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Memoirs of a neighborhood


Robin Datel
Robin Datel

The story of Sacramento’s
first suburb, Oak Park, is a checkered one. It features
both prosperity and crime waves, the
Civil Rights movement and economic decline, and, in recent years, a local cultural and business revival.

To put the area’s storied past in context, urban geography professor Robin Datel and her students are conducting a field work project with its long-time residents.

“The purpose of the project is to record place-based memories of Oak Parkers, or memories attached to the area,” Datel says. “We use those memories to celebrate the past, understand the dynamics of neighborhood change, and build a
better Oak Park with today’s residents.”

The project has students digging through old city directories and property records at the local archives to study business trends, residential patterns and the ethnic makeup of the region from the 1920s onward. They found evidence of the historical significance of the area—and the diversity of the groups who have lived there—studying sites such as the first
gay church in Sacramento, the 1920s meeting place for the Ku Klux Klan, and the local office of the Black Panther Party.

Students also conducted in-depth interviews to record the memories of residents, former and current business owners and volunteers from the neighborhood association.

“One of our goals is for students to record the history of those who are still alive, what they can remember,” says Datel, who hopes to compile these bits of history for a walking tour pamphlet. “They connect the present to the past and connect the older Oak Park residents with those who have no experience of local history.”

 

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