The North Oakland bungalow where young revolutionaries founded the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s has been remodeled into a trendy showpiece worthy of Better Homes and Gardens.
Panther co-founder Bobby Seale lived there with his parents when he and other early Panthers patrolled neighborhoods carrying the weapons they kept at the home now advertised as a $400,000 light-filled house with maple, stainless steel and quartz features.
Panther icon Huey Newton, Seale and others gathered there to begin drafting their 10-point party manifesto that galvanized a national movement.
“I had meetings around the dining room,” the 75-year-old Seale said in an interview this month.
A real estate firm in October paid the Seale family about $200,000 for the 1901 house, added maple cabinets, quartz counters and other upgrades and put it on the market last month.
Seale said his family paid $13,000 for it in 1960.
It has a buyer, and the deal was expected to close last week, said Realtor Eric Wong of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, which marketed the property.
“We had to replace the entire brick foundation, ripped out the carpeting, opened up the whole house to a more contemporary aesthetic,” Wong said. The sales photos depict modern furnishings in sunny, airy rooms.
The radical past of 809 57th Street is absent from the pitch but briefly mentioned in the disclosure form.
The Panthers’ legacy endures in the fast-changing neighborhood.
“I think everybody in the United States has probably heard something about the Black Panthers,” said neighbor Jacqueline Jacobs, 58.
“That’s where it started,” she said, nodding toward the house, newly painted gray-green. “They brought a lot of pride to our race. You weren’t ashamed about who you were.”
Seale drafted notes on the Panthers’ 10-Point Program on the dining room table.
He and the coalescing Panthers debated philosophy, law and how to protect black youths from Oakland and Berkeley police as his mother cooked in the kitchen and his father tinkered outside.
He and Newton met as classmates at nearby Merritt College and co-founded the Black Panther Party in October 1966.
The family home was a central meeting place.
“We would come in from patrol at night, unload our weapons at my house, and lay them all out across the long dining room table,” Seale wrote in his 1978 autobiography. “My mother had no fear of guns, being off the farm. She would simply say, ‘You-all be careful out there with them white folks ’cause they might want to hurt you-all, Bobby.’ ”
By the end of the 1960s, Seale and his Merritt College classmates had transformed Oakland into the hotbed of a national movement of black youths demanding social and economic justice, promoting self-empowerment and defending their right to bear arms. Also on the agenda was putting up stop signs and feeding children.
“Neighbors knew me,” Seale said. “People knew what I was about, more so than the stereotypes in the newspapers. They knew I had the breakfast program, the free clinics.”
J. Edgar Hoover denounced the Panthers as “the greatest threat” to America’s internal security.
By 1970, what began as a neighborhood fellowship turned into a nationwide war that cost the lives of Panthers and police officers.
Seale returned to his family home in 2001. Now, he is one of many black elders leaving North Oakland.
“It saddens me to see such a legend leave the community and lose that house that should be a landmark,” said neighbor and family friend Kemba Shakur. “Bobby has accomplished ideas that have changed the world.”
The house is in what some Realtors like to call “Outer Temescal,” where a real estate revival and foreclosure sales have brought a surge of remodels.
The African-American population in Seale’s neighborhood — actually known as Santa Fe — dropped by about 30 percent in the past decade according to the census.
“When I moved here in ’94, the whole block was black,” Shakur said. “Now, there are probably three black owners. Some people call it gentrification.”
A counterculture edge persists.
As Shakur spoke, evicted squatters were salvaging a purple door and other furniture from their boarded-up Hilarity Collective, an anarchist commune. Around the corner a purple house hosts loud punk shows and Occupy Oakland fundraisers, to the chagrin of some neighbors.
Shakur worries that the African-American families who put decades of work into the neighborhood aren’t bearing the fruits of its long-sought revival.
“Some of the things forcing people out of this community are the bad loans, and the new people have a very negative perception of young black males,” said Shakur, a mother of four sons.
Bobby Seale, a carpenter and draftsman, improved the house and wanted to do more. But his sister wanted to sell last year.
Marketing it at twice what the Seales were paid for it reflects “the same crap that got this financial debacle started in the first place,” he said.
But the aging activist, who now lives in Contra Costa County with his wife of more than three decades, doesn’t begrudge the newcomers.
“People move. Humans move. Power to the people, whether they’re black, white, blue, whatever.”
BOBBY SEALE’S OLD HOME
In summer 1960:
“We all moved into a two-bedroom, five-room, wood-frame home with a small back porch, a separate rear garage, and a driveway, in a quiet residential street in Oakland. … I’d pop home in the afternoons, barbecue in the backyard, and sit down to design additions to the house.”
“We would come in from patrol at night, unload our weapons at my house, and lay them all out across the long dining room table.”
REALTORS’ FOR-SALE AD
“Light Filled 2 Bedroom 2 Bath North Oakland Bungalow with a modern, open floor plan features a master suite, new foundation, open kitchen with quartz counter tops and natural maple cabinetry, stainless steel appliances, large bedrooms, new bathrooms, and updated electrical and plumbing. A long driveway provides plenty of parking in addition to a detached garage. The house is framed with new landscaping and a beautiful backyard. This North Oakland home has been restored and remodeled and is ready for you to move in.”
Source: MCT Information Services