The Oak Center redevelopment project area was designated for redevelopment in 19651. After Acorn, this was the second major area slated for redevelopment by the Oakland Redevelopment Agency. At the time, the Oak Center neighborhood was home to many members of the NAACP and other leaders in the black community. While the Acorn redevelopment project was marked by lack of inclusion of residents' concerns and focused heavily on demolition of existing properties, the Oak Center Neighborhood Association (led by Lillian Love) was able to successfully shift the Redevelopment Agency's plans away from a focus on demolition/high-rise-construction towards rehabilitation of previously-existing structures2.
Additionally, the Association successfully lobbied for changes to the Grove-Shafter Freeway to preserve a number of houses2.
The City of Oakland allowed developers to demolish almost the entire Acorn neighborhood in 1962 to execute the first phase of The General Urban Renewal Plan (GURP). As the city geared up to execute the second phase of the plan, which would have originally meant the almost total destruction of homes in Oak Center, many of which were constructed early in the 20th century, it was met with stubborn organized opposition that changed the city’s plans.
The leader of this opposition was a Black woman named Lillian Q. Love, and the old Victorian homes in Oak Center were mostly rehabilitated instead of demolished.
“There is no discussion about West Oakland and its history without the name Lillian Love. There has never been a person who has been more influential in preserving the neighborhood and character of Oak Center,” said Henry Gardner, who moved to Oakland in 1971 and has previously served as Oakland’s city manager.
Love felt that homes in West Oakland needed aid, but was against the manner in which the city worked with Acorn, simply demolishing homes there instead of working to fix them. While a World War II and post-WWII migration caused the Black population of Oakland to quintuple between 1940 and 1950, discriminatory lending practices and racist zoning laws confined Blacks during that time mostly to West Oakland. But the population was far too large for the housing available, and the overcrowding was a cause for many of the area’s old homes to fall into disrepair.
“The City did more to destroy West Oakland than anyone else,” said Gardner, of the time.
Born in Texas on April 3, 1912, Love moved to Oakland as a child, and graduated from The University of California, Berkeley, probably at some point in the 1930s. She claims her organizing was inspired by her father, William E. Meneweather, who unsuccessfully fought the city over constructing public housing that displaced his family in 1938.
In 1963, Love formed The Oak Center Neighborhood Association (OCNA), an organization that pushed the city to provide housing rehabilitation funding in place of destruction and redevelopment. The OCNA then accused Thomas Bell, the first director of The Oakland Redevelopment Agency (ORA), of purposely misleading the public on GURP. Bell faced pressure to resign by the federal Urban Renewal Administration and did so in 1964, but there’s evidence that pressure from the OCNA also caused Bell’s resignation.
“He said he was with us for preservation but in his actions he was for clearance,” said Constantine Lekas, the OCNA’s original vice president, in a 1981 interview. In the same interview, Lekas claims that OCNA was able to get Bell fired, and describes his leaving the position as “a turning point.”
OCNA was the first major neighborhood association that formed in response to the challenges posed to local communities by the Oakland Redevelopment Agency. It was "a homeowners association set up in the Oak Center project area by the local council of social planning."3 OCNA was an association of homeowners (not tenants) and aimed for cooperation with the Redevelopment Agency to achieve changes in redevelopment plans.3 https://postnewsgroup.com/2020/03/05/remembering-housing-activist-lillian-love/?fbclid=IwAR2vZq0RZ5n96_TChwNNcv92GvUEDBNHd3jxHzVG5pay1hZCWIlThsCY13Y
Official Site: http://oakcenter.org/
- For more information about the Oak Center redevelopment project area (including a map, planning documents, and more), check out the City's official page for the project area.
- Oden, Robert Stanley. From Black to Brown and Beyond: The Struggle for Progressive Politics in Oakland, California, 1966-2011. University Readers, Inc.: 2012. p. 112.
- Hayes, Edward C. Power Structure and Urban Policy: Who Rules in Oakland? McGraw-Hill, Inc.: 1972. 123.