Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Oakland Urban Paths: Lakeshore to Piedmont Ave.

Saturday was our monthly Oakland Urban Paths walk, this time going from Lakeshore to Piedmont Avenue and back again. It's a walk we've done before, but there were a few changes. About 35 people and 5 dogs joined us some perfect weather to explore Oakland.

From our start in Mandana Plaza, we climbed over the hill behind the Grand Lake Theatre, and around past the former Lakeview Elementary School. From the unusual pedestrian bridge over I-580, it's easy to see what an impact the freeway (completed in 1966) had on the school (built in 1913). The school is now closed, and OUSD uses the space for offices. Over the bridge took us into Adams Point, named for Edson Adams, one of the 'founding scoundrels' of Oakland. For those that were wondering, Jayne Avenue is named for his wife, Hannah Jayne, who was Oakland's first school teacher.

Several sets of stairs took us through the Harrison-Oakland / Harri-Oak neighborhood, down to Glen Echo Creek. The creek is also known as Cemetery Creek where it begins up in Mountain View Cemetery. It winds its way (sometimes in a culvert) all the way down to Lake Merritt, where it feeds in near the Veterans' Memorial Building.

We walked over to Piedmont Avenue, and planned to meet up in Key Route Plaza after a short break. There we were disappointed to find that the wonderful Key Route Plaza mural by Rocky Rische-Baird had been destroyed. A new tennant, KronnerBurger, is moving into the space that used to be J's Mexican American Diner. They said later on Twitter that the wall wasn't properly supported (true, but fixable) and covered with black mold (possibly true, but also fixable). However, they made no effort to preserve the mural, and the artist and neighborhood residents are understandably upset.

We walked back towards our start along a different route, visiting some different sections of Glen Echo Creek. We eventually came to the Morcom Rose Garden, named for former mayor Fred Morcom. Up the hill on Jean Street took us to the top of some nice stairs, which led us down to Grand Avenue. From there, the Davidson Way steps took us back up the hill, then it was a short walk back to our starting point on Lakeshore.

Another great walk. Thanks to everyone who came out. The January walk is still being planned, but may be a walk around the former town of Brooklyn just east of Lake Merritt. Hope to see you then!

Lots more pictures from the walk:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

more about the Key Route Plaza mural

So, not only did people in the neighborhood around the Key Route Plaza mural not know the mural was going to be destroyed, the artist who spent more than 6 months painting the mural wasn't told. Below is a statement from Erica Rische-Baird on behalf of herself and Rocky, and they are understandably upset. The news that the zoning commission had already told them to protect the mural from the outdoor seating changes things—that means they knew the mural was valued by the community.

Ethan Fletcher of Inside Scoop on has a good article about it. It doesn't make me any happier about what Kronnerburger did, though. (Kronnerburger and Oakland neighborhood association at odds over mural). Ironically, borax kills black mold, so with a bit of time and a little work, the mural including "Borax" Smith could have been saved by borax.

Rocky and I found out yesterday that his incredible Key Route Mural off of Piedmont Avenue in Oakland (that had won the award for Best of the Bay for art and best mural by the SF Bay Guardian, and had been featured in Sunset Magazine as a must-see thing on Piedmont Avenue – something not to be missed when visiting Oakland, and that had been featured in many other publications beyond being beloved by the community) has been destroyed and demolished by developers converting the historic Key Route building, which the mural had been painted upon, into a high-end hamburger restaurant. We knew nothing of any of this happening until after the fact – after it had already been destroyed - when a concerned citizen wrote to ask if we knew the Key Route mural had been torn down. Rocky and I had not known.
Rocky had only found out last week that they were renovating the building at all when he was asked (not by the developers or building owner who never contacted him but by a member of the Piedmont Avenue Neighborhood Association), the best way to preserve some cracks in the mural. We thought it was going to be a matter of sealing those, and perhaps better reinforcing an area behind the mural wall that was weakening by replacing it with a proper support. Worst case scenario, we thought last week, was that a relatively small square of the mural where an old vent used to be and was patched up before the mural existed - would have to be taken out, which Rocky could have then re-plastered and repainted again to preserve the whole after it was reinforced from behind.
We were told last week by another concerned citizen that the burger place was highly in debt and highly behind schedule for their opening and that they were pissed that citizens had expressed concern about the restaurants’ outdoor seating plans, which they felt could mar the mural with the tables and chairs scratching it. They had told the planning commission about those concerns and the planning commission sided with the citizens and told the restaurant they had to redesign their outdoor seating plan to protect the mural. Last we heard, a tarp had gone up to supposedly protect the mural from the big rainstorm, but really, they used the time with that tarp under cover, to completely demolish the mural, sight unseen, without any community outreach or without contacting the artist. They gave no one any choice in any of this. They did not let the community give their feedback or give the artist a chance to address it or work to save it or fix it. The community had self-funded the mural and many had donated their own money to help have it created.
What took over six MONTHS of Rocky painting every day – all day – over eight hours a day - they destroyed just like that. Something that was beautiful and amazing and so incredibly full of details and history, beyond being so incredibly painted. Something that cannot be replaced. Something TRULY irreplaceable. Something special. Their claim is that there was mold in the wall behind the plaster, but the reality is that if they wanted to save the mural, mold or no mold – and there is no proof there was mold – it is just the burger places’s word and a very easy out) they could have. They simply did not want to deal - they would have simply had to take their time in the problem area - carefully from the inside, to reinforce the mural and preserve it. It would have taken a bit of time, but it could have been done. But they never wanted the mural. They wanted a window in the wall where the mural is, so that their customers, paying top dollar for over-priced, fancy-pants burgers with sides like rabbit sausage, could have better light to take selfies of themselves with their edible yuppster status symbols in this new world of foodie culture/cult consumption. And they wanted their outdoor seating plan the way they had it before being told they had to modify it to protect the mural.
I feel so sad and angry about all of this. It simply is not fair. They stole the mural from the community that loved it and had paid for it, and they stole it from the artist and all those who loved it, such as myself. And they are using the mold as an easy out to do whatever they wanted and make it seem like they had no other choice, when that is not true – there WAS a choice. And they made the choice, without letting the community or artist have a say. A choice to save it would have taken a bit of effort and time, which the mural was WORTH. Where was the protection of this piece of art? How can something that incredible and wonderful and amazing just be destroyed without any conversation or contact or community feedback or artist feedback? There was absolutely no effort to protect or preserve this mural. The action feels a definite reflection of the values of these times. And I feel so very angry and sad and grieving. I really like something that Rocky said: “It seems like this mural about communal loss because of blind consumptive greed has fallen to the same enemy. Interesting.”

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Key Route Plaza mural is gone

One of my favorite murals was on the back of building adjacent to the Key Route Plaza just off Piedmont Avenue. J's Mexican American closed some time back, and the building has been sitting empty. The good news is that the building is being worked on, and a new tenant will be moving in. The bad news is that the lovely mural on the back is now gone. We discovered it during the Oakland Urban Paths walk on Saturday, while a construction crew was working on the building. Several neighborhood residents were visibly upset when they learned the mural was gone.

The mural was painted in 2005, and showed a Key System train, and Francis Marion "Borax" Smith, who created the Key System by buying up and merging smaller streetcar lines. Various figures and symbols from history were represented. The train shown is #159, which last left the station at 6:45 pm on April 20th, 1958. Artist Rocky Rische-Baird raised additional funds for the creation of the mural by depicting the donors as passengers on the Key System train.

According to Kronner Burger, the new tenant, the wall was full of black mold, and the middle had been a window and wasn't properly supported. They're looking for a space for a new mural. Regardless, it's sad to see the mural go

The Kingfish gets ready to move

The historic Kingfish bar is getting ready to move. I stopped in there Saturday after helping with the Oakland Urban Paths walk, and had a chance to talk with managing owner of the bar, Emil Peinert. Peinert was behind bringing the Kingfish back after it was closed for 18 months, and the quirky bar on Claremont is clearly something he's passionate about. When offered space in the new building that will be constructed on the location, he passed. When told by a contractor that it would be cheaper and easier to just tear the building down and build a new building, he found a new contractor.

The current schedule is to close on January 2. The move will occur on January 10. And if all goes well, they hope to be up and running in the new location about 2 months after that. The new location will have the old building and its decor, but it will also have space for a beer garden, and a second bar at the back.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

new mural going up in Montclair Village

There's a new mural being painted in Montclair Village on the outside of the local Yogofina frozen yogurt shop. There are a few murals in the village and possible plans for another, but this is only the second spray paint art piece in the village, and by far the most visible. It's being painted by Lisa Pisa and Nite Owl. Read more about it on the new entry on the Oakland Wiki. Way cool.

It's true. I haven't dropped off the face of the earth, even though it may seem like it. Between a nasty cold, lots of (needed) rain, and work, I haven't been out and about in Oakland much, and I've been blogging even less.