The first-ever headquarters of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California, may be demolished and turned into a new apartment complex, with only a couple of units set aside for very low-income tenants.
Locals—including former Panthers—have complicated feelings about that.
The plan to turn the property, which is now home to It’s All Good Bakery, into a new housing complex received tentative approval at a local Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board meeting on Monday, according to Oaklandside.
And, perhaps most importantly, the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, named for the Black Panther Party’s co-founder and led by Fredrika Newton, Huey Newton’s widow, supports the proposal, which will now move through the typical city review process. Oakland’s zoning manager will have the final say, Oaklandside reported.
The owner of both the property and the bakery, Kim Cloud, who is also referred to as Kim McClure, has said he has no intention of erasing the Panthers’ history with the redesign. In fact, he used the Panthers’ famous free breakfast program when he was a child. Today, he strives to hire locals who can’t find employment elsewhere, according to the bakery’s website.
“He has always opened his doors to us so that we can share Black Panther history in his bakery,” Newton said in a statement posted to Instagram this week. She also noted that the building has already changed significantly, and she wants to support a “Black and Oakland-owned redevelopment.”
While Cloud didn’t know about the building’s history when he first purchased the property in 1999, he was delighted to learn through Bobby Seale, a co-founder of the Black Panthers, of its ties to the party. The new structure would include space for the bakery, as well as a barbershop that’s also on the property.
"I've owned this building more than 20 years. Nobody prior to me acknowledged the Black Panthers," he told the San Francisco Business Times. "No one ever even paid attention or gave a damn about the history until I brought it to their attention."
The bakery, working alongside the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, currently displays pieces of Black Panther history on its walls—and Cloud wants to make sure the new building has space to commemorate that legacy, too, Oaklandside reported.
Still, Saturu Ned, a former Black Panther, told Oaklandside that the building is like a museum to some people—the party briefly found a home there in 1967 before moving onto another building later that year. Concerns also exist that the new apartment complex would primarily cater to higher-income tenants and worsen gentrification, since only two of the 20 units would be set aside for very low-income tenants, according to Oaklandside. There are currently four apartments above Cloud’s bakery.
“Someone has a right to look at what’s going to benefit them and their family, but also we need to look at the community,” Ned said during the approval meeting Monday. “When we did housing, it was housing according to income.”
It’s not clear whether or not all the opposition to the project, which will be designed by Gunkel Architects, has ties to the Panthers. But one resident said they were concerned about the design firm lacking Black architects, according to SFGate.
“It’s just gentrifying my neighborhood, erasing Black people from Bushrod and Santa Fe,” the resident said, according to SFGate.
Others in the meeting praised Cloud for preserving the building and promoting the Panthers’ legacy.
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.