Though geographically small, more than 40 houses of worship are located in North Oakland’s Golden Gate neighborhood. From modest storefront to massive churches, a mosque and an ashram, this neighborhood holds space for a rich constellation of denominations.
Operating as communities within the larger community, many of these spiritual centers are only accessible to its members. At various Commons Archive events, neighbors have expressed a desire to know more about these sites. And so the 2017 'Spirit Walk' was born, a walking discussion that opened the neighborhood's anchor religious centers: the Siddha Yoga Dham Ashram, established here in the late 1970s and St. Columba Church, one of the Bay Area’s oldest African American Catholic churches.
In 1975 the Siddha Yoga Dham occupied the old Stanford Hotel, a historic building in what was then a rough industrial area. According to Seth Melchert, longtime neighbor and Ashram member, that was the point––to foster an accessible meditation community in the center of urban grit. By 1988, over 200 nearby households were connected to the Ashram. These mainly young white folks formed a major wave of change in this predominantly working-class African American neighborhood. Many are familiar with this neighborhood landmark building; only members can access the facilities. This insular community opened their doors to neighbors who had never previously been allowed inside.
Founded in 1898, St. Columba Catholic Church is one of the oldest parishes in the area. Following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, St. Columba welcomed Italian and Portuguese families who migrated to the East Bay. After World War II, Black Catholics who left the Jim Crow South in search of new opportunities brought their faith and families to St. Columba. Now the congregation is represented by more than 30 local zip codes. Though many Black families have left the area, they stay with the church. A dedicated parishioner opened the church to share its history and current social justice initiatives. From Black Lives Matter, to food for unhoused neighbors and get out the vote efforts, St Columba is a local leader for equity. St. Columba celebrates the African American congregation’s identity and culture. This is seen everywhere, from the saints on the walls and the iconography of the Cross, to the symbols on the doors.