Japantown Atlas - Northern California - Downtown Oakland

Overview Map: Downtown Oakland Japanese American Businesses of 1940 with a detailed inset map of Oakland Chinatown

Notes: See the Oakland and Alameda page for an overview map of the surrounding city and suburbs.
Download a PDF of Oakland/Alameda/Berkeley (3 pages, 620 kb). Eventually the Oakland Chinatown map will expand several blocks farther on its own page.

Downtown Oakland had a major Japanese American presence in the early and mid-20th century. The center was Oakland's Chinatown, centered on 8th and Webster Streets. Here one found businesses, professional offices, churches, meeting halls, and "kenjin kai" (social clubs organized by people from a particular ken or prefecture), mingled among the Chinese-owned businesses. Other notable businesses include clothing stores, barber shops, and several bathhouses. The Wanto Co. grocery would be pictured by Dorothea Lange with the protest banner "I am an American" hung prominently above the entry in early 1942. The building is long gone, but it's good to know the physical location where the store stood.

Farther north, towards City Hall (Broadway, Telegraph, and San Pablo Aves.) we find a lighter scattering of professional offices and art goods stores, the latter catering to the non-Nikkei curiousity for Japanese art. (The main Oakland/Alameda map shows Japanese American businesses continuing throughout the surrounding city).

There are quite a few surviving Japantown landmarks in Chinatown proper. New Chinatown developments, vacant lots converted to parking, and Alameda County Courthouse complex have eroded the mid-20th century landscape.

Transit Notes:
The Southern Pacific Railroad's electric commuter lines ceased operation around 1940, but the big red trains were a fixture along Seventh Street from 1911 to the 1930s. From the San Francisco ferries, the main line ran through downtown Oakland to Alameda, Fruitvale, and East Oakland. Another line came into the north edge of Oakland's downtown, then turned down Harrison and Webster. Prior to 1927 the Webster Street trains crossed Oakland Estuary on a spindly drawbridge and looped through Alameda; in the 1930s Alameda trains took a less direct route via Fruitvale (the Posey Tube was for autos only). These heavy duty rail lines funneled a lot of commuters through Oakland Chinatown, including flower growers heading to and from San Francisco. One wonders how much "grower business" the clothing stores, hotels, and bathhouses did, in addition to serving the local population. Following the SP's abandonment of electric service in 1940, the Key System took over several lines until the 1950s, but I don't know whether they kept or culled Seventh Street.

1st draft 7/26/07. Map corrected and reposted 2/8/08