before 1890. A number of homes have been designated as city landmarks, and well-preserved examples of nearly every Victorian style remain: Italianate, Stick, Queen Anne, and others.

This effort was the result of years of organizing and hard work by the OCNA, in partnership with the Oakland Heritage Alliance and city officials, and due especially to the leadership of neighborhood resident and OCNA board member Ellen Wyrick-Parkinson.

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