Cohen-Bray House    

Victorian Preservation Center of Oakland


Born in the Country, Died in the City

Posted by Cohen Bray House on September 7, 2016 at 1:25 AM Comments comments (0)

My mom has often quoted Emelita as saying that she was born in the country and then lived in the city without ever moving. No kidding! When Emma was born, the population of Oakland was less than 2,000 people. By the time the Cohen-Bray House was built in the 1880s, the population was 35,000 people and when Emelita died in the 1990s the population of Oakland had reached nearly 400,000. (Don't know who Emma and Emelita are? Check out the History page here).

For this post I will be digging a little more into the meta history of Oakland. For some context, here is the overall population, broken down by broad race categories from 1860 to 2010. As a caveat, the censuses before 1940 don’t seem to have race breakdowns for CA that I can find, so the early data is an approximation.

*Note about census data: Latino/Hispanic is not considered a "race" in the census, so all of the other races are listed and then the total Hispanic population is listed separately. In 2000 and 2010, it was broken out to show what races the HIspanic population fell into (primarily white, other, and black, in that order), but it was not in the earlier years. There is no perfect way to represent this, but I chose to break out Hispanic as its own catagory and removed those people from the other race categories. This is in part because the Latino community is so important to Fruitvale and I want to make sure they are represented. Before 2000, the Hispanic population was not broken down by race, so I applied the percentage of white and black hispanics as a correction to the numbers for all previous years.



There is a TON of information here, so let’s focus on a few things for now.


The population rose dramatically until 1950 and then declined into the 1970s, which was typical for American cities at the time. In particular, the non-hispanic white population plummeted after 1950, which also closely corresponded with an enormous growth in African American residents.


Oakland was a huge shipbuilding region during World War II, meaning that there were ample, good paying jobs. Southern African Americans flocked to the west coast for the promise of (relatively) high paying and (also relatively) limited racial discrimination. What is interesting that you can see on the graph below is that the migration did not stop when the shipyard jobs collapsed at the end of the war. The African American population of Oakland continued to increase through 1990, despite the overall population declining.


One caveat is that this does not take into account the demographics of neighboring Bay Area cities, which I can do at a later time. It is possible that a large part of this population growth was due to the population shifting around the different Bay Area cities due to affordability and racially discriminatory housing and mortgage practices. That is all for a future post.


One of the disappointing things about the census data is that it is not consistent between years. Between 1950 and 1990 there was a good breakdown on the nationality of Asian and Pacific Island residents of Oakland, which unfortunately is not available either earlier or later in the record (at least that I can find tonight). So, for example, it is impossible to see the effect of the Japanese internment during WWII on the population of Oakland residents of Japanese origin. One thing that is visible from the data that is available is the increase in immigrants from post-conflict areas such as Vietnam, Korea, and Cambodia (not show separately) in the 1970s and 1980s.

*Note that starting in the 2000 census, only aggregated numbers are available.

There is also, somewhat shockingly, no breakdown of the category alternately called "White with Spanish Surname", "Hispanic", or "Hispanic or Lantino" by country of origin/ancestry. I will have to get at the history of the Latino influx to the city in another way.


That is all for now. Stay tuned for more detailed looks at the both the overall Oakland history and also as I start to try to track down the individuals that lived and worked with Emma and Alfred over their lives.

* All data is take from the Bay Area Census website, a project of the Association of Bay Area Governments

Welcome to the blog!

Posted by Cohen Bray House on August 23, 2016 at 1:15 AM Comments comments (3)

Welcome to the Cohen Bray House’s new blog! I am Emma, a great, great, granddaughter of Emma and Alfred, the original inhabitants of 1440 29th Ave. Over the next several months I will be exploring all of the people that lived and worked in the homes of Emma and Alfred over their lifetimes, as well as the overall demographics of the neighborhood and how it fit into the broader history of Oakland.


While there is not a specific goal to this project, I think it will be an interesting way to explore some of the larger themes in the history of Oakland, the Bay Area and our country as a whole. Themes such as immigration, demographic shifts, gender roles, and changes in household dynamics. Here are some teasers from the household census data. In later posts I will be digger deeper into the individuals and history relevant to their experiences.

Household Size and Make Up:

The following data is for the combined Cohen and Bray households from the time of Emma and Alfred's birth. Over the years from 1860 to 1940, 60% of household members were staff.

The staff that worked and lived at the house was heavily male, while the family was evenly split between men and women. This is reflection of the pattern of immigration from countries such as China, where men often came over by themselves to try to earn a living. In fact, all of the Chinese staff recorded in the census were male and none were married.

The size of the households declined sharply over time. This plot is somewhat skewed because the early years have both the Bray and Cohen Family estates, but the later years do not include the households of the Cohen children or Emma and Alfred's siblings except for the ones that remained at home. However, for perspective, Emma started her life in a household of 13 people and by 1930 she lived in a household of two - just herself and her daughter Emilita.


The staff was heavily Chinese and Irish, but also had a wide diversity of other nationalities.

The family came primarily from the East Coast or was born in California.

That is all for now, folks. Stay tuned for a deep dive into the people behind these statistics and the history of the neighborhood where they lived and worked!