Archive for the ‘The 'Hood’ Category


Won’t you be our neighbor?

June 23, 2010

We’ve always wanted to have a neighbor just like YOU! We’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with YOU!

But really—while we’re sad that our neighbors are heading off, this means their 3BR/2BA Arts & Crafts house (which is actually two houses on one lot, with a newly built 2BR/1BA cottage in back) is for sale. And just down the street, another neighbor’s 2BR/1BA TIC unit is for sale (sorry, this one seems to be in escrow or otherwise off the market!) in an Arts & Crafts fourplex, which means we get more fun new neighbors. It’s been nearly three years since any homes on our block have turned over, so I’m excited to see who’ll be moving in.

If you read this blog regularly, you probably know that I think we have a pretty awesome little block and ‘hood. But I figured this was as good a time as any to spell it all out.


1. Walk everywhere! We can walk to:

  • Upper Broadway/Auto Row shops and restaurants (3-5 minutes)
  • Lake Merritt (5 minutes)
  • Bus stops for the 11, 51, and 1R, which will get you to Downtown Oakland and Berkeley, Temescal, Rockridge, San Leandro, and beyond (3-10 minutes)
  • Bus stop for the Transbay bus—several lines to choose from depending on which way you walk, including the NL, which runs all day long and through the weekend, unlike most Transbay lines (5-10 minutes)
  • Kaiser and Pill Hill doctors (5-10 minutes)
  • Piedmont Avenue shops and restaurants (10-15 minutes)
  • Uptown restaurants (10-15 minutes)
  • 19th Street BART (15 minutes)
  • MacArthur BART and the Emery-Go-Round (15 minutes)
  • Grand Lake/Lakeshore shops (15-20 minutes)

2. Bike everywhere! We ride our bikes (and take the bus) to many of the spots listed above, and also to:

  • 19th Street and MacArthur BART (5-10 minutes)
  • Downtown Oakland/Old Oakland (10 minutes)
  • Jack London Square (10 minutes)
  • Temescal (10 minutes)
  • Rockridge (10 minutes)
  • Emeryville (10-15 minutes)
  • Berkeley (15-20 minutes)

3. Easy access to BART and the freewaybut far enough from both to be healthy and quiet, as city living goes. If you’re freeway-bound, it’s just minutes to the 580, 880, 980, and 24how’s that for choice? And because MacArthur BART is a major transfer station, you can get to all of the East Bay lines in one spot. We hop on BART (or drive) to:

  • Downtown Berkeley/UCB (15 minutes)
  • Downtown San Francisco (15-20 minutes)
  • Alameda (10 minutes)

4. Lots of everything nearby! Within two miles of home, we’re fortunate to have:

  • Restaurants and coffee shops galore (including the brand-new Commonwealth and three new restaurants due to open this summer!)
  • Grocery stores (Whole Foods, Oasis Market, Piedmont Grocery, Trader Joe’s, Grocery Outlet, and Safeway, plus lots of little produce shops on Piedmont, Grand, and Lakeshore)
  • Not one or two but THREE great weekend farmer’s markets: one on Saturday (Grand Lake), two on Sunday (Temescal and Jack London)—and that’s not even counting the Friday Old Oakland market!
  • Bike shops (Bay Area Bikes, Pioneer, Montano Velo, Manifesto, Tip Top, Cycle Sports, and hopefully soon Spokeland!)
  • Parks and playgrounds galore, including Mosswood and Lakeside Parks (and, of course, the lake!)
  • The Oakland YMCA, yoga and martial arts, gyms, Mosswood Rec Center, the Temescal Pool, your choice of library branches, and more
  • Mosswood Dog Park (one half for big dogs, the other for little dogs!)
  • Schools (Piedmont Avenue, Lakeview, Cleveland, Hoover, and Emerson Elementary Schools; Westlake Middle School; Oakland Tech; Oakland School for the Arts; St. Paul’s; St. Leo’s; Park Day; Archway; and Grand Lake Montessori, not to mention all the preschools)
  • Theaters (Grand Lake, Piedmont, the Paramount, and the Fox)
  • Children’s Fairyland, the Lake Merritt Gardens, and the Junior Center of Art and Science—all within walking distance—and the Oakland Museum, Museum of Children’s Art, and Studio One, not too much further afield
  • More religious and spiritual spaces than I can list!

5. Wonderful friends
Our neighbors will fill a whole table at our wedding…’nough said! We got incredibly lucky when we landed on our street—the people we share our block with are pretty awesome, and I love that we live in a place where people still sit on their front steps and talk (okay, or drink homebrewed beer and amazing whiskey sours made with backyard lemons…) Dog-sitting? Baby-sitting? All covered!

6. Shared harvests
If you move in, we will give you bushels of persimmons! (Okay, actually we’d give you bushels of persimmons anyway, but you get the idea…) I have a lot of fun trading fruits and vegetables with our neighbors, and collectively our block has lemons, oranges, apples, figs, loquats, cherries, more lemons, pomegranates, persimmons, plums, even more lemons, tangerines, and more. There are also plans afoot for a communal chicken coop in one neighbor’s yard.

7. Active block watch
Yep, we’ve got one of these too. And because we have all sorts of different work schedules, there’s almost always someone around, keeping an eye on what’s going on. We have access to each others’ homes and cell phone numbers to call if a dog gets out or a garage door is left open. For city living, that’s hard to beat.

8. Inside the Shan Dong delivery radius!
Think you want to live in Temescal or Glenview? Well, I’m sorry to break the news, but Shan Dong won’t bring you any dumplings there! This is the place to be if your favorite late-night snack involves handmade noodles and steamed buns, since they’ll only deliver within 1.5 miles of the restaurant—and we just squeak in. Mmm!

9. Block parties
Our street hosts an annual National Night Out party every August (this year’s will be August 3rd) and we’ve been talking about trying to have block parties more regularly in the summertime, too. Come check it out and meet the neighbors!

10. History
In the time that we’ve lived on our street, I’ve learned a lot about its history (much of which is documented here) and the rich history of this neighborhood. I’m a lover of old houses to begin with, and the more I learn about the families who’ve lived on our street over the generations, the more connected I feel to it. Our neighbors are talking about having a 100th birthday party for their 1912 home, and it’s pretty cool to know that at one point, two brothers lived on our street, one in our home with his family and the other in theirs. And our next-door neighbor’s house was built by the same family that built ours, so we love to compare notes on what’s been changed or kept the same over the years. If Arts and Crafts homes are your thing, there are some great examples tucked in amidst the mid-mod buildings that abound in our neighborhood.

Have a question about our ‘hood? Feel free to send me a note, and I’m happy to answer it.

Disclaimer: I have no interest in the sale of either of these properties, other than wanting some awesome new neighbors! For specific information on the properties themselves, you should contact the respective realtors.


Bringin’ down the house…

August 15, 2009

….but not ours, luckily!

However, this bungalow around the corner from us had a demolition notice posted a few weeks ago, and I finally got around to snapping some photos.

Demolition House

Demolition House

All boarded up...

All boarded up...

This is a 1909 two-bedroom bungalow that’s been sitting empty for years (and from the little you can see, appears to be in pretty bad shape inside). It’s a pretty puzzling house—it’s been flagged for blight (and on the City’s Cleanup/Board Up list) repeatedly since at least 2005, which is especially odd because someone’s been paying some (though not all) of the taxes on it. (Granted, they’re pretty minimal to begin with; it’s assessed for under $40K right now, so I imagine its last sale must have been long before Prop 13 kicked in.) While our neighborhood’s not exactly blight-free, it’s very unusual to see abandoned houses around here these days. You’d think they’d have sold the lot at the height of the housing boom, when they could have gotten a pretty penny for it—oh, well. (Rumor has it that the property is owned by a San Francisco building inspector, which makes it all even stranger.)

Anyway, the notice says it’s now being demolished as blight abatement. (And it does look to be in pretty awful shape—plus there have been squatters there from time to time, which I can’t imagine did wonders for the interior.) It’s also a little unclear who owns the property at this point, given how much is owed in back taxes. The City? Some third party?


But what I really want to know, of course, is what happens after the demolition. A vacant lot isn’t much better than a blighted house. (In fact, it might be worse—I’d initially hoped they’d sell the house so someone could rehab it!) So I’m hoping one of the following things will happen:

  1. The people who just bought the fourplex next door to this house could buy this lot. Next door is a beautiful 1912 apartment building, but it’s pretty much built lot line to lot line, so if they were to tack on this lot, they could create a backyard and potentially even build a garage for parking and storage. Seems like a smart investment opportunity.
  2. The vacant lot could be turned into a community garden as part of a project with Westlake Middle School, just down the street. A co-worker of mine took on a project like this last year (although sans kid involvement), drafting the appropriate legal forms to secure permission from the property owner, and has created a pretty phenomenal garden on the site today. (One of these days I’ll snap some photos of that, too, since it puts our garden to shame!)
  3. Something else??

I’m also pretty curious to see if they salvage anything from within (or if there’s anything worthy of salvaging). When they demolished a house on Piedmont Avenue earlier this year, we were pleased to see that a lot of the innards (including many beautiful redwood joists) were carefully bundled up and trucked off, presumably to some new life somewhere. Who knows what else might be in there?

Anyway. There’s no demolition date listed on the notice (very helpful!) so when I have a moment I may give the City a call to see what’s up, and hopefully find out what lies ahead for this little corner of the neighborhood. In the meantime—so long, little bungalow.


Bedtime for Buick: What’s next for Auto Row?

July 9, 2009

One of the key questions at the May visioning meeting that kicked off the Auto Row planning process was this: what street or neighborhood can you name elsewhere in the world that captures your vision for Auto Row? Answers were all over the board. Walnut Creek, Union Square, and Bay Street popped up frequently because of their proximity (or at least I hope that’s why—because ugh, ugh, ugh to all three of those for the center of Oakland!) My personal favorite came from one of the tables of seniors from the Westlake Christian Terrace residence on 28th Street: they wanted it to be “just like [San Francisco’s] Union Square, except with Costco.” People also drew examples from across the country, though (and even a few from other parts of the world). I threw a few into the mix, but kept mulling over it after I left the meeting.

This part of the workshop exercise was near the end of the evening and our facilitator was clearly pressed for time, because we glossed over what was arguably the most critical part of it: why are these neighborhoods good models? Which components should be woven together to create a new model that will be a good fit for Oakland? Here’s what I ultimately came up with, at least for now. (It’s worth noting that my city-dwelling experiences are limited to a half dozen cities, though I know of many more through my work; even so, I’m sure there are lots of terrific examples in areas I’m not familiar with, and I’d love to hear about them.)

Uptown District in Minneapolis, MN: This is currently my top pick as an Auto Row model, and I’m really frustrated that I didn’t think of suggesting it at the meeting itself, since I actually used to live in this neighborhood! It came to mind for several reasons: first, the City of Minneapolis pretty proactively developed this area in the wake of a lot of 1970s/1980s disinvestment, and it includes a number of national retailers like the ones that the City of Oakland seems to desperately want along Broadway. It’s also got a thread of artist and hipster culture, and a number of residents at the first public meeting voiced interest in making Auto Row an extension of Oakland’s arts district, currently centered in (Oakland’s) Uptown. The Minneapolis Uptown District has a critical mass of restaurants and other nightlife, so it doesn’t close down at 6 pm—a major concern I have, given that Auto Row is not only a regional retail corridor, but also my neighborhood’s “Main Street.” The Uptown District is also situated a few blocks from a lake along a major transit corridor—sound familiar? And finally, Minneapolis’ Uptown manages to marry chain retail with local indie businesses in a fairly healthy way (as those things go, at least), which I think will be critical if Oakland sticks to its guns on wanting destination retail along Auto Row. For more information, visit the Uptown Association or Our Uptown or check out the City of Minneapolis’ 2008 Small Area Plan for Uptown.

Uptown, Minneapolis, MN

Calhoun Square in Uptown, Minneapolis, MN (not the greatest photo to represent the neighborhood as a whole, but I'm not finding too many good ones to use!)

(Okay, heres a better one from keep looking though!)

(Okay, here's a better one from'll keep looking though!)

Coolidge Corner in Brookline, MA (just outside of Boston proper): A dense urban neighborhood with a trolley/light rail line running along the center median. Shops with residences above line the street on both sides; there are two lanes of traffic in either direction with ample sidewalks. Cars and trolleys coexist surprisingly well, perhaps because the streetcar line has been there for a century and people are used to its presence. While the area is relatively densely developed—lots are small and buildings frequently run lot line to lot line—buildings are not particularly high. (Currently the by-right height limit is 45 feet, and I’d guess most buildings are somewhere between three and six storeys.) While I generally lean towards the higher end of the height spectrum along central transit corridors, Auto Row may be a good opportunity for low-to-mid-rise development given the number of low-rise historic buildings that I’d like to see preserved (though perhaps built onto, if structural integrity allows?) in some way or another. I’d ideally like to see height scale up as you move west into Pill Hill and scale down as you move into the low-rise residential neighborhoods to the east. The one big problem with using this area as a model, though, is that it’s essentially always had this form—there’s been little to no transition of use involved. For more on this neighborhood, you can check out the City of Brookline’s 2007 Coolidge Corner District Plan. A caveat: I used to live here too, so I’m obviously a bit biased on both of these choices! On the flip side, though, some of the things I loved about Coolidge Corner and “the Wedge” (the little slice of Uptown Minneapolis where I lived) are the same things that drew me to Oakland’s Auto Row neighborhood, so maybe it’s not such a funny thing at all.

Coolidge Corner, Brookline, MA

Coolidge Corner, Brookline, MA (also not the greatest shot---why doesn't anyone post photos of urban streetscapes and trolleys?!?)

What other urban neighborhoods are out there that might be compelling templates for Auto Row?


So you wanna help plan Auto Row?

May 8, 2009

Among the many tidbits presented at last night’s kick-off meeting for the Auto Row/Upper Broadway Specific Plan to revitalize the stretch of Broadway between Grand and West MacArthur was the full project schedule for the next year and a half. So mark your calendars now and get ready for some meetings! (I’ll write more on the meeting itself when I have a few minutes, though it was primarily a visioning session.) Hopefully you don’t have any standing Thursday conflicts—it’s a little irritating to see every meeting on the same day of the week and every meeting starting at 6 pm, which is a bit on the early side for folks with jobs that run beyond 9 to 5….but what can y’do. At least they’re publicizing them in advance! (And we did get a postcard this time around, which was nice.)

All meetings will be held at the First Presbyterian Church at 2619 Broadway (at 27th) from 6 pm to 8 pm.

Thursday, May 7, 2009: Vision & Goals

Thursday, July 9, 2009: Existing Conditions & Market Demand Report

Thursday, August 20, 2009: Project Alternatives

Thursday, November 19 December 10 January 28, 2010: Project Alternatives

Spring 2010: Preferred Concept

Summer 2010: Design Guidelines

Late Fall 2010: Specific Plan


Reminder: Harrison/Oakland CBTP meeting this Thursday!

April 21, 2009

Okay, just another reminder about this meeting!

What: Harrison Street/Oakland Ave Community-Based Transportation Plan (CBTP) Meeting #2
When: Thursday, April 23, 6:30 – 8:30 (Open House begins at 6 pm)
Where: Westlake Middle School Cafeteria, 2629 Harrison (note the small location change!)
Why: Weigh in on the alternatives, which propose a number of dramatic changes to this corridor

If you live in Adams Point, Westlake, HarriOak, Glen Echo, Uptown, the Piedmont Avenue area, Piedmont proper, Pill Hill, Grand Lake, the Lakeside Apartment area, or anywhere else in that vicinity (or if you drive, bike, or bus through these neighborhoods to get to work in DTO)—you should be at this meeting! The proposed alternatives to be discussed include everything from bike lanes to street closures to freeway ramp changes. (Info from the first meeting is here.)



The ultimate renovation project

February 6, 2009

Hopefully I’ll have a little time to write more regularly once a couple of intense projects at work finally slow down next week….but in the meantime, here’s a little neighborhood flavor to brighten your weekend (if you like historic restoration as much as I do!)

The Fox Oakland Theater is an incredible art deco theater in Oakland’s Uptown neighborhood, a short walk from our house. It opened in 1928 amidst a wave of theater-building in the city: two of the other three deco theaters near our house—the Paramount and the Grand Lake, both still in operation after restorations—were built about that time as well. (The Piedmont, the last of our neighborhood movie houses, opened in 1917, and is Oakland’s oldest operating theater today. Its deco look comes from an extensive 1934 remodel….not unlike our kitchen’s!)

Fox Oakland on opening night (from Flickr)

Fox Oakland on opening night (from Flickr)

The restoration of Fox—in addition to a number of other incredible historic restorations in the neighborhood, nicely documented here—was part of what drew us to this ‘hood. This is an amazing story of preservation—the Fox has been battered and burned and tagged over the years, and in the 1970s, the city wanted to tear the theater down to make room for a parking lot. Even as the restoration neared completion this winter, the theater had its windows shattered in the January riot. But this is a story of triumph over tragedy: over the years, dozens of Oaklanders have gone to bat for this theater. First Erma and Mario DeLucchi bought it at auction to save it from demolition in 1978; then the City of Oakland got in the game in 1996, buying the Fox from the DeLucchis in the hopes of restoring it.  It took over a decade and lots of pressure and support from Friends of the Oakland Fox and other preservationists across the country, not to mention a lot of funding and faith from Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, the design firm that developed the master plan; Phil Tagami of California Commercial Investments, the lead developer; the National Trust for Historic PreservationBank of America; the Charter School Development Corporation; and lots of private donors.

Fox interior (from the Trib)

Fox interior (from the Trib)

Today, the theater is an Oakland City Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Oakland School for the Arts, a public charter school offering instrumental and vocal music, visual art, dance, theater, and literary arts, moved into new digs there over winter break. And last night, with great fanfare, the theater finally reopened with a gala celebration, just a few months past its eightieth birthday and just in time for the February First Friday Art Murmur. I can’t wait to go see it in person—sadly not this weekend, which is packed with other wonderful things, but hopefully later this month! Check out the schedule of upcoming shows.

As someone with a passion for both history and the creation and restoration of the built environment, this project blows my mind. The architecture and attention to detail are phenomenal, of course, as are the period fixtures and intricate art. But what’s most significant, to me, is the restoration of the Fox as a community space. I’m of the school that historic preservation is not just about the physical, but the functional. Sounds funny, but this is actually an idea that’s hotly debated by historic planners and preservationists. On the one hand you have preservation of a physical space: the architecture, the details. Most people are pretty familiar with that concept. On the flip side, though, is the notion that places play a cultural role in communities. A downtown, for instance, could be perfectly preserved from a physical standpoint, but might not be able to fulfill its function as a city center with the historical spaces. Which is more important?

There’s a big balancing act involved here. I see little value in preserving buildings that no longer serve a role in our communities simply for the sake of preserving them (apart from an appropriate sprinkling of museums). But the Fox is a great example of how preservation can marry historic form and modern function. The old Fox was a first-run movie theater, but sadly the number of historic first-run theaters (especially with single screens) is dwindling, and it’s difficult to make them economically viable when they’re up against multiplexes. (Check out nearby Alameda’s recently-restored and expanded historic theater, which took another approach to that dilemma.) So we take the same building and we repurpose it in a way that both preserves the architectural integrity and allows the building to participate in the changing community around it. In this case, we throw in a school, live theater, and a cocktail bar. It’s not exactly the same as it once was, but it’s more viable as an element of the community. In my view, that’s the perfect form of preservation: adaptive reuse of our historic spaces.

Check out some other Oakland examples of repurposing historic buildings:

Make what you will of these individual projects, but one thing they’ve all done successfully is to give the buildings a renewed lease on life by shifting their functions. And if you ask me, that’s one of the best things you can do to preserve our city’s history. (I’d argue the same principle also holds for updating homes and other structures in ways that both acknowledge the past and embrace the future….but that’s a diatribe for another day!)

So welcome back to the neighborhood, Fox Theater! Here’s to the next eighty years of Oakland theater.


…and even MORE new restaurants in the ‘hood!

December 23, 2008

Unfortunately, I haven’t made much progress on the existing list of new neighborhood restaurants to try….but apparently I’ll have a whole new batch to add to the list in 2009, says the Chron (and assorted Craigslist ads). I don’t exactly understand this wave, in light of the economy. I mean, I understand that some spots were in the planning stages years ago, but many of these are new leases. Is there an advantage (low rent on longterm leases notwithstanding) to opening a restaurant during a recession? I love the Oakland cornucopia, but sometimes worry for them, especially the brand-new spots.

More new places coming to a neighborhood near me include:

  • Dopo is opening up Adesso, a new restaurant on Piedmont Avenue that the Chron reports will be a small plates/wine bar style place. We love Dopo, but their line is crazy, so we only go on the very rare occasions when I bike home down Piedmont and remember to put our name in. Maybe the new place will help! It’s also a little unclear where this will be—the Inside Scoop lists the address as 4524 Piedmont, which would put it smack in the middle of Mountain View Cemetery. That’s possible, but seems pretty unlikely. My best guess is that it’s going into the new Il Piemonte condo building, where they’ve been trying to get an Italian restaurant for a while.
  • On the lake, Zax veterans are opening up Sidebar on Lower Grand where Trio used to be. This one’s been on my radar for a while, as they were advertising jobs a while back, but I didn’t realize it was the Zax team. We only ate there once; it was good but not outstanding. Their location on Telegraph near the Berkeley border never quite got them (or any of the restaurants preceding or following them) the foot traffic they needed to stay afloat, though, so we’ll see how the new place goes. Their ads describe it as a gastropub, which sounds promising.
  • The Lake Chalet from the team behind San Francisco’s Beach Chalet (yay for original names….) might finally open one of these days in the boathouse on Lake Merritt—your tax dollars at work! (Well, not the restaurant itself, but the boathouse and dock restoration, at least.)
  • Ave Restaurant and Lounge, coming soon to Uptown, will apparently feature “the hottest cocktails” and “New American and World cuisine.” That’s about all I was able to glean from their jobs posting and (not-yet-functional) website….
  • We noticed last weekend that Horseshoe in Temescal has a sign up that Burma Superstar, which also has a branch in Alameda, is taking over the liquor license. So Horseshoe, only a few months old, may not be long for this world….(and dammit, I haven’t even made it there yet!)
  • Finally, still no word on who’s taking over Jojo on Piedmont in the new year. (I’d initially guessed perhaps Dopo was looking that direction—wrong again! Plus, their new spot doesn’t really match Curt Clingman’s description of the new place as “something that nobody else is doing” [on Piedmont, I presume]. So it’s not a pizzeria, taqueria, pub, ice cream shop, coffeehouse, Nouveau American place, wine bar, Italian joint, or Asian or African of any variety. Umm, dessert restaurant? Diner? McDonald’s?) The Inside Scoop does report that James Syhabout, formerly of Coi, PlumpJack Café, and Manresa, among other places, is headed for the East Bay. They don’t say Oakland, but I do—he’s a native Oaklander, after all, and this is (apparently) the place to be if you’re in the foodie restaurant game.

The spawning of East Bay restaurants is an interesting phenomenon. While we have an insane number of new spots opening up, virtually all are second (or third or even fourth) restaurants for local restaurateurs. Let’s see, 2008 brought us Flora (Doña Tomás crew), Marzano (Garibaldi’s), Ozumo East (Ozumo), Mua (Soizic), and Franklin Square Wine Bar (Luka’s), among others. 2009 promises the spots listed above plus a second Bakesale Betty’s, a potential new Doña Tomás taqueria, a possible Pizzaiolo by-the-slice spot—and I recently saw a sign up downtown that Tamarindo is planning a new taqueria near City Center, while À Côté is apparently opening up shop in the Glenview. Jack London is also crawling with child-of-x openings and newly-inked leases. Not that I’m complaining—this is a list of some of my favorite Oakland spots! (Hey Wood Tavern, where’s your second restaurant?? We’ve been saving you a spot by the lake….) But it does seem to be a pronounced trend; possibly new restaurants are more manageable in this economy when they’re the offspring of established spots. They get a little name boost (and a financial/logistics boost, I imagine, in contrast to a complete newcomer). Only time will tell if there’s room in Oakland for the both of them, though.

One last piece of good food news this week: the Alameda County Community Food Bank received a $50,000 grant from Chevron yesterday to help see them through the winter. They still need much more help, though, especially in this economy—and they’re one of the most effective organizations you can support, dollar for dollar. So don’t forget about them as you enjoy your holiday meals over the next week.

Looking forward to a tasty 2009….and thinking good thoughts for Oakland’s newest restaurants and shops as we weather this recession as a community!


What’s in a (neighborhood) name

December 17, 2008

So last week, V Smoothe over at A Better Oakland sparked a big debate over Oakland neighborhood names when she asked where East Oakland was. Where do neighborhoods begin and end, and what are they called? Earlier this year, Brooklyn Avenue and the DTO wrote about their neighborhoods’ many names and borders, and I’ve actually been wondering the same thing about my own neighborhood. Since I was already poring over old editions of the Oakland Tribune in my house genealogy, I decided to tackle a project I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while now: figuring out exactly what my neighborhood was called, back when it had a name. It occurred to me that with the society columns, school reports, and real estate listings, the Trib would be a great place to look for signs of neighborhood identity. This weekend, I did just that.

Reading through the old real estate ads is like peering through a window into an alternate universe. In 1917, key selling points of homes in Oakland included proximity to train lines and whether or not there was a chicken house in back. Scout troops ran bicycle safety classes at the schools on weekends. People swam in Lake Merritt. Not bad! It’s a bit sad to see how much of the Trib’s coverage once focused on Oakland youth and schools, though. This coverage drops off pointedly in the 1960s—perhaps a harbinger of what was to come for OUSD. I focused my hunt on newspaper listings and articles between 1907 and 1960 on the theory that the coming of the freeways fundamentally changed Oakland’s neighborhood identities and organization. Obviously our neighborhoods have grown and changed in the intervening years, and names and identities are dynamic things, but I primarily wanted to see what secrets the history held.

A few caveats: first, early Oaklanders used the term “district” with abandon. Some districts were within other districts. Others were tiny. Several overlapped. Some were formally defined. (Residents of Peralta Heights held a community meeting in 1926 to decide whether to expand their neighborhood’s boundaries!) Schools typically commanded districts of their own, which added to the confusion because there were both elementary districts and junior high school districts. Developers sometimes named districts when they built on tracts of land. There wasn’t a lot of rhyme or reason to what was called a district and what wasn’t—it primarily seems to have been a way to refer to your community in relation to key landmarks. Also, this post is based only on surveying real estate and society listings in the Trib, which means it may or may not be an accurate reflection of actual usage, though I did exclude names that didn’t appear consistently. And lastly, neighborhoods change over time, so some of these names have since vanished, while others have moved. (The transition of Eastlake from an area name to a micro-neighborhood is an especially interesting one.) So this is a snapshot of a moment in time.

Oakland neighborhoods in the 1930s (revised)

Oakland neighborhoods in the 1930s (revised)

Area: The Lake District
In the beginning, it was all about the lake. From the post-quake years through the 1960s, “the Lake District” referred broadly to all of the development around Lake Merritt, our neighborhood included. It seemed to extend north to the Piedmont Avenue area, west to Broadway, and east all the way to Park, where it transitioned to the Park Boulevard District. Adams Point, Lakeshore, and Grand Lake were in the north Lake District, while the west Lake District was home to the Lakeside Apartment District and my neighborhood. Trestle Glen was sometimes called the upper Lake District (and included an assortment of neighborhoods). By the 1920s, the Eastlake District was its own entity, with fifteen member neighborhood organizations.

An early zoning map around the lake allowed apartment houses against the lake, but not in the residential area to the west and north

An early zoning map around the lake initially allowed apartment houses against the lake (hatched line), but not in the residential area to the west and north (solid line), where we live.

District: Westlake (part of the Lake District)
West Lake or Westlake (and in real estate ads, “Westlake District,” which explains why the modern-day MLS uses that) was a sub-area of the Lake District. The name was reinforced by the existence of Westlake Junior High School in the midst of the area. Oakland society in the 1920s and 1930s largely revolved around youth and the schools, and a number of neighborhoods were referred to by their junior high school or park names (Mosswood, Bushrod, Westlake, Golden Gate, Cleveland, Bella Vista, and more). Before the school came into being, the paper more commonly listed the area as “west of the Lake District,” but after the school’s creation, this gets merged into “Westlake District.” By the 1930s, there were also apartments along Grand near Bay Place advertised as being in “Westlake.”

Zoning debates didn't always work out so well....d'oh!

Zoning debates didn't always work out so well....d'oh!

Neighborhood: Oak Park (a neighborhood in the west Lake District)
It’s hard to explain how cathartic it was to to discover that once upon a time our neighborhood really, truly had a name of its own. I didn’t find it right away—many of the real estate listings used street names to denote location, and there are very few references to the neighborhood itself in the real estate pages. (On occasion, listings near my house did call it the “Edison district,” a reference to Edison Elementary, which still stands but is now condos. The school served our neighborhood and Adams Point from 1927 until 1975, when OUSD was forced to close it because they could not afford needed seismic retrofitting. However, many of the staircases cut through the hill to provide access to the school still exist.)

From the 1920s through until the 1960s, though, our ‘hood did indeed have a name: the Oak Park District. There was even an Oak Park Improvement Club that met on Richmond Boulevard. The neighborhood seems to have stretched from Oakland Avenue to Broadway, and extended north to Moss Avenue (now MacArthur/I-580). The southern boundary is less clear, in part because the street grid has changed dramatically since then. (For instance, Richmond Avenue and Richmond Boulevard once connected, and Napier Avenue, a side street, evaporated when the freeways came.) In the mid-1950s, the city wanted to put a highway in over Glen Echo Creek, which runs down the center of Richmond Boulevard, as the “ultimate answer” to community complaints about crime along the creek bed. (This was proposed after repeated resident complaints about overgrown vegetation and trash, which probably sounds frustratingly familiar to those who live nearby today!) The fight to stop that plan seems to be the last point at which the uphill and downhill residents organized collectively. Use of the neighborhood name vanishes from the Trib archives by the mid-1960s, and I’ve certainly never heard it used, though there is still an Oak Park on Kempton. For now, I stand by my theory that dropping the 580 into the neighborhood fundamentally changed how the Richmond Boulevard area relates to the hill above, and thus the neighborhood lost cohesion. I’m going to have to ask around and see what some of the area’s older residents remember, though.

As a postscript, though: after years of preparation, construction of Oakland’s first urban creek reserve along Glen Echo Creek finally started this fall. The project will restore riparian habitat along the section of the creek on Richmond Boulevard and 30th Street. Additional restoration of the creek above MacArthur is planned as part of the Kaiser project, as well.

Some other interesting finds along the way…
Broadway Auto Row (part of the Downtown District)

Wow: I knew this name had been around for a while, but it turns out that Upper Broadway has actually been “Broadway Auto Row” for most of its existence. References to the “upper Broadway automobile row” appear regularly by 1913; this is soon shortened to Broadway Auto Row. “This street is growing at the rate of 25 percent per year,” one developer ad notes. “Get busy.” In 1917, the Trib hailed the opening of the jewel of Auto Row at 3331 Broadway—the Studebaker building. Today Honda of Oakland’s used car lot sits on the site; the Studebaker building is long gone. (Incidentally, the same edition of the paper calls for reader suggestions on a new name for the then “pleasure car,” noting that “a motor car is no longer a vehicle that is bought or operated solely in the pursuit of ‘pleasure’….the automobile has ceased to be a plaything.”) However, the name seems to have been reserved exclusively for the commercial properties.

Linda Vista District (part of Piedmont District)
This also isn’t exactly my neighborhood, but it is commonly used up until mid-century to refer to the neighborhood along Harrison Street and Oakland Avenue north of the 580. I’ve never known that neighborhood’s name either, so it was interesting to discover. (Today, it typically gets lumped into either Grand Lake or Piedmont Avenue.)

And here’s how realtors thought about Oakland in the 1930s:
Downtown District:
Estuary to 29th Street, Fallon [western edge of Lake Merritt] to Market

North-of-the-Lake District:
Broadway to Park Blvd, Lake Merritt to the Piedmont limit

North Oakland:
29th Street to Berkeley limit, Market/West to Piedmont limit

East Oakland: Estuary to Hopkins, Park Blvd. to Seminary

Elmhurst District: Estuary to Foothill, Seminary to San Leandro limit

Hillside District: Bounded by Grizzly Peak to Lake Chabot, Piedmont, Hopkins, and Foothill

West Oakland: Estuary to Alcatraz, Bayshore/Emeryville limit to Market/West

And finally, an amazing resource for Oakland street and geographic changes:


A sad goodbye to Oakland’s Jojo

December 6, 2008

I managed to miss the announcement just before Thanksgiving that Jojo, a small French restaurant that’s been at our end of Piedmont Avenue for almost a decade, is closing at the end of the year, a victim of the recession. It’s bittersweet news amidst all the hoopla around all the new places opening. We’ve only been to Jojo a couple of times, but it was lovely, and I often stop to “window shop” their menu as I’m walking along Piedmont. They serve a mix of French comfort food and more upscale French cuisine; the menu is comfortably consistent, with tweaks for seasonal produce and meats. (Ironically, that’s also one of the reasons we didn’t go more frequently: we knew, or at least we thought we did, that we’d be able to get the same deliciousness later—and now I feel terrible!) They do a mean steak if that’s your style and a good veggie bread pudding if it’s not, with fabulous wines and desserts. (If you can’t swing the cost of a full meal there, try stopping by in the later evening for dessert and coffee, which never disappoints.) They’re also some of the nicest people I know. We have a friend who was a regular there when he lived nearby and loved to start and end every meal with a plate of Jojo’s famous chocolate soufflé cake, usually having a steak in between the two; they never questioned it. The staff would also keep cans of a particular kind of soda cold for him even though they didn’t actually sell the stuff, because he didn’t drink and was particular about what he had in place of wine. I’ll miss their presence on Piedmont. Apparently someone has bought the space and it sounds like it will be another restaurant (though no details yet), but it just won’t be the same.

Jojo closes their doors for good after their annual New Year’s celebration, so you have until then to try them out before they’re gone forever. Don’t miss your chance!


New restaurants in the ‘hood

November 13, 2008

It’s bizarre, I know, but our neighborhood is positively crawling with new and about-to-open restaurants, in spite of the dire economic times. I’m making it a mission this winter to try all of the ones that are currently open, so we’ll see how that goes.

On Auto Row, we’ve now got (or are about to get):

They join Shashamane, Drunken Fish, and Z Cafe & Bar, which have been holding down the fort thus far. (Side note: with all the Uptown buzz and Kaiser Hospital under a state deadline to open the doors of its new location at Piedmont & Broadway by 2013, it’s probably a pretty opportune time to sign a long-term lease on one of those long-empty Auto Row storefronts….)

…and in Uptown proper, mostly still in development, we’ve got:

They join Luka’s and the old stand-bys Vo’s and Louisiana Fried Chicken, plus a few lunch spots. And a bazillion new apartments and condos in the Broadway Grand and Uptown developments.

Both of these neighborhoods are also part of the newly-approved Uptown/Lake Merritt Business District, which runs up Broadway all the way to 27th (and extends east to Harrison). The BID should hopefully help improve streetscape, safety, and other key aspects of the neighborhoods. It’s a tough economy out there, but so far the ‘hood seems to be holding its own. We’re going to make an effort to treat ourselves to dinner out in the neighborhood when we can to help these fledglings weather the storm.