Thursday, October 20, 2005

Historic history

I'm working right now (deadline breathing down my neck, so of course I decide to blog instead) on an update to Beth Bagwell's wonderful Oakland history book Oakland, Story of a City. This reference book is the be-all, end-all of Oakland history.

But it was written in 1982 and since then we've had a big earthquake, a firestorm, a Strong Mayor initiative, a dot-com rise and crash, etc. etc. My job is to update the book for the last 20 years. Right up my alley: I love Oakland, and I love history.


Ostensibly, yes. But I'm finding I have a real bias for old history. Historic history. What happened here in the 1970s is perhaps a little less compelling. Give me streetcars and ostrich-plumed hats and I'm in ecstasy. Give me Broadway Auto Row and I'm working rather than playing. But I can't complain. I'm honored that I was asked to do the update, and it is compelling to learn about Oakland's more recent history. I moved here in 1991 -- just in time for the firestorm--and so there's a lot I don't know.

For instance, during some research yesterday I came across these cool pictures of our City Hall just after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The quake battered City Hall so badly that there was talk of tearing down the gorgeous 1912 structure, which was the first City Hall in the U.S. to be built as a skyscraper. Preservationists fought to save the building, and today it rests on seismic pads in the basement, which will move around and allow it to sway like a winsome girl in a daisy field next time the Big One hits.

Anyway, Bagwell's book is currently out of print -- the Oakland Heritage Alliance sold out of its print run. Which is good news, because it shows that Oaklanders love their history and will buy this book, and because as soon as the update I'm working on is ready, we can start fresh with a new print run with a new cover. (While I love the book, the cover could use a new design.)

Oakland Heritage Alliance is a very cool group that we can thank for many wonderful things still being around. It's not just a nostalgic, let's-love-the-past group; the members actively push for preservation--ironically, by attending City Council meetings in the City Hall they once saved!

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