Wednesday, July 29, 2009

what's in a name?

Oakland is not just a diverse city, it's geographically large. So it's no wonder there are a host of neighborhood names.

Names are wonderful things. They can give a sense of place, of history, of belonging. Of course, they can also be confusing if you don't know them. When I started driving in the Bay Area, I knew where the Nimitz Freeway was (it was part of CA-17 then), but Grove-Shafter? It makes traffic reports less useful if you have no idea what freeways they're talking about. I've learned many of them over the years. Fortunately traffic reports don't rely solely on names anymore -- which is good, otherwise you'd have to know that I-580 is the MacArthur, the John T. Knox, the Eastshore, the Arthur H. Breed Jr., and the William Elton "Brownie" Brown, depending on which section you're talking about. (Of course, if it were in southern California, it would be "the 580".)

Similarly, there are a bunch of Oakland neighborhoods that I don't know the names of. So I was delighted when Google Maps added neighborhood names. It's not perfect, as neighborhood boundaries are even more confusing and less well-defined than city boundaries, but it is a big help. It's very handy when you're looking for a restaurant or type of shop in a particular neighborhood. Yahoo! Maps goes one better, and has nice color-coded regions on the map to show the neighborhoods.

Then there's the issue of nicknames. The Hoover/Foster neighborhood is probably more widely known as Ghost Town (or Ghosttown). There are several theories on the origin of the name, from the presence of multiple casket companies to highway 24 the Grove-Shafter I-980 splitting the neighborhood and leaving it a virtual ghost town. The name also brings up the issue of spelling and punctuation. Is it Ghost Town? Ghosttown? Hoover/Foster? Foster Hoover Historic District? Foster? Hoover? (Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?) Google Maps shows it has Hoover/Foster. Yahoo! Maps shows it as Hoover (though you can search on Foster, too.) My recent sign posting suggests Foster.

So what happens when a business includes the neighborhood as part of its name? People tend to feel it's more a part of the neighborhood, more a local business, and lets people know where to find it. Unless you move, like Pill Hill Printing on San Pablo must have. It's either in Oakland, Berkeley or Emeryville, depending on which map you look at, and it's either in the Golden Gate or Paradise Park neighborhood. But it's no where near Pill Hill.

Finally, there's the question of what do the residents themselves think. I live in the Montclair neighborhood, but when people ask where I live I say Oakland. Partly because people elsewhere don't know where Montclair is, but largely out of a sense of pride in and connection to Oakland in general. (The usual chain is Oakland, near highway 13, Montclair, near where Snake and Colton cross.) Maybe I don't feel a strong connection to the neighborhood (though I love living here) because I couldn't afford it these days. But lots of people have a strong connection to their neighborhood, sometimes even after they don't live there anymore.

So what are the name(s) of your neighborhood? Do you identify with it or with Oakland more strongly?

signs: Foster Printing

Foster Printing

On MLK in the Hoover/Foster neighborhood is the Foster Printing sign. It appears to be defunct, and Google Maps didn't show any listings at that address, but there are several other printing places nearby so maybe it moved and changed names.

Friday, July 24, 2009

signs: the other Acme Fire Extinguisher sign

Quick Aid Fire Guards

The Acme Fire Extinguisher sign is one of the better known old signs in Oakland besides the theater signs. But many people don't know Acme has two cool signs. Admittedly the one on Fruitvale is the better of the two, but the one around the corner on 13th is a nice one, too. It's also got most of the neon tubes still intact.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Oakland institutions

photo by
Carlos Avila Gonzalez
The Chronicle

There's a nice article on SFGate about my barber. Rocky has not only been cutting hair longer than I've been alive, he's been cutting Raiders owner Al Davis' hair longer than I've been alive. He's a what-you-see-is-what-you-get, rough-around-the-edges kind of guy, and he's an institution in Montclair.

Over on Piedmont Avenue, fresh on the balloon strings of some publicity from Pixar's Up!, Fentons is celebrating its 115th year. It's boggling to think of all the ice cream that has been served over the generations (at least 3 in my family.) I'm looking forward to my youngest nephew turning 6 so he's old enough to go on the Arctic Tour.

As the new kid on the block at only 40, the Oakland Museum is taking a break to spruce things up a bit. It will re-open in May 2010 after reconfiguring the History and Art Galleries, and upgrading the common areas. There will still be special events at various Oakland venues during the closure.

Prior to the Oakland Museum of California opening in 1969, the Oakland Public Museum was at Camron-Stanford House on the shore of Lake Merritt. The first and last of the great Victorians that once stood near the lake, it was almost lost to decay after the museum moved out. A dedicated group saved it, and it was restored and opened as a museum in 1987.

budget news

You've doubtless heard the news that the all 4 measures on the ballot for the special election passed. But according to Today in Montclair, only 23% of registered voters bothered to vote (vs. 80% in November's election.) In any event, they passed, and that means $7 million towards balancing the city budget.

Also of note is a post from Oakland firefighter Zac Unger over on Living in the O. The union members agreed to work four additional hours each week (a change from 52 to 56 hours per week) which cuts down on overtime, and an 8% cut in overtime pay, which will save the city over $6 million. (Note: Zac is an Oakland resident, firefighter and is on the board of firefighters union Local 55. He's also a writer, author of Working Fire: The Making of a Fireman. It's a fascinating look inside being a firefighter, as well as a great read.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

sign: This Buds For You

Fresh Flowers

You were doubtless expecting a sign advertising bad beer. Instead, this flower shop across from Fruitvale Presbyterian was going for the bad pun approach.

Friday, July 17, 2009

signs: Vale 1 Hour Cleaners

Vale 1 Hour Cleaners

A defunct dry cleaners along Fruitvale in the Fruitvale district. I'd seen this before, but on my way home from Habitat today the light was perfect (and I was stopped at the traffic light at Foothill).

best of the East Bay

Unlike Diablo Magazine, the East Bay Express is based this side of the hills, so their best of list is chock full of Oakland and Berkeley stuff. So I won't try to list all the Oakland winners here, just call out a few.

First, V Smoothe over at A Better Oakland won 'best blogger' for the second year in a row, and it's well deserved. She does an amazing job of covering what's going on in Oakland and getting information out to people. Her blogging has made Oakland a better place, and so lived up to the blog name and then some.

I'd also like to call out Bakesale Betty. Bakesale Betty won both 'best desserts' and 'best sandwiches'. It's clear she has a loyal following based on the line of people down the sidewalk every day at lunchtime. But I'm calling her out also for her support of Oakland Firefighters Random Acts. A couple years ago she donated money to buy balls for Franklin Middle School as part of OFRA's "books and balls" program.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

signs: Harrison Hotel

Harrison Hotel

A sign of days gone by, the Harrison Hotel sign at Harrison and 14th.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

best of the East Bay

Illustration by
Bo Lundberg

Diablo Magazine touts itself as 'the Magazine of the East Bay', but it tends to focus east of the hills in Contra Costa county. That's no great surprise given the name and the fact they're based in Walnut Creek.

Regardless, quite a few Oakland businesses showed up in their 'Best of the East Bay' issue. Some are because they have locations in both Contra Costa county and in Oakland, but quite a few are unique to our city. I've listed the ones I saw below, and quite a few are new to me so I'm happy.

Sôcôla (from the Vietnamese word for chocolate)
(sold in various locations)

European Breakfast
5008 Telegraph Ave.

Bottomless Sake
Coach Sushi
532 Grand Ave.

Pizza Parlor
5801 College Ave.

Way to Help Two Causes at the Same Time
East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse
4695 Telegraph

Vitamin C in a Cocktail
Cafe Van Kleef
1621 Telegraph

Summer Festival
Fire Arts Festival @ The Crucible, July 15-18, 2009
1260 7th Street

East Bay Museum
Oakland Museum of California
1000 Oak Street @ 10th

Venue for Live Music
510 Embarcadero West @ Jack London Square

Way to Water Your Yard
Hyphae Design Lab
(see also

Magazine Heaven
20 Glen Avenue @ Piedmont

Chocolate Shop
Bittersweet Cafe
5427 College Avenue

Service to Go Green
J. B. Turner and Sons
1866 Pleasant Valley

Shop that Sells Green Products
Whole Foods
230 Bay Pl., Oakland

Dress Designer
Bernadette Reiss - Biscotti

And besides the numerous businesses, they also hightlighted a number of East Bay people including Rickey Henderson, who will be inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame later this month.

Hall of Fame Spotlight
Rickey Henderson
@ Wikipedia

history: Mt. View Cemetery and Auto Row

History. Where would we be without it? :-)

There's a nice post on Today in Montclair about the Mountain View Cemetery. Wandering around a place full of dead people may not be your idea of fun, but it is beautiful, and as the post informs us, there are a lot of prominent people from Oakland's past buried there.

Over at one of my favorite Oakland blogs, City Homestead, there's a nice post on the history of Auto Row. Interesting stuff, and good things to know as people discuss the future of Auto Row.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

signs: Torchio's Auto Repair

Auto Repair

Tucked behind the YMCA on Webster street is Torchio's Auto Repair, obviously specializing in brakes.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

history: Williams Dairy, part II

Williams Dairy bottle

With the help of the Oakland Public Library, it didn't take long to find out about the history of the Williams Dairy. I emailed the OPL a note and a picture of the bottle I found, and within a couple days I had a response pointing me to an article in the Oakland Tribune from 1974 when the dairy closed.

According to the article, Harold Williams bought the dairy at 3600 Telegraph in 1938 in partnership with his brother Willard (the OPL noted that it was listed in the city directories of the 1940s at 3818 Piedmont Avenue, so that may have been its original location.) It ran for many years, but like its competitors, was doomed by rising costs and changing times:
...but it has been operating in the red since 1972. Nor is the prospect bright for the 50 union members who lost jobs with Williams' closing, for this was the last dairy in the Eastbay exclusively devoted to home delivery.
Once there were dozens. In 1947 some 1,300 union members were "milkmen"...

"The giant chains, Safeway and Lucky, can handle vast quantities of dairy products with fewer people than we can. Union scale is the same for a Safeway and a Williams driver. But one Safeway driver can make huge deliveries to six or eight stores in the time it took my driver to service a few homes."

I grew up in Michigan in the 1970s, and remember milk being delivered. There was a special metal box that sat on the back porch where deliveries and empties were left. I don't remember it well enough to have missed it when it was gone, but Williams Dairy customers sound like they were a loyal bunch that missed it greatly when it closed:
One 14-year customer wrote "cut-your deliveries, raise your prices, but come back, oh please come back, to Castro Valley."

Most cite product quality, even more than the convenience of home delivery, as reason for their loyalty. But as they talk to Harold Williams, there emerges a certain nostalgia for calmer days and gentler ways.

It was definitely a different time. Milkmen knew when you were having company, when you were on vacation, and when you could afford some extras. Some milkmen were even given keys, and delivered milk directly to the refrigerator if the customers weren't home. These days that level of trust isn't there, though it is interesting that people like the convenience of home delivery enough that you can have groceries (including, once again, milk) delivered to your home.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

a lovely afternoon

We attended Fruitvale Presbyterian Church again today, on monteskewed's penultimate Sunday there before he and his family move to France. He preached another great sermon, and used the analogy of the painter he saw painting the new bike lanes along MacArthur to compare to needing to keep looking where you're going to make sure you're heading in the right direction, but you also need to look up to see the big picture sometimes, too.

Loard's Ice Cream

After some socializing and talking with the supply pastor who will be filling in at FVPC, we headed across the street to Loard's for some ice cream. A quick trip down Fruitvale to Home Depot for some supplies, and we were ready for some more lunch. (Yes, we did have dessert first.)

We headed towards downtown, and decided to get some frites at Luka's. K had never been, but I knew they had good frites and a very nice selection of beers.

Because it was such a beautiful day, we decided to go check out the Cathedral of Christ the Light. On the walk over, we spotted cyclists in the 5th Grand Prix of Oakland racing around the streets.

bike racing

We've both wanted to visit the cathedral since its completion, and today was a perfect day for it. We didn't enter the sanctuary because the Spanish mass was in progress, but we walked around and visited the healing garden, and on the recommendation of the woman in the bookstore, visited the mausoleum underneath the cathedral. It's definitely worth checking out.

below the altar

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

blog pulse: Pleasant Valley Safeway

I follow a bunch of Oakland blogs, which cover a wide variety of subjects reflecting the diversity of Oakland. Occasionally there will be an event like Uptown Unveiled which gets blogged across a variety of sites, but usually there's little in common except the bloggers are in Oakland.

So it's interesting when something appears in multiple blogs. The latest thing to catch my eye were various discussions of the plans for the Safeway at 51st/Pleasant Valley and Broadway ("Pleasant Valley Safeway" leaves the Monkees' version of Pleasant Valley Sunday going through my head.)

I first read Becks' post about it on Living in the O, but didn't think too much about it. While I find the mega-Longs near it to be handy for some stuff, I rarely shop at the Safeway (which a friend and I used to joke was so big you could see the curve of the earth looking from one end to the other.) I do find it interesting that Safeway is working on rebuilding plans at the Claremont Safeway in Rockridge, and about a mile away, working on major rebuilding plans for another. I figured with all the work they've put into the plans for the Claremont one, the PV one would be great. I was wrong. They plan to move the Safeway, close the Long's (it's now a CVS Pharmacy), and add parking to what's already an enormous sprawl of parking. Parking gets bunched up in areas of the parking lot at some times of the day, but I've never seen the lot full or close to it.

Transbay Blog's alternative

So when I came across a post on the Transbay Blog with a great alternative, I took note. It expands the grid of streets, and adds pedestrian-friendly alleyways. It gets rid of the sprawl of parking, by adding parking below (unfortunately that costs more, and could stop the plan right there.) And it makes the whole place a lot more appealing by having shops along Pleasant Valley and Broadway and by creating buildings of various heights, including housing. What's not to like about it? Go check out the details of Eric's plan.

So if you're interested in what Safeway is planning and want them to consider alternatives, attend the planning commission hearing on July 15th. Becks has a follow-up post there including a link to the hearing details, and pictures of just how under-utilized the existing parking is.