I had the pleasure today of taking in Rick Prelinger’s latest “lost landscape” production, “Lost Landscapes of Oakland”. Prelinger is one of the most fascinating people you’ll ever meet, and with his wife, Megan (also fascinating), has given us the Prelinger Library and the Prelinger Archives. His lost landscapes offer compilations of archival footage to tell a part of the story of a time and place that might have been lost to us. So, in Lost Landscapes of Oakland, we got home movies, newsreels, industrial films, and the like, showing Oakland through the first 70 or so years of the 20th century.
The word is out regarding these showings (he has previously done them in San Francisco and Detroit). The Oakland Museum of California had to turn people away … we were glad we’d decided to arrive early. Rick invites the audience to participate as the films are showing … in particular, he’s looking for information about places that he doesn’t yet know. So there’d be footage of Oakland in the 1920s, and someone would shout out the name of the street, or tell us what theater that was. When we saw the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League at Oaks Park for the opener of the 1918 season, someone wondered aloud what now stood in the Park’s location. Someone else shouted out, “PIXAR!”
I found a couple of items to be particularly interesting. There was footage of a big fire in Berkeley in 1923, and I wondered if we’d get anything more recent (my mom, a Berkeley native, having been born in 1928). Sure enough, there was a bit from the late 30s, and I could imagine my mom as a young girl.
There was also quite a bit about the Key System, which transported people between San Francisco and the East Bay. I had mentioned on the ride to the showing that I wondered if we’d see anything about the Key System … I don’t remember it, myself, but I do remember people of my parents’ age talking about it in the past tense.
It might sound boring, watching this stuff for a little more than an hour, but it was nothing of the sort. In a Q&A session after the showing, one person asked Rick what movies we might shoot now that would be good for a future Lost Landscape. He encouraged us to document our neighborhoods.