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.

The History Behind 7 New York City Street Names

deberarr/istock via getty images
deberarr/istock via getty images

Modern life means constantly rushing to get places, especially in New York. Whether it’s the daily grind to get to work or the rush to hit happy hour, residents are probably concentrating more on getting somewhere than carefully considering the details of their surroundings.

But next time you're in New York—or if you're a resident already—try looking up from your phone to take a peek at the street names above you. Along with your more common numbered designations and things like "Park Avenue," you’ll notice the city has some pretty strange denominations. Here are seven of the more eye-catching, and the brief history behind their names.

1. Asser Levy Place

Tucked between the generically named 23rd and 25th streets, Asser Levy Place stands out like a sore thumb. Located not far from Stuyvesant Town, this unassuming street bears the name for a pretty prominent historical figure.

Said to have been born in what is now Poland and Lithuania, Asser Levy was one of the first Jewish settlers to land in the predominantly Dutch New Amsterdam. The governor at the time, Peter Stuyvesant, was “violently opposed” to the freshly emigrated Jewish community, unhappy at the fact that they were now allowed to trade and reside within the area [PDF]. Levy was not only the first kosher butcher in the land but also the first Jew to gain rights of citizenship in the country. Additionally, Levy donated funds to help New York fight the British Crown, and eventually took up arms against the British himself.

2. Maiden Lane

The history behind Maiden Lane’s designation is just as picturesque as it sounds. Known to Dutch settlers as Maagde Paatje (or “maiden path”), this portion of land once ran alongside a brook where women and girls would wash clothing. There are darker associations with the area too, though: Maiden Lane also saw a brutal slave revolt in 1712.

Today the street is one of many centers of commerce for the city, although the concrete still holds remnants of the city’s more ornate past. Passersby can take a look at the Barthman Clock, a 19th-century timepiece embedded into the intersection of Maiden Lane and Broadway.

3. Mott Street

Located primarily in the heart of Chinatown, Mott Street’s modern associations aren’t the most flattering. Once the site of multiple crime scenes and illegal activities, the street has garnered a somewhat seedy reputation over time.

But before it became affiliated with the seedy underbelly, Mott Street had patriotic associations. Joseph Mott, the street’s namesake, owned a tavern used as headquarters for General George Washington in 1775. His descendants proved dedicated to equally worthy causes, with Dr. Valentine Mott rising to prominence as one of America’s most influential surgeons.

4. Pearl Street

Before the concrete jungle fully took over, the streets of New York were dominated by oysters. Due to their bountiful number, the shells of shucked clams would pile up into what archaeologists call middens—large piles of domestic waste that have survived the centuries. One particularly large heap was located on the modern-day Pearl Street, giving rise to the mollusk-related moniker. Oddly, however, these oysters were not the pearl-producing kind—although they dominated a good portion of the New York market for quite some time.

5. Minetta Lane

Speaking of water-related items, did you know a once-babbling creek was paved over by one of the city’s more famous streets? That’s right: Known to the Dutch as Mintje Kill or “small stream,” Minetta Brook was “[a] brisk little brook full of trout,” according to one 19th century source, that was covered by the city’s expansion around the 1820s. It was also where a community of “half free” African Americans resided in the 17th century—former enslaved people that were allowed to live on the land by paying annual fees.

6. MacDougal Street

MacDougal Street is known for its vibrant nightlife and for hosting the early days of Bob Dylan’s career. But it also holds claim to a not-so-well-known spelling error.

The street was named for one Alexander Mcdougall, a Scotsman who emigrated to what would become the United States as a child in 1740 and settled in New York. Mcdougall made a name for himself in the mercantile trade and shipping business and was an early defender of American independence. He openly voiced his opinions against British rule, and was even imprisoned for passing out revolutionary pamphlets. His colorful life saw him commissioned as a colonel in the First New York Infantry during the Revolutionary War, become a member of the Continental Congress, and rise as the first president of the Bank of New York. However, how or why the second L in his name was dropped in the naming of the street remains a mystery.

7. Margaret Corbin Drive

Located at the city’s far northern tip, Margaret Corbin Drive is named for a young Pennsylvanian woman whose tough life molded her into a tougher lady. Her childhood saw the death of her father by Native Americans and her mother’s capture soon after; years later, the British killed her husband during the Battle of Fort Washington. Margaret, who was standing by his side at the time, quickly took his place in the conflict by handling his cannon—receiving several bullets as a result.

The U.S. government recognized her bravery by providing her disability compensation (as well as rum and whiskey rations) for many years. Although sometimes remembered as a “haughty and disagreeable eccentric,” the affectionately called “Captain Molly” is forever memorialized by the street running along the site where her brave acts took place.

Denver's Tiny Home Village Helps Residents Transition Out of Homelessness

iStock.com/Stefan Tomic
iStock.com/Stefan Tomic

In an effort to help the homeless population in its city, the Denver City Council has approved a plan to relocate a village made up of low-cost tiny homes.

According to Denver news outlet KDVR, the homes were unanimously approved for placement in the Globeville neighborhood of the city. Each of the 20 temporary structures will be able to house two residents looking to transition out of homelessness. The tiny home village will include a communal kitchen and two portable toilets, which will eventually be replaced by permanent bathrooms. The land used will be leased by the city to a nonprofit for just $10 a year.

The tiny home village was forced to move from its original location due to plans for redevelopment on the site. The new location has been met with some skepticism by Globeville neighbors, who expressed concern about criminal activity and complained during council meetings that they weren’t consulted on the decision.

To help offset concerns, the Colorado Village Collaborative, the village's organizer, has agreed to exclude sex offenders from the housing and will set up a telephone hotline for residents who have complaints. Occupants will be expected to clear the area of snow, maintain the premises, and open their doors to city inspectors.

Concentrated areas made up of tiny homes have taken hold as a potential alternative to homeless shelters in recent years, with tiny home villages popping up in cities like Seattle, Kansas City, Austin, and Detroit. Of the 19 residents who lived in Denver’s current tiny home location, five went on to permanent housing.

[h/t KDVR]

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