It makes me sad sometimes to think about how rarely many of the really cool things in Oakland are experienced by our residents. I can’t tell you the number of Oaklanders I meet who tell me they have never visited the Oakland Zoo or Oakland Museum. I confess I’ve never actually been to the Chabot Space and Science, except to drive around the parking lot a couple of times. And it was only a few weeks ago that I managed to make it to Children’s Fairyland, which, I swear, is amazingly cool and is like, my new favorite place in all of Oakland.
Yesterday, the City Council’s Life Enrichment Committee approved a proposal to rename the Dunsmuir House (PDF) the Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate, in recognition of the Hellman family’s long history at the Estate, and their continued contributions to its preservation.
It’s kind of funny that it’s just been calle Dunsmuir all this time, considering that the Dunsmuirs, who built the estate, barely ever lived there at all. Alexander Dunsmuir, son of a Canadian coal baron, bought the estate and built the mansion as a wedding gift for his bride in 1899, then died while the couple was on their honeymoon. His wife Josephine then returned to the estate, but lived there barely over a year before she died of lung cancer in 1901.
The estate was then purchased in 1906 by I.W. Hellman Jr., President of Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco, whose family owned and maintained it until the 1960s, when it was purchased by the City of Oakland for use as a conference center. Currently, the estate is maintained and funded by a non-profit, and is mostly rented out for weddings and other special events, although they have tours for the public on the First Sunday of the month and on Wednesdays during the summer.
You can also enjoy the Dunsmuir Estate in the evenings during the summer for their outdoor movie series (PDF), which begins this Friday with one of my all-time favorite movies, My Fair Lady. The grounds open at 6 PM for picnicking and wardering. Music is provided before the movies, which begin around 8:30, once the sun sets. And if you don’t have a car, no problem! AC Transit line 45 drops you off maybe a 10 minute walk (or less, depending on how fast you walk, I guess) from the Estate and runs until midnight.
Oh, and if you’re interested in learning more about the Hellman family, you may want to check out this fascinating book, Towers of Gold, published last year about Isias Hellman, father of I.W., which the Oakland Public Library has a number of copies of, although there is a waiting list.