Oakland Museum of California
museum in Oakland, California



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Oakland Museum of California
museum in Oakland, California
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1000 Oak Street
Oakland, California
United States

More about Oakland Museum of California

amcneary's picture


Boxy 1960s architecture houses the Oakland Museum of California, bastion of Cali pride. 

It’s home to work by artists with connections to the Golden State from diverse periods, movements, degrees of fame, and career stages.

OMCA also boasts California History and Natural Science galleries, just in case you forgot that California is completely badass across disciplines. 

The museum has a semi-secret sculpture garden visitors often miss. It’s not hard to find if you keep an eye out for the signs or ask the staff.

The museum consists of a series of staggered galleries. A garden runs over the roofs, and the whole place feels like a neatly contained urban oasis.

Bring a picnic and soak in the sunshine as you reflect on how we have underrated Oakland. 






dromero's picture


The Oakland Museum of California (formerly the Oakland Museum), had pretty humble beginnings, that is, if you consider a 19th-century Italianate Victorian mansion on the shores of Lake Merritt “humble.”

The mansion in question is the Camron-Stanford House, which is itself now a historic house museum. The city of Oakland purchased the Camron-Stanford house and lakefront property in 1907, and then had other private homes that were on the lakefront condemned (harsh!) in order to create Lakeside Park. Three years later, Oakland’s first museum, the Oakland Public Museum, opened in the former residence of Josh Stanford, (older brother of Leland Stanford, noted politician, founder of Stanford University, and robber baron).

The Oakland Public Museum’s collections consisted of some 12,000 anthropological, historical, and ethnological items throughout 14 rooms; the main source of these items was the collector Charles Wilcomb, who coincidentally, was hired as the museum’s first curator. This museum had an extensive assortment of departments, including California History, North American Ethnology, Ethnology of Asia, Africa, Central America, the Pacific Islands, and even a children’s room.

The following years saw the opening of the Oakland Art Museum, which started out as the Oakland Art Gallery in 1916, as well as the Snow Museum, which came into existence in 1922. These museums are significant because they comprise the last two museums that would later become part of the Oakland Museum of California. The Oakland Art Museum was housed on the 2nd floor of what is now the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, (formerly the Oakland Civic Auditorium) and contained mainly works by California artists, such asWilliam Keith,Richard Diebenkorn, and Wayne Thiebaud, but also hosted exhibitions of modern art that included European works.

The Snow Museum was also housed in a mansion near the shore of Lake Merritt (that somehow did not get condemned along with the other houses); this mansion was the Cutting Mansion at 19th and Harrison Streets. Henry Snow was a big-game hunter and explorer, who allegedly threatened to donate his collection of natural history specimens to San Francisco until he was appeased by the city of Oakland’s decision to purchase the mansion in order to house the collection. While it’s not uncommon to be able to rent art from museums, even today, it was a bit more unusual to be able to rent a stuffed lion or polar bear, as you could from the Snow Museum back in the day.

In 1961, voters passed a $6.6 million bond issue to pay for a new building and landscaping, which would incorporate the above three museums into one museum for the people of Oakland and surrounding areas. On the same ballot, the voters also chose between three different sites: one in the hills, the property where the Snow Museum sat, and the Lake Merritt site, which is the one that was selected.

The new three-level modern museum finally opened in 1969, as a free “museum for the people” and without too many major hiccups, although there was the instance of a roofing contractor who did not waterproof the planting beds, which were on the roofs of each level of the building (innovative for the time), and, naturally, they leaked into the building, which led to some disagreements between the architects and the city bureaucracy. There was also the decoration of the Great Hall, which was designed to offer the “solemn grandeur of an Irish castle,” but a different architectural firm later “tarted up this masculine space as a giant boudoir.”

These glitches aside, the new museum was a success with the public, but like all new toys, things get tired and worn-out after a while, so the museum was renovated and reopened in 2010 with more open galleries and improved outdoor spaces. Now ten years later, the museum will again be re-imagined with another renovation, this time focusing on the gardens and making the outdoor spaces more accessible and inviting to the public from the outside of the museum. 




  1. “11 Goners.” Oakland Magazine. Accessed March 15, 2020.
  2. “Life Guide.” Life, October 4, 1963.
  3. Holmes, Helen. “Walter Hood on Winning a 'Genius' Grant and His Vision for Transforming the Oakland Museum.” Observer. Observer, September 26, 2019.
  4. Lefebvre, Sam. “Oakland Museum of California to Undergo $20m Renovation to Exterior, Courtyard.” KQED, August 28, 2019.
  5. Radford, Warren, Andre Ptaszynski, Suzanne Riess, and Gene Tanke. The Oakland Museum of California: A Gift of Architecture. Oakland: Council on Architecture, Oakland Museum Association, 2014.
  6. “The Oakland Public Museum (1907 - 1965).” Camron-Stanford House. Accessed March 13, 2020.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Oakland Museum of California

The Oakland Museum of California or OMCA (formerly the Oakland Museum) is an interdisciplinary museum dedicated to the art, history, and natural science of California, located adjacent to Oak Street, 10th Street, and 11th Street in Oakland, California. The museum contains more than 1.8 million objects dedicated to "telling the extraordinary story of California." It was created in the mid-1960s out of the merger of three separate museums dating from the early 20th century (Snow Museum of Natural History, Oakland Public Museum, Oakland Art Gallery), and was opened in 1969.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Oakland Museum of California.