Page 2 of 8
The headline we attached to the Ali Baba story, "Last Tango in Oakland," turned out to be more prescient than we had any way of knowing. Within months, the high-Deco dance palace at Webster and Grand would be scheduled for demolition to make room for a bland, generic office building, the vast spring-loaded hardwood dance floor that had swayed to the beat of a generation, lost forever.
On Oct. 20, 1978, there were three functioning department stores in downtown Oakland (four if you count the sprawling Swan's Market) and one movie theater (the late and seldom-lamented Roxie). The port had recently taken its place as the largest on the West Coast, but it mostly functioned out of sight beyond barbed wire. The waterfront was home to a small collection of restaurants and a somnambulant shopping pavilion, officially named "Jack London Village" but universally known throughout the retail sales community as "kiss-of-death mall." The peeling flophouses along 8th and 9th streets, then grandiosely called "Victorian Row," had yet to be redeveloped into "Old Oakland." Emeryville was a virtually unpopulated town composed of warehouses, foundries, and rowdy "Urban Cowboy" bars. Personal computers had yet to be invented, few had yet heard the word "biotech," and improbable eight-foot toque-topped Doggie Diner canine heads could still be found prominently alongside local intersections.
Lionel Wilson had just been elected Oakland mayor with considerable support from the Black Panther Party, ending decades of white Republican rule. Proposition 13 had just been approved but its effects were still being debated. The descendants of Senator Joe Knowland had finally sold the once-powerful Oakland Tribune to a billboard company; within a year it would wind up in the hands of the Gannett Corporation, which would bring in a redesign team including a charismatic black editor named Robert Maynard.
Obviously, the East Bay has changed a lot over the past four decades and so have the tools and techniques this paper uses to describe it. But when I look back over the years into the eyes of that nameless pair posing for a young photographer in front of a long-vanished dance hall, I see something I missed at the time: their generosity and their resolute vitality.
In the end, we all construct our own image of the place we call home. Those two people will always be in mine."
—John Raeside, co-founder and longtime editor of the Express.
2. "Marley Speaks," by Jeff Cathro, Jan. 26, 1979
Over the decades, Express music critics and writers have interviewed plenty of famous and musicians and music industry personalities. One of our first was a lengthy, sit-down chat with Bob Marley by journalist Jeff Cathro.
Cathro: Which comes first, herb or Rastafari?
Marley: Ya couldn't really say that. It's jus' that, what come first, life or the breathin' blue?
Eight months after the Marley interview, Harlow Robinson sat down with the new 29-year-old music director of the Oakland Symphony: Calvin Simmons and then wrote, "High Voltage Conductor," Aug. 31, 1979.
3. "The Quake of '79," by Peggy Hughes, March 23, 1979
Every five to ten years, Express editors and writers decide it's time to issue another dire warning and blast it across the front page: Hey, East Bay, we're completely unprepared for the next big disaster!
Then, of course, after we publish our 6,000-word piece, no one really does anything to prepare. So we write about it again: "Our Fault," by Laura Hagar, Nov. 23, 1990; "Landscape of Doom," by David Darlington, Jan. 15, 1993; "East Bay Rocks," by Lucy Jane Bledsoe, Jan. 4, 1998; "It's Not Our Fault," by Kara Platoni, Feb. 16, 2005; "It's Everybody's Fault," by Robert Gammon, Feb. 23, 2005; "Warning: Quake in 60 Seconds," by Azeen Ghorayshi, May 1, 2013.
4. "Is Rent Control Working in Berkeley?" by Brad Seligman, June 22, 1979
We've been asking this question about Berkeley and Oakland for almost the entire time we've been publishing newspapers. And our answer hasn't really changed much: Yes, but it depends upon who you ask.
5. "Magnum Force," by Mike McGrath, Dec. 21, 1979; "Badge of Dishonor," by Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston, June 15, 2016
When readers today think of the Express' coverage of Oakland police misconduct, the first thing that probably comes to mind is our 2016 award-winning reporting about the OPD sex exploitation scandal. And rightly so, it's arguably the best investigative reporting we've ever published.
But, in truth, we've been writing in-depth about East Bay police and law enforcement misdeeds for a long time. Our first cover story on the topic was "Magnum Force," by longtime Express investigative reporter Mike McGrath, in December 1979. The subhed to McGrath's deeply researched piece will give you a sense of how intractable this issue was then and still is: "On November 18, Talmage Curtis was gunned down by an Oakland police officer. Since Curtis was the fifth black flatlands resident to be shot and killed by police this year, many people — including Mayor Lionel Wilson — thought it was time to ask some hard questions. Wilson soon found out that Oakland cops don't take kindly to questions."