1610 Oregon Street

For more than 20 years, the house at 1610 Oregon Street was an epicenter of Berkeley’s drug wars, a place where dealers dealt crack openly, people were shot, and crowds and cars congregated.

Now the shingled house, once owned by Lenora Moore, is shuttered behind a chain link fence. The glass in the front windows is broken and two “No Trespassing” signs and a red “Keep Out” sign are nailed by the front door.

For decades, Lenora Moore and her extended clan of Perrys and Robinsons lived in the modest, two-bedroom home near California Street. But they left in early 2010 after four court battles, a grand jury investigation, and finally, an injunction won by the city of Berkeley declaring the house a public nuisance.

Now the house has been sold to a new, unidentified buyer.  A offer was accepted on the property Oct 29, just 10 days after the house went on the market for the low price of  $199,000, according to a spokesman for Security Pacific realtors, which listed the property. The house had been in foreclosure.

For next-door neighbor Paul Rauber, who was the lead plaintiff in a 2005 suit brought by 14 neighbors against Lenora Moore, the exodus of the family has meant an end to gun battles, late-night partying, the discovery of used hypodermic needles and condoms on the street, and a fear of going outside.

“It’s been delightful,” said Rauber. “It’s been like a normal neighborhood. People aren’t afraid anymore to walk past our house in the evening with their kids. It is like night and day.”

Paul Rauber and his daughter. Rauber moved next door to 1610 Oregon Street in 1996

The battle to force Lenora Moore and her extended clan to stop the blatant drug dealing went on for two decades, and exposed the political alliances and racial politics of Berkeley in a not always flattering light.

Lenora Moore, now 80, was a member of Berkeley’s African-American society, a woman who worked for Catholic Charities for years, was friendly with eight-term City Councilwoman Maudelle Shirek, and someone whom many respected.  When she claimed that she was unaware that some of her children, grandchildren and their friends were selling drugs 24/7 out of her home, many of her supporters believed her. She was never charged with involvement in drug dealing. Her supporters were outraged that a group of mostly white neighbors were trying to evict her from the house she had owned for decades and said racism and gentrification — not an attempt to close a drug house — was the motivation behind the various neighborhood lawsuits.

But a review of police and court records shows that 1610 Oregon Street was a place where, for decades, almost anyone could buy pot, heroin, or crack cocaine. A 1994 Berkeley Police Department log shows officers made hundreds of visits to the house in just that year. Lenora Moore’s grandson Mark A. Perry was killed nearby in April 1992 in a drug-related shooting. One of Moore’s sons, Frank Moore Jr., and a grandson, Ralph Perry Jr., were shot by rival drug dealers in October 1999 in the 1500 block of Oregon. Other members of her family, including her son Steve Moore, Jr., were arrested and convicted of drug-related offenses.

Yet for decades attempts to stop the rampant drug dealing failed. A group of 30 neighbors sued Moore in 1992 in small claims court and were awarded $155,000 for the pain and suffering brought on by the activity in the house. The decision was upheld on appeal, but Moore never paid the fine. Instead, she filed for bankruptcy and transferred title of the house to a son and daughter-in-law.

The drug activity at 1610 Oregon continued, although neighbors worked closely with police to tally and report any suspicious activity. In 2000, the city of Berkeley cited Moore for 22 code violations, forcing her to move out temporarily while repairs were made. But the city, despite support from then-Mayor Shirley Dean and other city council members, was not able to force Moore to stop the dealing on her property or leave her home.

Front door of 1610 Oregon Street

In 2005, another group of neighbors sued Moore in small claims court and won a $70,000 judgment that was held up on appeal. That group of neighbors only filed suit when their pleas to Moore to move didn’t work.

The two court judgments did little to stop the drug dealing at the house. In 2008, the Alameda County Grand Jury investigated Berkeley’s relative inaction in the case and criticized the city for not being more proactive in closing blighted residential properties.

In April 2009, Berkeley won a permanent injunction to abate the Moore house, which was declared “a public nuisance”. After police used a search warrant to find drugs in the house in October 2009, the city won a court order to board up the house for a year. Berkeley sent in a crew to clean out the place, and the workers had to wear hazardous material suits to protect themselves.

The Moores finally moved out. GMAC Mortgage foreclosed on the house and it was put up for sale in October. There was an open house in mid-October, and prospective buyers had to use flashlights to walk around inside since there was no working electricity, according to one neighbor. They also told visitors to proceed at their own risk, since the house was in such disrepair.

The $199,000 price tag was considerably lower than similar houses nearby. A two-bedroom house at 1519 Oregon Street is estimated to be worth $449,000 and a similar house at 1637 Oregon is estimated at $480,500, according to Zillow, a real estate website.

While Oregon Street is noticeably better now that the Moores have left, there are still pockets in south Berkeley where the drug dealing goes on blatantly, said Rauber.

“California Street is still a mess,” he said. “There is drug dealing right down on the corner of California and Oregon.”

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...