Monday, January 25, 2010

Oakland History Lecture: Greetings from Idora Park!

A couple of weeks ago, the Oakland Heritage Alliance gave a lecture and slide show (with a real slide projector!) about Idora Park.  For those who don't know, Idora Park is a small section in North Oakland where at the turn of a century, an amusement park gave hours of endless weekend entertainment.  When competing amusement parks choked out business, the site became an exclusive neighborhood of Storybook Style homes for the local Italian population.  Photos were taken from the alamedainfo site, which has quite an impressive collection!  Check it out!

I've done as much internet research as I could and have even spent an afternoon at the Oakland History Room, but Ray Raineri's energetic storytelling and an exhaustive set of postcard images shed some serious sunshine on what Idora Park once was.  Here's a few highlights:

-The entrance to the park was on Telegraph between 55th and 56th

-The rollercoaster sat along Shattuck Ave (maybe I'm living where the rollercoaster was!)  Notice that it wasn't a rollercoaster, but a scenic railway.
-Among the many rides, ostriches also had their own area.  The feathers were used to make hats.
-While parks today seem geared towards children, amusement parks of the Victorian era were marketed towards adults looking to spend their paychecks on a little fun

-A picture postcard of you and yours sitting in an automobile could be had for a hefty sum (5 cents?  10 cents?  Can't remember the exact amount)  Cars were still an unattainable rarity, but sending a postcard to a friend while looking smugly into the camera and clutching the wheel:  priceless.

-The park featured a swimming pool and since swimming hadn't become a popular pastime, unisex swimsuits could be rented out for the day.  I can't find photos online, but they are hilarious.
-Before the amusement park, the area was called Ayala Park and made for a lovely picnic spot on a sunny Sunday.   

-It's been rumored that the windmill currently in the front yard of a house on Telegraph was part of the original park, however it was once a lemonade stand and has proven difficult to move since it was constructed with cast iron!  If they can figure out how to transport it, I'd love to find it a home in the backyard!  It was its own thing, however and not part of Idora.

Can't wait to find the Sanborn maps and see what other mysteries I can discover!


  1. Wow - I've never even heard about an amusement park in that area (and I've lived here for 30+ years!!)...thanks for such an interesting post, with great postcard the lady with the cockatoos!

  2. Yes! I discovered when we moved here that there were many parks like this in the area: Sutro Baths, Neptune Beach in Alameda, one in San Jose.
    The bird lady is pretty cool, right? I think I'm enamored with her dress!

  3. great post! if you haven't read "carter beats the devil," you really should- it's set in oakland at the turn of the century and features idora park (among other forgotten landmarks). also, there's a really interesting (but poorly written) book about the history of public swimming pools called "contested waters" that you might like.

  4. What a wonderful step-backwards in time! We lived in Alameda for years, and spent a lot of time in Berkeley restaurants and bookshops...but I can't say that I ever envisioned Shattuck Ave quite like that! A scenic railway, that makes the Santa Cruz Boardwalk's rollercoaster pale in comparison!

  5. Thank you for the interesting post. I love the photo of cockatoo lady!

  6. Thanks for the little bit of local history. I've lived in and around N. Oakland for many years. I had heard of Idora Park, but related to the 1906 earthquake. The park became a refugee camp for people fleeing
    San Francisco, and many never went back across the bay, choosing to settle in the East Bay instead. And I always wondered why those few blocks of, as you called them, storybook homes were where they were.

  7. Thanks for reminding me again of Carter Beats the Devil, Hannah! I must check it out. Is the swimming pool book about segregation or swim meets? (or neither?)
    Clare, I think Santa Cruz still takes the cake with its awesome beach! Some postcards show the bandstand with rooftops of houses behind it. I can't imagine the noise the neighbors endured!
    Yes, Brad you're right about the earthquake. Folks camped out here and some stayed. The houses they built were actually a secondary plan- it was going to be a business park, but the Depression made them think twice.

  8. Christine, the photo of Mlle Marzella is lovely. I love the history of these places, i.e. Glen Echo park near Washington DC, where a carousel still stands.

  9. How fun to find out the history of your area! I love seeing the old photos, the photo of Mlle Mardella & her Cokcatoos is priceless.

  10. Here is a famous clip of a car jumping over a house at what looks like an amusement park. An online WPA film catalog says the film was from Oakland, CA. I wonder if it was at Idora Park. It seems to show two large roller coaster structures in the background, with a gap between the pair.

    Bill Davis

  11. Hi Bill,

    Wow, I must have watched that 8 times- thanks for sending it! I didn't see anything about Oakland, but the trees in the background, the dates (park closed in '29 I think)and the roller coasters fit Idora Park's description. So cool!