Held annually on the second Sunday of September, the Gatsby Afternoon picnic attracts hundreds of American 1920 and 1930 enthusiasts to the Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate in Oakland, California. From approximately 1 pm until 5 pm, revelers can immerse themselves back to the time of flapper dresses, the foxtrot, and fashionable hats. New York may have its own version of this event on Governors Island but it pales in comparison to the event hosted by the Art Deco Society of California and its East Bay residents.
All guests must be in vintage-style attire. It’s required, meaning there are no spectators. Only participants are allowed on the grounds. Maintaining the vintage atmosphere is indeed enforced: no jeans, shorts, sneakers, polo/tee-shirts, baseball hats, pantsuits. If an attendee arrives without appropriate attire, he or she is directed to the Costume Closet, a vintage rental/sale station on-site.
I arrived early before the gates opened to grab one of the front spots in line at the entrance. Wearing a printed vintage style dress, I dressed it up with white gloves, ribbon, and a bonnet. I carried a basket full of food that would contribute to my group’s spread of dishes for our picnic. At 1 pm, horse-drawn carriages and vintage car shuttles transported us across the grounds of the Dunsmuir Mellman Historic Estate. Outdoor rented tables, umbrellas, and chairs were set up in front of the mansion as well as a a fine display of vintage cars. Groups were starting to claim their spots on the grass, and my own group found a nice shady spot by a pair of trees. It was time to set up our spread.
With my tummy full of wine, cheese, and bread, I took the opportunity to tour the mansion. The house was the home to Alexander Dunsmuir, the son of a coal baron from Victoria, British Columbia, and his wife from 1878 until 1901. It was then bought by I.W. Hellman Jr., a banker of Wells Fargo Bank, to serve as his family’s summer home for the next fourteen years. Today, the mansion has been designated a National Historic Site and still houses original owned by both families.
Returning outside, I scouted out the outfits of others and enjoyed the music of Don Neely’s Royal Society Jazz Orchestra. Folks were already dancing to the swing beats of brass by 1:30 pm.
By the afternoon, the Decobelles, a historical dance troupe, would perform for an even wider audience.
My camera snapped picture after picture of those around me. It really did feel like I stepped back in time.
My afternoon ended with the tunes of Oh Baby in my ears and the memories of swinging skirts and dancing feet.
If you want to attend the next Gatsby Afternoon, buy tickets in advance from the Art Deco Society of California.
For related info, visit our TRAVEL page.