A few days ago I visited a unique Oakland spot called Charcoal Park. Probably for the first and last time, as it closes up next week due to financial reasons.

Photo: Rachel Dornhelm, KQED

Charcoal Park isn’t really a park. Formerly a carpet store, the space now feels like a cross between a museum and your favorite aunt’s living room. In this vast space, historical displays are interspersed with cozy couches and colorful folk art.

The curator of this unique Fruitvale space, Shirley Everett-Dicko, explained Charcoal Park this way: “It’s a product of my passions: collecting, history and barbecue.” She says she opened it because she thought “it would be a creative way of teaching history to our youth.”

Everett-Dicko first signed a lease here thinking this would be the new home for the original branch of her family’s popular barbecue restaurant Everett and Jones. Financing for the restaurant didn’t materialize but in the meantime she’d moved in hundreds of historical artifacts she’d collected over the last 30 years.

Photo: Rachel Dornhelm, KQED

So now it functions as a kind of community center: Friday is movie night for neighborhood kids; at anytime anyone is welcome to stop in with their coffee and hang out on the couches reading one of the books available here.

There’s lots of other stuff too … a steel Maytag washing machine, a mock up kitchen from the turn of the century, a bale of cotton, a huge wall of Obama memorabilia and art of all kinds.

“This is just showcasing the African American community through our food, our arts, our history,” she says “but it’s American history also.”

There’s even more outside: a community garden in back, with pear, plum and cherry fruit trees. As Everett-Dicko points out, this is the kind of orchard that got the Fruitvale neighborhood its name.

When she moved into the space, she brought with her one popular program she’d started at the Everett and Jones Gift Shop: Santa’s Crib, which offered kids free pictures with an African-American Santa Claus, as a way of reframing the traditional figure.

Everett-Dicko is quick to say that her landlords have gone above and beyond, letting her stay so long without paying rent, while providing tremendous moral support. She understands she has to vacate by next Tuesday. But as she and neighbors pack up to move, she says she’s hoping for a miracle that would allow her to stay. If that doesn’t materialize, she’s searching for temporary storage.

There are more photos and videos of Charcoal Park and the events that have taken place there on their Facebook page.

Listen to Rachel Dornhelm’s radio report on Charcoal Park here:

The Close of Oakland’s Charcoal Park 28 April,2011Rachel Dornhelm


Rachel Dornhelm

Rachel Dornhelm has worked as a reporter, editor and producer in public radio for the last twelve years. She got her start in New York City at WNYC and went on to work with the national business program Marketplace, WBUR’s “On Point” and KQED News in San Francisco. Her work has been honored by the LA Press Club and the SF-Peninsula Press Club.

Rachel has a BA with honors in anthropology from Rice University and did graduate work at NYU.

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