The house was built in 1921, part of a construction boom that was still reverberating through Oakland 15 years after the San Francisco earthquake. When the city burned, residents turned to less developed or agricultural land in the East Bay where forward thinking real estate developers had already bought up (or squatted) massive tracts in hopes of making a lot of cash. After buying the land, the developers would generally build a few impressive houses, and then run a streetcar to the new 'neighborhood' to bring people in.
Unfortunately for E.C., he was ahead of his time, and ended up selling off his land in small parcels before the neighborhood took off in the 20s. (Highland Hospital, a few blocks away, and the beloved Parkway Theatre down the street on Park Blvd. were built in the '20s too.)
My parents moved to the house around 1970, and paid $200 a month for three bedrooms, a living room, formal (if small) dining room, and a rumpus room downstairs, along with the backyard and its decrepit gazebo. Oakland had changed a lot from the pastoral (and profitable) oasis that developers like E.C. Sessions had imagined. In my neighborhood, the two story streetcars had long been replaced by more uniform Key System trains, which subsequently disappeared too. The city as a whole had never fully recovered from a post-WWII economic downturn, and because of the efforts of dozens of civil rights groups, it was just beginning to grow out of long-standing policies of racial discrimination.
By the time I was school aged, Oakland had a reputation as a crime center. Crack was beginning its ascent, and I'm sure even my not-so-deep section of East Oakland was impacted. But my sense of my home was that it was safe and that it was stable. My young neighbors and I hid in the bushes of my house to throw berries at passing cars, played football in the parking lot around the corner, and walked back and forth to the liquor store up the street for Now-and-Laters and Chick-o-Sticks.
Like anybody's hometown anywhere, Oakland is, to me, the place I know in and out, the place I can tell my kids about when I'm trying to help them understand my sense of the world. Lucky for me, and for them, they live here too, so they can compare their stories to my stories, and find their own adventures in a spot where they have roots.
Thanks too for photos on this site: the Highland Park advertisement is from the Oakland History Room, and the Key Line streetcar came from keyrailpics.org, an awesome photo site full of Bay Area streetcar photos.