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We Found The True Origin of Oakland’s Tiny Windmill

Updated: Jun 16, 2022 11:28
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Did you know that Oakland has its own windmill? Locals of the Bay Area have cherished the two beautiful windmills of Golden Gate Park. Their large stature dwarfs anyone who stands near them. Driving down Telegraph, you’ll find Oakland’s tiny janky windmill… a dilapidated, sad, graffitied building tucked next to an apartment building at 5979 Telegraph.

I’ve often wondered as I drive by what the origin story is for this sad little windmill so I went on a hunt and found that many others were also curious like me. The journey led me down a few Oakland history paths.

SFs iconic windmill sits next to Oakland's abandoned windmill

SFs iconic windmill as compared to Oakland’s abandoned windmill at 5979 Telegraph

Was The Tiny Windmill Part of Oakland’s Historical Amusement Park Idora Park?

The first theory people had about this tiny windmill is that it was potentially a feature in Oakland’s amusement park: Idora Park. Originally named Kennywood Park, Idora Park was a 17.5 acre park constructed in 1903 and was one of many amusement parks built by Ingersoll Pleasure and Amusement Park Company intended to promote the use of trolley’s.  There was a dance hall, roller coasters, an ostrich farm, penny arcade, bear grotto and more. During the 1906 quake, the park housed as many as 2,500 displaced people.

The windmill’s location is so close to the original entry of the park that many thought it was potentially part of Idora Park. However, history buffs have since debunked this theory.

1920 Idora Park in Oakland – photo from Bennett Hall‘s Flickr

The true origin of Oakland’s Windmill

Why wasn’t it part of Idora Park? This theory was dismissed because the small structure was later found to be built in 1932 and the park was demolished a few years before in 1929. Additionally, the little windmill building can not be found on the 1911 Sandborn map, a map used for fire insurance which indicates that it likely didn’t exist while Idora Park did.

Some say that the original use of the windmill is unknown but it’s been since seemingly been figured out by local history buffs. So what was it made for? The truth is a bit disappointing, honestly. It’s first for-rent advertisement came in the 30s and mentions that the space was for a hamburger stand.

The history of this tiny windmill is a fun one to ask locals about because everyone has heard a little different history behind it. Some have told me that it was once a flower shop and many folks have said it was once used as a lemonade stand. My favorite true story about Oakland’s windmill is when it was used as a record shop.

Oakland Tribune 1932 hamburger stand ad

The Windmill’s Oakland History Runs Deep: Butch’s Record Mill

Nowadays, the windmill is a patchwork of paint which covers up years of graffiti. But the this windmill’s history goes deep into Oakland roots which makes it a prized historical landmark even when at its jankiest and most graffitied. Back in the mid-60s, the windmill can be tracked back to Butch’s Record Mill and was called “the most unique record shop in the Bay Area” in The Combination.

Butch would fit in perfectly in present day Bay Area. He’s had a bunch of unrelated jobs while being a member of both The Masonic Club and also The Play Boy Club. Like most of us, he’s got 7,000 hobbies and collecting records was just one of them.

PDF: .1966 Oakland Public Library – The Combination Article

article clipping from 1966

Article clipping abut Butch’s Record Mill from 1966

This windmill’s rich history is hopefully a signal that someone will make it into something else someday before it gets torn down. I could see this being some fancy coffee shop with a line down the street, can’t you? Could it house the next big thing? Hard to say but I’m curious what will happen to it in the future.

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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy is a professional smiling machine raised in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.

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