Uptown – A Bit of History

There have been many discussions and articles about the name “Uptown” for an area in downtown Oakland. Most people hate it, except for the new people who just moved here, who call it “hip” or “trendy” (this is just my opinion I did not conduct a poll).

Most recently on one of the Facebook groups, I belong to. Just about everybody who commented hates the use of word uptown. Only two people actually read my comment about the history of the name. One still didn’t buy my explanation, and the other thanked me.

No as a native oaklander we have never used the word uptown it was always downtown”

Facebook Group

Gentrification definitely gentrification”

Facebook Group

We went Downtown

Growing up in Oakland, we always went downtown and never uptown because we went home.

It still is downtown to us and will always be! I will not argue that!

People are assuming the name “Uptown” comes from newcomers or “gentrifiers” that are taking over the area.

I know I questioned it, thinking they (the developers) were trying to make it sound like New York.

An article in the East Bay Express validates that thought.

“The use of “Uptown” to refer to what is really part of downtown Oakland is relatively new and followed the city’s massive gentrification project to renovate the Fox Theater and build 10,000 new units of housing around Grand Avenue and Telegraph in the early 2000s.”

East Bay Express

Too bad, the author of that article didn’t spend time researching the name.

Statements like this would further their belief that the term is new and made up.

“Square (the tech company) has launched its East Bay operations by moving a few hundred employees into new digs in downtown Oakland’s hip and trendy Uptown neighborhood.”  

Square sets up shop in Oakland – East Bay Times Feb 13, 2020

A couple of years ago, I decided to research the name a little more. I was reading an old report from the redevelopment agency from the 1980s and I saw a reference to the “Uptown District”. That got me to thinking and the rest is history.

A bit of history follows.

During the first fifty years of Oakland, the primary business activity centered around 9th and Broadway. The first map of Oakland, drawn in 1853, marked 14th street as the northern boundary of the city.

Businesses initially were built near the waterfront at 1st and Broadway. As transportation improved and the population increased, buildings moved further up Broadway.

A prominent sign of upward commercial advance was the completion of the First National Bank in 1908 at Broadway and San Pablo, along with the Cathedral Building and City Hall.

Uptown Historic District

The Uptown Historic District runs from 18th Street to 21st Street along Broadway at the north end of Oakland’s central business district. It includes three blocks of the triangular gore between Broadway and Telegraph Avenue, plus the Fox Theater on the west side of Telegraph and portions on the eastern side of Broadway at the 19th Street intersection.    

The district represents a phase of the expansion of the central business district, in the 1920s and 30s. The new shopping and entertainment center was at the north end of the turn of the century downtown, anchored by the new Capwell department store and developed by Capwell’s 20th and Broadway Realty Company.

H.C. Capwell department store, corner of Telegraph Avenue and 20th Street
Oakland Stores Collection – Oakland Public Library

The district is an essential collection of small to medium scale commercial buildings of the 1920s and 30s, historic brownstone and terra cotta buildings from the 1920 and colorful Art Deco Terra Cotta from the 1930s. 

Oakland Floral Depot, northeast corner of 19th Street and Telegraph Avenue
Date: circa 1980 – Oakland Stores Collection
Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room and Maps Division
Permalink: https://calisphere.org/item/45a075ddbec11673a0d40a3fc87d3b17/

Capwell’s, I. Magnin buildings, the Fox and Paramount Theaters, and the Flora Depot building are excellent examples of each of the styles.

I. Magnin & Co., northwest corner of Broadway and 20th Street
1951-04-24 Downtown Stores Collection
Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room and Maps Division
Permalink: https://calisphere.org/item/d57eab31fed90ff765d7834b39af46b6/

Uptown the Beginning

In 1895 the Tribune’s new was located “Uptown.”

Oakland Tribune 1895

In the early 1900s as Oakland grew from the waterfront people started calling the area past 14th Street “Uptown.” By 1903 the area just below 14th Street was called getting crowded and the large mercantile businesses were reaching out for more space. They could only go uptown.

The real expansion uptown began in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Capwell’s was built in 1928.

Pioneers in “Uptown Oakland”

Oakland Tribune Mar 20, 1927

Smith Brothers new “Beautiful Uptown Store”

Oakland Tribune Oct 25, 1931
Oakland Tribune Oct 25, 1931

It was reported in the Oakland Tribune on March 24, 1936 that 19 new leases were signed in Oakland’s uptown business district.

Oakland Tribune Mar 24, 1936

In 1944 the new Hibernia Bank was built in “Uptown.”

Oakland Tribune Dec 18, 1944

After 17 years on 14th Street Walson’s moved “Uptown” to 2000 Franklin in 1968.

Oakland TRibune April 17, 1968

I could go on and on but I won’t.


There have been walking tours of the “Uptown District” since the early 1980s.

Map of Uptown Walking Tour circa 1982

Walking Tour 1982

I like that the “old” name was used and not changed to something awful like the following:

“NOBE” is possibly the baldest and most obnoxious attempt to rename part of Oakland. Devised by realtors, the name is an acronym referring to North Oakland-Berkeley-Emeryville.”

East Bay Express

“Baja Dimond” This is a ridiculous name that some realtors have tried foisting on the part of the Fruitvale just below the Interstate 580 freeway across from the actual Dimond neighborhood. It’s the Fruitvale, not the Dimond.


East Bay Express

Just remember that Uptown is a part of Oakland’s History.

More Info:

  • Uptown – Oakland Local Wiki
  • Oakland’s Uptown – William Sturm – OHA Newsletter November/December 1982

The End

7 thoughts on “Uptown – A Bit of History

Add yours

  1. Thank you for posting this! I’ve never given the ‘uptown’ term a second thought. A/C Transit busses had ‘DOWNTOWN’ (either the 59 or the 76) displayed on their route banner and that is wherecwe went…downtown!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love your articles- bring back great memories. I am 77years old and lived in Oakland until age 27. My mother grew up in Oakland. We NEVER referred to any area along Broadway as Uptown. It was always “going Downtown” to shop. Kahn’s Capwell’s , Sears, Roos- Atkins, and all the other great stores.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My dad had a clothing shop at 19th and Telegraph, across from the Floral Depot, for 35 years (retired and closed up shop in 1991).
    I never heard the term, “Uptown”, in all those years.
    Pretty interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

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