Bohakel, a professor at Los Medanos College, came out of tour-guide retirement last Saturday to lead approximately 30 members of the Take Back Antioch Walking Club through the historic downtown area, informing residents about little-known facts and classic landmarks that most overlook on a daily basis.
As Bohakel strolled down the history-laden streets, he described what life was like when Antioch first became a city in the 1850s and how the city evolved over the decades. He told walkers that Antioch was a “sundown” community in the 1930s, when those of color found roaming the streets after dark were arrested on sight. The law was so strict that Chinese immigrants, who were employed at the docks and hotels, devised a tunnel system under the city to get from place to place after dark to avoid arrest.
“It’s one of those bits of history that people don’t want to talk about,” Bohakel said. “That’s why we have to keep these stories alive. Of course, the city doesn’t want to remember this part of its past, but it happened nonetheless. Although today – I don’t care what color you are – you probably don’t want to be down here after dark.”
Bohakel offered an uncensored take on local history that delighted the walkers. “I loved the walk and was fascinated by the stories of the tunnels under the streets that the Chinese immigrants used, and the stories about the Hard House,” posted Jen McVicker on Facebook. “I think it’s a crying shame that the city has let the Hard House fall into such disrepair.”
Located at 815 First St., the house belonged to Roswell Butler Harding, Antioch’s first mayor. The city’s first council meeting took place in the parlor, but today, the house is nothing more than a boarded, decaying building, which Bohakel said is a shame since the house was said to be the fanciest in the county back in its glory days.
“I’m disappointed in the city fathers and mothers for letting these buildings waste away,” Bohakel said during the tour. “Many of the historic buildings were leveled to make way for parking lots, which are normally empty these days. Of the buildings that are still with us, they haven’t been maintained very well and they’re not seismically retrofitted, so I don’t think they’d last if we have another big earthquake.”
The Antioch of the 1870s had more pressing problems than earthquakes. Fires claimed a significant portion of the downtown area in 1871, causing $18,000 in damages – a devastating lost in that era. Fires have continued to plague historic buildings. Most recently the former Arata Hotel, at the corner of I and Second streets, burned down in 1988. Squatters were living in the abandoned hotel and it is believed the fires they lit during the winter months for warmth were the cause of the building’s demise.
However, Bohakel’s tour wasn’t only about Antioch’s darker history. He shared fun stories about the people who founded Antioch and peppered in his memories of downtown from when he was a child.
Take Back Antioch member Sheila White, a friend of Bohakel, convinced him to come out of retirement for the day to give the tour to the community group. “Even though I had done the walk years ago, I so enjoyed it again,” White posted to the Take Back Antioch forum. “Charlie is amazing by what he knows and how much he cares about this city. I wish others felt the same. I took my 84-year-old mom with me and she hasn’t stopped talking about the walk yet. She couldn’t believe how much history is in this town.”