Wearing a yellow vest and a matching cap that reads “Oakland Tours Program,” Lisa Hire bends over and points at a plaque at the foot of a light pole. The engraved text shows when it was installed: in the late 1890’s. Hire, a retired schoolteacher and an Oakland resident for over 30 years, is leading a tour of about 10 people through the downtown on a Saturday morning, so they can learn about the origins of the city. They have gathered in front of Ratto’s International Market and Deli, a family business on Washington Street that is over 100 years old.
“I do these tours because I think Oakland is a misunderstood city. There is a lot of beauty and rich cultural history in Oakland that is part of what makes California great,” said Hire, who has guided the Old Oakland Tour for five years.
The 2018 Oakland Tours season began on May 5, and will continue until October 31. The eight different tours are offered on Saturdays and Wednesdays at 10 a.m. and are free of charge.
“It’s awareness of history and what you can still see and look at, and how it’s still seen today,” said Annalee Allen, coordinator of Oakland Tours Program, which is part of the city’s Cultural Affairs Division of Economic and Workforce Development Department. “We find people are coming to these tours and really enjoying it a lot,” she said.
The city began sponsoring the tours in the 1980’s with the purpose of attracting businesses and people to invest and live in the downtown area. The tours showcase landmarks, relevant buildings and city history. “We need to help people [get] informed about the history, so that developing Oakland doesn’t obliterate what’s been here,” said Hire. “I love the city and I want people to appreciate that it’s more than the negative publicity.”
The tours are led by volunteers who come from different professional backgrounds, such as teaching, and who have an interest in history and architecture. Hire notes that the tours are not scripted.
The tour Hire guides explores the area between 8th and 11th Streets near Broadway, Washington Street and Clay Street, and includes establishments from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s such as The Washington Inn Hotel and Swans Market. She highlights details in architecture which point to how technology has changed, such as the move from wood building facades to those later made out of steel, which made them last longer. She also points out a few which in the 1920’s were covered in tile to resist fires, and shows pictures from the early 1900’s of buildings that are still standing in this neighborhood.
The other seven tours include the “City Center Tour,” which focuses on modern high-rise landmarks; “Uptown to the Lake,” which focuses on Art Deco architecture; “Preservation Park,” which explores the Victorian-era district; “Oakland Chinatown,” which highlights the contributions of Chinese and Asian immigrants to the history of Oakland; “Waterfront” at the Jack London Square; “Churches and Temples,” which focuses on places od worship in downtown Oakland; and the “New Era, New Politics Tour,” which focuses on the leaders of the African American community in Oakland.
Reservations can be made by calling the 24-hours hotline number at (510) 238-3234 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.