Stag Pool Hall

The Stag Pool Hall was downstairs from the offices of C.L. Dellums, West Coast vice president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

The outspoken Dellums was fired by the Pullman Company shortly after joining the Brotherhood, a union formed to organize railway porters in the company’s employ. When the management of Pullman fired Dellums they told him that by employing him they had provided him with transportation across the country to spread, “Bolshevik propaganda.”

To make ends meet, Dellums opened a pool hall below his union offices. Continue reading “Stag Pool Hall”

Christ Holy Sanctified Church

Christ Holy Sanctified ChurchThe Christ Holy Sanctified Church on 7th Street is where musician Saunders King got his start singing and playing piano in the choir. His father, Bishop Judge King, was the church’s pastor.

The church was originally founded in 1910 in Louisiana, but Judge and Sarah King moved to Los Angeles in 1918 to escape racial discrimination. On their trip west, they preached the gospel in open fields from Louisiana to California. In search of mill work in the 1920s, the Kings moved to Oroville, where they established a mixed-race Pentecostal church. They endured religious and racial prejudice; after a mob burned their church and Sarah was shot in the arm by an assailant, they moved to Central California. Continue reading “Christ Holy Sanctified Church”

The Lincoln Theater

Lincoln Theater in 1974

The Lincoln Theater was one of the premiere blues and jazz venues on 7th Street. Surrounded by shops and clubs, the theater hosted legends like Billie Holiday and Paul Robeson among others, adding proof to Tom Bowden’s claim that 7th Street in the 1940s and ’50s was “Harlem West.”

The theater was built between 1919 and 1921, a time when nickelodeons were a popular form of entertainment. The Lincoln replaced two nickelodeons when it was built – it started as a vaudeville stage, before becoming a showplace for films, live music and community events. Continue reading “The Lincoln Theater”

Esther’s Orbit Room

Esther's Orbit Room, early 1980sClub owner Esther Mabry once described 7th Street as “the only place anyone would ever want to go.” Esther’s Orbit Room was one of the reasons. Founded in the 1960s by Esther and her husband William, Esther’s Orbit Room was a nightclub, bar and restaurant. Though it didn’t feature some of the big names that headlined at neighboring Slim Jenkin’s Place, the Orbit Room had its own array of world-class acts. The club’s longevity was also impressive. It was the last holdout long after other 7th Street nightclubs and businesses went under or were snapped up by developers. Continue reading “Esther’s Orbit Room”

Postal Distribution Facility Moves In

Postal FacilityThe construction of a massive postal distribution facility, along with a freeway and elevated train, ushered in a new era for West Oakland in the 1960s.  With its parking and storage lots, the postal facility took up 12 square blocks and contributed to increased pollution in an area already plagued with health problems. When it was built on 7th Street from Wood to Peralta, it displaced every structure on  the street’s south side. Continue reading “Postal Distribution Facility Moves In”

Lowell Fulson

Lowell FulsonLowell Fulson was born on a Choctaw Indian Reservation in Oklahoma in 1921. But it was on Oakland’s 7th Street that his musical career began.

Conscripted into the army and stationed in West Oakland, Fulson occasionally played his guitar on street corners and at house parties. When local record producer Bob Geddins met Fulson, he told him, “If you ever come back through this way, I’ll record ya.” Continue reading “Lowell Fulson”

Saunders King

Saunders King, 1940sSaunders King was a blues and jazz giant who began performing on 7th Street as a teenager. His father, the Reverend Judge King, was pastor at the Christ Sanctified Holy Church on 7th Street, where the young King sang in the gospel choir.

King grew up to become one of the most famous musicians to come from West Oakland. On 7th Street, he was part of the house band at Slim Jenkins’ Place, but his fame soon swelled beyond the confines of the neighborhood where he was raised.

In the 1930s, he debuted at a downtown Oakland club called Sweet’s Ballroom, sang on the radio with a group called The Southern Harmony Four, and became a staff artist for NBC Radio. He created a new kind of jazz, and many tried to emulate it. Continue reading “Saunders King”

C.L. Dellums

C.L. DellumsBefore he helped organize the nation’s first African American union, C.L. Dellums had dreams of becoming a lawyer.  Born in Corsicana, Texas in 1900, Dellums moved to Oakland in the 1920s but found prejudice as alive and well in California as it was in Texas. Discovering that few good jobs existed for blacks, Dellums found work as a railway porter with the Pullman Company. At the time, the company was the premiere owner and operator of railway sleeping cars, a mode of transportation that was sweeping the nation. Dellums took the job but remained committed to his dreams. He read voraciously, and held the written and spoken word in high esteem. People who knew Dellums say that he  could have easily been mistaken for a Harvard graduate.

Dellums worked for $2 a day plus tips and owned a billiard parlor on 7th Street to supplement his income. The company expected railroad porters to work 400 hours, or travel 11,000 miles per month, to receive full pay. Porters received no overtime and had to pay for their own uniforms and supplies. Continue reading “C.L. Dellums”

Charles “Raincoat” Jones

Charles Born in Augusta, Georgia, in 1878, Charles “Raincoat” Jones had a hand in many of the businesses on 7th Street – both legitimate and under-the-table. “Raincoat,” as he was called, worked as a café owner, club owner, sausage maker, barbecueman, candy store operator and a pawnshop operator. But he was best known as a loan shark who ran several successful gambling dens and owned big chunks of real estate in West Oakland. A slender, dapper man, Jones was arrested more than once for illegal dice games. But for all his back-alley activity, he was admired as a savvy entrepreneur and philanthropist. He helped raise money to keep afloat struggling clubs and businesses in the Bay Area, including The Sun-Reporter, an influential black newspaper based in San Francisco.

Continue reading “Charles “Raincoat” Jones”