Oakland's new Uptown Art Park, officially unveiled at the April 5 First Friday, is a temporary outdoor gallery showcasing the work of local artists that will be on display for the next year.

The park, located at Telegraph Avenue and 19th Street in the block next to the Fox Theater, includes a 20-foot tall centerpiece by Berkeley artist Michael Christian titled "The Bike Bridge." Created using recycled bicycle parts, the work was produced in collaboration with local high school students who had taken welding classes at The Crucible in West Oakland.

The site is the result of funding that Oakland and 20 other U.S. cities received from the National Endowment for the Arts to create outdoor sites that feature art as the essential component. The NEA grant of $200,000 was matched by funds secured through the former Oakland Redevelopment Agency, said Steven Huss, the city's public art coordinator.

The vacant lot where the Art Park is located has a long and interesting past.

In the late 19th century, the property housed the gardens and gracious home of the Frederick Delger family. Delger (born in 1822) came to America from Germany and made his way west with his wife and child. Once in California, he sold shoes and boots to prospectors in the gold fields. He invested his profits in downtown Oakland real estate and was soon a very wealthy man. In addition to his large Victorian-style home, he had a greenhouse and bird aviary; he loved to collect exotic plants, trees and shrubs.

Delger died in 1898 and was buried in the family mausoleum on "Millionaire's Row" in Mountain View Cemetery. By 1911, the Victorian home was no more, and some of the trees and plants were later donated to city parks. The blocks north of 17th Street along Broadway and Telegraph were changing, becoming more commercial. The 19th century estates were disappearing.

Next, Harrison C. Capwell came along and made his mark on this stretch of Oakland's downtown.

Capwell (born in 1858) was the owner of a series of ever-bigger dry goods emporiums. His first, The Lace House, was a shop in the Hotel Crellin. Next came a department store at 14th and Clay streets, which opened in 1912. The store backed up to Oakland's newly built City Hall.

Capwell made the big decision to move farther uptown to 20th Street and opened a Beaux Arts-style, terra cotta and brick four-story 80,000-square foot department store in the summer of 1929. Shoppers arrived at this new destination in their automobiles from their homes in Piedmont, Montclair and other prosperous neighborhoods in the hills. The Fox and Paramount movie palaces nearby were also attractions. By now, the old Delger property was the site for a parking garage.

Although Capwell died very soon after his store opened, his name lived on through the decades until the store name changed to Emporium-Capwell. After the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, Sears occupied the building, with the Sears tire store across the street. During the Jerry Brown years, the district was totally transformed with the Forest City townhomes developments.

The Uptown Art Park represents yet another chapter in the ever-changing urban scene of Oakland. Guided walking tours of the area are available through the Oakland Tours Program. Go to www.oaklandnet.com/walkingtours for more information or call 510-238-3234.

Contact Annalee Allen at ldmksldy@aol.com.