Oakslander: The Hidden History of Oaklandish

A remembrance from creator Jeff Hull

The original Oaklandish campaign was born out of a concern for local history & culture being lost or rewritten. Now, 20 years later, that very campaign has itself been lost and rewritten. Is it any surprise? As we observe the twentieth anniversary of Nonchalance & Oaklandish, I felt it fitting to take a brief stroll down memory lane...

Secret Stairways of the Eastbay

Imagine if you will an Oakland where downtown is deserted at night, there are virtually zero new restaurants, and nightlife is something you must create for yourself. In this Oakland, you can rent an apartment for well under $1000 a month, and street parking is ample and free. But alas; there is no Art Murmur / First Fridays, no Art & Soul Festival, and no Grand Lake Farmer’s Market. You cannot shop at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods Market. Any mention of this city in the news is about homicides, not technology, culture or food.

the new science of Nonchalance

Welcome to our hometown, the only one we knew and loved. We still felt passionately about the unique flavor, the woods and streams, and the underdog spirit we were raised on. This is the atmosphere in which Oaklandish was born. Circa 1998, as a result of the first “dot com bubble” there was suddenly great interest for people to finally “cross the bridge” to the sunny and affordable lands of Oakland. The response, by myself and a band of collaborators known as Nonchalance, was to use any means necessary to ensure that people did not forget the unique spirit, culture, and history of the Town.

car projecting movie in parking lot cars parked in lot watching film bicyclists sitting in a lot watching film electronics in the back of a car

“In the middle of the night, a mysterious group of people… approach an Oakland civic building. In the darkness, they assemble their equipment. Viewers, unsure of what will happen next, congregate. The tension grows. Then the group... puts on a slide show — a slide show about how much it loves Oakland, no less. “City of Dreams” a sequence of 130 images of local historical figures set to music, already has been clandestinely screened on the faces of the Kaiser Building, the Grand Lake Theater, and the Oakland Airport Tower Lounge.... Who's behind it all, and why are they doing it?... City of Dreams' creators claim they're just "celebrating the patron saints and sinners of our unsung city" and promoting their "enduring love for 'original Oakland charm.' "

The first guerrilla art project, as described by the East Bay Express //Read Full Article

The project was called the “City of Dreams: an Oakland Love Retrospective”. Directly after this first event in 1999, a man approached from the shadows, and he grabbed me by my shoulders and proclaimed; “Don’t you ever stop doing this!” That man was none other than Dan Fontes, muralist of Freeway Giraffes and hundreds of other epic Bay Area pieces. Dan was an essential inspiration to me, and continues to be.

His counsel was taken to heart. That award-winning project was followed by the Oaklandish Poster Campaign, the Oakslander Lakeside Gazette indie zine, a website overflowing with local history, and several gallery art shows. All of these in-roads led to hundreds of free public events where “negative urban spaces” were activated in order to facilitate cultural content and dialogue. These events included the Liberation Drive-In, the Lake Merritt Radio Regatta, Urban Capture the Flag games, and Salsa by the Lake. We were striving to build a sense of destination and happening in an area we knew was greatly under appreciated. We wanted to be part of the conversation about the changing identity of our town. 

twelve black and white posters of famous locals

Oaklandish Poster Campaign

Offset press posters of 12 Local Legends wheat pasted onto the urban canvas

people running and playing capture the flag

Rogue Urban Capture the Flag

At Frank Ogowa Plaza

comic illustrations from zine

Oakslander Zine

//Volume 1

//Volume 2

//Volume 3 [ coming soon ]

Local Love Montage


people on the docks of lake merrit

Lake Merrit Radio Regatta

Boat house party with live broadcast to onboard radio

group of people behind a boombox that says Oakland

East Bay Sessions


//Full Tracks Here

In 2004, in a raw warehouse above Merchant’s Saloon in the produce district, the Oaklandish Gallery appeared. The Express described it as ”the deepest art space in Oaktown’s burgeoning gallery scene”.  Besides diverse art exhibits, free film screenings, and vibrant music performances and dance parties, there appeared the first line of Oaklandish T-shirts and hoodies.

collage of merch and activities at the Oaklandish Gallery

Predictably, the space was shut down, as permit compliance lied beyond our reach. There was heartbreak fallout, and no shortage of drama, as difficult choices needed to be made. My favorite urban myth was born out of this moment; that I had actually stolen the Oaklandish name, brand, and identity from another more credible artist! Ooh, it’s a story too good to resist! In retrospect we can see; even our mythologies have mythologies.

So how do you continue the mission of celebrating local love and original Oakland charm without a central space? Can you execute guerrilla street art events when the “powers that be” know who you are? Can you play on historical cultural content now that you’ve entered the commercial arena? Oaklandish was no longer anonymous or underground, yet we were far from established.

Oaklandish van selling merch

Witness the advent of the Oaklandish Mobile-Ops rig, with pop-up retail locations including the newly launched Grand Lake Farmer’s Market. Transitioning into the hustle of the apparel business, we discovered a means to support other community artists and pioneers through the Oakland Innovators Awards, where proceeds would go toward financial grants and promotional partnerships. This transition represents the beginning of the Oaklandish brand that we recognize today, now led by Angela Tsay, my former partner.

Twenty years later there are parts of Oakland that are almost unrecognizable. The landscape and population is literally changing before our eyes. And the questions remains; what parts of the city will be completely paved over, and which elements deserve careful preservation? That is what the roots emblem represents; that which lies just beneath the surface, the historical foundation upon which today is built.

I am occasionally asked “so, what does Oaklandish mean?”  At first the question itself pained me, as I felt it needed no explanation. Yet, during a time of such rapid transition, the question appears more relevant than ever. So, in response, knowing that there are other answers out there, here is my crack at what it means to be Oaklandish.


The very most important thing: Acknowledge each other.

There is one easy way for me to identify if you were raised here or not. When I am sitting on my front porch, and a sidewalk passer by does not acknowledge me at all, I instantly know they are not from Oakland. Folks, it’s as easy as a nod. That casual “what’s up?” said in passing. “Hello”. “Good morning.” “How are you?”. Any or all of the above. This is something we learned to expect when walking around the neighborhood; we acknowledge each others presence. That simple gesture of recognition is what separates the Town from other cities. We are not strangers, we are not separate. We are neighbors, and we are neighborly. It saddens me to see this tradition gradually lost upon newcomers. Together we can revive and preserve it. So remember: Say “Hey” Oakland!

Next, and more obviously: Do not fear those who appear different than you.

Some people look different than you, thank goodness. They may speak differently. They may wear a turban, combat boots, or some saggy ass jeans. When you’re raised in such a diverse locality, it is easier to understand that these strangers are not out to get you. They have families too, and are likely going about their day with a comparable amount of good will that you possess in your own heart. And they may be scared of you too. Give them the same chance you deserve, and it is quite likely that you will be pleasantly surprised. {side note: this advice is not equivalent to forgetting “street wisdom”, personal safety, or behavioral warning signs). Just be decent while remembering that variety is the spice of life.

Lastly: Please appreciate the pioneering and radical foundations of Oakland.

You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t need to support it. But you would be a fool to move here and not grasp that this is the birthplace of the Black Panthers, the Hell’s Angels, the U.C. system, the Free Speech Movement, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do method, Juila Morgan’s eclectic technique, Larry Graham’s slap funk bass style, and countless other trail blazers, innovators, and outcasts. This is the Wild West, after all, the end of the rainbow where Cowboys, Indians, and Outlaws, as well as Creators, Seekers & Visionaries all sought space to stake their claim. It has historically been a place of inspiration and divergence; the very frame of mind which the technology industry was born out of. No matter your personal views, it would behoove us all to tip our hat to the renegade foundations of Oakland.