From left to right: Kevin Tam of PG&E, representing OHA, Brandon Harami, then legislative aide to Sheng Thao, Dale Risden, president of Friends of Joaquin Miller Park, then Councilmember Thao, and Craig Pon from Oakland Public Works Department at last year's awards ceremony. Credit: Tamara Nicoloff Haw

Oakland is known for its rich history, from being the birthplace of the Black Panther Party to the city where Jack London wrote The Sea Wolf and Call of the Wild and the canvass for many of Julia Morgan’s architectural designs. 

Since 1981, the Oakland Heritage Alliance has been advocating for the preservation of these and other aspects of the “city’s cultural, natural, and architectural heritage.”

Now, the nonprofit will be recognizing others fighting to keep Oakland’s history alive through its annual Partners in Preservation Awards.

Every year, OHA takes submissions from members of the public who wish to nominate “individuals, organizations, projects, and programs whose work demonstrates a commitment to excellence in historic preservation.” Awards are given out for “Lifetime Achievement,” “House Restoration,” and “Stewardship.”

Last year’s winners included author and former Oakland librarian Dorothy Lazard (Lifetime Achievement) and Ariana Makau of Nzilani Glass (Stewardship), who was recognized for her dome restoration work at Resurrection Church (formerly First Christian Science Church) in downtown Oakland. A group comprised of then-Councilmember Sheng Thao, legislative aide Brandon Harami, Friends of Joaquin Miller President Dale Risden, and Craig Pon from the Oakland Public Works Department won the Stewardship award for their efforts to restore the Woodminster Cascade at Joaquin Miller Park

Allen Michaan, owner of the Grand Lake Theatre, at the Partners in Preservation Awards in 2019. Credit: Joe Johnston

OHA board member Amelia Marshall said it’s always an honor to recognize individuals championing the preservation of Oakland’s historical legacies and landmarks, such as Allen Michaan, the owner of the Grand Lake Theatre who won the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019. 

“Allen is a good fellow; he’s civic-minded,” said Marshall. “And the beautiful restoration work he did inside the theaters, using local artists to do fantastic painting—he’s one of my heroes when it comes to local preservation.”

The nomination deadline for this year’s Partners in Preservation Awards is Sept. 1 (or until OHA receives enough entries). The application fee is $35 for individuals and $50 for projects or organizations. The date, time, and location of the awards ceremony will be announced next month.

Walking tours, home rehabs, and preservation projects

In addition to the awards, some of the organization’s most popular activities are its neighborhood walking tours led by local historians. The walks happen every year in July and August, with roughly 16 walks per season. 

Most recently, Oakland historian and author Paul Brekke-Miesner led a walk through Bushrod Park in North Oakland, where he shared stories about the park’s outsized role in shaping Oakland’s sports history. Major League Baseball players such as Rickey Henderson, Frank Robinson, Billy Martin, and Vada Pinson all played on the park’s field during their youth. 

“It’s the most fun thing that we do,” said Marshall, who joined the OHA board in 2014 after attending its walking tours for several years. 

Jon Rusch led the mid-century Downtown Oakland tour in 2018. Credit: Daniel Levy

Upcoming walks include tours of the Haddon Hill neighborhood and the ridgetop redwood trails at Roberts Regional Park. A full listing of tours remaining this season can be viewed here.

In addition to the walks, which are free for OHA members, the organization offers Oakland homeowners resources to research the age of their home and rehab houses while preserving their architectural assets. 

The organization also works with the city’s Planning Commission and City Council to help determine how proposed zoning changes could impact historical homes and neighborhoods. OHA’s Preservation Action Committee looks out for policy issues and inappropriate renovations of historic buildings, and the organization also advises the city’s Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board.

Marshall hopes that the work of OHA, including its popular walking tours and the upcoming Partners in Preservation Awards, will continue to educate residents on the importance of safekeeping Oakland’s past and inspire them to support and participate in preservation efforts to ensure future generations have access to local history.

“The more people understand the history of Oakland, the more they will appreciate it,” she said. 

Correction: the award recipient listed along then councilmember Sheng Thao is Craig Pon, not Tyler Pon.

Azucena Rasilla is a bilingual journalist from East Oakland reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.