A plan to demolish the original headquarters of the Black Panther Party to make way for a new apartment building has prompted outcry from community members concerned about losing the historically important site, though some former Panthers support the project.
Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in the fall of 1966, and, on New Year’s Day 1967, opened the revolutionary organization’s first office in a storefront in North Oakland on Grove Street, now 5622-26 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
The building currently houses It’s All Good Bakery, where several original copies of The Black Panther newspaper are proudly displayed on the wall, alongside a copy of the Party’s platform and famous 10 Point Program.
If the development proposal makes it through the city’s approval process, the structure will be replaced with a five-story, 20-unit apartment building with shops on the ground floor. The issue will come up initially at a meeting of the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board on Monday at 5 p.m., where the board will consider the findings of a historical analysis of the property.
Kim Cloud has owned the building and It’s All Good Bakery since 1996, and he’s the one behind the proposal to redevelop the property, as well as the barbershop next door. Eighteen of the housing units would have market-rate rents and two would be priced for very-low-income tenants. Emeryville-based Gunkel Architecture is designing the project, which includes space for the bakery and barbershop to reopen on the ground floor, as well as 10 parking spaces.
“I wanted to give my people somewhere to live and stay in the community,” said Cloud, who has lived in Oakland his whole life. Watching high-rises spring up around the city, Cloud said he thought to himself, “How come I don’t deserve to have the same thing these developers have, and I’m born and raised here?”
Cloud, a former rapper, learned about the history of the bakery property after purchasing it, and was delighted. As a child, he benefited from the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast Program.
“We’ve had a beautiful relationship with the Black Panther Party since the time I found out,” he said. When The Oaklandside visited the bakery on Friday, he was on the phone with former Black Panther Fredrika Newton, Huey P. Newton’s widow and the president of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation.
Fredrika Newton released a statement Friday afternoon, saying she supports the project.
Cloud “has always opened his doors to us so that we can share Black Panther Party history in his bakery,” Newton said. The revamped bakery space will “provide an even more expansive space and place to preserve and to tell the history of this important site.”
But the prospect of losing this historical site is disturbing to many people in Oakland, who were startled to see the development notice hanging in the bakery window and making the rounds online.
Coinciding with the recent 50th and 55th anniversaries of the Black Panther Party, there have been several efforts to build new monuments to the Party and celebrate its legacy and impact, including a bust of Newton in West Oakland, a mural honoring the women of the Panthers, and a virtual reality tour of a later headquarters. (The launch party for the tour took place at It’s All Good.) But without knowing about this history, one could easily walk along this stretch of MLK Jr. Way without having any idea it’s where two former Merritt College students started this legendary social movement.
An Instagram post criticizing the development proposal on Thursday had garnered more than 2,600 likes by the next day.
“The owner of the building that served as the first headquarters of the Black Panther Party is trying to demolish it to make room for another ugly, high rent, mixed use apartment complex,” wrote @grace_arcane, an Oakland tattoo artist.
He urged those opposed to the proposal to submit an application to assign landmark status to the building, and to call into Monday’s meeting of the Landmarks Board.
Newton noted in her statement that the original building has already been changed since 1966, and “because of this, we believe that the appropriate path forward is to support a Black and Oakland-owned redevelopment that will simultaneously welcome us to expanding our footprint at the site.” The Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation has a legal agreement with Cloud, requiring “artistic and historical preservation on the exterior and interior of the bakery, which will still exist in the new building,” according to the statement.
The historic resource analysis, conducted by Oakland-based preservation architect Mark Hulbert, found that the 1947 bakery building was originally located across the street, and moved in 1966, possibly to make way for BART construction. The Black Panthers stayed there for about a year before moving to the other Grove Street office. The barbershop was built in 1922.
The analysis also determined that while the site is historically significant, the building itself does not meet the threshold for preservation, given that the “impermanent” display of memorabilia inside is the only feature that “conveys” its history.
City staffers told the Landmarks Board they’re “unsure about the conclusion that the building itself is not of historic significance,” and will ask for guidance Monday night.
Cloud said that after operating in this space for 26 years, he won’t be sad to see the structure go: “The building is tired and raggedy, and I’m tired of putting bandaids on it.”
He said he’s not on social media, but has heard about the controversy from his daughter. He’s confident that his pitch at Monday’s meeting will change people’s minds.
“There’s a lot of misconception that I’m some rich white person,” he said. “It’s not like we’re getting put out [by] gentrification. I’m going to keep the history alive.”
Cloud said the city is working with him to find a temporary location for It’s All Good during the construction period, which, if the project is approved, could take about two years.