If you are a Jack London fan, you need to meet Carol Brookman. She is the dedicated woman who has been keeping the home fires burning at the landmark Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon — the author's favorite hangout — since 1984.
Brookman acquired the legendary business from Marge Heinold, who was the daughter-in-law of original proprietor Johnny Heinold. He was the one who converted a former sailor bunkhouse into the iconic drinking establishment next to the water at the foot of Webster Street, 100 years previously, in 1883.
For her long association with London's memory, Brookman is being honored Jan. 16 at a banquet in Sonoma, hosted by the Jack London Foundation. The group has named her their "Person of the Year."
Jack London fans all over the world are gearing up to celebrate the author's 134th birthday this month, Brookman informed me.
"In the more than 25 years that I have operated the bar, I have had folks from far away places stop in to see where their favorite writer used to spend time," she said last week, when I came by to see her and congratulate her on receiving the honor. "I'm told by scholars that Heinold's is mentioned at least 17 times in London's books and articles.
"As a schoolboy, Jack London studied at the same tables we still use today. Later, he would return to his favorite table and write notes for 'The Sea Wolf' and 'Call of the Wild,' " Brookman said.
While the environs immediately outside the saloon may have greatly changed, Brookman has taken care to keep everything in the bar as London, who died in 1916 at the age of 40, would have known it. Others, including a visiting President William Howard Taft (who was treated to rounds of adult refreshments by then-Oakland Mayor John Davie) and other notables such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Joaquin Miller, who were regulars back in their day, also would feel right at home.
In honor of Jack London's birthday Jan. 12, five new bronze wolf track pavers are being unveiled Saturday, starting at 1 p.m. in front of Heinold's. The pavers mark a trail through the square, which is sponsored by Jack London Square management, spokesman Jordan Pierce said. "Those who signed up to adopt a paver this year will be invited to say a few words as we work our way to the other end (435 Water St.)."
The public is also invited to join in for a cake-cutting celebration at the end of the trail.
The California Writers Club also will be on hand Saturday. The club traces its origins back 100 years, member Linda Brown said, and they include London among its founding members.
For more on the illustrious history of Heinold's, go to www.heinoldsfirstandlastchance.com. To learn more about the wolf track paver program, go to www.jacklondonsquare.com. The Web address for the Jack London Foundation is www.jacklondonfdn.org.
The Oakland Tours Program offers guided walking tours of the waterfront; go to www.oaklandnet.com/walkingtours to learn more.