Steeped in maritime lore, Jack London Square is one of Oakland’s most identifiable landmarks and a symbol of the city’s history as a seaport. Fronting a natural estuary leading to San Francisco Bay, the site was the heart of Oakland’s port operations, linking the industries of shipping and agriculture. It remains a vibrant working waterfront.
Jack London (January 12, 1876 – November 22, 1916) was an American author who wrote The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and The Sea Wolf along with many other popular books. A pioneer in the then-burgeoning world of commercial magazine fiction, he was one of the first Americans to make a lucrative career exclusively from writing.
In an introduction to a collection of stories, he wrote:
I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.
Jack London spent much of his boyhood on the waterfront that is now Jack London Square. Here, his youthful adventures as an oyster pirate and sailor inspired stories like The Sea-Wolf. Visit the life sized bronze stature of Jack London standing watch over the waterfront at the foot of Broadway. This bronze sculpture was created by artist Cedric Wentworth.
London made notes for future books while sitting at the tables of Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, built in 1883 from the timbers of a whaling ship. Now a National Literary Landmark, Heinold’s preserves its rustic character from an earlier era when it was frequented by eminent politicians, statesmen, authors, and artists, as well as humble sailors shipping out to sea. Adjacent to Heinold’s, a recreated model of the cabin Jack London lived in during his time spent in the Yukon is available for viewing.
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