Oakland, Jingle Town, and Family Roots

My family, both my mom’s and my dad’s sides are both from Oakland California. My dad’s grandfather owned a house that looked similar to the Dunsmuir House in the Oakland Hills:

My great grand father was a Baptist minister who owned a lot of houses through out the Oakland area and once he owned a house he would convert it into 2 apartments and then sell it and move out to the next house. The “little Dunsmuir house” was unfortunately torn down to make way for the freeway on Fruitvale ave. My grand mother (Dad’s mom) being the oldest of the girls worked in the Richmond ship yards installing parts on planes for WWII. My Great grand parents had 7 kids all were each a year or 2 apart (2 boys 5 girls). My uncles John was sent to Guada canal, part of the pacific campaign of WWII. My uncle Harvey would be too young to be apart of WWII but was part of the Vietnam action as a courier of some sort. NOT KIDDING, once he had a brief case hand cuffed to his wrist. My aunts and grand mother would go out dancing, go to pictures at the theater, and go skating at the roller skating rink that was located on Fruitvale Ave in Oakland. MY grandfather (Mom’s father) would also attend that same skating rink. My mom’s side of the family lived in a neighbor hood called “Jingle Town” a small Italian and Portuguese mixed neighbor hood. My great grand parents would be love at first sight, even though my great-grandmother was supposed to marry a prearranged groom but rebelled and married my great grand father (my mom’s father’s father). My great grand father worked in the ship yards teaching workers how to weld on the ships for the war. He also owned a signal gas station where famed pin striper Tommy The Greek started striping for small amounts of money.

Tommy Hrones at work

( he was a family friend and painted many of our vehicles and striped them too) My grand father was born and raised in Oakland, on 23rd Ave. His house still stands today as the tallest one on the block.

My grandfather was a truck driver, tow truck driver, he worked in body shops, and many other jobs. While driving for the tow truck company he drove through the set of 2 lane Black top and you can see his truck in the back ground with my mom in the passenger seat. Here is the trailer for the movie:

and for those who seen that movie along with American Graffiti, (my favorite movie ever) the black 55 is the same one in both movies.

My great grand mother worked in many factories in Oakland, but one to mention was the lightbulb factory manufacturing Edison bulbs. Her father would be killed early in the teens of the 1900’s while checking the mill in the California Cotton Mills building, a worker noticing the mill was turned off, turned on the mill while he was inside inspecting it and he was crushed. The California Cotton Mills building I am sure you have seen, but never knew what it was. You can see it while on the Nimitz freeway, shortly after you pass Fruitvale center.

The California Cotton Mill was founded in 1883, and this building was built in 1917, it was the largest mill this side of the Mississippi. At one time it was the largest employer in Oakland for decades employing over 1000 employees until its closing in 1953 when they built the freeway. There is a rumor that the Mill even gave the areas name of “jingle town” as the workers would jingle their change in their pockets on pay day. I was a self storage for a number of years after its closing, and since a few years ago was restored and turned into lofts and studios, and declared a National Historical Landmark. It also was recently on the show Eye On the Bay on Channel 5 in the bay area.

They would serve as a supplier of tents and uniforms for WWI and WWII

When they restored the building they kept as much originality as they could such as these black rings that had been burnt into the floor.

Because the free way was cut through the middle of the building it forced them to close their doors.  So when you drive down the Nimitz through this area you are actually driving through where the building once was. This is why the walls kinda look like they are interior walls not exterior.

So now they have made the building into lofts and studios. Which is a great way to save a building from destruction. You can get more info on the lofts and studios by going to www.cottonmillstudios.com. and you can watch the episode about the building from Eye on the Bay by going to What is it?

I know some of you have driven past this and never even knew the history. Now you do. For my family to be tied to the building is really neat I think. It connects me to the city of Oakland in a weird way. Here are some historical photos of Oakland, and some artistic photography of Oakland as well as the photos above. Oakland really could have been a wonderful city..

As for my family, most of all who I have spoken about have passed away. But I have always enjoyed listening to the old stories that they had to tell. If it wasn’t for them, I really do not think I would be interested in “old” stuff.

Thanks for reading,


This post is dedicated to my family. The Johnson’s, Angel’s, Randolphi’s, and the Silva’s. I love you all.

Published in: on April 6, 2010 at 8:32 PM  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I don’t know who you are but you are more right than anybody who ever put up a website about jingle town. I lived on east tenth street most of my days. Well anyway up to the age of 40. The cotton mill is how jingle towners got their name. My grandfather also owned two homes on 27th ave behind Eddie Cambra groceries store now called La Barca cantena. HE was a commercial fisherman and a bootlegger(made whiskey and wine).

  2. Very nice, My Dads family is from Jingle town, The Muge / lazoya /Esparza family. I have heard a lot of stories from my Dad and my uncle Charlie Muge. My granmother worked the canneries and was able to buy quite a few houses there.

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