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7th Street Thrives initiative plans reparation of West Oakland corridor

boarded up store front with sign reading "Esther's Orbit Room" below BART tracks
Flickr / Creative Commons
Esther's Orbit Room under BART tracks in West Oakland

It may be hard for some to imagine now, but 7th Street in West Oakland used to compete with San Francisco’s Fillmore District for the title of “Harlem of the West.” In the 1930s and 40s, 7th Street boasted more than 15 music clubs, hosting well-known acts, like B.B. King and Sarah Vaughn. It was a vital music scene that gave birth to its own sound — the Oakland blues.

But beginning in the 1950s, so-called urban renewal projects first tore down the neighborhood’s historic Victorian houses, then literally razed the 7th Street corridor to make way for the Cypress Freeway and BART tracks built overhead.

This month, a coalition of residents, local businesses, and community organizations – calling themselves 7th Street Thrives – released an Economic Inclusion Action Plan. The aim? To restore the 7th street corridor to serve as a vibrant core for West Oakland’s African American community.

The report offers a roadmap for “reparative development,” with a first priority to beautify the neighborhood with improved trash removal, lighting, and pedestrian paths.

Later, the plan includes an effort by the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative to bring back one of the area’s preeminent music clubs – Esther’s Orbit Room – to serve as a reimagined hub for 7th Street in the 21st century.

Sheryl Kaskowitz is a fellow in KALW's Audio Academy. Her beat is public arts and culture.