Thursday, December 31, 2009

signs: Fratellanza Club

Fratellanza Club

As the year comes to a close, it seems only fitting I end with another sign posting. I chose the Fratellanza Club sign because of the handshake, reflecting the new friends (both virtual and actual) I've made over the past year.

Seems hard to believe it's been almost a year since my first post on Our Oakland. A special thanks to City Homestead, whose post in the wake of the Oscar Grant shooting inspired me to start my own Oakland blog. And thanks to other established bloggers like V Smoothe and Becks who've been very welcoming into the blogoaksphere. And thanks to DC of Fragmentary Evidence and others who've scouted out various Oakland signs for me.

(Just to round out the info on the sign, the Fratellanza Club is a couple blocks from Actual Cafe, about as far north as you can go in Oakland before you're in Berkeley. The neon is in good shape, but I don't know if they light the sign or not.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

food: Actual Cafe

Actual Cafe

Anew cafe at the corner of San Pablo and Alcatraz is my kind of place. Actual Cafe is made for cyclists. Not only do East Bay Bike Coalition members get a discount on tea and pastries, but there's indoor bike parking.

Indoor bike parking and a pedal-powered jukebox aren't the only interesting things about Actual Cafe. It gets its name from the manifesto of the founders:
Living in this modern world, driven primarily by the movement of dollars and (more recently) bits and bytes, we're losing our sense of neighborhood and neighbors. Instead, we're relying more and more on "virtual" ways to communicate and socialize.

Here at ACTUAL, we heart technology and all, but prefer the real thing. That's why we like real china cups, instead of those paper sippy-lidded landfill-multiplying ones. It's why we buy our supplies from local businesses ... from real folks who live nearby and care about their neighborhoods like we do. It's why we stay open late. Why we have local art on the walls. Why we have comfortable furniture and communal seating. Why we want you to have your group meetings here.

the bike rack

I had a mug of (Oakland's own) Numi Organic tea while I perused the cafe. Besides various tables and a long bar to sit at, there's a reading area in the back stocked with various books and magazines. I read on their Facebook page (and confirmed in person) that they've gotten a license to sell beer, so they'll soon have beer on tap, too.

The menu isn't online yet, but I grabbed one while I was there today. Besides the standard coffee drinks and the aforementioned teas, they've got sodas, house-made sodas, and ice cream sodas rounded out with iced coffee and tea. Breakfast stuff (until 11 M-F, noon on weekends) includes granola, toast, empanadas, egg sandwiches and various pastries. I didn't try one, but some empanadas came out of the oven while I was there and they looked and smelled great. It brought back memories of Argentina, where K and I sampled empanadas everywhere we went.

Non-breakfast stuff (after 11) includes sandwiches (turkey, ham, tuna, grilled cheese, PB&J), an empanada plate, and a "real big salad" which I can confirm looked real big, and the couple I saw eating theirs seemed to be enjoying it.

Beer, bikes and Oakland -- what's not to like? They're having an opening shindig on Friday, January 8th, 2o1o (eek! 2010?) from 6pm-10pm, with drinks, snacks and music, and the opening of "Composited Neighborhoods", photography by Allan Ayres. Beer, bikes, Oakland and art? Even better!

Additional reading:

Monday, December 28, 2009

signs: Burris Window Shades

Burris Window Shades

The neon on this sign is long gone, but the sign lives on in painted form.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

signs: Mexicali Rose

Mexicali Rose

Across from the jail in the Old City is the faded Mexicali Rose. The day I took this picture there was plastic bag stuck in the sign, flapping in the breeze.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

signs: J. Miller Flowers

J. Miller Flowers

In honor of the much-needed rain which brings life to California, today we have flowers. J. Miller Flowers is on Piedmont Avenue up from Pleasant Valley. Not far away Oaklandish has their truck parked if you're looking for good Oaklandish gifts for Christmas.

J. Miller Flowers

Thursday, December 17, 2009

signs: The Graduate

The Graduate

Near the fun-filled 6-way intersection of College, Claremont, 62nd Street and Florio is The Graduate bar. I ride past it on my way to the Red Cross to donate platelets. It's across from one of the Oakland Safeways that is due for redevelopment. One of the comment threads over on Living in the O talks about the difficulty of crossing the street there, and I can attest to that. There are signals, but with multiple streets to cross and Claremont being so wide, it takes a bit of doing and more than once I've seen close calls with cars vs. pedestrians. Eric Fisher suggests a good alternative on his journal, closing off the ends of 62nd and Florio.

getting a new coat of paint

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

signs: Alpine Hotel

Alpine Hotel

In the Fruitvale not far from Rossi's Flowers is the Alpine Hotel. The neon for 'Alpine' appears to be intact, but 'Hotel' is in bad shape, so I don't know that they light the sign any more.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Splish Splash

party in the bird bath

The birds were happy about the warmer weather and the break in the rain. A bunch of them celebrated by taking a bath, something they couldn't do during the colder weather because the bird bath was frozen solid. I'd have set up the tripod and taken better pictures, but they came, they splashed around long enough for me to take a couple shots with the point and shoot, then all left at once. It was fun to watch while it lasted, though.

Habitat home dedication

The birds weren't the only ones happy about the warmer, drier weather. I took advantage of the break in the weather to take some pictures over to the Habitat for Humanity office. Saturday was a dedication ceremony at the Edes Avenue building site. Twenty families received the keys to their new homes, and I took pictures at the Thrivent Builds sponsored house. Fortunately the rain held off for the ceremony.

bike full o' beer

On the way home I did some grocery shopping, and did my usual load up of the e-bike. Yes, that's a case of beer on the back. Lucky's (at least the one in Montclair) is having a special on a Gordon Biersch winter sampler. It includes a winter bock, a blonde bock, a märzen, and a Czech-style pilsner. The bocks and märzen are very good; the pilsner is just OK. But for $20.99 for a case of good beer, it's a great deal while it lasts. And while they're not in Oakland like Linden Street Brewery, they are local to the bay area.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I hope you're staying warm in this unusually cold weather. Some frost in winter isn't unusual here in the hills, nor is a bit of snow every once in a while. But this has been cold and not warmed up much during the day. Our birdbath froze solid over night, and only thawed around 2PM or so. It's on its way to freezing again tonight, so spare a thought and more if you can for those who have less shelter than you.

Apparently (but alas, not surprisingly) it's cold in Oakland's classrooms, too.

And City Homestead has some good info for caring for your plants and house in cold weather. Frozen pipes are not out of the realm of possibility if this cold sticks around. It should warm up some when the next storm comes through...I hope!

Monday, December 7, 2009

signs: Kasper's Hot Dogs

Kasper's Hot Dogs

Another Kasper's Hot Dogs, this one on MacArthur in the Dimond. This one makes no claims about being the original, though.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

signs: Paramount Liquor

Paramount Liquor

On Foothill in the Rancho San Antonio neighborhood is this great sign. I've asked before...why do liquor stores have so many of the good signs? Sigh.

signs: Colonial Chapel

Colonial Chapel

Another from the posted-the-daytime-version-before department is Colonial Chapel. Unfortunately they didn't have the second sign on the building lit, just the main sign in the parking lot.

Monday, November 30, 2009

signs: Foot Clinic

Foot Clinic

It's not a great sign and it's not old, but it looks great lit up so it gets points for that.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

signs: Sage Motel

Sage Motel

On MacArthur just after it finishes winding around Mills College is the Sage Motel. The sign is in good working order, probably because it's visible from the freeway at night, and it makes for good advertising.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

signs: Oaks Motel

The Oaks Motel

Another sign I've posted before, The Oaks Motel on MacArthur. It's a great sign, and is better still when lit up so it's worth another look.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

BART under civil rights investigation

I figured the OAC was a done deal after the city council inexplicably went along with BART's plans, but according to Living in the O, BART is under a civil rights investigation by the Federal Transit Administration. In part, this is because BART's EIR (Environmental Impact Report) is based on 2002 data, the OAC including multiple intermediate stops (the OAC plans currently have none), and a $2 fare (the OAC plans currently call for a $6 fare vs. $3 for the current AirBART). The cost for implementing the OAC will also likely be borne in part by higher BART fares and/or reduced service.

I've noted before that BART could build a new station at 98th to better serve the residents of East Oakland and implement TransForm's proposed RapidBART bus plan with intermediate stops for a good deal less than the OAC's $500 million (and climbing) price tag. This won't necessarily stop it, but it's a huge step in getting others to take a look at some alternatives.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

signs: 1/4 lb. Giant Burgers

1/4 lb. Giant Burgers

I've shot this sign before, but during the day. It takes on a whole new quality at night. For variety I was going to shoot the 1/4 lb. Giant Burgers sign from the Laurel district further down MacArthur, but it wasn't lit up last night.

Friday, November 13, 2009

new blog on the block

where is it?

At the open house for Central Station in West Oakland the other week, I happened to chat with a new Oakland blogger. Her blog is OakSnap. The Oakland snapshot mystery game, and the premise is simple: she posts pictures from around Oakland, and readers try to guess where it is. Some are easy, some are a bit harder, but regardless it's a fun visual tour of Oakland. Check it out today!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

signs: Rhea's Salon of Beauty

Rhea's Salon of Beauty

Just off Lakeshore Avenue on Mandana is Rhea's Salon of Beauty, with its painted and neon sign of interesting colors. It makes me think of ice cream (brown chocolate, white vanilla, and pink strawberry -- very Neapolitan). cream.

Neapolitan is an interesting word: "of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Naples." Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, confectioner's shops in the U.S. were frequently run by Italian immigrants, so ice cream came to be known as "Italian ice creams" or "Neapolitan ice creams". Whether they had much ice cream in Naples at that time is beside the point. The association with the specific combination of 3 flavors came towards the end of the 19th century.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

blog pulse: urban farming

City Slicker Farms

If you've been reading Our Oakland for any time, you'll know I'm a big fan of urban farming. We haven't done much yet here, besides some potatoes grown in a trash can and compost, but there's lots I'd like to do after I'm done with major home improvements. Bees for honey, chickens for eggs, and of course a proper vegetable garden. It's not so much about saving money, but having more control of where are food comes from and what goes into it.

Central Oakland has a host of farmer's markets to shop at, but East Oakland and West Oakland not so much. And West Oakland has no large supermarkets, just a plethora of corner stores. So for much of Oakland's population, urban farming is about food security. That's where groups like City Slicker Farms come in. They grow vegetables in West Oakland for West Oakland residents. Right now it's fairly small, but they're expanding, both on their own lots, and in people's 'backyard gardens'. And they plan to have chickens for eggs soon.

The great thing is that it can be expanded much further. recently release a report created with the support of City Slicker Farms and HOPE Collaborative that says that Oakland has 1,200 acres of public land that could be used to provide fresh vegetables for its residents. Obviously the soil in many area would need to be tested for contaminants first, but that's still a huge amount of acreage that could provide fresh, healthy food. And it's not just about physical health; eating right helps young minds grow and learn better, too. The report is long, but worth checking out.

Shoutout to The Ethicurean where I saw it first. But the report has gotten wider attention and is written up on TreeHugger, too.

Friday, November 6, 2009

signs: 10 Speed Bicycles

10 Speed Bicycles

I shot this a while back, but went past it the other day and saw there was scaffolding around the building. It's probably getting a much-needed paint job. Hopefully they won't just paint over the sign but fix it up, though it does need a lot of work.

It's located near Lake Merritt where the avenues begin, at the corner of 1st Avenue and the very short 1st Avenue Place.

10 Speed Bicycles

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Oakland is a wonderfully diverse city, which is part of why so many of us love it.

Thursday I was over to Village Bottoms for an open house, a follow-up of sorts to a workshop at West Coast Green where people from a wide variety of backgrounds brainstormed ideas about how to recreate the area. It's gone through a lot of changes from a terminus of transcontinental railroad to a reemerging neighborhood today. Two of the biggest changes were the building of the Cypress Structure in the 1950s which cut off the area from the rest of Oakland, and its subsequent collapse in the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. Since then residents have been working to reshape the area. We started with a tour led by Marcel Diallo, community activist and businessman in the Bottoms:

I was also there to check out an open house for Central Station, a multi-part housing development in the area, centered around the 16th Street Station that once formed the hub of the Southern Pacific Railroad in Oakland.'s Chip Johnson was there and has a nice write-up on the project. There are even some nice green features in parts of the development, like a living roof on the apartment building.

Nearby to the apartments and lofts are The Blackdot Cafe, The Soul Foods Cooperative Grocery Store, and other burgeoning businesses. Food and drinks for the event were provided by Linden Street Brewery, Brown Sugar Kitchen, and other Oakland businesses. There's still a lot of work to do such as cleaning up the old Phoenix Ironworks site, but Village Bottoms is looking up.

Then last night, K and I attended an interfaith service at Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church, 'Keeping the Faith'. People from a wide range of faith traditions in Oakland, from Jewish to Christian to Buddhist to Native American spoke about the keeping the faith towards a day when Prop 8 will be overturned. It was an amazing service, and a reminder for all that not all people of faith are against gay marriage. Oakland city council-member Rebecca Kaplan spoke about her experiences of being a lesbian and growing up in an orthodox Jewish household, reps from the Episcopal Church and the ELCA (Lutherans) spoke about recent decisions to open the churches to the LGBT community, and Sheilagh Brooks read a powerful poem about her struggles. Around the sanctuary there were banners about different aspects of the struggle and successes. We spotted one that told the story of a former co-worker of K's and her partner. And we all prayed for the elections today in Maine and Washington, that the LGBT communities in those states might have the freedoms that were briefly enjoyed here in California.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

signs: Hansen Coffee

Hansen Coffee

Not far from where the BART tracks dive underground between the West Oakland and 12th Street stations is Hansen Coffee. I don't know if they've been in the same location the whole time (most likely), but they've been around for over 100 years.

Good Coffee

over 100 years

Friday, October 23, 2009

signs: Fruitvale Medical Building

Fruitvale Medical

On International Blvd. just up from Fruitvale is the beautiful Fruitvale Medical Building. Shining in the afternoon sun, you can see its gothic revival crenelations against the blue sky.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

signs: Talk of the Town

Talk of the Town

It's the Talk of the Town. No, not continued furor over parking, but the bar on International just down from High Street.

Monday, October 19, 2009

signs: Glenn's Hot Dogs

Glenn's Hot Dogs

Glenn's Hot Dogs in the Laurel has a great combo of neon, chaser bulbs, and a rotating middle. Any local residents know if it still lights up?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

20 Years Ago Today

Cypress Structure

It was 20 years ago today that the Loma Prieta earthquake hit and changed the lives of everyone in the Bay Area. It also changed the landscape of West Oakland in a big way.

Twenty years ago I was living and working in Berkeley for a software company on the top floor of what was then called the Great Western building (now the Power Bar building.) We felt a jolt and many of us stood up in the hallway, then the major movement hit. It's fortunate we stood up, because some of the shelves that were used for dividing the space into cubicles fell and the people in those cubicles would have been badly injured if they'd stayed at their desks. We had a good view over the Bay Area and could see much of the damage: the fire at Hustead's, the fires in the Marina district in SF, the collapsed section of the Bay Bridge (with binoculars). It was eerie to look down the side of the building, and see it gently swaying for some time after the shaking had stopped. Once the magnitude of the quake became apparent, people headed home or made other arrangements as best they could, since it was no longer possible to get to San Francisco without a major detour. No one was sure what they'd find when they got home.

I didn't find out about the collapse of the Cypress Structure until I got home north of the Cal campus. It was stunning and horrific to hear about. I can only imagine what it was like to be there as it collapsed, or for the rescuers coming in after. In the months following the earthquake, the jumbled wreckage was demolished, and people started to discuss how to rebuild it. Local residents in West Oakland made it clear they didn't want the same thing built back. It took time, but 8 years later, a new connector was built, routed around the residential areas of West Oakland, and at ground level. No longer would a massive elevated freeway structure divide the neighborhoods. In the place of the old freeway, the Mandela Parkway was built at ground level, and features a wide green space in the middle. That at least was one good thing to come out of the earthquake.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

signs: Hotel Touraine

Hotel Touraine

I've posted the sign for Hotel Touraine before, but I'd only photographed one of its signs before. The second sign around the corner makes it worth a second look.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

signs: Sunshine Biscuits

Sunshine Biscuits

A little ray of sunshine for this very rainy day.

too bad about his face

Sunday, October 11, 2009



Yesterday was Oaktoberfest in the Dimond neighborhood. They closed off part of Fruitvale Ave. and MacArthur Blvd. with the Biergarten tent set up at the intersection. There were tons of people, and most all of them seemed to be having a good time except when the beer started running out. Most everyone was in good spirits, and were all the more delighted when some of the breweries restocked an hour later or so.

a heavy drinker

It was a very Oakland event. There was good food, some by local vendors like La Farine and others who were there just for the event. People from all walks of life were there, making it a fun place to people watch. Lots of people were out with their kids or dogs or both, and it seemed like there was a lot to do for kids, including rock-climbing and face-painting. And some of the kids really enjoyed jumping or running to the music.

It was a fun event. I think the event organizers need to plan for a bigger crowd next year. The same number of breweries, vendors and displays, but spread out a little more so the people are spread out a little more.

Check out more pictures from Oaktoberfest.

Update: Tim from the Dimond Neighborhood has posted some nice people pictures. And his links reminded me of something. A big thank you to the Two Star Market (near where the building housing Tepper's Hotel and biergarten still stands) for continuing to poor beer samples and wine when the breweries were running out.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

signs: Laurel Lounge

Laurel Lounge

The Laurel Lounge sign has the requisite martini glass, though an interesting 50s or 60s style one. It also has the vaguely atomic or space-themed orb at the top. Unfortunately, a man was senselessly shot and killed near here last night. I'm not sure if this is the bar in question, or the 7 Seas across the street.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Habitat for Smallish Poultry

chicken coop at
City Slicker Farms

Doesn't have the same ring to it as Habitat for Huge Manatees of The Simpsons fame. In any event, that's what I worked on a bit on Thursday at City Slicker Farms. I'd told one of the former Americorps members who helped build the coop about my visit a while back, and they mentioned that the coop gets too hot. Fast forward to this week, and I rode my bike over with my heavy duty drill and a largish Forstner bit to add some ventilation in the soffits. CSF still has some work to do on the yard, but they're hoping to have chickens for eggs by the end of the month. If you want to help, you can volunteer there on Thursdays and Saturdays -- check the CSF website for details.

Today I was out for my usual Friday activity of working at Habitat for Humanity in the Sobrante Park neighborhood south of the Coliseum. A couple of big groups were out, one from Traveler's Insurance, and the other from Archstone. Thanks to them and the other volunteers, some good progress was made on the habitats for some Oakland humanity. On my ride down this morning, I had an awesome moment that still has me chuckling when I think about it. Along San Leandro Street, a youngster in the back of a car and I made eye contact and smiled. When I caught up with their car at the light, the guy in the passenger seat grabbed a mic (who has mics sitting in their car?) and started doing an ad-lib karaoke number to whatever was on the radio. The youngster in the back seat and I both got a good laugh out of it. The car zoomed off when the light changed, but I caught up with them again at the next light, and he did it again to the next song. As the car zoomed off for a second time, I yelled "encore!" and the guy yelled "have a good day!". Definitely made my morning. That's one of the things you miss by driving.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

signs: Laurel Gift Shop

Laurel Gift Shop

This simple sign in the Laurel looks like the 'Gift Shop' part might still work. Anybody know for sure?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

building green for people

electric car

Last week I was at West Coast Green, a green building and design conference in San Francisco. Besides speakers on all sorts of green technologies, standards and legislation, there were two exhibit rooms of companies with green products, and a special section called the Innovation Pipeline with new and upcoming products. One of the more interesting displays was a portable, on-demand housing unit that's designed to shelter people in the wake of a disaster like Hurricane Katrina, and be zero-impact, too. It's an impressive unit that can be shipped anywhere in the world in a shipping container, and set up in two hours with unskilled people, and includes solar panels and water treatment. But even with a product like that, never mind expensive solar-power roof tiles or fancy countertops, it's easy to lose sight of people in the equation and just be looking at costs and carbon.


That's why I was delighted to find one session titled Creating Social and Sustainable Economic Development in West Oakland, sponsored by the Home Depot Foundation. People with a wide variety of backgrounds came together with Ecocity Builders to brainstorm ideas for land use in West Oakland. But the kicker was that we weren't designing in a vacuum. People from Village Bottoms and A Black New World joined the discussion, and told us what their priorities and visions for the area were. I knew a tiny bit about the area since I'd worked on some Habitat for Humanity houses nearby, and been to City Slicker Farms, but mostly we knew nothing but what a few briefs told us about the former Phoenix Iron Works site. So having residents there to work alongside was amazing and inspiring. We heard about Village Bottoms Farms, about the burgeoning artist community, and about the history of the area.

Admittedly there was a limited amount we could do in 2 hours, but it was a great session, and a reminder that people are the most important part of the equation for any urban planning.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

fire in the hills

looking west towards the Caldecott

Fire crews are close to containing a fire in the hills between Oakland and Orinda. As you can see in this frame from KPIX, it's on the hillside immediately south of highway 24 on the Orinda side of the tunnel. According to KPIX, the fire is mostly contained, and no homes or other structures have been threatened.

I was riding past Lake Temescal on way home from the Red Cross, and heard lots of fire engines, then saw several aircraft over the hills. There was a larger plane dropping retardant, and a smaller plane that I'm guessing was a spotter. And there was a helicopter that came and filled its bucket in Lake Temescal. I saw it just after it had gotten a load and was heading back for another water drop.

firefighting helicopter
over Lake Temescal

signs: Thrifty 1 Hour Cleaners

Thrifty 1 Hour Cleaners

Behold the power of the atom! Able to get whites whiter, and colors, er, colorer! All in one hour! Or at least that seems to be the subtle message behind this sign at Thrifty 1 Hour Cleaners in the Laurel.

Monday, September 28, 2009

signs: McNally's Pub

McNally's Irish Pub

On College Ave. near the library, next door to the Garibaldi's and the recently opened Marzano is the Oakland institution, McNally's Irish Pub. Besides their name in neon, they've got various neon beer signs including the mandatory (for an Irish pub, that is) Guinness sign.

Garibaldi's, Marzano, and McNally's,
with a "draft beer installation" truck
thrown in for good measure

Friday, September 25, 2009

Community Feast at St. Paul's

St. Paul's Episcopal Church 2nd Annual Community Feast
"Nourishing One Another In Abundance"

An evening of conversation about food justice, sustainability, and how we can help to nourish ourselves and others in prosperous and troubled times. We will talk with neighbors who have found ways to share the abundance of what we have---even when we don't know how much that is. Come learn how to make more of your gifts, to be self-sustaining, and in turn to help feed those in need.

The dinner will include a home-cooked meal, wine, and speakers from City Slicker Farms, Peoples Grocery, St. Mary's and others. Cost of the event is $20. To reserve a seat or a table, email

All proceeds support St. Paul's community service projects, City Slicker Farms & People's Grocery.

Event Info
DATE: Saturday, September 26
TIME: 6 to 8 p.m.
LOCATION: 114 Montecito Avenue, Oakland, CA
COST: $20
RESERVE YOUR SPACE: (but you can also apparently walk in)

For more information about the event, visit our website at