For those book lovers in the know, the Bookmark Bookstore in Old Oakland is a treasure trove of discovery. Hosted by the Friends of the Oakland Public Library, or FOPL, and staffed by volunteers seven days a week, the shop at 721 Washington St. is gearing up for its semiannual sale Oct. 11-14. The bookstore has been in Old Oakland since 1992.

In November, the Bookmark will be kicking off a 20th anniversary celebration with several special promotions. The public is invited to the weeklong celebration from Nov. 5-11, says Brook Vanderford, one of the volunteer coordinators.

"We are extending the FOPL member 20 percent discount to everyone for this one week only. Also, for people joining FOPL, for a special $20 rate, they will be entitled to the discount on purchases for one year, plus notices about special sale events," she says.

Vanderford says there is an anniversary raffle planned and a special Kids' Day on Nov. 10 when every child who visits the store may select one free book. Also in the works is a Nov. 14 members-only event with no-host wine and hors d'oeuvres at Cosecha Restaurant in Swan's Market, 907 Washington (everyone who joins FOPL is invited).

The Bookmark receives donations of over 100,000 books each year and since 1992 has made $1.5 million in grants to the Oakland Public Library.

The shop is in an Oakland city landmark building known as the Dunn Block, which was erected in 1878 in the heart of what was then downtown -- Broadway and Washington Street, between Seventh and 10th streets. The life of Martin Dunn, the building's original owner, reads like a dime-store novel.


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According to the history files, Martin Dunn, a native of County Kerry in Ireland, arrived in California in 1856 with 10 cents to his name; he worked for his ship's passage as a quartermaster. He was able to find work and save and soon had 60 acres of open land in what is now Piedmont, where he raised dairy cows. He married his wife, Matilda, and invested in real estate. Together, they raised seven children, the eldest and third son became dentists, and the second and fourth sons were physicians. Their three daughters were Margaret, Mary, and Alice.

Dunn had received minimal education back home; in Oakland he became a school trustee to ensure the growing town would have good schools, records show.

In addition to the three-story Italianate-style commercial building on Washington Street, Dunn developed and built upon other parcels, including a stately family residence on 24th Street near Telegraph Avenue (where Art Murmur galleries are located).

In the 1970s, the Dunn Block, along with several other 19th-century structures in what has come to be known as the Old Oakland Historic District, were rehabilitated and restored. A history instructor at Laney College, Tom Wolfe, purchased the Dunn Block and had it upgraded. He began offering tours of the neighborhood for his Oakland History class students. These informal tours later became the foundation for the Oakland Tours Program and some of the students became volunteer guides.

For more on the upcoming Bookmark sale and anniversary events, go to www.fopl.org.

On Oct. 24, the final free Old Oakland walking tour of the season will be offered, courtesy of the Oakland Tours Program. Reservations are recommended but not required; call 510-238-3234. For details, go to www.oaklandnet.com/walkingtours.