As I will examine in this study of waterfront redevelopment at Jack London Square, the business plans, architectural/landscaping designs, and historic memorabilia drummed up by Oakland civic, business and port leaders, from 1951 through to the early twenty-first century, repeatedly changed their focus as a result of cross-bay rivalry. The two cities had long competed for businesses and residents, using city planning to improve their transportation infrastructure and, later, their tourist draw. From 1951 through the 1960s, themed restaurants in Jack London Square multiplied, and the Port of Oakland cobbled together seafaring artifacts and Jack London memorabilia. Starting in the 1970s, private businessmen and the Port took on grander retailing approaches that progressed from a woodsy maritime village to a shopping mall to an artisanal foods market. Each time, Jack London Square was made over in light of events across the bay: the 1960s conversion of brick warehouses and factories into the retailing/restaurant venues of Ghirardelli Square and the Cannery; the late 1970s construction of a vast shopping and entertainment complex on Pier 39; and the early 2000s redevelopment of the Ferry Building, closer to downtown San Francisco, into a locavore food emporium. Yet each time, Oakland’s attempts to compete with San Francisco fell short.



Jack London, John Barleycorn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 27.


Sam S. Baskett, “Jack London on the Oakland Waterfront,” American Literature 27 (November 1955): 363–366.


History of the Port of Oakland, 1850-1934, ed., Dewitt Jones (Oakland: the State of Emergency Relief Administration, 1934), 70–73.


Knowland was one of Oakland's most powerful business and civic leaders. Owner and publisher of the Oakland Tribune, he had been a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and later served as Chairman of the State Park Commission as well as President of the California Historical Society. “Jack London Square to be Dedicated at May 1 Rites,” Oakland Tribune, April 25, 1951; “Jack London Square Dedicated by City, County Officials at Public Ceremony,” Oakland Tribune, May 1, 1951; Board of Port Commissioners, Port of Oakland (Oakland, 1954), 16–17.


Instead of just eating and talking, diners were surrounded by displays of tribal art. An open kitchen with wood-fired Chinese ovens completed the illusion of eating at a South Seas luau. Gazing at the artifacts and cooks rushing about the oven, diners developed a newfound appreciation for a restaurant as both a gustatory and theatrical experience. Richard Carleton Hacker, “Trader Vic put mai tai on the lips of millions,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 11, 2004.


Lawrence E. Davies, “An Oakland Square for Jack London,” New York Times, August 22, 1954.


During the 1930s, San Francisco promoted itself, in competition with Oakland, through the new giant bridges, a refurbished Chinatown, neighborhood festivals, and the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939–1940. Joseph Rodriguez, “Planning & Urban Rivalry in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1930s,” Journal of Planning Education & Research 20 (Fall 2000): 66–68.


On similar retail ventures, see Jon Goss, “The ‘Magic of the Mall’: An Analysis of Form, Function, and Meaning in the Contemporary Retail Built Environment,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 83 (March 1993): 36.


For an analysis of successes and failures in waterfront redevelopment, in London, Boston, New York, and Toronto, see David Gordon, “Planning, Design and Managing Change in Urban Waterfront Redevelopment,” The Town Planning Review 67, no. 3 (July 1996): 285–287.


For a comparison of worldwide efforts during these decades see Daniel Galland and Carsten Hansen, “The Roles of Planning in Waterfront Redevelopment: From Plan-led and Market-driven Styles to Hybrid Planning?” Planning Practice and Research 27, no. 2 (April 2012): 205–209; and Waterfronts in Post-Industrial Cities, ed., Richard Marshall (New York: Spon Press, 2001).


On the question of uniqueness with respect to waterfront redevelopment, see City, Capital & Water, ed. Patrick Malone (London: Routledge, 1996), 3–5; and Peter Hall, “Waterfronts: A New Urban Frontier,” Institute of Urban & Regional Development: Working Paper 53B (Berkeley, May 1991), 7–16.


Oakland tended to handle cheaper bulk cargoes of grain, lumber, and other agricultural products. Tim Reagan, “The Restless Shore,” East Bay Express, April 25, 1986: 8.


Board of Port Commissioners, The Port of Oakland: Sixty Years: a Chronicle of Progress (Oakland Public Affairs Department, Port of Oakland, 1987), 3. In 1906, the California Supreme Court settled the waterfront dispute in favor of the city, and against the Southern Pacific Railroad; the stranglehold ended by 1910.


Renamed Long Wharf in 1871, the pier eventually became the site, in 1879, for the Oakland Mole—the rail/ferry passenger connection to San Francisco. Gunther Paul Barth, Instant Cities: Urbanization and the Rise of San Francisco and Denver (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), 187.


In the early 1950s, the port manager position was renamed executive director.


Port commissioners are appointed by the Oakland City Council upon nomination by the mayor. Required to reside in Oakland for at least part of the year, they serve four-year renewable terms.


Board of Port Commissioners, Port Progress: 125 Years of Oakland Waterfront Growth (Oakland, 1977), 9–12. During the Great Depression, the Federal Works Project Administration removed most of “Rotten Row,” a maritime graveyard of steam schooners, whalers, and sailing packets that had long impeded the estuary's capacity to accommodate large ships.


Private businesses, such as the Howard Terminal and Moore Drydock, were also founded on the periphery of the downtown waterfront. On how a port's land, sea, and transport criteria change over time, see Guido Weigend, “Some Elements in the Study of Port Geography,” Geographical Review 48 (April 1958): 185–200. Although the port traffic grew dramatically during the Second World War military buildup, it suffered a downturn after 1945. Hans Harms, Changes on the Waterfront –Transforming Harbor Areas (Berkeley: Institute of Urban and Regional Development, 2008), 9.


Woodruff Minor, Pacific Gateway: An Illustrated History of the Port of Oakland (Oakland: Port of Oakland, 2000), 47–57.


Peter Hendee Brown, America's Waterfront Revival: Port Authorities and Urban Redevelopment (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), 133. Oakland already had the region's largest rail terminals and yards. During the 1940s and 1950s, the construction of the Eastshore (I-80) and Bayshore (I-880) Freeways provided excellent highway connections.


Port of Oakland, Monthly Newsletter (May 1962): 3–5.


Harold Gilliam, “San Francisco Bay: Mystique Versus Economics” in Urban Waterfront Lands, ed. National Research Council (Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 1980), 108–111.


League of Women Voters Oakland, The Waterfront (Oakland, 1993), 26, 37. Instead of large terminal buildings, the gantry cranes and docks of container ports require acres of asphalt for storing containers and moving trucks. Nor do container ships, in port only for a day or two, facilitate a seamen's district of shipping and freight agent offices, union halls, bars, restaurants, and flophouses. Yehuda Hayuth, “The Port-Urban Interface: An Area in Transition,” Area 14, no. 3 (1982): 219–220.


Donald Wood, “Renewing Urban Waterfronts,” Land Economics 41 (May 1965): 141–142.


In 1958, the link to San Francisco, via the ferry at the foot of Broadway, was severed, victim to the popularity of the Bay Bridge.


Michael Corbett, Port City: the History and Transformation of the Port of San Francisco, 1848–2010 (San Francisco: San Francisco Architectural Heritage, 2010), 179–180.


Dean MacCannell, The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 131.


After a fire in 1965, the Oakland Sea Food Grotto became the Grotto, and was remodeled along the wooden lines of the Sea Wolf. Closed in 1990, the building later reopened as Kincaid's.


Designed with board and batten siding on the exterior, the Bow and Bell's interior was filled with sports memorabilia. Closed in 1977 because of rotting piers, the site was later used for a hotel expansion.


Oakland City Planning Commission, Shoreline Development (Oakland, 1951), n.p.


Harry Bruno, “Jack London Square,” Yachtsman (June 1986): 2–5.


Inside, customers dined amid Swedish modern decor. Harry Bruno, “Historic Jack London Square Sea Wolf Restaurant,” Architect & Engineer 190 (July 1952): 22–23. In 1976, the Sea Wolf reopened in the same building as Scott's.


Yoshio Tsukio, “The Significance of Contemporary Waterfront Development,” Process: Architecture 52 (November, 1984): 10–12.


Juan Vergara Hovey, “In at the Start, Grotto Battles to be seen,” Oakland Tribune, June 29, 1974.


The waterfront edge, which in Jack London's day consisted of sand beaches, marshes, and numerous piers and wharves, gradually turned into a uniform jetty—a core of crushed stone and gravel faced by large boulders.


Elinor Hayes, “Ferries Gone but Substitute is Here,” Oakland Tribune, August 10, 1958; “Small Boats Plan for London Square,” Oakland Tribune, March 26, 1959.


“Board Oks Boatel Plan for Estuary,” Oakland Tribune, February 7, 1961. Other motels, though not located on the water, were also added to serve the tourist needs of Jack London Square: in 1963, Jack London Inn, at Broadway and Embarcadero, and in 1964, the Oakland Thunderbird Lodge Motel, at Broadway and Third.


Port offices moved from the Grove Street Pier to the remodeled building, and two “exotic” restaurants, the Mikado and Castaway featured, respectively, Japanese cuisine and a Caribbean theme. Dave Hope, “Decision Due Next Week on Huge Oakland Port Project,” Oakland Tribune, February 2, 1958.


In 1951, the Petaluma, an old sternwheeler, was converted into a double-decker restaurant and renamed the Showboat. Situated between the Bow & Bell and Sea Wolf restaurants, it burned and sank in 1956. Other ship-restaurants—the Charles Van Damme (1957) and the Mansion Belle (1961)—followed. As with the Showboat, the stacks and huge paddle wheels of these onetime sternwheelers may have evoked for some diners the history of ship commerce along the bay as well as the inland waterways of the delta leading to Stockton and Sacramento. Yet the sternwheelers were temporary novelties that eventually faded in popularity. “Ferryboat Begins Life Anew as Restaurant in Estuary,” Oakland Tribune, November 21, 1957; “Floating Nightclub to Open,” Oakland Tribune, October 13, 1961.


In 1951, when Jack London Square was named, the saloon was operated by George Heinold, son of Johnny Heinhold, Jack London's benefactor. Board of Port Commissioners, Port of Oakland (Oakland, 1954), 17.


The ship Jack London used for his sailing adventures through the South Pacific in 1907. “Ship Bell, Plaque, Relics Given Jack London Square,” Oakland Tribune, February 26, 1952.


“Daughters and Notables Attend Unveiling of Jack London Bust,” Oakland Tribune, November 18, 1954.


“Jack London Cabin Coming Here,” Oakland Tribune, February 18, 1969. Russ Kingman, hired the year before by the Port of Oakland to strengthen the links between the square and Jack London, located the cabin with the help of London's daughter, Joan London Miller. Clarice Stasz, Jack London's Women (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001), 335.


“Ship Chandlery Unveils Anchor in London Square,” Oakland Tribune, June 28, 1964.


“Ship Mast an Oakland Monument,” San Francisco Examiner, November 3, 1965.


As a precursor of this idea, from 1926 to 1939, the USS Bear, a sail and steam-powered sealer, had been docked on the waterfront as a museum attraction.


In 1995, a longstanding plan to bring the USS Potomac, Franklin Roosevelt's presidential yacht, was finally realized alongside the new ferry terminal at Clay Street. Built at the Manitowoc Ship Building Company on Lake Michigan, serving primarily on the Atlantic Ocean, owned for a time by Elvis Presley, the ship had no connection to Jack London, Oakland, or the San Francisco Bay. In 2002, the square became host to the Coast Guard lightship Relief, which was built at Rice Brothers Shipyard in Boothbay Harbor, Maine in 1951, but did later serve for a time off the California coast.


This tradition of adding widely ranging symbols continued in 1999 with the erection of a granite slab to commemorate the Pony Express transport of mail via Oakland and then, in 2002, with the insertion of the International Cheemah Monument on Franklin and Water Streets. The bronze statue of a woman holding a torch in front of an eagle aims to assemble global imagery relating to strength and victory. In 2004, a bronze sculpture of a downcast wolf was placed alongside the Klondike cabin.


Chip Johnson, “Battleship Memorial is Mothballed,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 21, 1999.


Other early building projects also made do with utility. In 1958, KTVU, Oakland's first television station, built a simple home at the foot of Washington Street.


See Mitchell Schwarzer, “Oakland City Center: the Plan to Reposition Downtown within the Bay Region,” Journal of Planning History 14 (2015).


Beginning in 1953, a Christmas tree was placed annually at the foot of Broadway. “Giant Christmas Tree Sheds Glow on Jack London Square,” Oakland Tribune, December 7, 1953. A couple of years later, a new theater company, the London Circle Players, opened at 399 Water Street in what had been a restaurant storeroom. “Historic Site for New Group,” Oakland Tribune, November 6, 1955. Starting in 1962, art shows and the Jack London Art Festival became an annual event. Ed Salzman, “Expansion of Jack London Area Urged,” Oakland Tribune, June 12, 1962. In 1966 and 1976, two enormous flagpoles were installed: one flying the flag of the United Nations, and the other, an American flag commemorating the bicentennial. The U.N. flag had been refused by the city of San Francisco. “The U.N. Flag is Raised – in Oakland,” Oakland Tribune, March 26, 1966.


Jasper Rubin, A Negotiated Landscape: The Transformation of San Francisco's Waterfront Since 1950 (Chicago: Center for American Place at Columbia College, 2011), 67.


Kale Williams, “Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf Closes Doors,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 15, 2013.


Onset of the festival marketplace.


Charles Moore, “Ghirardelli Square,” Architectural Forum 122 (June 1965): 54.


Vivian Brown, “Factories Converted to Give San Francisco High Spots,” New York Times, July 21, 1968.


“Museum of Famed for London Square,” Oakland Tribune, September 17, 1970.


Earlier, in 1961, a warehouse on Franklin Street had been similarly converted, into the Worldwide Import Store. “Jack London Square to Get Import Store,” Oakland Tribune, September 19, 1961.


Jack London Square: History and Fine Foods, Oakland Post, November 30, 1975.


In 1972, the Board of Port Commissioners approved the project in a 4–2 vote, part of the dissent coming from fears that the small shops might mimic the honkytonk atmosphere that was then becoming noticeable across the Bay at Fisherman's Wharf. “Estuary Village Shops Lease Ok'd,” Oakland Tribune, August, 17, 1972. On the opening, see Lou Carlston, “Summer Opening for Jack London Village,” Oakland Tribune, May 2, 1975.


“Jack London Square Adds Attraction,” Oakland Post, November 5, 1975; “Jack London Village Scenes,” Oakland Tribune, November 23, 1975.


“On the Waterfront at Jack London Square,” Oakland Tribune, December 12, 1976.


Margot Patterson Doss, “Something's Afoot in Oakland,” San Francisco Examiner, July 10, 1977.


Jacqueline Cutler, “Discovering Oakland's Other Waterfront,” East Bay Guardian (September 1990), 36–37.


On the aesthetic, economic, and safety issues common to tourist districts, see Dennis Judd, “Constructing the Tourist Bubble” in The Tourist City, eds., Dennis Judd, Susan Fainstein (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 37–38.


K. K, Sharma, New Dimensions in Tourism and Hotel Industry (New Delhi: Sarup Book Publishers, 1998), 87–93.


Wallace Turner, “Fisherman's Wharf: Plastic and Greed,” New York Times, September 22, 1974; Timothy Egan, “Past and Future Collide on San Francisco's Waterfront,” New York Times, February 8, 1995. In 1969, the city of San Francisco assumed control of the Port of San Francisco from the state. While the fishing fleet and maritime traditions on the portside were to be protected, on the landside, hotels, motels, restaurants, retail shopping, and office buildings were promoted. Rubin, A Negotiated Landscape, 139–146, 209–212. It is worth adding that much of the fish and seafood now arrived by trucks and airfreight shippers. Robert Lindsey, “Magic Fading at Fisherman's Wharf,” New York Times, May 9, 1987.


Les Ledbetter, “105 Shops Revitalizing San Francisco Pier,” New York Times, December 12, 1978.


Allan Temko, “The Port's Architectural Fiasco – Pier 39,” in No Way to Build a Ballpark and Other Irreverent Essays on Architecture (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1993), 175.


Regular Meeting of the Board of Port Commissioners of the City of Oakland, January 4, 1983, 9–10.


For background on the planning process that would culminate in the Jack London's Waterfront, see Port of Oakland, Jack London Square Project Development Plans: Final Environmental Impact Reports (Oakland: Port of Oakland Planning Division, 1983); Keyser Marston Associates, Jack London Square Expansion: Market Feasibility Evaluation (San Francisco, 1984); and CHNMB Associates, Jack London Square: Urban Design Study and Development Guidelines (San Francisco: CHNMB Associates, 1985).


William Langbein, “Port Buys Out Jack London,” Northern California Real Estate Journal (July 31, 1990): 6.


The plan necessitated demolition of the KTVU building and the former longshoreman's hiring hall, which had been remodeled as the Elegant Farmer and then Gallager's Restaurant. The construction of Water I also covered much of the northern elevation of Scott's, the former Sea Wolf restaurant. Architecture California 8 (November, 1986): 10–11.


The Port's offices relocated from the Haslett Warehouse. On Washington Street, north of the Embarcadero, a multi-story parking garage contained thirteen hundred parking spaces. Northern California Real Estate Journal, July 18, 1988.


Laura Evenson, “Waterfront Development – Upscale Firms for Oakland,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 1, 1989.


Martin Halstuk, “Jack London Square – Beautiful and Deserted,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 16, 1991.


Langbein, “Port Buys Out Jack London,” 5.


Another three-hundred-room hotel proposed nearby at the foot of Washington Street was never built.


Office leasing was much more successful. See Bill O'Brien, “Jack London Neighborhood Residents & Merchants Fret as Port Seeks a Developer,” East Bay Express, November 14, 1999.


Tyler & Associates, Jack London Square Shoppers Survey, conducted for Oakland Portside Associates (Corte Madera, CA, 1992), ES3–4.


Herb Childress, “On the Waterfront,” East Bay Express, November 24, 1989.


Keyser Marsten Associates, Jack London Square Expansion: Market Feasibility Study (San Francisco, 1984), 1–4.


On comparable waterfront redevelopment, see Ann Breen and Dick Rigby, Waterfronts: Cities Reclaim Their Edge (New York: McGraw Hill, 1994), 18–24.


Harvey Rubenstein, Pedestrian Malls, Streetscapes, and Urban Spaces (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1992), 235–237.


Martin Millspough, “The Inner Harbor Story: A Model of Urban Waterfront Development, Baltimore's Inner Harbor as Adventure in Downtown Revitalization,” Urban Land 62 (April, 2003): 36–41.


Rick DelVecchio, “Oakland's Jack London Square Flirts with Success,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 19, 1996.


City of Oakland and Port of Oakland, Estuary Policy Plan (Oakland, 1999), 53–60.


Trish Beall, “Oakland Reshapes its Waterfront,” Coast & Ocean 20 (Winter 2004/2005).


Laura Counts, “Port Presents Vision for Jack London Square,” Oakland Tribune, October 28, 1999.


Board of Port Commissioners, Port of Oakland, “Agenda Sheet,” December 18, 2001.


“Oakland Port's Curious Deal,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 19, 2001; David Armstrong, “Oakland Port Defends Sale of Buildings,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 29, 2001.


Benjamin went on to become the Port of Oakland's executive director in 2007, but was forced to resign in 2012 amid a spending scandal involving the Port of Oakland paying the tab for a Texas strip club. Erin Ivie, “Port of Oakland Omar Benjamin Resigns Amid Spending Scandal,” San Jose Mercury News, November 13, 2012.


The Embarcadero Freeway was demolished in 1991 and, by 1995, the Embarcadero had been rebuilt as a palm-lined boulevard. Restoration of the Ferry Building for conversion into a gourmet food marketplace began in 1999.


Amy Trubek, The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey into Terroir (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 122–129.


Environmental Science Associates, Jack London Square Redevelopment: Environmental Impact Report, Prepared for City of Oakland, Community and Economic Development Agency (San Francisco, 1993), IV–E.


Janine DeFao, “Huge Food Market Planned for Jack London Square,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 4, 2003.


George Raine, “Ground Broken for Huge Public Retail Market at Jack London Square,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 22, 2007.


John Birdsall and Robert Gammon, “Back to Square One,” East Bay Express, August 8, 2007. In an unrelated development, the Barnes & Noble bookstore closed in 2009.


In 2014, in the space formerly occupied by the Barnes and Noble Bookstore, Plank opened as a combined bowling alley, bocce court, games parlor, and eating and drinking establishment.


Renee Frojo, “Has Jack London Square Made it?” San Francisco Business Times, February 1, 2013.


Angela Woodall, “New Plans for Oakland's Jack London Square,” Oakland Tribune, December 3, 2010.


In 1963, a deluxe forty-block residential development was proposed from Broadway to Fallon, and from the Nimitz Freeway to the estuary. “Luxury Apartment Plan for Estuary,” Oakland Tribune, October 6, 1963. Two years later, a luxury apartment and marina complex was announced for the foot of Alice Street. Neither were built.


“Portobello Complex: Occupancy Growing,” Oakland Tribune, April 18, 1976.


In 2014, the Port of Oakland announced plans for the construction of two condominium towers within the confines of the square, reasoning that residents might jumpstart commercial development.


On this dichotomy, see Stephen McGovern, “Evolving Visions of Waterfront Development in Postindustrial Philadelphia: The Formative Role of Elite Ideologies,” Journal of Planning History 7 (November 2008), 320.

This content is only available via PDF.