Caroline Park was a significant meeting place for the Chinese community that was lost when Bay Area Rapid Transit began construction on the immediate area in 1969. The original BART Headquarters was built atop Caroline Park and the Lake Merritt BART Station is directly underneath what used to be the green and vibrant Caroline Square Park. Now the space is an empty concrete square because the BART Headquarters building was deemed unsafe for earthquakes and relocated to the Kaiser Center by Lake Merritt in 2010.Originally founded on March 15th, 1869, the park was one of 6 public square spaces mandated by the then Mayor of Oakland, Samuel Merrritt for public usage. Most of the other public parks are open today, their names are Lafayette, Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, Oakland and Madison. Due to racial discrimination in the housing market, Chinese Americans and immigrants were pushed into the part of Oakland that is now considered Chinatown. So the park became a main place for the Chinese community to connect, relax and even organize.
During the mornings, Chinese elders would come together to perform their traditional exercise of tai chi and throughout the day the park was frequented by neighborhood families and children. For the Mid- Autumn Harvest Festival and other celebrations many would come out for music and dancing. The planning of urban renewal in Chinatown began in the 1950s and challenged the familiar landscape created over decades. Residents who spoke to local reporters remember the displacement being a difficult transition, captured in articles below. Caroline Park was not the only entity of the community replaced, as the building of BART Headquarters displaced surrounding buildings within Chinatown. In the city’s effort to preserve the park’s role in the neighborhood 75 Chinese households, the local Episcopal Church, and a girls orphanage were destroyed so that a new Madison Square Park could replace the beloved Caroline Park. The demolition of the the park is still a painful mark in their history, even though the chinese community in Oakland have gained other spots like Asian Branch of the Oakland Public Library and the Oakland Asian Cultural Center.
Looking to the future, how can we begin to bring greater accessibility with transportation that does not displace the original residents and community spaces of the area? Will transit-based development hurt or rejuvenate the community? These are questions that the city council and neighborhood communities need to seriously address as Oakland gets further into its plans to build up properties in close proximity to the existing BART Stations. The area of the Lake Merritt BART Station is slated to be renovated once again, in the form of the Lake Merritt Station Area Plan. A similar West Oakland Specific Plan (WOSP) is also in the works for the city as of 2015. Both projects will create more housing and commercial properties to areas near BART. Caroline Park should be a reminder of what can be lost in the process of urban renewal projects within Oakland.