Monday, February 16, 2015

Oakland Urban Paths: Cleveland Heights and "Borax" Smith


Saturday we had amazing weather for an Oakland Urban Paths walk exploring Cleveland Heights and the nearby former estate of F. M. "Borax" Smith. This was a good follow on to last month's walk in the former town of Brooklyn just south of Saturday's walk.

During the walk I mentioned a Oakland map website that has a series of maps of Oakland, from 1877, 1912, 1936, 1950s, 1967 and present day. It's a great way to see how Oakland has changed over the years. If you look at the 1912 map, you'll see the outline of "Borax" Smith's estate, Arbor Villa. The portion of the map shown here is even older, from about 1869, before Oakland annexed Brooklyn in 1872.

I also promised to provide a map in lieu of the one I didn't have ready for Saturday. Here's a link to a Google map with our route shown, but also some of the points of interest along the way, and as an added bonus, it also shows the approximate bounds of the Smith's Arbor Villa estate and of the Mary R. Smith Home for Friendless Girls.

We started the walk at the Cleveland Cascade, designed by landscape architect Howard Gilkey and built in 1923. It was likely shut down during WWII, but was reactivated after the war. At some point it was turned off, fell into disrepair, and became overgrown and full of trash. In 2004, a group of neighborhood volunteers including Barbara Newcombe uncovered and cleaned up the cascade. Since then they've put in new railings and lighting, and are raising money to restore the water portion of the cascade. If you want to help, the Friends of the Cleveland Cascade has garden work parties on the first Saturday of each month.

From there we meandered across Cleveland Heights, keeping an eye out for gnomes, sidewalk stamps, murals and other things. We eventually crossed over Park Blvd. into the Ivy Hill neighborhood, and what was once the estate of "Borax" Smith, Arbor Villa. While the 42-room Oak Hall, gardens, out buildings and observation tower are all gone now, a row of palm trees marks one edge of what was once the estate. Seeing an old palm tree in Oakland is often a good sign that someone notable lived nearby, but the Arbor Villa palm trees are the best example.

Then it was back across Park Blvd. and along some buildings that are left from the Mary R. Smith Home for Friendless Girls. Frank's first wife, "Mollie", was inspired by Benjamin Farjeon’s Blade O’ Grass about orphans in London, and started an orphanage for girls. One of the "cottages" is an impressive structure at 3001 Park Blvd., which was designed by noted architect Julia Morgan. Our route back to the Cleveland Cascade took us past a home once owned by industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, some stairs at the end of Haddon Rd. that are no longer accessible, and down some beautiful stairs to Beacon St.

Another great walk! Thanks to everyone who came out for the walk, and to Tim for carrying the speaker. In March, we'll have two walks, our regular second Saturday walk (location to be determined) and a special Women's History Walk led by local historian and writer Annalee Allen. Hope to see you there!

Lots more pictures from the route (some taken during the test walk):

Friday, January 30, 2015

watch the Super Bowl at The New Parkway, with Marshawn bigger than life!


The Super Bowl may not be on your radar anymore since neither the Raiders nor the San Francisco Santa Clara 49ers are in it this year, but it promises to be a great game. If you're looking for a spot to watch it, consider The New Parkway. It's not just a great place to watch movies, they also show special events like the Super Bowl and soccer's World Cup, as well. I've watched the Raiders play there, and it's pretty amazing. There's great beer and food available, and they'll deliver it right to your seat.

Marshawn Lynch is an Oakland-grown celebrity who hasn't forgotten his Oakland roots. He regularly returns to Oakland, and his Fam 1st Foundation works in Oakland mentoring kids on the importance of education, literacy and self-esteem. He's an Oakland Tech grad who is larger than life, so not watch him larger than life? He may not speak to the media, but his actions speak plenty loud.

If the Super Bowl isn't your thing, The New Parkway is also doing a special movie showing Valentine's Day on February 14, and showing the Academy Awards on February 22. There are different charges for different events, but it's a great spot to watch all sorts of things.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

signs: Camber

The other night while checking out Camber, the latest restaurant in Montclair, I stopped to take a picture of its new neon sign. Camber is the second restaurant for them, and is named for the owners' kids, Camrin and Amber.

food: Camber Montclair


Montclair Village has a new restaurant on Moraga Avenue, and it's great. Camber replaces the venerable Silver Palace restaurant. I happened by the grand opening celebration they had, attended by current district four city council member Annie Campbell Washington and former member and current mayor Libby Schaaf.

It's a nice space with a high ceiling. Husband and wife owners Irfan Jaffery and Linda Saechao made the front space a bar (with lots of TV screens for watching sports), and the main dining area is up a couple steps. Camber is their second restaurant; the first Camber Oakland is in Uptown on Telegraph. Camber is named for their kids, Camrin and Amber, who were at the grand opening. The food is mixture of cultures; according to Mimi Rohr's article, Saechao's family is Thailand and Laos, while Jaffery's is from Pakistan and Burma.

This past Friday, K and I got a chance to check Camber out for dinner. We started with drinks (Gingerita for K, Lagunitas IPA for me) and an order of Crab Rangoon. Then it was on to spicy Bouncing Tofu for me, and a really tasty Pad Si Ew for K. Everything was great, but left us too full to even contemplate dessert. Camber makes a great addition to Oakland's burgeoning restaurant scene and for us it's great to have another dining option close to home. We'll definitely eat there again, and will likely take advantage of the bar for watching sports that aren't on broadcast TV.

Camber Montclair celebrates grand opening in Montclair Village by Mimi Rohr San Jose Mercury News January 21, 2015.

More pictures from the grand opening and from dinner:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

signs: Flavors of India


Spotted this last night in a rare evening walk around Montclair Village.