Slim Jenkins’ the hallmark club on the Landmark seventh street strip. Right, Pullman Porters often patronized businesses on 7th Street during their stay-overs from cross-country trips. The video project, initiated by Paul Grabowicz at UC Berkeley, is co-sponsored by the Oakland Post. Chauncey Bailey, the Late Editor of the Post worked with Grabowicz at the Oakland Tribune and wrote articles about the project.
Oakland’s famed 7th Street blues and jazz club scene from the 1940s and 1950s is being brought back to life by UC Berkeley students as a virtual world and video game scheduled for public release in July.
“Remembering 7th Street,” a project of the UC Berkeley Schools of Journalism and Architecture, will be accessible for free over the Internet and let people experience this amazing part of the city’s history, especially the musical heritage of Oakland’s African American community.
Seventh Street was once a vibrant stretch of blues and jazz clubs, a cultural Mecca that drew musicians and music lovers from all over the country. Musicians like Lowell Fulson, Saunders King, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Jimmy McCracklin and many others played at hotspots like Slim Jenkins Place, Esther’s Orbit Room, John Singer’s and Harvey’s Rex Club.
Railroad workers, especially members of the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the nation’s first black union that had its west coast office on 7th Street, distributed records cut by black musicians across the country. The porters union was co-founded by C. L. Dellums, uncle of current Oakland Mayor Ronald V. Dellums.
This remarkable chapter of the city’s history has been all but lost to urban redevelopment and urban decay. The construction of the old Cypress Freeway cut the neighborhood off from downtown Oakland, the elevated BART train line was erected down the middle of 7th street, and 12 blocks of residential and commercial buildings were demolished to make room for a postal center.
Now a six-block stretch of 7th Street is being re-created as a virtual world, which people can access over the Internet, take on the character of a local musician and then walk up and down the streets, enter the clubs and other business establishments, listen to the music, and interact with the characters of the era as well as with other people logged onto the site.
We hope this project will instill a sense of pride in 7th Street and its heritage, and inform current debates over how to revitalize the West Oakland community. If you have memories or photos of 7th Street, we’d love to incorporate them into the video game world. Contact Paul Grabowicz, director of the New Media Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism at 510-642-3310 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The game will be accessible in late July via http://journalism.berkeley.edu/projects/jazzclubs/