Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Saturday Art Stroll


If you've gone to a First Friday and felt overwhelmed, you're not alone. What started as the monthly Art Murmur to get people interested in art and the growing art scene in Oakland rapidly grew to include a street festival, food trucks, and other happenings. In the words of Yogi Berra, "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

If you want the art but not the crowds, there are some options. Every Saturday, many of the same galleries and art spaces take part in the Saturday Art Stroll. It's a chance to see the art, talk to people in the galleries, and take in things at a slower pace. Once a month on the third Saturday, they also lead special tours.

This past Saturday the Saturday Stroll art tour started at Warehouse 416 with a powerul exhibit from the Foster Youth Museum. Then it was over to Creative Growth Art Center, which serves adult artists with developmental, mental and physical disabilities, and provides a professional studio environment. Creative Growth also includes a gallery space where the work is shown, and a small store where some of the art is available for purchase. Steve Oriolo, who runs the wood studio and the Saturday youth program, kindly stuck around and showed the large group the space and then answered questions.

Our final stop was the Rock Paper Scissors Collective, one of the original founders of the Art Murmur. RPS works to foster creativity and collaboration through free and low-cost art classes. It's all volunteer run, and in need of some financial help, so considering volunteering or donating to help keep it running.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Foster Youth Museum


At the gallery Warehouse 416 (416 26th Street) right now there's an amazing and powerful exhibit. Go see it. It is not cheery, though it will leave you with hope. It's called "Lost Childhoods", and is about the experience of foster youth, shown in photographs and artifacts. Making it even more powerful was a special tour on Saturday, led by a number of former foster youth, including Captain Young who is featured in the poster for the event.

Jamie Lee Evans, herself a former foster child, is the co-director of the Foster Youth Museum. She told us about the exhibit and talked about some of the artifacts, like the large purple teddy bear given by one foster child to her sister, so she would always remember her. Although the woman went on to be successful, like many foster youth, she hung on to this reminder of her experience. In any event, this is a case where more words from me won't add anything. Go see it. You will be moved. Unfortunately, it's only at Warehouse 416 through March, so you don't have much time to see it.

The museum is looking for a permanent home, so if you know of a space that's appropriate, contact them. The exhibit is also available for rent, so if you're a gallery or exhibit space looking for something powerful to show, talk to them.



This was all part of a Saturday Art Stroll tour of several galleries with different connections to foster youth, including Creative Growth and Rock Paper Scissors collective, which I'll hopefully have time to write about more later. But go see this exhibit while you can!

Links:
Foster Youth Museum website
Warehouse 416
Oakland Local article by C.J. Hirschfield

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Oakland Urban Paths: Highland Terrace


Saturday 40 people joined Oakland Urban Paths for a walk exploring the staircases of Highland Terrace and several parks near Reservoir Hill. We had unusually humid and warm weather, so it was fortunate the sun was partially blocked by clouds.

We started our walk in front of Highland Hospital, which back in the days of the Key System, had its own stop built in the style of the hospital. From there we went up and down several stairways from 14th Avenue to the streets above. A few of the residences can only be accessed via the stairs. Our route took us past numerous beautiful Victorians and a few that are in need of some attention. There were also countless barking dogs, which is why we had the unusual 'no dogs' request for this walk.

Along the walk was the John C. McMullen House. McMullen was a well-to-do lawyer and banker who had the home built in the late 1800s. When we got there, we heard from the current owner, who has lived there since he was two years old and is slowly restoring the home to its former beauty.

From there we wound our away through several Oakland parks, the Central Reservoir Recreation Area and William D. Wood Park. As you might guess, the first is near the Central Reservoir just below I-580. Less well-known is that Wood Park was formed because of leakage from the reservoir. In the 1950s it destabilized the hillside and took out a dozen homes and part of McKillop Street. The area wasn't turned into a park until 1976. And oddly enough, in the 2000s, more seepage took out some more homes.

We looped around the reservoir, crossed I-580 twice, then wound our way back to our starting point, with different views of Highland Hospital, the palm trees of Borax Smith's Arbor Villa estate where we walked in February, and other unexpected sights. The walk for April is yet to be determined, but hope you can join us Saturday, April 11th at 10am wherever in Oakland it is!

View some pictures from Robert Perricone.

Special thanks to Eric Nomburg for the use of some of his photos. More pictures of the walk:

Friday, March 13, 2015

Oakland Women's History Tour

This past Sunday we had a great turnout for a Women's History Tour around downtown Oakland, led by historian Annalee Allen of the city's Oakland Walking Tours and co-sponsored by Oakland Urban Paths. 60 people (and two dogs) met up in front of city hall for a walk through Oakland to learn about some of the amazing women who have called it home.

Our first stop was near the Rotunda Building, originally known as Kahn's Department Store. There a plaque remembers the women of the 1946 Oakland General Strike, which shut down the city completely. Near the Jack London Oak tree we heard about about Jack London and the woman who raised him, Jennie Prentiss, a woman who had been born into slavery.

Then it was on to the first of several beautiful murals we were to see. Mitzvah: The Jewish Cultural Experience is 7 stories tall, and features people and scenes from Jewish history from Oakland and beyond. Two of the people included in the mural are Gertrude Stein and her life-long partner, Alice B. Toklas. Kitty Hughes from the Oakland Heritage Alliance told us more about Stein, her growing up in Oakland, and the infamous "there is no there there" line from her book, Everybody's Autobiography published in 1937. The line refers to Stein's childhood experience being completely gone. The magnificent Tubbs Hotel where the Steins first lived had burned down; the bucolic neighborhood where the Stein's lived was now built up with numerous homes and apartments, and the population of Oakland had grown from 35,000 in 1880, to nearly 300,000 by 1935 when she returned.

A walk down Mural Lane took us to the former YWCA Building, designed by talented and prolific Oakland architect Julia Morgan, then to the site of the former Ebell Society clubhouse, and finally to what is now the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts. It was originally built as the Oakland Women's City Club, then became the Alice Arts Center, so named because it's on Alice Street. Alice Street is one of the few streets downtown not named for a dead white guy; instead it's named for Alice Carpentier, sister of Oakland founding scoundrel Horace Carpentier. There we met up with Jerri Lange, pioneering Bay Area journalist. She's one of the many people featured on the amazing mural across Alice Street, including center namesake Malonga Casquelourd.

Jerri later met up with us at our final stop, Camron-Stanford House next to Lake Merritt. It was home to various families over the years, including the Camrons, the Hewes, and the Stanfords (Josiah, brother of Leland). But more recent Oaklanders know it as the Oakland Public Museum, one of the predecessors of the Oakland Museum of California. There we heard from Reenie (one of the docents who was on the walk with us), Ann Swift (executive director) and several of the docents about the truly amazing women of the Ebell Society. I highly recommend checking out the great exhibit about the Ebell Society that Camron-Stanford House has put together.

Another great walk, and thanks to Annalee for leading it!

More photos from the walk:

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):