UC Berkeley Oral History Center Proudly Participates In San Francisco History Days

Welcome to the Oral History Center’s Home Page for

Speech bubbles with open and close quotation marks with text that says: Oral History Center, The Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley

San Francisco History Days 2020

Logo that says San Francisco History Days 2020, 10th anniversary

The Oral History Center is an independent research unit of The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. Established in 1953, the OHC has been responsible for compiling one of the largest and most widely-used oral history collections in the country. Many of California’s high-profile citizens — from governors and senators to actors, artists and industrialists — have been interviewed by our office. And no region is better represented in this collection than San Francisco and the Bay Area. Below is just a sample of the Center’s work over the decades. Here we feature:

  • Edited videos from interviews in the collection
  • Further oral histories of prominent San Franciscans
  • Search the OHC / Bancroft collection with our new full text search function
  • Season 3 of the OHC’s Berkeley Remix podcast – “First Response: AIDs and Community in San Francisco”
  • Bay Area Women in Politics – a recorded livestream panel for the project with former San Francisco Supervisor Louise Renne, Pittsburg Councilmember Shanelle Scales-Preston and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Explore These Features and Much More Below!

Featured Videos

Rick Laubscher: Market Street Railway & Bringing the Streetcars Back to San Francisco

Men standing in front of trolly.
Rick Laubscher & Crew with first leased streetcar for San Francisco Trolley Days (1983)

Rick Laubscher is an award-winning journalist, public relations executive, and founder of Market Street Railway in San Francisco. A fourth generation San Franciscan, Rick’s long career in journalism, business, and civic activism has centered on his beloved city. This edited video details how streetcars came back to San Francisco through the dedicated work of city residents like Rick. This is an excerpt of his larger oral history, which covers the Laubscher family business on Market Street, his careers at KRON and Bechtel, as well as the many civic activities he undertook in the city. Watch the Rick Laubsher video.


Robert Demmons: San Francisco’s First African American Chief of the San Francisco Fire Department

Robert Demmons in formal uniform
SFFD Chief Robert Demmons

Robert Demmons was the first African American Fire Chief for the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD). He joined the department in 1974 and was successfully promoted through the ranks. He was sworn in as Chief on January 17, 1996. This edited video features excerpts from his oral history discussing his long career with the San Francisco Fire Department and his experience as the city’s first African American Fire Chief. Chief Demmons’s interview was part of larger project on the San Francisco Fire Department. More information on that project, as well as the full transcripts of those interviews, can be accessed from the California Fire Departments project page. Watch the Robert Demmons video.


The Bay Bridge Oral History Project

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Oral History Project tells the story of the engineering marvel that has connected Bay Bridge under constructionOakland and San Francisco since it opened to the public in 1936. To be sure, no structure binds together the region, nor symbolizes its interconnectedness, like the Bay Bridge. The Oral History Center conducted this project in 2012. The majority of interviewees for this project spent their careers working on and around the bridge, and they offer their perspectives on the engineering achievements, the maintenance challenges, and the complex symbolism of this massive structure. The Project Page features the full transcripts of those oral history interviews, as well as four edited videos that cover the areas of engineering and construction of the bridge, its maintenance, and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Access the Bay Bridge project page.

Featured San Francisco Oral Histories

Close-up of Willie Brown in hat, with hands under chin.

Joseph Alioto – 36th Mayor of San Francisco, and accomplished lawyer, banker, and businessman in the city.

Gerson Bakar – San Francisco real estate developer and philanthropist.

Willie Brown – 41st Mayor of San Francisco, and longtime Representative of San Francisco in the California State Assembly

Ruth Clause Chance – Bay Area philanthropist and Executive Director of the Rosenberg Foundation

Jim Chappell – Executive Director of the San Francisco Bay Area Urban Planning and Research Association (SPUR)

Warren Hinckle with dog.
San Francisco publisher Warren Hinckle

Rhoda H. Goldman – San Francisco philanthropist, community leader, and environmentalist

Martha Gerbode – San Francisco philanthropist and environmentalist

Anne Halsted – Civic leader and community advocate in San Francisco

Warren Hinckle – Famed journalist, editor, and publisher, as well as one of San Francisco’s favorite iconoclasts

Edward Howden – Civic leader and Civil Rights advocate in city government

Quentin Kopp – Elected representative on San Francisco Board of Supervisors

Roger Lapham – 32nd Mayor of San Francisco and leading businessman

Three women: Sylvia McLaughlin, Kay Kerr, and Esther Gulick
Sylvia McLaughlin, Kay Kerr, and Esther Gulick

Sylvia McLaughlin – Environmentalist, civic activist, and one of the founders of the Save The Bay movement

Grace L. McCann Morely – First director of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

William Newsom – San Francisco native; California Superior Court and Court of Appeals judge

Hadley Roff – Top aid and political advisor to four San Francisco mayors (1967-92)

Elise Stern Haas – Leading philanthropist and art patron in San Francisco

Keith Yamamoto – Biochemist and Vice Chancellor of Research, UC San Francisco, Mission Bay Campus

Access these and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. You can search by name, keyword, and several other criteria.

Search Our Collection On Your Own!

The Oral History Center collection of over 4,000 interviews is now full-text searchable across the entire collection. With just a few keystrokes, you can search the entire collection and find that “needle in the haystack’ you’re looking for and much more! Type in “San Francisco” from the search feature on our home page and see the many oral histories related to the City in the Bancroft collection.

OHC’s Berkeley Remix Podcast

In 2016, The Oral History Center kicked off a podcast series that highlighted the unique and valuable oral histories in our collection. Below we feature Season 3 of the Berkeley Remix

First Response: AIDs and Community in San Francisco

Microphone with text on top that says: First Response: AIDS and community in San Francisco.This podcast is about the politics of the first encounters with the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. The six episodes draw from the thirty-five interviews that Sally Smith Hughes conducted in the 1990s. A historian of science at UC Berkeley’s Oral History Office, Sally interviewed doctors, nurses, researchers, public health officials and community-health practitioners to learn about the unique ways that people responded to the epidemic. The interviews we selected for this podcast are focused on public health, community engagement, and nursing care. Most of the following podcast episodes are about the period from early 1981, when the first reports emerged of an unknown disease that was killing gay men in San Francisco, to 1984 and the development of a new way of caring for people in a hospital setting.

Bay Area Women in Politics

Mary Hughes
Mary Hughes, political consultant and the first narrator of the Bay Area Women in Politics Oral History Project

The Oral History Center is excited to announce the launch of this new project documenting the lives, careers, and experiences of women in Bay Area politics. To kick things off, the OHC recently hosted a livestream panel with former San Francisco Supervisor Louise Renne, Pittsburg Councilmember Shanelle Scales-Preston and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Watch the recorded livestream panel.

Bay Area Women in Politics Oral History Project Page


Donate Today!

The Oral History Center currently receives (and historically has received) only a very small portion of its operating budget from the university or the State of California. Throughout most of its history, OHC expenses—including staff salaries and benefits, equipment, transcription, and travel—have been funded through a mixture of charitable donations by individuals and corporations, as well as grants and contracts in support of specific oral history projects.

The OHC also benefits from a small number of endowments, which support the position of the Center’s director and new project research and development. Most of the funding received, either from donations, contracts, or endowments, is earmarked for specific oral history projects. As a result, OHC is not typically in a position to pick and choose precisely the projects we undertake and the individuals we interview without first securing the necessary funding.

Thus, we actively seek partnerships with individuals, foundations, agencies, and corporations that will work with us to establish a research agenda that responds to the needs of students, scholars, and the public at large.

Considering Donating Today to support the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley! Image with speech bubbles with open and close quotation marks, with text that says: Oral History Center, The Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.Donate to the OHC discretionary fund.

For more information on the OHC and its work, please visit the OHC website.

Also feel free to contact OHC Director Paul Burnett at pburnett@library.berkeley.edu.