Something to remember, as we enter a new year: Yesterday's history, Tomorrow is a mystery and Today is a gift, that's why it is called "the present". [Via]

Friday, July 17, 2009

West Oakland embraces the LGBT community

The complete story is in the July 15th East Bay Express found here.

An old soul joint in West Oakland embraces the LGBT community.

Curtis Christy is a salty old club owner with a thick Baton Rouge accent, preserved through all 62 years that he's lived in the Bay Area.

Christy opened the building in 1947 with his late brother Ross. Originally it was a soul food restaurant called Christy's Grill (my parents called it "Chris's Grill"), which lasted until about 1950. Then the brothers transformed it into the Rumboogie, a supper club with a little stage in back. ("Rumboogie," according to Smith, means "Get on down.")

When a curmudgeonly neighbor moved out of the house next door, the Christies bought the deed, demolished the property, and built a larger performance area with a stage and dance floor. They rechristened their club "The Continental" and put on bigger, blow-out shows with all the royalty of Motown — everyone except Michael Jackson, according to Christy.

"This place was the Apollo of Northern California," Smith said, as he and Christy rattled off the names of people who had graced its stage: Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Jackie Wilson, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, the Dells, Sammy Davis, the Supremes (and Otis Redding). In the 70's Jimmy McCracklin booked acts like Etta James, Big Mama Thornton, Ira thomas, Big Joe Turner, T-Bone Walker.

"And — what's the name of that father-killer singer?" asked Christy. "Marvin Gaye," said Smith.
Although largely unheralded, the Continental Club has a remarkable sense of rootedness in West Oakland. It has withstood economic booms and busts, gentrification waves, and drastic changes in the neighborhood topography.

The Christy brothers quietly kept their business afloat when BART and the post office arrived, razing property on 7th Street and squeezing out local residents. They changed with the times, too, heeding Oakland's new cabaret license laws and opening their 600-capacity club for weddings, QuinceaƱeras, and East Bay Dragon motorcycle club parties (which were too loud and ultimately had to be sent packing, said Christy).

But as the brothers got older, business got more and more difficult, with the combined hardship of new laws, police vigilance, and the decline of live music. Ross went back to Louisiana but Christy and Smith kept renting the Continental out for special events, and watched as the neighborhood continued to transform around them: At present, the Continental sits cheek-by-jowl with a "smart growth" development at the old train station.

Among its new neighbors are hipster artists, yuppie loft owners, and, ..., a large LGBT population.

Old photos of the Continental Club can be found at the AAMLO