“OHA cares about the Oakland of yesterday because we care about the Oakland of tomorrow. The environment we live in today has been given to us from the past: the buildings that remain, the layout of the streets, the ethnic character of our neighborhoods, the forgotten creeks, and the lake that still forms the centerpiece of our city. The Oakland of today is the result of what Oaklanders of yesterday built or demolished, fostered or neglected. This is our inheritance. What we do with it is our choice.”
— inaugural issue of the Oakland Heritage Alliance newsletter, 1981 [source].
Beth Bagwell (1938–2006) was a historian, historic preservationist and author. Bagwell launched Oakland’s historic preservation movement and was one of the founders of the Oakland Heritage Alliance. She was a resident of Rockridge.
Her interest in preservation began with the Camron-Stanford House (in the Lakeside neighborhood near Lake Merritt). She first became interested in Oakland history when she conducted an oral history with Inez Pardee (of the Pardee family). She wrote scripts for multimedia presentations at local museums and began to write weekly columns for the Montclarion featuring a photo of a historic building in Oakland with a short description in every article.
In 1981, she helped found the Oakland Heritage Alliance. She was already a Montclarion columnist at the time. When OHA incorporated as a nonprofit, Bagwell became chair of the Board. The first issue of its newsletter was her manifesto for the cause of historic preservation and a call for historic understanding. It was envisioned that OHA would be an umbrella for all the Oakland neighborhoods to exercise community power: “we believe in neighborhood cohesiveness as being the key to community.”
The late Ms. Bagwell (literally) wrote the book on this place: Oakland: The Story of a City, to date probably the most influential popular history of Oakland. Its 1982 first edition is a great resource, and the 2012 second edition updates the city's history after 1982, with a new chapter written by Erika Mailman.
In 1984, Beth Bagwell fulfilled a life-long dream, moving to Paris, where she worked as a freelance translator, specializing in translating from French and Italian into English. She became a French citizen and returned to using her maiden name, Elizabeth Loverde. Although she remained keenly interested in history and took joy in the rich history of the city where she lived, she wrote no further books on the subject. She wrote and recorded a three-part piece for the BBC about a pigeon nesting and raising its fledglings on her balcony. The first two episodes were broadcast, but the third never aired, as scheduled programming on August 31, 1997 was pushed aside due to the death that day of Diana, the Princess of Wales.
In the mid-1990s, Ms. Loverde moved to London and purchased a newly-built flat in Friar's Mead on the Isle of Dogs at a time when the area was still reeling from the closure of London's historic docks and the loss of the shipping industry. She had faith in the planned redevelopment of the area, although neither Canada Tower, the first building at Canary Wharf, nor the Docklands Light Rail, which would link with the London Underground, were yet completed, and many people considered the project to be folly. Her judgment proved sound, as Canary Wharf is now the thriving center of international business in London and has replaced Fleet Street as the home of the British press.
In early 2005, Ms. Loverde was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, though she was not a smoker and the type of cancer she had was unrelated to smoking or exposure to smoke. Her daughter Gillian Bagwell relocated from California to be with her, and, having inherited her mother's love for history and books, while there began work on what would become her first novel, "The Darling Strumpet," based on the life of Nell Gwynn, seventeenth-century actress and mistress of Charles II. Elizabeth Loverde died on May 14, 2006, Mother’s Day, surrounded by her three daughters, and pleased to know that Oakland: The Story of a City would soon be reissued.