Posted in Buildings, Real Estate, West Oakland

The Acorn Projects

The Acorn or Acorn Projects are a series of housing projects in the Acorn Redevelopment Project Area of West Oakland.

They were original three housing units, Acorn 1, Acorn 2, and Acorn 3. 

Acorn Housing Project model, April 7, 1966. – The Acorn Housing Project promised sleek, modern architecture — concrete-block units with sharp angles and crisp white exteriors

The project started in 1962. The first housing unit contained 479 units and cost $9 million; it was completed in 1969. A second 98-unit called Acorn II was completed in 1971 at the cost of $3.7 million.

Oakland Tribune 1959

Slum Clearance Project

Oakland’s first slum clearance undertaking will be called The Acorn Project.”

Oakland Tribune March 9, 1959

The Oakland Redevelopment Agency selected the name Acorn for the project area (about 45 Blocks) flanking the Nimitz Freeway between Union and Brush Streets.

Agency member Carl O. Olsen said the “Acorn is symbolical for the future and growth.”

Oakland Tribune February 24, 1965

Acorn’s Amazing Progress

It was reported that Project Acorn was shaping up as one of the most successful blight clearance projects in the nations’ history in 1964.

In 20 months, they had accomplished the following:

  • Purchased 90% of parcels
  • Relocated 83% of families
  • Demolished 75% of structures
  • Sold four lots for new plants
Oakland Tribune

Property Owners Sue

Thirteen West Oakland property owners sued to block the Acorn Project. They sued the Federal Redevelopment Agency and the City of Oakland, claiming that the Acorn Project “would deprive Negroes of their properties.”

They said the slum elimination project would, in effect, deprive them of homeownership because they have limited access to other residential areas. They told the court they have no objection to urban improvement, but object to being evicted from their homes without a place to go,

The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled against them in May of 1963.

Acorn: Acres of Vacancy

In the land cleared for the project, there were rats, ants, and sparrows lived. But no people.

Oakland Tribune 1967

The Oakland Redevelopment Agency had spent $ 13 million by 1967. But still no housing.

It was described as a slum clearance project, and it was a success. Some 4,300 people lost their homes as wrecking crews smashed aging buildings.  

Acorn SIte 1966  By the time this picture was taken, 90 percent of the Acorn project-area had been “cleared,” and 86 percent of residents had relocated — many to the neighborhood of East Oakland and the northern East Bay city of Richmond.*

It took from April 1962 to May 1965 to reduce all but 610 old structures to splinters. In their place was acre upon acre of empty fields in the area between 10th and First and Brush and Union Streets.

Thirty-two were set aside for industrial redevelopment, thirty-four acres for new, moderate-priced housing.

Since 1962 when the Acorns were approved, 12,000 rental units were built in other parts of Oakland.

Acorn Project Aims to Attract Whites

The Acorns, a middle-income development featuring sophisticated townhouses and apartments, was one of the nations’ first attempts at “reverse integration.”

To attract whites to the project, the Building Trades Council tried to put the finest housing it can afford into the project and charge the lowest rents possible.

Rents ranged from studios at $67 up to four-bedroom two-story townhouses at $145. (The upper limit on income was $11,225)

Remember Acorn? It’s Dedicated

After sitting empty for ten years, the Acorn Project was finally dedicated in 1967.

Groundbreaking ceremony for Acorn construction, November 10, 1967John B. Williams (kneeling) holds a sign for the Acorn Urban Renewal Project as it is hammered into the ground by Robert C. Weaver, Secretary of the newly founded Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

Construction did not begin in Acorn until five years after demolition was completed, leaving a giant barren area in the middle of West Oakland, about 50 blocks, including parts of the historic heart of black Oakland, 7th Street. By the mid 60s, the demolition policies of the Oakland Redevelopment Agency (ORA) would create deep scars in the black neighborhoods close to downtown.

Ready for the Public

The first units of Oakland’s $8 million modern apartment complex opened for inspection in September 1968.

Source: San Francisco Examiner 9/16/68 “Oakland’s Redevelopment Project Ready for Public” (available at Oakland History Room)
  • Studio – $67.00 a month
  • 4-bedrooms – $145.00 a month

By December of 1968, 106 families lived in the Acorns.

SF Examiner Sept 1968

Award for Acorn

 Architects Edmund Burger and Patricia Coplans won the 1970 Holiday Award for the design of the Acorn Projects.

The Acorns Today

SF Examiner May 1998

The property underwent extensive redevelopment in the 1990s due to four years of collaboration among HUD, The City of Oakland, BRIDGE, the Acorn Residents Council, and the West Oakland community.

SF Examiner May 1998

Like many other projects, Acorn was known as a dangerous place for residents and nearby neighbors. The new Acorn will have several safety features. Density was reduced by half from the 700 units that made up the old project, and a series of courtyards with locked gates to limit access.

  • Acorn 1 was demolished, and a small community of two-story single-family houses between Filbert and Market Streets was built in its place.
  • Acorn 2 and Acorn 3 were renamed “Town Center Apartments at Acorn” and “Courtyard Apartments. 

Acorn Town Center and Courtyards consist of 293 affordable studio, one-, two-, three-, and four-bedroom apartments.

  • high-tech security system
  • gated property
  • recreational center
  • community building
  • tot lots
  • three basketball courts
  • swimming pool

Acorn Town Center and Courtyards – Bridge Housing

More Info:

The Acorn NeighborhoodOakland Local Wiki

Imagining a Past Future – Photographs from the Oakland Redevelopment Agency – Places Journal

Affordable Housing Today – Architecture California 2001

Acorn Oakland RenaissanceFacebook Page

Portraits of Progress and PainEastbay Yesterday

The Planning History of Oaklandwebsite

Tot Lot

The End

Author:

I grew up in the Montclair District of Oakland, CA. I attended Thornhill Elementary School, Montera Junior High, Skyline High School, and spent some time at Merritt College.

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