Oakland is a major West Coast port city in the U.S. state of California. The Port of Oakland is the busiest port for San Francisco Bay and all of Northern California. Oakland is the third largest city in the San Francisco Bay Area, the eighth-largest city in California, and the 45th-largest city in the U.S. with a population of 406,253 . Incorporated in 1852, Oakland is the county seat of Alameda County. It serves as a major transportation hub and trade center for the entire region and is also the principal city of the Bay Area Region known as the East Bay. The city is situated directly across the bay, six miles east of San Francisco.
Oakland's territory covers what was once a mosaic of coastal terrace prairie, oak woodland, and north coastal scrub. Its land served as a rich resource when its hillside oak and redwood timber were logged to build San Francisco, and Oakland's fertile flatland soils helped it become a prolific agricultural region. In the late 1860s, Oakland was selected as the western terminal of the Transcontinental Railroad. It continued to grow in the 20th century with its busy port, shipyards, and a thriving automobile manufacturing industry. Following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, many San Franciscans relocated to Oakland, enlarging the city's population, increasing its housing stock and improving its infrastructure.
A steady influx of immigrants during the 20th century, along with thousands of African-American war-industry workers who relocated from the Deep South during the 1940s, have made Oakland one of the most ethnically diverse major cities in the country. Oakland is known for its history of political activism, as well as its professional sports franchises and major corporations, which include health care, dot-com companies and manufacturers of household products. The city is a transportation hub for the greater Bay Area, and its shipping port is the fifth busiest in the United States.
Oakland has a Mediterranean climate with an average of 260 sunny days per year. Lake Merritt, a large estuary centrally located east of Downtown, was designated the United States' first official wildlife refuge. Jack London Square, named for the author and former resident, is a tourist destination on the Oakland waterfront.
While progress has been made in reducing the city's high property crime rate, violent crime has remained a persistent problem in Oakland, although this is primarily concentrated in certain neighborhoods. Oakland is continually listed among the top cities in the United States for sustainability practices, including a No. 1 ranking for usage of electricity from renewable resources. Significant portions of Oakland suffer from severe lead contamination.
In recent years, Oakland has gained national recognition as a travel destination. In 2012, Oakland was named the top North American city to visit, highlighting its growing number of sophisticated restaurants and bars, top music venues, and increasing nightlife appeal. Oakland also took the No. 16 spot in "America's Coolest Cities," ranked by metrics like entertainment options and recreational opportunities per capita, etc. In 2013, Oakland topped the No. 1 spot in "America's Most Exciting Cities," notably having the most movie theaters, theater companies, and museums per square mile. In "America's Most Hipster Cities," Oakland took the No. 5 spot, cited for luring San Francisco "hippies" into the city.
The earliest known inhabitants were the Huchiun, who lived there for thousands of years. The Huchiun belonged to a linguistic grouping later called the Ohlone (a Miwok word meaning "western people"). In Oakland, they were concentrated around Lake Merritt and Temescal Creek, a stream that enters the San Francisco Bay at Emeryville.
In 1772, the area that later became Oakland was claimed, with the rest of California, by Spanish settlers for the King of Spain. In the early 19th century, the Spanish crown granted the East Bay area to Luis María Peralta for his Rancho San Antonio. The grant was confirmed by the successor Mexican republic upon its independence from Spain. Upon his death in 1842, Peralta divided his land among his four sons. Most of Oakland fell within the shares given to Antonio Maria and Vicente. The portion of the parcel that is now Oakland was called encinal—Spanish for "oak grove"—due to the large oak forest that covered the area, which eventually led to the city's name.
In 1851, three men—Horace Carpentier, Edson Adams, and Andrew Moon—began developing what is now downtown Oakland. On May 4, 1852, the Town of Oakland incorporated. Two years later, on March 25, 1854, Oakland re-incorporated as the City of Oakland, with Horace Carpentier elected the first mayor, though a scandal ended his mayorship in less than a year. The city and its environs quickly grew with the railroads, becoming a major rail terminal in the late 1860s and 1870s. In 1868, the Central Pacific constructed the Oakland Long Wharf at Oakland Point, the site of today's Port of Oakland.
A number of horsecar and cable car lines were constructed in Oakland during the latter half of the 19th century. The first electric streetcar set out from Oakland to Berkeley in 1891, and other lines were converted and added over the course of the 1890s. The various streetcar companies operating in Oakland were acquired by Francis "Borax" Smith and consolidated into what eventually became known as the Key System, the predecessor of today's publicly owned AC Transit.
The original extent of Oakland, upon its incorporation, lay south of today's major intersection of San Pablo Avenue, Broadway, and Fourteenth Street. The city gradually annexed farmlands and settlements to the east and the north. Oakland's rise to industrial prominence, and its subsequent need for a seaport, led to the digging of a shipping and tidal channel in 1902, which created an island of nearby town Alameda. In 1906, its population doubled with refugees made homeless after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.
In 1916, General Motors opened a major automobile factory in East Oakland called Oakland Assembly, making Chevrolet cars and then GMC trucks until 1963, when it was moved to Fremont in southern Alameda County. Also in 1916, the Fageol Motor Company chose East Oakland for their first factory, manufacturing farming tractors from 1918 to 1923. By 1920, Oakland was the home of numerous manufacturing industries, including metals, canneries, bakeries, internal combustion engines, automobiles, and shipbuilding. By 1929, when Chrysler expanded with a new plant there, Oakland had become known as the "Detroit of the West."
Oakland expanded during the 1920s, flexing enough to meet the influx of factory workers. Approximately 13,000 homes were built between 1921 and 1924, more than between 1907 and 1920. Many of the large downtown office buildings, apartment buildings, and single-family houses still standing in Oakland were built during the 1920s; and they reflect the architectural styles of the time.
Russell Clifford Durant established Durant Field at 82nd Avenue and East 14th Street in 1916. The first transcontinental airmail flight finished its journey at Durant Field on August 9, 1920, flown by Army Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker and Navy Lt. Bert Acosta. Durant Field was often called Oakland Airport, though the current Oakland International Airport was soon established four miles southwest.
During World War II, the East Bay Area was home to many war-related industries. Oakland's Moore Dry Dock Company expanded its shipbuilding capabilities and built over 100 ships. Valued at $100 million in 1943, Oakland's canning industry was its second-most-valuable war contribution after shipbuilding. The largest canneries were in the Fruitvale District and included the Josiah Lusk Canning Company, the Oakland Preserving Company (which started the Del Monte brand), and the California Packing Company. The war attracted tens of thousands of laborers from around the country, though most were poor whites and blacks from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas—sharecroppers and tenant farmers who had been recruited by Henry J. Kaiser to work in his shipyards. These immigrants from the Jim Crow South brought their racial attitudes with them, and the racial harmony that Oakland blacks had been accustomed to prior to the war evaporated. Also migrating to the area during this time were many Mexican Americans from southwestern states such as New Mexico, Texas, and Colorado, many working for the Southern Pacific Railroad, at its major rail yard in West Oakland. Oakland experienced its own "zoot suit riots" in downtown Oakland in 1943 in the wake of the one in Los Angeles.
In 1946 National City Lines (NCL), a General Motors holding company, acquired 64% of Key System stock; during the next several years NCL engaged in the conspiratorial dissolution of Oakland's electric streetcar system, where the city's electric streetcar fleet was converted to diesel buses. The state Legislature created the Alameda and Contra Costa Transit District in 1955, which still exists today as AC Transit, the third-largest bus-only transit system in the nation.
Soon after the war, with the disappearance of Oakland's shipbuilding industry and the decline of its automobile industry, jobs became scarce. There was also an increase in racial tension. Oakland was the center of a general strike during the first week of December 1946, one of six cities across the country that experienced such a strike after World War II.
In 1960, Kaiser Corporation erected its headquarters; it was the largest skyscraper in Oakland, as well as "the largest office tower west of Chicago" up to that time. In 1966, only 16 of the city's 661 police officers were black. Tensions between the black community and the largely white police force were high, and police malfeasance against blacks was common. The Black Panther Party was founded by students Huey Newton and Bobby Seale at Merritt College. During the 1970s, Oakland began to experience serious problems with gang-controlled dealing of heroin and cocaine when drug kingpin Felix Mitchell created the nation's first large-scale operation of this kind. Both violent crime and property crime increased during this period, and Oakland's murder rate rose to twice that of San Francisco or New York City.
As in many other American cities during the 1980s, crack cocaine became a serious problem in Oakland. Drug dealing in general, and the dealing of crack cocaine in particular, resulted in elevated rates of violent crime, causing Oakland to consistently be listed as one of America's most crime-ridden cities. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Oakland's black population reached its peak at approximately 47% of the overall population.
On October 20, 1991, a massive firestorm swept down from the Berkeley Hills above the Caldecott Tunnel. Twenty-five people were killed, 150 people were injured, and nearly 4,000 homes destroyed. With the loss of life and an estimated economic loss of $1.5 billion, this was the worst urban firestorm in American history. During the mid-1990s, Oakland experienced an improved economy compared to previous decades, with large development and urban renewal projects, concentrated especially in the downtown area, at the Port of Oakland and at the Oakland International Airport.
The Loma Prieta earthquake, a rupture of the San Andreas fault that affected the entire San Francisco Bay Area, occurred on October 17, 1989. The quake's surface wave measured 6.9 on the Richter magnitude scale, and many structures in Oakland were badly damaged. The double-decker portion of the Interstate 880 freeway structure collapsed. A section of the eastern span of the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge also collapsed and was closed to traffic for one month.
After his 1999 inauguration, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown continued his predecessor Elihu Harris' public policy of supporting downtown housing development in the area defined as the Central Business District in Oakland's 1998 General Plan. Brown's plan and other redevelopment projects were controversial due to potential rent increases and gentrification, which would displace lower-income residents from downtown Oakland into outlying neighborhoods and cities. Further hampering Oakland's economic recovery were the economic crises in 2001 and 2008. These downturns resulted in lowered sales, rentals and occupancy of the new housing and slower growth and economic recovery than expected.
Due to allegations of misconduct by the Oakland Police Department, the City of Oakland has paid claims for a total of $57 million during the 2001–2011 timeframe to plaintiffs claiming police abuse—the largest sum of any city in California. On October 10, 2011, protesters and civic activists began "Occupy Oakland" demonstrations at Frank Ogawa Plaza in Downtown Oakland.