The Oakland Cannery began life in the 1930’s as a fruit cannery, before eventually hosting haberdasheries and other trade-related businesses. In 1975, with the live/work trend already in full swing in places like New York City, a man named Jerry Cisco had the idea to lease out the upper floor of the warehouse complex to artists.
Arthur Monroe, one of the original artists to make the Cannery home, has been active as an Abstract Expressionist painter since the 1950s. Mr. Monroe was a professor of African American studies at the University of Berkeley and San Jose State College. He also worked as a registrar for the Oakland Museum for 35 years. “I’ve been living in this building, painting, for 40 years. We fought for this place over and over again.”
In the early days of artists at the Cannery, Mr. Monroe recalls that, at first, the City of Oakland didn’t know what to do, and tried to shut down the building. “It wasn’t a live/work space at that time,” says Mr. Monroe. “I had to go down to the City Council and get them interested, and work out a deal. We really had to fight for our space. [ The City Council promised that ] If we would do some specific things to make the place livable, we could stay.”
Gradually, over the years, Mr. Monroe and other artists worked to make their studios more habitable. “At first, I only had a very basic setup. A small kitchen, a bathroom. It was a gradual process. I used wood burning stoves for heat, lots of hot water for the tea kettle, and on occasion, some meals.”
Upgrades in 2008
Later, another round of major upgrades to the Cannery occurred around 2008, leading to a creative flourishing. Upgrades included seismic retrofitting, fire sprinklers and fire doors, updated electrical systems, heaters and hot water, and other modifications to bring the building into compliance with Oakland fire and safety codes. The building’s management company, PAMCO, conducted quarterly fire inspections and abided by the Oakland Rent Adjustment Program: annual rental payments increased only by the maximum allowed by the regional Consumer Price Index, which is the limit imposed by the Oakland Rental Adjustment Program.
From the outside, the Cannery appeared to be a purely commercial building. Within, however, this combination of safety and stability encouraged an unusual symbiotic phenomenon between Oakland arts and industry. Legally permitted artists’ live/work studios churned out creative work upstairs, while mixed-use commercial businesses operated on the ground floor.
Businesses such as City Leaf and The Rain Forest supplied exotic tropical plants for offices and special events; Tante’s provided delicious Mexican catering; and the back warehouse area hosted various shipping and logistics operations, handling everything from mattresses to bulk clothing resales. Meanwhile upstairs, creative endeavors included writers, fine artists, performance artists, videographers, musicians, and a vintage clothing business.
5733 OAKLAND CANNERY
THE FIRST HISTORIC LIVE - WORK LEGAL ARTIST STUDIOS IN THE BAY AREA