This is a historical tidbit about Oakland that I just recently learned and couldn’t wait to share. In North Oakland, tucked between Shattuck Ave & Telegraph Ave from 56th St. to 58th St., sat Idora Park, an amusement park that offered everything from roller coasters to roller skating, all in the name of Victorian Era fun from 1904 to 1929.
Realty Syndicate, the turn of the century corporation behind the old Key System railcars and the Claremont Hotel, built the park in 1904 as a way to encourage people to use the rail car routes to come to Oakland.
Visitors could enjoy everything from a roller coaster ride to a trip on the ferris wheel, merry-go-round, flying swings, and a miniature railway train, just to name a few. The park housed a famous opera house, and included attractions such as a racetrack, zoo, ostrich farm, dance hall, outdoor ampitheather, Japanese garden, animal shows, and even a ball park with a 3000-seat grandstand.
The park was touted to have the largest roller skating rink in CA, and it is rumored that Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton used to come to Oakland to perfect their moves on the rink.
Jack London used to bring his 2 daughters from his first marriage, Joan and Becky, to the park when he was in town visiting from the Sonoma Valley ranch he had moved to in 1911 with his second wife. His daughter Becky recalls some of their visits in an interesting memoir, you can read the excerpts about Idora Park here.
In 1906, 2500 residents of San Francisco sought refuge in the park after the large earthquake that devastated the city across the bay. Realty Syndicate brought in food and supplies to help all those who came to Idora Park to camp in the aftermath.
The park continued to operate until 1929, when the combination of The Great Depression and mass production of the automobile caused the park to close its doors for good. In it’s place a residential neighborhood of storybook style homes was built, which housed much of the city’s Italian population.
The neighborhood still holds much of the same charm today, as a quiet little pocket of streets with homes reminiscent of the park that once stood in their place. They are subtle reminders of the grand amusement park that once was. However, it is not the only reminder…
On Telegraph Ave, between 59th and 60th Streets, stands an old cast iron windmill, rumored to be the lone survivor of Idora Park. I have read as much online as I can find, and most people believe that it was either part of the entrance to the park, or possibly a lemonade stand that stood just outside the park. Because it is made of cast iron it has proven impossible to move, so it sits rather oddly outside a house along Telegraph, unfortunately an inviting surface for tagging and graffiti. If it truly is the one remaining leftover from Idora Park, I hope someday it can be preserved.
In my reading about Idora Park I came across reference to the famous “Crispy Sour Milk Waffles” which were dished out to hungry visitors on a daily basis. A source on Wikipedia noted that the recipe was later published in the Oakland Tribune. Tomorrow, as Part 2 to my ode to Idora Park, I’ll share my story of tracking down the recipe and bringing it back to life.
I hope that this little bit of Oakland History brings a bit of joy and amusement to your day :o)
Photos of Idora Park Storybook Style Homes and Windmill by Adrienne Schell