Who would have guessed that when the City of Oakland purchased the Veterans Memorial Building from the County of Alameda for $1.00, life in Oakland would never be the same? After a determined group of seniors identified the building as the perfect location for a senior center, what started as a scattering of classes and activities quickly grew to become Oakland’s oldest and largest senior center.
Prior to the hiring of an “official” director, the senior center under the guidance of a number of building managers, and very enthusiastic and capable senior volunteers. By the end of the 80s an Advisory Council was formed. There were more programs and a new dance on Tuesday afternoon attracted 200 dancers. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake created a major interruption. The Ballroom was taken over by the City Relief Services, and the Tuesday Tea Dance had to be temporarily relocated into Hall 1. Things did not return to normal until the fall of 1991, but the senior center program had survived and was on the move!
In 1994 Howard Banchefsky was hired as the director of the Downtown Oakland Senior Center. Howard added new classes, and he as an enthusiastic supporter of the many dance programs including the Friday Night dances that were started in 1992. Under his direction, a Thursday Tea Dance was added. Recognizing the need for coordination and policy agreement, he established a Dance Council to handle the afternoon and evening dances. Overall center attendance increased with the addition of a new parking lot in 1996. Meanwhile, the dance program continued to expand with the addition of a weekend dance program.
In 2001 Center members proudly celebrated the Center’s 20th
Anniversary. And indeed, there was much to celebrate. Between 1996 and 2006 enough income was generated so that the Center’s Fundraising treasury was able to fund over a quarter of a million dollars in capital improvements, and to purchase equipment, furniture and fixtures. By 2005 the combined daytime, evening and weekend dance programs were attracting 600 to 800 dancers a week. Because senior center operating hours ended at 5:00 p.m., the City insisted that a non-profit organization be created to operate the evening and weekend dance programs. In 2006 the Lake Merritt Dance Center, Inc. was formed.
In 2007, the center welcomed Jennifer King as the new director. In an early meeting with center volunteers, Jennifer articulated the need to “set the bar high” so that DOSC would attract and maintain all three generations of seniors. Jennifer and the Advisory Council quickly set about “beautifying” and marketing the center. Oakland Magazine did a five-page story about us; KQED broadcast live from our Ballroom; and the Oakland Tribune did several feature articles on DOSC. In 2012 photographs of our Ballroom (and dancers), taken by a Pulitzer Prize photographer, graced the cover of the SF Chronicle. Under her energetic and visionary leadership, new programs such as Coffee & Conversations, Movie-Lectures events, and an Annual Veterans Recognition Luncheon were added to the center’s already robust program. More than 50 members now regularly attend the bi-annual trips to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The Creative Writing project, done in collaboration with the West Oakland Senior Center, published four anthologies of creative writings by seniors, the only literary project of this magnitude in the entire country. In December 2020, the Jennifer King retired after serving Oakland seniors for 13 years.
In April 2021, Jessi Cutter-Kim joined the team as the new director. As you can see, DOSC’s past has been tremendous, and its future appears even more promising. We look forward to celebrating many more years of Vibrant Living.