With its diverse restaurants and tourist attractions, San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf attracts 10-12 million visitors from across the world each year. In contrast, Oakland’s Jack London Square, which is right across the Bay and located on Oakland’s waterfront, receives 3 million visitors per year.
Jack London Square was developed in an industrial area owned by the Port of Oakland. In the 1850s, only a small collection of wharves extended into San Antonio Creek, which separated Oakland and Alameda. As Oakland’s shipping industry grew, the number of wharves, docks, and warehouses on the creek increased; the area came to be known as the Oakland Inner Harbor. In the 1940s, the City of Oakland began plans for a restaurant and entertainment waterfront development to compete with Fisherman’s Wharf, generate local revenue, and spur commercial growth. Believing the Jack London name would attract tourists, the City dedicated the square on May 1st, 1951 to the author who grew up in Oakland.
In its early days, the Port of Oakland aimed to curate a collection of maritime artifacts (such as the USS Potomac which is docked at the waterfront), seafaring-themed restaurants, and Jack London memorabilia to emphasize Oakland’s maritime history. Anchoring this effort was Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, which opened in 1865 and still exists today. London spent time at the bar during his youth and Heinold, the owner, is rumored to have given him money to go to college.
By the 1980s, Jack London Square had not seen the growth the City desired. Changing strategies, the Port of Oakland began pursuing commercial and retail projects. The maritime features were neglected in favor of business developments to attract tourists and shoppers. These efforts faced limited success, and in the early 2000s, the Port decided to sell parts of the Square to companies who developed retail and service businesses which also struggled. Though Jack London Square remains a patchwork of restaurant and retail enterprises, it is an entertaining district for tourists and Oakland residents alike.
Cover image credit: Visit Oakland