Tuesday, May 31, 2011

signs: Esther's Orbit Room

Esther's Orbit Room

Once upon a time, 7th Street in West Oakland's Prescott neighborhood was a happening place for music. In the 40s, 50s and 60s, legendary blues, R&B and jazz greats came through, the likes of Billie Holiday, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, and BB King.

In 1942, Esther Mabry came to California from Texas for work during WWII. She worked at Slim's as a waitress and cook, saved her tips, and eventually opened her own restaurant across the street. She and her husband saved money and bought the music hall next door. Esther's Orbit Room was at the center of a 24 hour a day commercial hub of clubs, restaurants and stores, with blue-collar clients from the nearby shipyards and surrounding neighborhoods.

The building of the Cypress structure which divided West Oakland from downtown, the demolition of hundreds of homes to build the post office sorting facility, and the addition of the noisy overhead BART tracks, all conspired to shut down the music scene. Esther herself died a year ago at age 90, but the great sign of former times lives on for now.

Esther's Orbit Room

More reading:
Oakland Streets
Oakland Daily Photo
Blues Historian

Monday, May 30, 2011

exploring the Sausal Creek watershed

Sometimes I think I've explored other parts of Oakland better than I've explored the hills where K and I live. When I'm elsewhere in Oakland, I tend to try new routes, go through different neighborhoods, seek out new things. Closer to home, we tend to stick to the same places—I don't know how many times we've hiked the same trails in Huckleberry and Redwood regional parks, or taken the same routes to Montclair Village. So yesterday, K and I decided to hike someplace new.

Many Oaklanders are probably more familiar with the middle stretch of Sausal Creek, where it passes through the Dimond and the topographically named Sausal Creek neighborhood, roughly parallel to Fruitvale Ave. The Dimond has some awesome wayfinding mosaics (featured on Oaktown Art) to point people towards it. But the upper part is fed by Shepherd Creek and Palo Seco Creek, then cuts the Dimond Canyon through Oakmore, draining a large section of the Oakland hills.

We headed to the western part of Joaquin Miller Park, just off highway 13, to one of the upper parts of the Sausal Creek watershed. Looking at some very helpful maps from the Friends of Sausal Creek, it turns out we're actually in the watershed at home. We're on the Shepherd Canyon side of a largish ridge, and Shepherd Creek feeds into Sausal Creek. (Also check out great info on the geology of the area on Oakland Geology.) We started with a short, steep hike up to Visionary Ridge, to a viewpoint favored by Joaquin Miller himself. We hung out there for a while, admiring the sweeping view of Oakland.


Then we headed further up Palo Seco creek. There are gorgeous redwoods, which while not as old as the ones in Muir Woods, are every bit as beautiful. The area was heavily logged in Oakland's history, with redwoods being used for ship's masts and building construction, but new trees have grown up since then. We crossed the creek and walked down a narrow trail on the other side.

Eventually we reached highway 13, where the creek temporarily dives underground and under the freeway, and so did we -- there's a pedestrian underpass linking Mountain Blvd. and Monterey Blvd. A short walk took us back into redwoods and a trail following the creek. Near the Montclair Golf Course, Palo Seco Creek joins with Shepherd Creek to form Sausal Creek. From there it flows down Dimond Canyon. We ended our exploration at the Liemert Bridge over Dimond Canyon, but the creek continues through Oakmore, the Dimond and along Fruitvale Ave., with various parks providing access to it.

Sausal Creek joins the estuary

The lower part of the Sausal Creek watershed is considerably less glamorous than the upper part. Just before the creek reaches International Blvd., it goes underground, resurfacing where it drains into the estuary. There's a very small park near the Fruitvale Bridge, and a marker embedded in the concrete to note it's Sausal Creek.

More pictures in my Sausal Creek watershed album:
Sausal Creek watershed

Sunday, May 29, 2011

upcoming Oakland events (updated)

There's just too much good stuff going on in Oakland these days. Whether it's art, food, fun or history, there's probably something you'll enjoy. The hard part is deciding which ones to go to, since I can't go to them all.

Jamaican Jerk Cook Off - May 30 at Linden Street Brewery - A fund-raising event for My Yute Soccer Camp: Embracing Differences Through Soccer. Four teams will compete in the cook-off, plus there will be beer, wine, live music and more. ($10)

Downtown Oakland walking tour - June 1 in Chinatown, June 4 in Old Oakland. I've enjoyed all of the Oakland walking tours so far. (free!)

Empty Bowls - June 2 at Alameda County Community Food Bank. An evening of art, nourishment and advocacy, to raise awareness and money for the food bank. K and I went to one of these a couple of years ago, and it's a good program. We're going again this year, as is Becks from Living in the O. ($25)

First Friday - June 3 in various locations. There's the Art Murmur, of course, but there's also the Midtown Arts District First Friday Art Walk. (free)

Code for Oakland - June 4 at Kaiser Center. A one-day workshop that will bring government officials, developers, designers, and interested parties together for a day that will be devoted to looking at local datasets of use to people in Oakland. Sponsored by Oakland Local, the city, and others, and features $100,000 in prizes. ($5-$12)

Jingletown Arts Walk - June 4-5 in Jingletown. The Arts Walk is a chance to see what artists in Jingletown are up to. The area is known for mosaics, but there's a lot else going on there, too. (free)

East Bay Open Studios - June 4-5 and 11-12, all over Oakland. There are hundreds of artists participating, all over Oakland and the East Bay. Check the handy map for locations. (free)

Temescal Street Fair - June 5 in Temescal. The 8th annual Temescal Street Fair. Food, fun, arts and crafts in Temescal. NOTE: Postponed because of the weather until July 10.(free)

Bluegrass for the Greenbelt - June 3-4. A fundraiser for Greenbelt Alliance, held at the historic Dunsmuir Heller Estate in the Oakland hills. Check out the writeup by VSmoothe on A Better Oakland. Sounds like a great event to hear some live bluegrass. ($13 to $55 w/camping)

Maddie's Matchmaker Adoptathon - June 4-5 at various locations. Oakland Animal Services and other animal rescue organizations are having free adoptions of pets to qualified homes. Plus the adoptions raise funds for the shelter you adopt from. See the full write-up at Oakland Local. (free)

Planting Justice - June 5 at Oasis Restaurant and Bar. A fundraiser for Planting Justice, featuring food, fun and music by Sun Hop Fat. ($20-$35)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

signs: New Lucky's

New Lucky's Customer Parking

The sign for New Lucky's has been elusive in a number of ways. I first saw it on Back to Oakland, but described as "new Ricky's" and wondering if it was related to Rickey's Sports Bar in San Leandro. It took me a while to find the sign itself, at 496 23rd St. behind the Rock Paper Scissors Collective on Telegraph. I noted it on my map, but my research on what establishment it was for turned up nothing. I discovered when I actually went to take a picture of the sign that it's "New Lucky's", not Ricky's, and armed with that info I was able to turn up more info.

New Lucky's was a bar at 2268 Telegraph, more formally known as Burnett's New Lucky's. I don't know if it's still visible, but I found a photo of a faded sign on the back of the building. I also found pictures of some glass ashtrays from New Lucky's, one with a drawing of the front, the other listing the phone number as HI4-5708 (HIghgate=44).

I even found a picture of a lighter from New Lucky's -- clearly the heyday of smoking. The named telephone exchange suggests sometime between the 40s and 60s, which fits with the smoking.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

neighborhood name signs

Exactly where neighborhoods are is frequently arbitrary, and what they're called is often a source of disagreement (see the discussion on thedto.com, Where is the DTO?). There are various ways of defining what a neighborhood is. I've started a map-and-photo project which considers another: what the neighborhood labels itself with signs. As with other methods, it's going to be imperfect, and definitely less complete than the Oakland Neighborhoods Map since not all neighborhoods put up signs and some of those are unofficial, but it's another way of looking at things.

So here's the Oakland place name signs map:

View Oakland place name signs in a larger map
Some of the signs are metal (especially the district signs put up by the city), some are vinyl banners (which can look OK until they fade and tear), and some are wooden signs (particularly the ones in the hills). But there are a few unique ones, like the clock in Montclair, the road-spanning arch in the Laurel, or the gazebo in Oak Center.

From Oakland neighborhood signs
More recently I've been seeing some nice name and direction signs, like this one in Fruitvale. Not only do they tell people where they are, they reflect something of the area, and give directions of how to get to various points nearby.

As usual, this is a work in progress. I'd love to know of other neighborhood and district signs around Oakland. Particularly in East Oakland; I've spotted some, but as a lot of these signs get put up in business areas and wealthier residential areas, there aren't as many in East Oakland.

Speaking of maps and where lines get drawn, it was interesting to watch the discussion the other night on the redistricting plans for voting districts in California. While that includes all of California, this discussion was in Oakland and was focused on the Bay Area. It was note-worthy to hear how often variations on the idea "don't combine my district with people who aren't like me" were put forth. Less often were pleas to "don't split my area" (like Oakland or West Oakland). If you're interested in the state redistricting process, check out the We Draw The Lines website. I don't envy the commission their task.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

eat local for food justice

Phat Beets produce

I'm a fan of Oakland Grown, which celebrates Oakland businesses and artists, and encourages people to spend their money locally. In part because money spent locally tends to stay local, stimulating Oakland's economy and creating jobs. I'm also a big fan of urban farming, particularly as it relates to food justice. City Slicker Farms is one great example.

Another reason to grow food and eat locally is to have a better idea of where your food comes from and what's in it and on it. Would you prefer highly processed food with unpronounceable ingredients, grown by an agri-corp, shipped across the country? or fresh, locally-grown fruits, vegetables and goods, grown and produced by family farms? Shouldn't everyone have access to good food? Some people deal with this by shopping at one of the Oakland farmers markets, or by growing some of their own food.

Mandela Foods Cooperative recently won the Ripple Effect Award at the Oakland Indie Awards, demonstrating both these things. Based in West Oakland, they provide healthy food grown on family farms, as well as nutrition information. They source and hire locally, which has a ripple effect by keeping money and jobs local. And they provide healthy food in an area without many grocery stores.

But what if you don't live in West Oakland? Or you can't get to a farmers market as often as you'd like? Another option is a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) produce box, which is like having items hand-picked from a farmers market and delivered to your neighborhood. An Oakland CSA I learned about recently is Phat Beets Produce, based in North Oakland's Bushrod neighborhood. Besides getting food from family farms to Oakland residents, they also have a local garden, teach kids about food and farming, and sell items at local farmers markets.

Monday, May 23, 2011

signs: drink glass

drink glass

This drink glass on East 12th now adorns a supermarket. Not just any supermarket, but Sun Hop Fat #1 Supermarket. I've known of the store for some time, but Oakland artist Daniel Backman mentioned a band of the same name. I promptly forgot about the connection until the Your Waitress photo blog posted a picture of...the Sun Hop Fat band. I suspect they were named after the other Sun Hop Fat supermarket (#2?) on International, less than a mile from Vulcan Studios where the band was formed. Sun Hop Fat (the band) will be playing at The Layover on Thursday, May 26. Which to complete the circle, advises patrons to "look for the neon martini" when trying to find them on Franklin Street. Which is an Oakland sign I've heretofore missed.

Sun Hop Fat #1

Saturday, May 21, 2011

food: Flora

yummy appetizer

Friday night K and I finally checked out Flora. It's only taken us 3 years or so to get around to it. We walked in a little after 6pm on a Friday, and got two of the last seats at the bar.

We started with a yummy appetizer (shaved 8 ball squash, arugula, fried squash blossom, ricotta salata, toasted almonds) and some beers. Flora is known for its cocktails, but neither K nor I are big fans, so we simply admired the lengthy and complex cocktail menu and the bartenders' ability to make them. We'd probably have ordered something from their impressive wine list, but we had after dinner plans and weren't planning to linger.

For dinner, I had the mixed spring vegetables, chickpea panella, fresh garbanzo beans, romesco, oregano. It was very tasty, but lacked a little in presentation compared with some of the other food we saw going past. K had a burger which arrived a little too rare, but after a couple more minutes on the grill came back perfect. Flora is "committed to using local, seasonal, and organic ingredients." So the burger was made with grass-fed beef from near San Jose; bread is from Acme Bread Co. in Berkeley, etc.

All in all, we both really liked it. With entrees in the $20+ range, it's on the pricier side. There aren't many vegetarian options for me, so we probably won't frequent Flora, but we'd definitely go again. (The two fish options were swordfish, which may or may not be a good choice environmentally, and rainbow trout, which also depends on sourcing, but more to the immediate point, was served over sausage.)

Art Deco styling

Flora is also notable for the building it's in. It shares the Art Deco style Floral Market Building with the Uptown Club, and was prominently featured on the walking tour of Uptown. It's a beautiful building, and they've used Art Deco style in the decor. I'll post more on the building itself in a future post.

One final note: Flora's website is terrible for a restaurant website. It's all in Flash, so if you're on a mobile phone, you may not be able to navigate it very well, or even see it at all depending on your phone. All the requisite data is there, but it's not easy to access. The Flash menus don't seem to work, so you have to choose one, then choose to get a printable version (a PDF file) which you may or may not be able to view. Fortunately I'd scoped it out (as well as some other options if we weren't able to get in) ahead of time, but they really need to fix it.

friendly staff

spring vegetables

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Water Writes mural unveiled

Water Writes

Anew mural was unveiled in Uptown today. It's called "Water Writes", and it's the second of 10 murals around the world documenting the current local and international water crisis. The unveiling was basically a big ol' party and Oakland love-fest. A ton of people turned out, some who'd worked on the mural and some who were just there to check it out. Lots of kids, lots of happy young people, and even a few of us older folks.

The mural is between Broadway and Franklin, just up from 21st Street. If you missed the unveiling, you should definitely check it out in person. The photos can't do it justice -- it's big and beautiful, over 5,000 square feet.

Special thanks to the Estria Foundation which created the mural project, and Manuel Cabello, owner of the building who supported the project.

More pictures:
Water Writes

Also check out the great coverage about the mural on Living in the O (as well as the updated Oaksterdam mural).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

walking tour of Uptown

Paramount Theatre

This morning I took another Oakland walking tour, this time of Uptown. As with Downtown, there's some disagreement about the exact boundaries, but I think of it as below Grand, east of San Pablo, and what's not part of Downtown or one of the other parts of the DTO over to Lake Merritt. My non-definitive bounds can be viewed on the neighborhoods map. And the tour is about Oakland history with a focus on Art Deco, not an exact area, so we were into Downtown a little on the tour, too.

Anyway, on to the tour. I loved it. It helps that the tour is of one of the most vibrant areas of Oakland, and it focuses on Art Deco style, which I generally love. We started in front of the Paramount Theatre, which was completed in 1931, and exemplifies Art Deco design. As happens all too often, the building had fallen into disrepair, but the Oakland Symphony Orchestra Association bought it and had it authentically restored in 1973 (as our guide said, "before restoration was in"). It features beautiful murals, an awesome sign (especially when it's lit up in the evening), and more. The building is worth a post of its own or 3; they have tours monthly, so I'll probably do that at some point. I talked with my mother-in-law this evening, and she remembers being taken to see "The Wizard of Oz" by Mrs. Truitt (of Truitt and White Lumber fame) at the Paramount in 1939.

I.Magnin building

Nearby is the I. Magnin building. Once a high-end department store, it now houses offices and Cafe Madrid. Besides the remarkable green color, it's also notable for the terracotta facade. Above and below the windows are remarkably intricate panels, and the subway-style tiles in between give the appearance of large bricks.

window flashing

Across the street is now the Sears building, but was originally an H.C. Capwell's department store. An earth-toned brick building completed in 1929, it was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. To get back into business quickly, they covered the brick with an ugly concrete shell, but they did leave many of the details intact. Our guide pointed out the special metal window flashing, which at the time revolutionized storefront windows. (I can't find the reference to the name, but it was a company in Kansas.) In another bit of personal connection, the first job my mother-in-law had out of college was H.C. Capwell's in the early 1950s. They had a strict dress code for employees, and had 'secret shoppers' who would both help make the store look busier and keep an eye out for shoplifters.

Then it was around the corner to the building that the Uptown Club and Flora share. More amazing terracotta, this time blue, and with metallic silver finials. The new-but-great sign at the Uptown was partly funded by a program to restore and compliment facades in historical Oakland buildings. This same program helped remove the facades on the Columbia Outfitting building and the Bibliomania building across from the Fox.

Fox Theater

Reflected in the windows of Flora is the also amazing, also worthy-of-a-blog-post-of-its-own Fox Theater. The Fox was completed in 1928, and lasted as a movie palace until 1966. It deteriorated after that, but in 1978 Erma and Mario DeLucchi bought the property in hopes of restoring it and saving it from the fate of San Francisco's Fox Theater, which had been demolished in 1963. The couple had gone on Saturday night dates at the Oakland Fox as high school sweethearts in the early 1930s. A nice connection was that the husband of one of the people on the tour had worked on the restoration, helping restore and blend with the terrazzo flooring at the entrance.

Then it was past more amazing buildings, the newly restored Art Deco clock on Broadway, past the new Oaksterdam mural, and to the remarkable Howden Building, home to various shops, offices, and the Spice Monkey restaurant.

Kaiser Center garden

At this point, it would have been a great tour already. But then it was over to Snow Park near Lake Merritt, to see remnants of former estates, including one owned by A. Schilling, of Schilling Spices (bought out later by McCormick.) Then through Snow Park to the Kaiser Center, where the Oakland Indie Awards were just held. More than half the of the people on today's tour were Oakland residents, but most of them had never seen that beautiful space. We then worked our way back over to the Paramount to complete the tour, but I continued wandering around to take more pictures on this gorgeous Oakland day.

More pictures in my Oakland Uptown walking tour album.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

signs: Pacific Saw Works

Pacific Saw Works

Special thanks to Oakland North and their reader Gordon Mackenzie, who posted a picture of this awesome sign I'd missed before. It's a pretty cool-looking building, too. The sign says "lawnmowers" to let customers know they sharpened other sorts of blades, too.

Monday, May 16, 2011

signs: heart on E.12th


This no-name sign has been on my to-shoot list for a long time, and I finally got around to it a couple of weeks ago on my way home from the Old Oakland walking tour. Then last week I saw it in the quirky but frequently thought-provoking webcomic, No There There, and knew it was time to post it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

bits and pieces

Today's post is a full of bits and pieces that didn't make it into other posts for whatever reason.

late addition: