A blurb in the Chronicle on November 29 by Jason Johnson reported on an exciting new development for Oakland history buffs:

A set of 199 historic photos from the collections of the Oakland History Room and the maps division of the Oakland Library have just been posted online as part of the Online Archive of California.

The collection spans more than a century—from 1842 to 1967—and a variety of materials from rare early maps to portaits, landscapes to manuscripts.

Trestle Glen Railroad
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According to the Oakland Library’s Kathleen Hirooka, this project makes complete descriptions of each item available for the first time. “In some cases, the existence of the materials was unknown to most scholars,” Hirooka said.

The items included in the recently posted collection were selected and researched by staff at the Oakland History Room as part of the Local History Digital Resources Project, a statewide initiative to help expand the Online Archive of California. The Oakland Library received $6,000 from the California State Library, using Library Services and Technology Act funds, to cover part of the expenses.

The Online Archive of California is a component of the California Digital Library, founded as a University of California branch library in 1997. The home page for the Online Archive summarizes its mission as follows:

The OAC brings together historical materials from a variety of California institutions, including museums, historical societies, and archives. Over 120,000 images; 50,000 pages of documents, letters, and oral histories; and 8,000 guides to collections are available.

A quick reading of their list of contributing institutions ranges alphabetically from the Albany City to Yuba County Libraries with the Intel Museum roughly in the middle—a total of some two hundred institutions and archives. When you view the Oakland Library collection, be sure to click on the photos to enlarge them and also take advantage of the “More information about this image” links that provide more detail about the images, including names of the photographers and specific locations.

Grand Avenue, circa 1910s?
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I would, however, recommend some skepticism regarding dates given for some of the items. For example, the photo displayed here of Grand Avenue is identified as being circa the 1910s near the Piedmont/Oakland border.

I live just across the hill and have a photo of our house from this period with a team of horses hauling freight up Lakeshore Avenue—but Lakeshore is clearly well-paved and the hillsides are far more developed. On the other hand, if you look closely at the Grand Avenue photo, you can see a single home on the hillside amongst all the trees and it appears to be Arts & Crafts vintage—no earlier than 1905.

As an aside, one of my former neighbors was Don Parrish, who owned “Parrish Fine Foods” on Lakeshore where there is now a gas station next door to Longs. Don once told me his father previously owned a German Beer Garden (just about where the Grand Avenue photo was taken) on the corner of Grand and Linda Avenues.

I’ve often commented on the extent of the changes that have taken place during the thirty-five years I’ve lived in the Grand Lake area and often cite the early-1970s topless bar on Grand Avenue where the mattress outlet is currently as one example.

When I view photos such as these, it’s clear the changes I’ve personally observed are a mere blip in time. It’s amazing just how much our surroundings have been transformed in the one hundred and twenty-five years the Oakland photo collection encompasses. Of course, what is perhaps even more amazing is the incredibly rapid development of the technology that allows us to now view these images and documents online from the comfort of our own homes.