In the eleven years that Holly Alonso has been the director of Peralta Hacienda Historical Park (2465 34th Ave., Oakland), she's seen it go from an unused, undeveloped, and largely static historic site to a thriving, multifaceted museum-cum-community center that serves thousands of East Bay kids and mounts several exhibits annually. Now, she might see it shut its doors.
The park, which sits on six acres at the Fruitvale neighborhood's northern end, was once the center of a sprawling cattle ranch spanning an area that today includes seven East Bay cities. In the late 1970s, a community group organized to restore the site, and more than two decades of lobbying for recognition and funding later, the park opened to the public. In the past decade, under Alonso's leadership and with significant community buy-in, it has expanded its reach to include community gardens, art exhibits and cultural shows, a high-school internship program, free afterschool and summer programs for neighborhood kids, and indoor and outdoor exhibits designed to illuminate the site's historical significance as the epicenter of the state's Californio settlements. It also showcases the ethnic groups that have since come to Fruitvale. In a neighborhood that once had Oakland's lowest per-capita open space and highest percentage of children, and at a site whose historical significance to California is analogous to the British Colonies on the East Coast, all of these various roles, Alonso said, are critical. "We call it a 'site of conscience,'" Alonso said. "Our mission is not just to illuminate the antiquarian side of history, but also the community element. It's a community anchor."
But recently, Peralta Hacienda has fallen victim to the twin challenges of a flagging philanthropic climate and a cash-strapped city government forced to drastically cut its arts and culture budget. While she was quick to emphasize her gratitude for the city's continued support, Alonso said the park has lost roughly 90 percent of its overall funding, going from $500,000 annually to $50,000 — about enough to pay for annual audits and utilities. Alonso has had to abandon several projects and let much of her staff go, and if the park can't raise about $140,000 within the next two months, it faces closure.
To that end, Peralta Hacienda is throwing a benefit called Zorro by Night on Thursday, December 2. Alonso said the Zorro theme is a nod to the Hacienda's history as a relic of the Spanish colonial era, as well as to the mythical hero's modern incarnation as "a symbol of the vitality of community." Along with a lecture by UC Berkeley professor Alex Saragoza about the myth of Zorro and its cultural implications, the event features live music; food and wine donated by local merchants; a photography exhibit about Zorro's real-life inspiration, Joaquin Murrieta; and screenings of Zorro movies of various time periods and genres, including the Eighties camp classic Zorro: The Gay Blade and the late-Nineties blockbuster. 6-9 p.m., $25-$10,000. 510-532-9142 or PeraltaHacienda.org