Thursday, November 19, 2015

Oakland Urban Paths: Estuary

Nearly 100 people (plus a record 8 dogs) turned out for the Oakland Urban Paths walk exploring the changes along the estuary and the Lake Merritt channel. Led by city planner and WOBO member Ruth Miller, we started in front of the historic Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon.

We began by viewing some historical maps of Oakland that help show just how much we've changed the shoreline of Oakland over the years. The 1857 map in particular shows clearly that Lake Merritt isn't a lake, but a tidal slough, and much of West Oakland is filled land. (You may also notice that much of Alameda is fill, and that it wasn't originally an island.)

Ruth told us some about Measure DD, a 2002 bond measure that has paid for numerous improvements around Lake Merritt and the estuary. Part of that is to improve the flow of water in and out of Lake Merritt. While the channel won't be as wide as it was in 1857, it is being widened and made more friendly to wildlife and people. We crossed over the channel on the bridge at Embarcadero. Like the other bridges across the channel, this one is slated for replacement, too. The new bridge will be wider and include bike lanes and proper sidewalks, and should provide better clearance for kayaks and other small boats.

Then we went in to the 5th Avenue Marina, a small community of artists in the middle of an otherwise industrial area. They'll be getting some neighbors in the form of the $1.5 billion Brooklyn Basin project, but not all of them are very happy about it. All around them will be shiny new buildings, a mixture of residential and retail, some as tall as 22 stories. The neighborhood will still exist, but how will it be changed?

We then walked up the channel a ways and over one of the pedestrian bridges back to the other side in the midst of the Laney College campus. Ruth told us about more of the Measure DD work, first mayor of Oakland Horace Carpentier and his 'bridge of sighs', and the pottery studio at Laney. From there we followed the channel to 7th Street. We were going to go under the street, next to the 7th Street pumping station, but ironically the walkway was too flooded. The pumping station was built in 1971 because of flooding around Lake Merritt in the 1960s. Now they mostly let the water flow in and out with the tide, but if a big storm is forecast during a high tide, they can bring down the lake level to make room, and even pump against the tide if they need to.

More meandering took us to Victory Court, near the Oakland Fire Department's training center. I told people about what had been there before. It's filled land, but before Laney College was there, it was Frank Youell Field, where the Oakland Raiders played from 1962 through 1965 while the Oakland Coliseum was built. (And did you know the Raiders were almost called the Oakland Señors? It was the winner of a naming contest, but fortunately didn't go through.) And before the football field was the Auditorium Village Housing Project, "temporary" housing built for some of the many people who came to work in the Bay Area shipyards during WWII. That's where Victory Court got its name. (The WWII housing project in West Oakland that someone asked about was the Harbor Homes Housing Project.)

A few people returned to Heinold's for more talk and a post-walk beer (though Heinold's didn't open until close to 1PM, instead of 12-ish). Another great walk! Thanks to everyone who came out, and special thanks to Ruth Miller for guiding us on the walk. The location of next month's walk is to be determined, but it will be the 2nd Saturday, December 12th at 10AM.

More pictures from the walk. Thanks to volunteer Charlie Lenk and walk participant Ethan Lavine for the use of some of their photos.

Monday, October 19, 2015

photo of the week: swimming the estuary

Not a great photo, but shows a nice slice of the estuary and Port of Oakland with the new Bay Bridge section in the background. What's interesting is the person swimming in the estuary at the lower right...definitely not something you see every day.

Being the Oakland history geek that I am, it reminded me of a story from 1903. Albert Olander, proprietor of Olander's Saloon in East Oakland, bet his barber that he could swim across the estuary. Olander bet his saloon and his barber, Daniel King, bet his barbershop. The selected location was about 1.25 miles across, and before a crowd of hundreds of people, Olander successfully swam across and won the barbershop.

The building that housed Olander's Saloon is still standing, at 1247 East 12th Street. It's no longer a saloon, but the interior still has the wooden bar and other details from the days when it was. Serious props to the guy in the photo above, who was swimming the length of the estuary, not just across.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Annual Delilah Beasley Tea

Last weekend was the 4th annual Delilah Beasley Tea. It's put on each year by POWER (Progressive Oakland Women Empowering Reform), "celebrating phenomenal women of Oakland". The honoree of this year's tea was Arabella Martinez, founder of the Unity Council.

Unfortunately Ms. Martinez couldn't be there in person, as her husband passed away recently, but her accomplishments were celebrated in her absence. Some of the people in attendance included Nancy Skinner, city council member Abel Guillen, city attorney Barbara Parker and Oakland Fire Department chief Teresa Deloach Reed. It was a lovely afternoon, with tea, some great food, and a mariachi band of mostly women. Acting as ushers were the excellent young men of Striving Black Brothers.

"Every life casts its shadow, my life plus others make a power to move the world. I, therefore, pledge my life to the living world of brotherhood and mutual understanding between the races."
- Delilah Beasley

If you don't know who Delilah Beasley was or want to learn more, read about her on the Oakland Wiki. She was a phenomenal woman of Oakland. (Yes, she'll be Legendary Locals of Oakland).

More pictures from the tea:

Sunday, September 27, 2015

photo of the week: blood moon

Kand I went to Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve to check out the blood moon. A lot of other people had the same idea...when we left, the parking lot was as busy as on a lot of sunny weekends, and someone we talked with said Sibley was crowded, too. Hope you got a chance to see the eclipsed moon with your own was pretty cool. This shot is of the moon just as it was clearing the last of the clouds to the east.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Oakland Urban Paths: Fruitvale

On every Oakland Urban Paths walk, we try to include some history, art, current events, and to hook up with people in the neighborhood whenever we can. On last Saturday's walk, "Three Jellyfish, Two Creeks, One New Book", we had all that and more. About 80 people joined us for an exploration of the Fruitvale district, led by OUP co-founder Paul Rosenbloom.

We started the walk at the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park. While the centerpiece is the home that Antonio Maria Peralta lived in with his family, Peralta Hacienda covers local history from the days of the Ohlone people to the present day and regularly hosts cultural events. It's also part of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, a unit of the National Park Service.

We crossed the first of the two creeks, Peralta Creek, then headed down 35th Avenue to the Calvin Simmons Middle School. There Paul told us a bit about Oakland Symphony Orchestra director Calvin Simmons, who died tragically young just a few years into a promising career.

Across 35th and up Galindo Street, we came to the 3 jellyfish, part of a new art installation on the Carrington Steps. A few years ago, the steps were a dumping ground and an eyesore. The neighbors got together and cleaned them up, got a grant and created a beautiful mosaic, and got another grant and had Oakland muralist Dan Fontes create a colorful and unique staircase mural. Fontes is probably best known for murals around Oakland like the Giraphics murals under I-580. We heard from Fontes and Cynthia Elliot of Keep Oakland Beautiful about the whole process. Now local students and their parents happily use the stairway, and so far, the stairs are staying clean. (For whoever was wondering, the school beyond the top of the stairs is the Global Family Elementary School.)

Continuing our walk took us along part of Foothill Blvd., where we could see some of the results of the Fruitvale Alive! Community Transportation Plan that was completed in 2005. The streetscaping includes stamped intersections, colorful wayfinding signs, and more. Then it was on to the first of two city parks, the recently revamped Cesar Chavez Park, which includes a stretch of Peralta Creek. We walked near St. Elizabeth Church which was originally organized by German Catholics, but now the congregation is mostly Latino. Crossing Fruitvale Avenue took us to the next city park, Josie de la Cruz Park, named for a local community activist and home to the Carmen Flores Recreation Center. There we got our first glimpse of our second creek, Sausal Creek.

Then it was on the new book portion of our walk. We were a bit surprised to enter Austin Square Park along Sausal Creek by a different entrance than when we'd scouted the route before. We were quite surprised to find the approach required climbing down the hillside to the creek with the aid of a rope. But there we got to hear about the new bilingual children's book, I Am Sausal Creek / Soy El Arroyo Sausal. We heard from the publisher, Josh Fowler of Nomadic Press, book illustrator Robert Trujillo, and author Melissa Reyes. When she was a teacher, she was told to teach Oakland history to young students, but found few age-appropriate resources, and the idea for the book was born. Reyes read from the book, which tells the story of Sausal Creek from the days of the Ohlone up to present times. It's full of beautiful watercolor illustrations by Trujillo, and also has a section for parents and older children with a bit more detail about the history.

All around a great walk! Thanks to everyone who came out for the walk, to Paul for organizing and leading the walk, and new OUP volunteer Charlie for helping with the walk logistics. And thanks to Charlie, Noël and Tom for the photos. Be sure to check out Tom's video at the end of this post.

Next month's walk will be a more strenuous hike, from the Dimond district up to Skyline Blvd. with a return by bus. See more info here.

Some other notes: the 20th annual Creek to Bay Day is this Saturday, September 19th. This is a fun, free, family-friendly way to help make Oakland more beautiful and protect our local environment. There are work projects along Sausal Creek, Peralta Creek, and all the other creeks that flow through Oakland to the bay. Find a project near you and see more info here.

Sunday, September 20th is the 3rd annual Love Our Lake Day. Some of the streets around Lake Merritt will be closed to vehicle traffic, so people can walk, run, cycle and dance in the streets with a variety of events. I'll be leading a special walk at Lake Merritt -- see more info here.

Speaking of the creeks, check out the Guide to San Francisco Bay Area Creeks on the Oakland Museum of California website. There's online info and a printed version of the map, too.

More pictures from the walk:

To make sure we had enough time for the book event, we skipped part of our route that included seeing the Cohen-Bray House. The home was built by Julia Moses and Watson A. Bray as a wedding present for their daughter Emma, who married attorney Alfred H. Cohen on February 28, 1884. The sprawling Bray family estate was across the street, and while it's gone, the Cohen-Bray House is an elegant reminder of times past. Tours are available by appointment.

We also didn't have time to talk about Patten University near Peralta Hacienda. It was founded by evangelical Dr. Bebe H. Patten as the Oakland Bible Institute, after the Pattens led a revival at the Oakland Auditorium that went on for 19 weeks and had as many as 5,000 people a night.