Harold “Slim” Jenkins owned the most high-profile club on Seventh Street, and his role as a community leader earned him the title of “unofficial mayor of West Oakland.”
Jenkins was a commanding presence. He was 6’5” and always dressed in a three-piece suit, swishing an unlit cigar from one side of his mouth to the other. His closely-cropped silver hair was never out of place.
Jenkins was born in rural Monroe, Louisana, in 1891. As a young man, he joined the military. As soon as World War I ended, Jenkins moved to Oakland and started waiting tables and saving money, with the dream of one day opening his own club. He finally made that dream come true in 1933, when he opened Slim Jenkins’ Club at 1748 Seventh Street.
By the 1950s, Jenkins’ club was attracting – and making – nationally-known headliners. Comedian Finney Mo recalls working at Slim’s with performers including Redd Foxx, Lowell Fulson and B.B. King. Jenkins’ high standards extended to his patrons. His club enforced a strict dress code and he insisted on maintaining a pleasant environment where people of all races and from all walks of life felt welcome.
Jenkins’ club was his life; he even lived in an apartment in the back. He was known to give young people a start: as bus boys, waiters and, of course, musicians. His protegees included Esther Mabry, a former waitress who went on to open her own 7th Street restaurant and club, with Jenkins’ blessing.
Jenkins’ tenure on 7th Street ended in the early 1960s. He never owned the property on which his club sat; in 1962, the land was sold, and Jenkins’ club razed, to make room for a gas station. Jenkins tried to relocate to West Grand Avenue, but a local church protested and the city denied his application. He finally settled on a new location on Broadway, near Jack London Square. The new club operated for almost five years, until shortly before Jenkins’ death.
Slim Jenkins died of a heart attack in his Brush Street apartment on May 24, 1967. He was 76-years-old.