Posts Tagged ‘upper broadway’

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Restaurant Report: Winter 2011

February 25, 2011

Wow, look at what happens when you take a few months off! Last time I posted on neighborhood restaurants was last May (good grief) and there’s been plenty happening since then. Here’s a very quick rundown of what’s opened or is opening soon in the ‘hood…

Temescal/Pill Hill

  • Homeroom, a new macaroni-and-cheese restaurant, is now open at 40th and Shafter. We have yet to try it but it sounds tasty and has been met with great fanfare—even my sister in Denver heard about it (though in fairness, she does work for the American Cheese Society, so it’s her kind of place!) Full report once we make it there.
  • CommonWealth has been open at 29th and Telegraph for a while now. Check out the details here. [Side note: One review of CommonWealth describes its location as “where Uptown meets Pill Hill.” Discuss.]
  • Remedy has been open since forever at Telegraph and 43rd, but I realized I forgot to include them in the last list. Which is bad, because they’re awesome!

Piedmont Avenue

  • Shimizu Sushi is now open at Piedmont and Echo. Haven’t been yet, but have heard good things!
  • It’s actually been quite a while since I’ve wandered down Piedmont, so I have a feeling I’m missing some changes. (Or maybe it really has been quiet?) Updates after we get a chance to walk down that way!

Grand Lake/Lower Grand

  • Ikaros (Greek) on Grand and Caña (Cuban, with a cabaret license, it looks like?) on Lake Park are both open as of this month. Yum! [Yes, I know the Ikaros link doesn’t work yet, but hopefully it will soon…]
  • Lin Jia Kitchen has been open on Lakeshore for a while now in the old L’Amyx space; still on the list of new places to try!
  • Room 389 opened this fall where the Golden Bear used to be.
  • Mimosa (at Santa Clara and Grand) has closed again after a brief revival, and is reportedly going to reopen under a new owner as a larger Ethiopian restaurant later this spring. Hopefully the third time’s the charm!
  • Sadly, Di Bartolo Café has closed, but happily,  Boot and Shoe will be taking over their space, expanding to include a patio and reportedly opening for brunch and lunch. Mmm doughnuts…
  • The Flip Side on Lakeshore, a project by the owners of Flavors of India, will be serving up gourmet burgers. (This is the old Adam’s location.)
  • Restoration of KwikWay on Lake Park is well underway at long last! Hoping they’ll be open by the summer, but that might be overly optimistic. Last I heard, the plan was still to do an upscale version of the old burger joint, but we’ll see.
  • Zoey’s Afghan Bistro has sadly closed, not too long after it opened.

Uptown/Upper Broadway

  • 3000 Broadway is now open at, umm, 3000 Broadway. Still haven’t been, but very curious!
  • Plum has been open for a while now, and is slated to open a bar soon. We checked it out when they first opened and are headed for a second visit soon, so I’ll write that one up soon.
  • Next door to Plum, the Punchdown opened quietly last fall in Franklin Square Wine Bar’s old space. Still need to check this one out too!
  • Next door to Mua, Nex is open. Check out the review here. (Can you tell how long it’s been since I’ve done one of these updates?!?)
  • Café Randevu is open too, just across the way from Mua and Nex. They have an eclectic menu spanning a number of cuisines.
  • Bar Dogwood, a new venture by the former owner of the House of Shields, is now open for  “cocktails and cured meats,” which is definitely up my alley! It’s at 17th and Telegraph.
  • Shuga Hill, the soul food truck-turned-restaurant that was originally eyeing a location at 29th and Broadway, has instead settled on a location at 27th and San Pablo that seems to be coming along nicely.
  • Xolo, the new taqueria from the Dona Tomas/Flora crew, is still under construction. Still. They’re also working on a bar in the space between Flora and Xolo.
  • Just up the street at 18th and Telegraph will be Oakland’s own branch of Brooklyn’s Weather Up. They’ll also be serving up cocktails and snacks.
  • Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café is opening its second location next-door to the Fox Theater. Apparently my wish for cocktails and brunch (no, not together…well, sure, why not together??) has been heard!

I think that’s it for now. I’ve undoubtedly missed a few openings and closings in these neighborhoods since I’ve been a bit out of the loop this fall and winter, so feel free to add them in the comments. And I promise to update this in a more timely manner next time around!

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Dine About Oakland: CommonWealth

February 14, 2011

Yeah, yeah, yeah, still here. And our kitchen is still not done, so still no time for writing. But one of my new year’s resolutions was to try to shake the dust off this blog and get it up and running again…though given that it’s already February, I’m not doing so well on that front! I’m going to try starting with some bite-sized tidbits in the interim, though.

So for now, here’s a happy Valentine’s post on CommonWealth, one of Oakland’s newer restaurant pubs, which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite neighborhood haunts (and that’s not just because we still have no working stove and they have shepherd’s pie!) CommonWealth opened last summer not long before our wedding, so although we sent some of our wedding guests there to watch World Cup games, we didn’t actually go ourselves until many weeks later. For most of 2010, they had pretty limited hours, and were often closed when we wanted to go. (This is, incidentally, one of the biggest frustrations of living in an up-and-coming gourmet hot spot in the shadows of downtown; lots of restaurants debut with weekday lunchtime hours, which I understand but which we can never make, so I get all excited and then have to wait for weeks for nighttime or weekend hours…augh!) But happily, with the arrival of 2011 came expanded hours so that CommonWealth is now open every day of the week, and every night except Sunday! In recent weeks, with no easy way to cook, we’ve headed there for all sorts of tasty goodness. (They also now have a gorgeous new façade, so if you haven’t been to go check it out, go take a look!)

The little storefront CommonWealth is in used to be a coffee shop, and it’s very tiny for a bar. But they’ve packed it with tables and lined the windows with stools, so we’ve never had a problem finding a place to sit (though I will say that they are more and more crowded with each passing week…) On the drinks front they just serve beer and wine, but they always have a great and largely local selection of those (plus interesting sodas, coffee, breakfast, and lunch, too). They also offer wifi, so there’s usually a small laptop contingent.

There’s a basic menu of sandwiches, salads, and soups, but the real treats are usually the specials. Shepherd’s pie pops up regularly, and a few weeks ago they even had a veggie haggis version. We’ve tried mac and cheese, pasties, sandwiches, and my favorite, their excellent beet salad. Dessert was also delicious: a chocolate stout float with cookie ‘n’ caramel sauce on the side! Really, how can you beat that? Beer on tap is often local and always interesting and varied; it’s never been the same selection twice, even when we’ve been there two nights running. There’s also a bottle list that is pretty consistent, plus an assortment of wines, sodas, and other drinks if alcohol isn’t your thing.

My favorite thing about CommonWealth, though, is that they are also an exceptional coffee shop, something that our immediate neighborhood is sorely lacking. (Yeah, I know we can walk to Piedmont or Grand Lake or Telegraph, but the nearest coffee shops on each are a mile away, and even Farley’s East is a ten-minute walk. Need an indication of just how much our ‘hood needs some good local coffee shops? Just go take a peek at how packed Whole Foods Café is from opening to closing every day! ) So it’s good to have coffee a bit closer to home. We’ve taken the dog over a couple of times, and you can either sit outside when the outdoor table and chairs are there as long as you don’t take the alcohol out, or have one person sit inside at the window, since the window sill is a perfect little counter. They have excellent currant scones, and they actually know how to make scones, which is not to be taken lightly. (Okay, I admit it, I’m a scone snob! My mom made us wonderful traditional cream scones growing up, and now I really can’t stomach what many coffee shops, particularly certain national chains, try to pass off as “scones.” But these are terrific!) They also have great coffee—they use Oakland/Emeryville-based Roast and also sell beans. And they make perfect Gibraltars—also not to be taken lightly! (Random factoid: I only recently learned that Blue Bottle invented the Gibraltar, which is named after the Libbey Duratuff rocks glass it’s served in. Granted, a Gibraltar is really just a true short cappuccino—that is to say, not the “short” cappuccino you can order at Starbucks, which is actually what the rest of the world would consider a normal cappuccino—or a tall cortado, which no one but the one barista who briefly worked at the Peet’s by my office two years ago seems to know how to make. But still, both D. and I have happily embraced this new coffee development—it’s a much easier way of ordering a not-too-milky espresso drink without having to specify “a cappuccino with an inch less milk than you were planning to put in.”) There’s also a brunch menu on weekends and a lunch menu on weekdays, though we haven’t ventured into that territory yet.

So, in a nutshell: local beer, local coffee, shepherd’s pie, scones, no wait, and six blocks from my house. What’s not to love?? If they had outdoor seating where you could have a beer too, it would be practically perfect!

Grade: A
Price: $-$$

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Dine About Oakland: Nex

July 14, 2010

This weekend, I wasn’t up for a real night out, but we still wanted to show our support for local restaurants. So, with some friends, we headed out to a brand-new spot that we could walk to: Nex, the latest venture from Hi-Suk and Sanju Dong, the husband-and-wife team behind Mua and Soizic. We had high hopes since we like Mua’s food a lot, but often find it too loud for a weekend dinner. Nex has been billed as more restaurant and less club, but with a similar vibe, which sounded perfect. And though I never made it to Soizic, which is now closed for “reinventing” as someplace new, D. was a fan in its heyday. Nex is at Webster and Broadway right next-door to Mua, in the space that was briefly the short-lived Café Noir. While Café Noir was trying to juggle the coffee shop-pizza joint identity, though, Nex is a bit more upscale and decidedly a dinner spot.

On its first Friday night, the place was pretty quiet, which was also a nice change from Mua, where you can sometimes wait well over an hour for a table on the weekends. That’s not to say it was empty, though: clearly people are beginning to hear about it, and a number of people popped over from Mua to peek in and see what was happening. Interestingly, the crowd had a slightly older leaning; we were probably the youngest people there, which was a funny shift from Mua, where I sometimes feel pretty old. (One of our friends guessed that this might have been the Soizic crowd checking out the new place.) And on a fun side note, about half an hour into our meal, in walks Jerry Brown. Turns out he and his wife are pizza-and-wine fans too. (They also live a couple blocks away in the other direction, so I imagine they had the same walk-to-dinner idea we had.) This also led to a funny exchange at the door, when a group came in to check the place out and decide whether to stay for dinner. As one guy examined the menu, the other kept poking him, saying “Hey. Hey! Isn’t that the governor? Over there?” Finally the first guy, who was more concerned with the pizza list, responds, “Oh. Nah, he’s not the governor right now.” A pause. “Well, then are we eating here or not?” Shrugs. “Let’s keep looking.” And they leave.

Too bad, though, since they missed some good food! Since there were four of us, we gave the menu a good workout, trying:

  • Grilled asparagus with bacon and a poached egg: Excellent. We added this in the end at the advice of the server, who clearly knows what he’s talking about. Egg was perfectly done, and asparagus was just right. Highly recommended. Mmm!
  • House salad with butter lettuce, nectarines, and goat cheese: Also great. D. was initially pushing for the farro salad (which looked great at the table next to us) but after a few bites of the house salad, conceded that it had been a good pick.
  • Gnocchi: Meh. This was the one weak dish. The sauce was a very simple, sweet tomato sauce that overpowered the gnocchi. This turned out not to be bad, though, since the gnocchi were mushy and glutinous. We couldn’t decide if this was a preparation issue (undercooked, one of us wondered?) or a recipe issue (I’ve made gnocchi at home before, and I know that the delicate balance of flour and potato can make all the difference between tender little dumplings and mushiness, so possibly this dish can just be written off to a new restaurant still getting its bearings; they were also listed as being made with mascarpone, so possibly that was contributing too).
  • Nex pizza: The house specialty, this pizza is topped with anchovies, goat cheese, caramelized onions, and olives. We had an anchovy-lover among us, but even he thought this was a little over the top. The cheese, anchovies, and olives are all super salty, so if you got a bite with all three, it was just a bit much. (In contrast, the bites with just one or two and the onions were delicious, so I might order this in the future and ask them to leave either anchovies or olives off.) The crust was good, though, which is our big criterion for good pizza. I had high hopes since we’d liked the crust at Café Noir, and they’re using the same oven. While the pizza isn’t as good as spots like Marzano or Pizzaiolo that specialize in wood oven pizza, it was up there with the crusts at most of the other places in town. Crisp with bubbles…yum!
  • Forest pizza: This was a daily special pizza that featured fiddlehead ferns, hen of the wood mushrooms, and a cheese I’m blanking on (fontina, maybe?) This was probably my favorite, but I also love fiddleheads since you don’t see them too often around here.
  • Roasted cauliflower: D. really wanted to try this, so we threw it into the mix, and were really glad we did. While the dish is simple, it was excellent, and really showcased what a wood oven can do with vegetables.
  • Tarte tatin: Okay. This apple tart was quite tasty, but it was not a tarte tatin in the slightest, which was a bit of an issue for D., who’s a connoisseur of tarte tatins and has been through about a dozen recipes over the last few years trying to make the perfect one. A traditional tarte tatin features apples caramelized in butter and sugar until they’re a deep caramel color, covered with a pastry crust, baked in the same pan until the apples and crust meld, and then inverted and served like an upside-down cake. Nex’s version has lovely baked apples sitting delicately atop puff pastry, but there’s no caramelizing to be found. My vote: keep this on the menu—it’s yummy, especially with the cream alongside—but change the name to “apple tart” to avoid deeply disappointing tarte tatin fans. Meanwhile, our search for a great tarte tatin in Oakland continues…
  • Funnel cake fingers: This was probably the most interesting dish of the meal. Essentially, it’s sweet french fries made of funnel cake batter, served with chocolate (listed on the menu as spicy, but the chocolate we got seemed not to be) and fruit sauce. This is a variation on the fritter/doughnut theme that so many restaurants around town feature right now. We order it every place we see it, too, since both D. and I love really good doughnuts. I didn’t love this version simply because there’s more outside than inside to the treats, and I love the soft inside of bomboloni and zeppole and the like. However, these got points for being creative and unusual, and they really did taste like funnel cake, which was fun. So basically, we probably wouldn’t get them again, but were glad we ordered them once.
  • Cocktails, wine, and beer: We were pleased with the lists for all three of these. Beer is only in the bottle, but they have a great selection. Manhattan was similar to (though not quite as sweet as) the version served next-door at Mu, which I like a lot. Prices on par with most other spots of this flavor in town.

Overall, I was pleased with our first meal at Nex, especially since we were there just days after they opened, so it’s likely to keep getting better. The most exciting part is that the mood is pretty mellow compared to Mua; while we really enjoy Mua (and other spots like Shashamane across the street), these places start spinning music by 10 on weekend nights and become loud and hip. And, well, we’re old! (Okay, not really, but we’re not twenty-somethings anymore and sometimes Mua is just too loud for what we need on a Friday night.) So Nex is a great addition to the neighborhood. I have a feeling as they refine the menu in the coming weeks and months, they’ll get the few kinks out, and it will be the perfect spot. The server (who was great, and even IDed some of the fabulous 80’s they were playing to settle some debates) also reports that the owners are exploring adding outdoor tables, too, which would be great. In fact, the only slightly bittersweet part is that we’re back to having no coffee shop in the immediate neighborhood (unless you count Whole Foods Café, which I don’t, but apparently half the neighborhood does since it’s always packed!) Won’t somebody please open a coffee shop here??

On the opening front, though, I was excited to see that Café Randevu is on the verge of opening across the street from Nex, too. Our little corner of Oakland is slowly turning into a culinary hotspot!

Grade: A-
Price: $$-$$$

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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.

TOP TEN REASONS I ♥ OUR BLOCK:

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.

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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 iheartuptownmpls.com---Ill keep looking though!)

(Okay, here's a better one from iheartuptownmpls.com---I'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?

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All about Auto Row: A (very) brief history

July 8, 2009

The next Auto Row meeting is coming up tomorrow, Thursday July 9, at First Presbyterian Church at 2619 Broadway (at 27th) from 6 to 8 pm. The postcard, and last month’s news that GM is finally filing for bankruptcy and closing thousands of dealerships, reminded me that I hadn’t yet finished the little Auto Row retrospective I started a while back, shortly before we went to the kick-off meeting for a two-year planning process to define the future of Broadway Auto Row (or “Upper Broadway,” as the City is starting to call it once again), Oakland’s historic automobile dealer district (and our best-known neighborhood landmark!)

As we think about the future of this space, though, I couldn’t help but think back on the past, since I dug up all sorts of interesting tidbits on Auto Row when I was doing neighborhood history research earlier this year. I meant this to be a bit more narrative and reflective, but haven’t had time to sit down with it—so instead it’s just the blow-by-blow history of the corridor. More musings on the future in the next post….

Before Auto Row: Pre-1912
Broadway, of course, was around for decades before Auto Row was established in 1912. In Oakland’s early years, the neighborhood in and around Auto Row was known as “Academy Hill” for the number of schools and universities that dotted it. (The hill itself is now known to most Oaklanders as “Pill Hill” in reference to the hospitals and medical community that now occupy it.) St. Mary’s College, now in Moraga, sat at 30th and Broadway for nearly 40 years (and in fact had a plaque on the old Connell Oldsmobile building to mark the spot of the building they called “the old Brickpile”).

Original St. Marys campus in Oakland

Original St. Mary's campus on Broadway in Oakland

Other Academy Hill institutions included a military academy, a seminary, and in later years an elementary school that sat at 29th and Broadway, now home to Grocery Outlet (and home to Safeway for 30 years before that). The transition to medical uses began fairly early on, too: another early Auto Row establishment was Providence Hospital, started by the Sisters of Providence at Broadway and 26th and later transferred to Sutter Health, which still runs Alta Bates Summit Medical Center on Pill Hill today.

During these years, Oakland did have an Auto Row—but it was located in downtown Oakland in the heart of the commercial district. When residential development (and the auto industry!) took off in the post-earthquake years, though, so did the need for more automobile retailers, so development of a new Oakland Auto Row along Upper Broadway began.

The Early Years: 1912-1925
Auto-oriented businesses began popping up on Auto Row as early as 1912; by 1913 things were in full swing, so the Row is approaching its hundredth anniversary. Initially, the area was referred to as “Upper Broadway Automobile Row” to distinguish it from Oakland’s established 12th Street auto row and San Francisco’s developing auto row along Van Ness, but before long the name was shortened to “Broadway Auto Row,” as the area is still known today. As Oakland developed, the corridor also became a major transit trunk with multiple streetcar lines taking you out to Piedmont, Berkeley, and as far as Kensington.

Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California)

Early tenants included Marion, Studebaker, Empire, A.B. Cosby, J.W. Leavitt, Kissel Kar, Packard, and multiple manufacturers, tire businesses, service stations, and other maintenance and repair shops—not so unlike Auto Row today. By 1914, Buick had opened up shop at Broadway and Piedmont, and was soon followed by virtually every big name in automobiles and automobile parts: Oakland’s Auto Row had arrived.

The new Cosby Motor Cars dealership when it opened in 1913. They sold electric cars, among other things; sadly, it's now a surface parking lot....

The new Peacock Motor Company dealership when it opened at 2841 Broadway in 1913. Sadly, it's now a surface parking lot....

Auto Row’s Hey Day: 1925-1955
As Oakland’s population soared in the 1920s through the post-war years, so did Auto Row, as new dealers filled in along Upper Broadway south to Grand and north to West MacArthur Boulevard (then Moss Avenue). Many of the auto-related repair and supply shops that opened up in between the dealerships and along the side streets are still in business today, many incarnations later. Many of the residential areas adjacent to Auto Row also developed in the 1910s and 20s, so there were hundreds of new residents in the surrounding neighborhoods. Mosswood Park, which the City had purchased in 1907, was also extensively developed during this period to include new recreational facilities, amphitheaters, and other community spaces at the northern edge of Auto Row. (Sadly, several of these were later demolished to make room for I-580).

Streetcars at Broadway and Grand (Photo from Key Rail Pix)

Streetcars at Broadway and Grand (Photo from Key Rail Pix)

[This section really deserves a much longer writeup, because a lot of cool stuff happened in Oakland and on Auto Row during this period….but since I have zero time to do it right now, it will have to wait for another day!]

The Decline of the City: 1955-1995
By the mid-1950s, the Eisenhower Interstate system was falling into place—and into cities—across the country. In Oakland, existing cross-town thoroughfares expanded into divided roadways, and two new freeways carved out huge swaths of the city, displacing countless residents and fundamentally altering the fabric of many of the city’s neighborhoods. Interstate 580 had a particularly significant impact on Auto Row, as it cut right across the northern edge of Upper Broadway; Interstate 980 also ran parallel to Auto Row a few blocks to the west. As travel to and from the suburbs became faster and easier with the new roads, families—and especially white families—began leaving the city. The streetcars stopped running in the late 1940s, and in 1958, the Key System rail lines shut down. The system was eventually sold in 1960 to the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District, a newly formed public agency that would manage buses for Alameda and Contra Costa County. Ironically (at least given their own demise as America’s auto fascination waned in recent years!) GM played a major role in bringing down the Key System when its affiliate National City Lines purchased the system in the late 1940s and began pushing to have it shut down. The East Bay cities actually tried to buy the system themselves in the 1950s to keep it running after GM and its associates had been convicted of criminally conspiring to create a monopoly, but they failed….and, as they say, the rest is history.

The 1960 Census also recorded a drop in population for the first time in Oakland’s history. Over the next two decades, the city’s population continued to plummet, falling from a Census high of 385,000 in 1950 to a low of 340,000 in 1980, even as the Bay Area overall continued to grow significantly. By the time the 1980 Census was taken, Oakland was also a majority minority city, with white Oaklanders constituting only 39 percent of the population.

Not surprisingly, Oakland’s Auto Row took an economic nosedive as Americans across the country fled to the suburbs and took their dollars with them. Article after article in the Oakland Tribune during the 1960s and 1970s notes the move of this auto dealership or that parts store to Walnut Creek or Lafayette or parts beyond. During this time, some of the residential areas along Auto Row also deteriorated significantly as homes were razed in some areas and disinvestment spread; the crack epidemic also had a dramatic effect on many of these areas throughout the mid-1980s.

By 1964, both Oakland and Auto Row were in decline. You know it's time to worry when you're excited about the new used car lot that just opened....

By 1964, both Oakland and Auto Row were in decline. You know it's time to worry when you're excited about the new used car lot that just opened...

The New American City: 1995 and beyond
In the early 1990s, Oakland finally stopped bleeding population, and some areas of the city began to stabilize as new residents trickled in. By the 2000 Census, the population trend had wholly reversed, and for the first time, Oakland exceeded its 1950 population. Much of this growth came in the city’s communities of color: the 2000 Census captured a snapshot of an incredibly diverse city, with a number of new immigrant groups establishing communities in Oakland neighborhoods and contributing to the revitalization of some of the city’s older commercial districts. The housing boom was also ramping up, fueling gentrification in some neighborhoods.

I didn’t live in Oakland during the early Brown years, but friends remember lots of conversations about Auto Row at that point: was there a future for central city auto dealerships? Should Auto Row be expanded northward? What about alternative futures? Streetscape work and new medians shone up the old district, and briefly the future of Oakland’s dealerships looked a bit rosier as some of the big names renovated their showrooms.

Today, of course, it’s another story altogether. Enter the housing bust and the “Great Recession” (as the New York Times has taken to calling it). Some—although notably not all!—of the economic energy in the city has tapered off. Scores of storefronts along the Auto Row corridor are empty; decals for defunct car brands and auto parts stores line the windows next to the “for lease” signs. Chrysler recently severed its franchise relationship with Bay Bridge Chrysler Jeep Dodge, putting them at risk of closing. (Bay Bridge Auto Center, their parent company, also runs the GM and Nissan franchises along this stretch of Auto Row, and seems to do brisk business in used car sales, so they may well hang on for a bit on that front too.) Broadway Ford is already gone, and the Kia building has been sitting empty forever.

I’m not entirely sure this is a bad thing, though. Dedicating a prime commercial corridor near the heart of downtown to auto sales—something the average American buys only once every few years (and, I’d wager, far less frequently in dense urban areas where households may only have a single car, or none at all)—has never made a lot of sense to me. It’s not that I don’t think Oakland should have car dealerships—I do. They bring substantial tax revenues into the city, and are a significant part of our industrial history. It’s just that I don’t think they belong here. It looks like the auto mall on the old Army base may be stalled or dead in the water, but I actually thought that made a lot of sense (as would a similar mall over near Hegenberger, where there are also several dealers). The area along I-880 is already industrial in nature in most spots, and given that car dealers like large surface parking lots and freeway access, it seems like the prime place to drop them.

So what do I want to see on Auto Row instead? I’ll hit that topic next—and you should go to Thursday’s meeting to share your own ideas, whether you live in the neighborhood or not!

[And on that note, this is also a good time to remind folks that yes, lots of people do live in the Auto Row neighborhood—I was a bit taken aback by a few comments from participants at the first meeting who noted that this corridor was a good place for various uses that wouldn’t fly near other residential areas because “the only neighbors are the hospitals and auto shops.” While it’s true that there aren’t too many Pill Hill residents—although even there you’ll find a few condo buildings—there are a lot of residents in Glen Echo, Westlake, HarriOak, Adams Point, and more by the day in Uptown. You can read a little more on the history of these neighborhoods and their relationship with Auto Row here. This doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be regional uses along this corridor—but it does mean that a need for local-serving retail and services also exists, and that any traffic-generating uses will indeed have impacts on residential neighborhoods.]

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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