In the 1920s the itinerant Swedish watercolorist Gunnar Widforss spent time in the National Parks, producing paintings that convey a light-filled intimacy, marking him as one of the most important watercolorists of the West.

On the California coast he painted the towering redwoods and sequoias, so unlike the trees of his native land. Widforss ended up in Oakland, drawn to an artist community living in rambling cottages known as "the Arks" clustered near the Fruitvale Bridge in the estuary. His paintings of the Arks captured their stark and stunning beauty and are among his most arresting works. While the Arks have disappeared along with the Cryer Boathouse, Widforss' Arks paintings remain, calling us back to another time our city's history.

Lecturer: Alan Petersen, Curator of Fine Arts at the Museum of Northern Arizona, has curated exhibitions of work by many notable artists, and also teaches art history and painting in Flagstaff, AZ. He recently published a catalogue raisonné of works by Gunnar Widforss and continues work on a monograph on Widforss’ life and art.

Learn how women's organizations have led the way in advancing Oakland's cultural and philanthropic life. Presenter Kathleen DiGiovanni will celebrate them with a talk on these clubs, including the venerable Ebell Society, neighborhood women's clubs like Rockridge and Fruitvale, the Fanny Jackson Coppin Club, and the Linden Street YWCA.

Kathleen DiGiovanni is a long-time OHA walking tour leader and a regular contributor to the OHA News. A librarian at the Oakland Public Library, Kathleen has logged thousands of hours working in the Oakland History Center, promoting and guiding exploration of Oakland's history through the library's rich resources. She thinks it's the best job in the world.

In early 2019, Nzilani Glass Conservation was contacted by Resurrection Church at 17th and Franklin in Oakland. Their 118-year-old, inverted stained-glass dome was in critical condition. Time and previous improper repairs had made the ten-foot diameter structure unsafe, requiring immediate conservation to save it. We invite you to join us for a presentation by Ariana Makau, founder of Nzilani, to learn how she and her team saved this precious Oakland resource and won a 2020 Preservation Design Award. We will also learn about Nzilani as a business and some principles of stained glass conservation.

Nzilani Glass Conservation was established in 2003 by Ariana Makau, (a Kenyan-American who both lives and works in Oakland). Makau hostained glass conservation from the Royal College of Art in London. Nzilani is a highly specialized stained glass company dedicated to making the profession more equitable by being accessible to under-served communities. What started as a small, one-woman studio has expanded to include a full-time core crew of glaziers, artists, project managers and interns.

Bill Russell, Jim Pollard, Paul Silas, Gary Payton, Jason Kidd, Damian Lillard …. These are just a few of the generational talents who have ascended from the blacktops of Oakland to the top echelons of the NBA. In this talk, historian and author Paul Brekke-Miesner explores how one small city in Northern California has produced several prolific ballers who have left indelible marks on the game of basketball.

A native and life-long resident of Oakland, Paul Brekke-Miesner is a keen observer and champion of sports in ‘The Town’ since the 1960s. He covered local sports for the Berkeley Gazette and Oakland Tribune for years, and in 2014 wrote the consummate history of Oakland sports: Home Field Advantage: Oakland – The City That Changed the Face of Sports. He has also presented on Oakland’s dynamic sporting history at the Oakland History Room, Alameda County Historical Society and the Oakland Heritage Alliance.


Explore the life and achievements of one of Oakland’s most colorful and successful entrepreneurs, Borax Smith. As a young man, Smith came west in 1867 to discover rich deposits of borax in the Nevada desert and go on to establish an international borax industry. He contributed to the transformation of Bay Area transit and East Bay land development and his wife, Mary R. Smith, created innovative homes for young girls. We’ll visit historic and present day views of his 19th c. borax site, his fabled Oakland estate, Arbor Villa, and the Mary R. Smith Cottages.

Phil Bellman is a longtime Oakland resident. He has a keen interest in architectural history and historic preservation. He previously served on the OHA board and as the editor of the OHA News. For more than 30 years, he has led tours of FM Smith’s Oakland estate and his early borax works in Nevada. Having grown up on the Mojave desert, Phil has an affinity and appreciation of Smith as a borax pioneer. Phil is now retired after working for 40 years in public health and healthcare in the East Bay. He can frequently be found hiking the trails of the Bay Area and the Sierra Nevada and currently volunteers with the Bay Area Ridge Trail.

Kathleen DiGiovanni will sweeten the evening with a history of Oakland’s candy making industry.

Kathleen Leles DiGiovanni is a long-time Oakland Heritage Association walking tour leader and a regular contributor to the OHA News. Recently retired as librarian at the Oakland Public Library, Kathleen has logged thousands of hours working in the Oakland History Room, promoting and guiding exploration of Oakland's history through the library's rich resources. In addition to the recent Downtown Brooklyn and Montclair Village tours, Kathleen has also led walking tours for OHA in Lakeside Park, Glenview, and Fernwood and Oakland Women’s History tours.

John and Sara Lemmon built a home on Telegraph Ave. in the late 1800s to house their Herbarium--a collection of plant specimens they had collected throughout the American West. John had served in the Union cavalry and survived the notorious Andersonville prisoner-of-war camp. He came west to California to recover his health. While living with his 49er brothers in the Sierra, he was fascinated by the surrounding alpine plants. Not formally trained in botany, he was dismissed by Bay Area scientists, but persisted in his study. Many California plants today bear his lemmonii epithet. He met his wife Sara, who is responsible for the campaign to have the California Poppy recognized as the state flower. John was a charter member of the Sierra Club and served on the Oakland City Council. He was involved in many civic projects, including planting trees along city streets and developing Oakland city parks. The Lemmons are important figures in the history of Oakland, and represent a remarkable intersection of Civil War history, the West, the early environmental movement and citizen science.

Presenters Brad and Kelly Agnew are a father-daughter co-author team. Brad is a retired professor of American History, living in Oklahoma, and Kelly is a biologist teaching at Cal. Their book is available at, where interested viewers can read a portion of the biography.

Brenda Montano and Dave Zuckermann will present the compelling story of Austin Dunn, one of the early employees of the newly-formed East Bay Regional Park District in the mid-1930s. Dunn was a young African American man who made his way from Georgia to Oakland and was subsequently hired as a park laborer and equipment operator during the Depression years. Brenda and Dave will show how the District’s History and Archives Program has researched and developed the still-unfinished story. Further, they will shed light on the broader meaning of the Dunn Story and how it helps highlight the important role that New Deal programming played in the formation and early success of the park district.

OHA interviewed interview Allen Michaan, operator of the Grand Lake Theater for over 40 years. Michaan moved to Berkeley in 1970 and supported himself by showing classic films in rented auditoriums. He built the Rialto Theater in Berkeley out of salvaged items that were rescued from other theaters. In the late 70s, he acquired the ground lease for the Grand Lake and has been operating and restoring it ever since. He purchased the theater in 2018 and also founded the Alameda Point Antiques and Collectibles Faire and Michaan's Auctions.

Lecture Recordings