Friday movies at the Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate this summer

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.

And of course, there’s the Dunsmuir Estate, a beautiful mansion out in East Oakland surrounded by expansive and quite stunning gardens.

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.

19 thoughts on “Friday movies at the Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate this summer

  1. gwen

    1. One more reason to go: the Dunsmuir House is the mansion in So I Married An Axe Murderer.

    2. Every Friday and Saturday evening the big telescopes at Chabot are open and FREE for the viewing. Local amateur astronomers [including guess who] bring out their gear, too, and point them at even more objects.

  2. livegreen

    Chabot is great, especially for kids. Lots of school groups go there, though as much or more from Contra Costa County. I wish OUSD & Chabot cooperated more extensively. Hopefully one day Chabot will rival the Exploratorium…

    Our son’s a pre-schooler and absolutely loves Chabot, the Zoo (far better than SF’s), and Fairyland.

    The Dunsmuir also has great family events at Easter and other times. I hope they do more of these…

  3. Karen Smulevitz

    Spend a beautiful warm, sunny day at Dunsmuir this coming Sunday, June 28th, with BLUEGRASS FOR THE GREENBELT, 11 am – 6 pm. It’s the 4th annual benefit concert for Greenbelt Alliance, San Francisco Bay’s advocate for open spaces. Enjoy good food and beer, or bring a picnic lunch and a blanket. Great music by the Waybacks, the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, Laurie Lewis, and others. Kid’s area with pony rides. $40, kids under 12 free, Check out Bluegrass for the Greenbelt on Facebook.

    Wonderful excuse to visit Dunsmuir!

  4. navigator

    V, Another really cool place in Oakland that probably many Oaklanders are not too familiar with is the beautiful Woodminster Amphitheater in Joaquin Miller Park in the Oakland hills. It’s an amazing place to watch a play under the stars and surrounded by redwoods.

    Dunsmuir Estate is just another of the many hidden treasures in Oakland. I’ve never seen a city which offers so much and yet gets very little credit for having any attractions.

  5. Montclair Oak

    Dunsmuir should not be a secret anymore! This is advanced warning to visit during the Xmas season, when you will see amazing decorations, concerts, santa visits, etc. It’s a real East Bay tradition, for decades.

  6. Izzy Ort

    It’s also the mansion in the James Bond movie View to a Kill.

    And, “the elegant mansion was built as a wedding gift for his beloved Josephine in December 1899. Tragically, Alexander became ill and died while in New York on their honeymoon. Josephine returned alone to her new home where she resided until her death in 1901.”

    That’s why I nixed the idea when someone suggested it would be a good place for Mrs. Ort and I to have our wedding reception.

  7. das88

    Wow, V, reading this post I thought I was getting my RSS feeds mixed-up. Hopefully, you’re not going to start getting into historical stuff and going to LPAB and giving the stink eye when the board members say silly things.

    It is all true — Oakland does have lots of wonderful stuff. I made a pitch on the open comment thread, but this seems like another good place to mention that I created a public Google Calendar of upcoming walks and tours through the city from the City Walking Tour program, Oakland Heritage Alliance, and other groups. These free to $20 tours are far more fun than Council meetings:

  8. das88

    Oh, I hate to double-comment, but …

    There is this great website that lists filming locations for movies. Here’s the link for the Oakland page (only up to 2005)

    I did a Google site search for the Dunsmuir House and came up with 9 movies shot there


  9. Ken

    check out the oakland rose garden. really beautiful, wedding-class spot.

    good place to enjoy take-out from gregoire’s…

  10. Ramona Dennis

    Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate will also have live jazz performances before the classic movie. Bring your family, warm blankets and picnic supper for a great night of music and movies. It all starts at 6:30p.m.

  11. SF2OAK

    Isn’t this great, the Hellman Estate, named for the Jew who financed CA, has movies on shabbat at his former estate so practicing Jews cannot actually go to the movies. I’m pretty sure he was reform so he could go to the movies…why go to the Hellman estate and pay for bluegrass when you can get Warren Hellmans Not Strictly Bluegrass in SF for free? Warren your roots are here too, why not give a little- $40 a ducat?

    Until Oakland gets the murder of 4 police officers off the front pages and frontal lobes you will not hear about good stuff in OAK.

    OK the rose garden is beautiful and for a wedding you don’t have to buy flowers (and it is sooo green to actaully have flowers planted rather than grow, cut, ship, drive but the rose garden is not a park, kids can’t play- maybe in another iteration the waterfall will become hot tubs…

  12. das88

    @SF2OAK, I am sorry to hear that you will not be able to attend tonight’s showing of My Fair Lady because of a conflict with your observance of the sabbath. While it does not have the same festive air, I did search the library catalog and found several copies of the movie you can enjoy at home.

    In regards to the differences between the upcoming Bluegrass events in San Francisco and the Dunsmuir. The one at the Dunsmuir is a benefit for the Greenbelt Alliance which is why the tickets cost money. Even still, I believe $40 is fairly inline with most festivals these days (certainly cheaper than Outside Lands!).

    I also do not think it is really right to lambast Warren Hellman for doing something good just because you think he might have done more or done it in a different way. Too many wealthy individuals do not do anything for the community, when someone does I think they should be applauded.

    If you are still not happy with events, you might try a cookie. I hear they are great for bringing a sense of joy to people. I believe there are many kosher varieties.

  13. len

    As long as we’re talking about race, religion, and politics, almost in the same postings, can anyone point me to a history of Jews in Oakland pre 1920′s?

    -len raphael

  14. Patrick

    @das88 I have to say, your “tasty bake-goods” comment to annoyed had me laughing until I hurt. Love the reprise. I recommend almond rugalach for a Jewish person in need of cookie solace.

  15. Ken

    thanks for pointing out the dunsmuir $5 movie night. it was all fun and good until the speakers blew out about 1/3 of the way into the movie. then everywun had to go home. better luck next time! (the place is really beautiful and quiet, can’t wait to go back.)

  16. Karen Smulevitz

    Sunday night, recovering from too much sun, but the Bluegrass for the Greenbelt was beautiful, as was the setting. Interestingly, Warren Hellman was there himself, singing and playing banjo, and relating a little family history. I don’t know if he was being truthful or facetious, but his sister is writing a new book on the Hellman Family, called “Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves in Four Generations”.
    And the cause is good. I will never enjoy the Regional Parks, or Point Reyes, or any open space in California, without breathing a thank you to Alliance for the Greenbelt.

  17. Quercki M. Singer

    Patrick and len, have you tried the rugalach from the Grand Bakery at 3264 Grand Avenue? Strictly kosher.

    len: Wikipedia has an entry for Books about Oakland, California
    I don’t know how well it covers the pre-1920s, but try this one. Walden Pond might have it.
    1976 Free to Choose: The Jews of Oakland, Fred Rosenbaum (Berkeley: The Judah L. Magnes Memorial Museum).

  18. Patrick

    I would love to try the Grand Bakery, but they are only open when I am on my way too, at, or on my way home from work. I’ll put it on my vacation to-do list.