How 10 Oakland Neighborhoods Got Their Names

As San Francisco’s cost of living explodes (it’s currently second-highest in the nation, after Manhattan), its residents are increasingly crossing the bay to Oakland. But alongside its rapid gentrification, Oakland is known for its art, music, culture, and political activism on a nationwide scale. Here, we’ll delve into how Oakland’s modern neighborhoods got their start—and their names.

1. SAN ANTONIO

The city of Oakland began as a chunk of the 44,800-acre Rancho San Antonio, owned by Luís María Peralta. A land grant issued to him in 1820 in recognition of his military service to Spain covered present-day Oakland as well as parts of the cities of San Leandro, Berkeley, Alameda, Emeryville, and Piedmont. In 1842, Peralta split the rancho among his four sons; the area we know today as San Antonio was located on his son Antonio Maria’s property. In 1851, James Larue bought some of the land and turned it into its own town, but five years later it joined the adjacent town of Clinton to form a new city called Brooklyn—named after the ship that had brought Mormon settlers to the area in 1846. When Brooklyn was annexed by the city of Oakland in 1872, San Antonio became simply a neighborhood.

2. SEMINARY

East Oakland is home to the diverse Seminary district, with its eponymous Seminary Avenue running through it. The area is mostly known for being a college neighborhood, thanks to its close proximity to Mills College, which is also the origin of its name. The college was founded as the Young Ladies’ Seminary in Benicia in 1852; in 1865 it was purchased by Susan Tolman Mills and her husband Cyrus, and soon rechristened as Mills Seminary. The college relocated to its present site in Oakland in 1871, and received its current name in 1885.

3. JINGLETOWN

Jingletown mosaic of lizard
Fragmentary Evidence, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Jingletown, a vibrant arts community covered in murals and mosaics, lies adjacent to the Oakland Estuary. The name originated long ago, when there were large numbers of Portuguese immigrants living in the area, largely from the Azores in the Atlantic. The story goes that the Portuguese mill workers would stand around on the street corners in the evenings, chatting and fraternizing with one another while jingling the coins they had in their pockets. In the 1950s and '60s, the area saw an influx of families from Latin America, and it was the center of the Chicano civil rights movement of the late '60s and early '70s.

4. THE TWOMPS

The subsection of San Antonio found between 20th and 29th Avenues was once known as "The Rolling '20s" or "The Roaring '20s," but locals today frequently call it "The Twomps." The nickname arose sometime in the 1980s; Twomp is a slang word for "20."

5. BUSHROD PARK

Bushrod Park
Sharon Hahn Darlin, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This neighborhood in North Oakland is named after the 10.12-acre park it encompasses. The park itself got its title from Dr. Bushrod Washington James, a Philadelphia philanthropist who donated the land for the park in 1903. (James himself was ostensibly named after George Washington’s nephew, Supreme Court Justice Bushrod Washington, who pronounced his name “buh-SHRAHD.”)

6. FRICK

First part of the Brooklyn area of Oakland, the Frick neighborhood is named after its first school at Foothill Boulevard and 62nd Avenue. In the early 1900s, the Lockwood School District, short of funds, needed to build an elementary school for the semi-rural community, and local mining and lumber magnate Walter P. Frick stepped up with the land. The W. P. Frick School opened in 1909 with 90 students, grades 1–6, and later was converted into a junior high school. Just months after the school was built, the area was annexed into the City of Oakland.

7. TEMESCAL

One of the oldest parts of the city, the North Oakland neighborhood of Temescal gets its name from Temescal Creek, which runs through the area. The creek’s name, in turn, is derived from a Nahautl word, temescalli, which describes an Aztec sweathouse. When the land was part of Luís María Peralta’s Rancho San Antonio, the vaqueros—ranch hands or cowboys—working there had spotted structures along the waterway that had been built by the native Ohlone tribe and were similar to the Aztec temescalli huts they’d seen in parts of what is now Mexico.

8. LONGFELLOW

North Oakland is home to the Longfellow district, currently seeing an economic boom and a new community of artists. It was once a thriving Italian neighborhood, beginning in the early 1900s and lasting through the 1940 and '50s, when African Americans began to establish communities in the area as well. The name Longfellow comes from the elementary school on Lusk Street, which is named after the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow Elementary closed in 2004, but the name lives on.

9. GASKILL

Gaskill is named after a pair of brothers, Rollin and DeWitt Gaskill, who bought 17 acres in North Oakland from farmer George Parsons in 1869. Many of its street names have a more complicated history, however. After DeWitt bought Rollin out in 1870, he began building roads along the northern and southern borders of Menlo and Parsons Streets, the latter named after the family that had previously owned the land. When the City of Oakland annexed Gaskill in 1897, it applied its own conventions to the street names, putting the east/west streets on the number system and changing the names of several others to avoid duplication with names elsewhere in the city. Menlo Street thus became Aileen Street, Parsons Street became 55th Street, and internal Park Street, running north/south, was renamed after D.W.C. Gaskill himself.

10. FUNKTOWN

Funktown Arts District mural
George Kelly, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Although precise definitions differ, an area of Oakland near the Twomps is officially named Highland Park, but no one really uses that name anymore—the residents overwhelmingly call it Funktown. The name has nothing to do with the 1980 hit single by Lipps Inc., “Funkytown." Instead, this area was once the home base of the violent gang Funktown USA, which was notorious for cocaine and heroin trafficking. After the arrests and deaths of several key members in the late '80s and '90s, the gang fractured and Funktown quieted down quite a bit, but unlike most of Oakland, it’s still far from being gentrified.

People Are Stocking Their Little Free Libraries With Food and Toilet Paper to Help Neighbors

A Little Free Library full of canned goods in Chicago.
A Little Free Library full of canned goods in Chicago.
Ashley Hamer, Twitter

Across the nation, people are stocking their Little Free Libraries with food, toilet paper, and other necessities as a creative way to lend a helping hand to neighbors in need without breaking the rules of social distancing.

Many of the makeshift pantries encourage people to pay it forward with handwritten messages like “Take what you need, share what you can,” and other similar adaptations of Little Free Library’s “Take a book, leave a book” motto. Some people have completely emptied the books from their libraries to make room for non-perishables like peanut butter, canned soup, and pasta, while others still have a little space devoted to reading material—which, although it might not be quite as important as a hearty meal, can keep you relaxed and entertained during quarantine.

As Literary Hub explains, donating to a Little Free Library-turned-pantry near you isn’t just a great way to help neighbors who can’t make it to the store (or can’t find what they need on increasingly low-stocked shelves). It could also combat feelings of powerlessness or loneliness brought on by self-isolation; by giving what you can spare—and seeing what others have contributed—you’re fostering a sense of community that exists even without the face-to-face contact you’re probably used to.

Greig Metzger, the executive director of the Little Free Library organization, suggests that people even use their Little Free Libraries as collection points for larger food donations to nearby charities.

“Food shelves everywhere are facing increased demand,” Metzger, who served as an executive director for a Minneapolis food shelf before joining Little Free Library, wrote in a blog post. “You can find the food shelf nearest you by doing a Google search for ‘food shelf near me.’ Perhaps use your Little Free Library to host a food drive to help that local food shelf.”

You can also look for Little Free Libraries in your area using this interactive map.

Looking for other ways to help your community fight the wide-reaching effects of the new coronavirus? Here are seven things you can do.

[h/t Literary Hub]

Dreaming of Your Favorite City? This Website Will Create a Personalized Haiku Poem About It for You

OpenStreetMap Haiku will capture the colorful character of your hometown in a few (possibly silly) phrases.
OpenStreetMap Haiku will capture the colorful character of your hometown in a few (possibly silly) phrases.
vladystock/iStock via Getty Images

You no longer need to spend all your free time struggling to capture the vibe of your favorite city in a few carefully chosen syllables—OpenStreetMap Haiku will do it for you.

The site, developed by Satellite Studio, uses the information from crowdsourced global map OpenStreetMap to create a haiku that describes any location in the world. According to Travel + Leisure, the poems are based on data points like supermarkets, shops, local air quality, weather, time of day, and more.

“Looking at every aspect of the surroundings of a point, we can generate a poem about any place in the world,” the developers wrote in a blog post. “The result is sometimes fun, often weird, most of the time pretty terrible. Also probably horrifying for haiku purists (sorry).”

The results are also often waggishly accurate. For example, here’s a haiku describing Washington, D.C.:

“The same pot of coffee
Fresh coffee from Starbucks
The desk clerk.”

In other words, it seems like the city runs on compulsive coffee refills and paperwork. And if you thought life in Brooklyn, New York, was a combination of alcohol-fueled outings to basement bars and traffic-filled trips into the city, this poem probably confirms your suspicions:

“Getting drunk at The Nest
Today in New York
Green. Red. Green. Red.”

The website’s creators were inspired by Naho Matsuda’s Every Thing Every Time, a 2018 art installation outside Theatre Royal in Newcastle, England, that used data points to generate an ever-changing poem about the city.

Wondering what OpenStreetMap Haiku has to say about your hometown? Explore the map here.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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