Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Oakland Urban Paths: Legendary Locals of Oakland

Saturday we had perfect weather for an Oakland Urban Paths walk focused on some of the people in my new book, Legendary Locals of Oakland. The book has profiles and images of 180 of the people who have shaped Oakland over the years, both historic and contemporary. About 70 people and 6 dogs joined us to explore Lakeside Park and Adams Point, and learn about a few of the people in the book.

We started near the Rotary Nature Center where I talked about Lake Merritt being the oldest wildlife refuge in the country, dating back to 1870, even before the National Park System. To protect birds, neighbors, and property values, Dr. Samuel Merritt lobbied California governor Henry H. Haight to make the area surrounding the lake into a wildlife refuge. Nearly 80 years later, Paul Covel was hired to be the first municipal naturalist in the country, who taught countless children I also talked a bit about current naturalist, Stephanie Benavidez, who's not in the book but is a legendary local, too.

I also talked about mayor Melvin Chapman and Oakland founding scoundrel Edson Adams (along with Horace Carpentier and Andrew Moon). In the Gardens at Lake Merritt, we talked about WWII internee Frank Ogawa, namesake of the garden center Marsha Jean Corprew, world-renowned music producer Harold Lawrence, and Calvin Simmons, the first black conductor of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra. We could see the bandstand across the way, and I talked about Fred Morcom, mayor of Oakland and namesake of the Morcom Rose Garden,

At nearby Children's Fairyland, there were a lot of people to talk about: Oakland Parks superintendent William Penn Mott, Jr., puppeteer Frank Oz and master puppeteer Lewis Mahlmann (both pictured above with Oz's character, Bert of "Sesame Street"), restaurateur and inventor of the mai tai "Trader Vic" Bergeron, and businessman Joe Shoong.

Near Lake Merritt I talked about then-mayor Jerry Brown and the story of Measure DD that brought about the improvements to the lake, and about industrialist and healthcare creator Henry J. Kaiser. Over on Webster, I told people Sid Hoff and the Ali Baba Ballroom, and 3-time restaurateur James Syhabout of Hawker Fare, The Dock at Linden Street, and the Michelin-starred Commis.

Over on Broadway, we stopped in front of The Hive. There I talked about legendary newspaperman Robert Maynard and his wife Nancy, one-time owners of the Oakland Tribune. One of the buildings that makes up The Hive is a former automotive business designed by Oakland architect Julia Morgan, better known for designing Hearst Castle. Someone asked about the church that had been where the YMCA building across the street now stands; that was the First Methodist Church, which was destroyed by a spectacular fire in 1981.

At 27th Street we stopped between the First Presbyterian Church and Temple Sinai. Connected with the former are Henry Durant, one of the founders of the University of California, and Laurentine Hamilton, who was charged with heresy and left (along with much of the congregation) to form what became the First Unitarian Church. Members of Temple Sinai include writer and art patron Gertrude Stein, of the i1nfamous but misunderstood "there is no there there", and Rachel "Ray" Frank, the "girl rabbi of the Golden West", whose students included a young Gertrude Stein.

Walking up 28th Street we climbed our first set of stairs to Hamilton Place. Down Harrison took us to the First Congregation Church. Notable members included "Borax" Smith, borax miner and creator of the Key System, and his first wife, Mary R. Smith, who started an orphanage for girls. (The walk in February will focus on Cleveland Heights and "Borax" Smith.)

Across Harrison we climbed another set of steps to Vernon Terrace and Vernon Street. There we saw the home of judge and Chief Justice Earl Warren. He was head of the U.S. Supreme Court that ruled on the historic Brown v. Board of Education which banned segregation in public schools. As California District Attorney, Warren had been"the moving force" behind the WWII internment of Japanese Americans, but he later said he deeply regretted that.

The next streets we went past included Adams Street, named for Edson Adams, and Jayne Avenue, named for his wife, Hannah Jayne. She was Oakland's first, and for a time, only teacher. I talked briefly about Alice Street downtown, named for the sister of Horace Carpentier, Alice Carpentier.

With a large group on the walk and so many people to talk about, we didn't have time to go over to MacArthur Blvd., but instead we walked to the back side of Temple Beth Abraham. It's named for Abraham Bercovich. His brother Edward Bercovich and later his nephew Sam Bercovich ran a furniture business, and supported youth athletics in the East Bay. Many of the athletes went on to college and pro careers, including baseball player Curt Flood. His refusal to be traded by the St. Louis Cardinals led to free agency in sports.

Our last stop was at the home of Rose and Joe Shoong, founder of National Dollar Stores. To keep the connections going, the home was designed by none other than Julia Morgan.

A great walk—thanks to everyone who came out for it, and to everyone who bought a book! Special thanks to Alan Forkosh and Paul Rosenbloom for the use of some their photos, thanks to whoever carried the speaker, and thanks to volunteer Charlie Lenk for helping with all sorts of stuff. More pictures from the walk:

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 in 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 eyes...it 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.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Oakland Originals documentary

What makes Oakland such a great city are the people who have called Oakland home over the years. My book, Legendary Locals of Oakland (due out December, 2015), will cover some of the people who have and are making Oakland what it is. But for a different look on some current Oaklanders, check out the "Oakland Originals" series of video documentaries:

They've made four amazing documentaries so far, recently just hit their Kickstarter goal for a fifth documentary and are hoping for funding for 3 more. These documentaries have great production values, but more importantly, feature some really interesting people from Oakland.

Watch the current documentaries here.
Check out their Kickstarter here.

Friday, August 14, 2015

signs: Drake's Dealership

The newest beer garden in town is Drake's Dealership. It's in part of the Hive complex that (surprise!) used to be a car dealership. Back in the day, a lot of the businesses around there were related to the auto industry. They've done a creative reuse of the space, and removed the roof of part of the building to serve as a beer garden. Yummy pizza, and as always, yummy Drake's beer.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Laurel Street Fair

Saturday after the urban paths walk, I cycled over to the Laurel district for their annual street fair. Lot of folks out having fun, and as a bonus, I finally got a chance to try a Mamacitas Cafe donut kebab!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Oakland Urban Paths: Glen Echo Creek

Saturday, 35 people (and one dog) joined Oakland Urban Paths for an exploration of the Glen Echo Creek watershed, led by Chris Kidd.

The local topography is something like a hand with the fingers spread, with ridge lines alternating with shallow valleys cut by streams like Glen Echo Creek. The creek starts as two branches, Cemetery Creek that comes through Mountain View Cemetery, and the Rockridge branch, which comes through the Claremont Country Club's golf course and feeds into the Bilger quarry. Heading east from our start outside the Cat Town Cafe and Adoption Center, we descended slightly then began climbing the next 'finger' on the other side.

There are lots of beautiful houses and stairways along the way. One interesting stop was at Oak Park. The site was formerly Edison Elementary School which one person on the walk had attended as a child. The school was closed in 1971 because it wasn't up to earthquake standards. It was subsequently sold and converted into condominiums. While the playground became a city park, the city doesn't maintain it, the neighbors do.

Like many creeks in the East Bay, much of Glen Echo Creek runs in underground culverts. Glen Echo does have more open segments than many creeks, but it almost disappeared completely. Back in the 1950s, there was a plan to build the Richmond Blvd. Freeway which would have run from near Snow Park downtown, over Glen Echo Creek and through Piedmont, and to highway 13. Fortunately it wasn't built...the freeways that were built were hard enough on Oakland as it is.

We meandered through part of Piedmont and to the Morcom Rose Garden. It was created in originally called the Oakland Municipal Rose Garden and the first rose was planted by then-mayor Fred Morcom in 1933. We took a brief break there while people checked out the roses, watched the labors of the Dedicated Deadheaders who take care of the roses, and looked at the names on the Oakland Mother of the Year walk of fame.

A different route took us back to our starting point, a bit tired but a lot more knowledgeable. Thanks to everyone who came out for the walk, and thanks to Chris for leading it!

Next month's walk is still being worked out, but check www.oaklandurbanpaths.org for details. As usual, it will be the 2nd Saturday, starting at 10AM. See you on the paths!

A map of our route (PDF).

More pictures from the walk:

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Oakland Aviation Museum

One of the things I did while working on Legendary Locals of Oakland was visit the Oakland Aviation Museum in search of the bust of Feng Ru, the "father of Chinese aviation" and the first person to pilot an airplane on the West coast. I found the statue, but I found a lot of other interesting stuff, too.

The museum has numerous vintage aircraft on display, mostly inside what was the Boeing School of Aeronautics. There are also various displays showing uniforms, memorabilia, and even a Norden bombsight. There are exhibits on women in aviation, black Americans in aviation, and Oakland's part in "Operation Babylift" during the Vietnam War.

The pride of the aviation museum is a Short Solent Mark III flying boat. It stood in for a larger Boeing China Clipper in "Raiders of the Lost Ark". A copy of Life magazine marks the seat where Harrison Ford sat as Indiana Jones. The plane can be viewed any time the museum is open, but you can only view the interior on special occasions.

It's a very cool museum, definitely worth checking out, even if you're not particularly into airplanes. There's a lot of history on display there.

Lots more pictures from the Oakland Aviation Museum:

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Oakland Neighborhoods Map, V2.1

Speaking of a long time since posting things, it's been more than 5 years since I first posted my Oakland Neighborhoods Map. Since then numerous Oakland blogs have come and gone, the amount of time I've been able to spend on the blog has waxed and waned, but over the years, there's been one constant: my all-time most popular posts are related to maps of Oakland (you can click on the 'maps' button below the site banner to see more). And the most popular of those, by an order of magnitude, has been the neighborhoods map. At some point Google updated custom maps and broke the original. I upgraded it to the new format, added some new content, and took advantage of some of the new features of the new custom maps engine.

So without further ado, I present the Oakland Neighborhoods Map, V2.1. As with the previous version, the basic map is based on the Street Trees. With lots of time spent poring over other maps, historical documents, and vague descriptions, I added some of the informal neighborhood names like Dogtown. If your browser supports it, there should be interactive version of the map below:

But all that said, the map is far from perfect. A lot of the 'street trees' names aren't used, and with any of the names that are used, people disagree about the exact boundaries. Myself, I disagree about the concept of exact boundaries for neighborhoods, because unless there's a physical barrier like a freeway, most boundaries aren't exact, and people's perceptions are different. Exercises best left to the user include: Where is DTO? Where is East Oakland? Is Uptown a real neighborhood?

The new version adds pictures of signs of some of the areas showing what they label themselves, refines the details of some of the boundaries, and even adds some historical neighborhoods that most people have no idea existed. Finally, I added a feature for myself, but some of you may find it useful, too. Go to the relatively easy to remember URL http://nmap.ouroakland.net, and it will redirect you to the Google Map page.

Unfortunately, the new Google Maps engine lost (or hid) some useful features, like the ability to load other custom maps on top this one, search for an address or otherwise use a custom map like a regular Google map, and probably some other things. Sigh.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

signs: A Taste of Denmark

It's been over 5 years since I posted a sign for the struggling Neldam's Danish Bakery. Later that year, the employees formed a collective and kept the bakery going, but the Neldams kept the name. A temporary sign went up, but it wasn't until this week that I finally saw a new, permanent sign.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

upcoming #Oakland events

It's been forever since I've done an upcoming events post, but a major work project is completed, my book, Legendary Locals of Oakland is in production and layout at the publisher, and I finally feel like I have some time. Hopefully you have some time, too, to get out and enjoy some of the great events coming up in Oakland!


Kaiser Center Roof Garden Concert - Each summer they put on free lunchtime concerts in the Kaiser Center Roof Garden, noon to 1pm. This Friday the musical group is The 415s. It's a great place to take your lunch and listen to some free music. (free)

Bicycle Fix-It Clinic - a free bicycle fix-it clinic at the 81st Avenue Library, from 2pm-5pm. And ideas on how to decorate your bike! (free)

Bites Off Broadway - my favorite food truck gathering, on 45th Street in front of Studio One Art Center.

Dancing Under the Stars - Friday's Dancing Under the Stars at Jack London Square features free lessons in the Bachata. Don't know what that is? Come down to JLS and learn! (free)


OHA "Borax" Smith Tour - Join the Oakland Heritage Alliance to learn about legendary local "Borax" Smith, creator of the Key System streetcars, partner in the Realty Syndicate that built the Claremont Hotel, and more. ($10-$15)

Urban Wildlife walk with Wild Oakland - Join Wild Oakland and Yggdrasil Urban Wildlife Rescue to learn about some of the urban wildlife of Oakland with a walk around Lake Merritt. (free)

Pedalfest 2015 - The biggest bike festival in the Bay Area takes over Jack London Square. Besides bikes and bike-related fun, there will be food, music, and more. New features this year include an E-bike test track, Crucible Bike Build, and the Brompton Urban Challenge. (free)


OHA Civil War Mountain View Cemetery - Join the Oakland Heritage Alliance and local historian Dennis Evanosky to learn some of the Civil War history at Mountain View Cemetery. ($10-$15)

Further Ahead

Love Our Dogs Day at Bites By the Lake - Bites By the Lake is a weekly food truck gathering by the Lakeview Library at the north end of Lake Merritt. On Sunday, August 2nd, the scheduled food trucks are Go Streatery, Tea and Picklets, Crepe Queen, Kancha’s Kitchen, Beulah’s Beans, and Curbside Creamery. But there will also be adoptable dogs from the Oakland Animal Shelter!

Art + Soul Festival - Music, art, food, fun. 2015 highlights include: Oaktown Throwdown BBQ Competition, Bandaloop, Kinetic Arts Circus Stage, and more. Plan to walk, bike or take transit...but not BART from SF because the transbay tube will be closed that weekend. (Saturday, August 1st and Sunday, August 2nd) ($12; seniors and youth $7; 12 and under free)

National Night Out - Meet your nearby neighbors for a street party, or join the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights for the Night Out for Safety and Liberation. (Tuesday, August 2nd) (free)

Sing-Along Cinema: Frozen - free movies to sing-along with at Jack London Square. (Thursday, August 6) (free)

Pete Escovedo: Personal Art Collection Show - closing finale of Pete Escovedo's personal art collection show at the historic Howden Building. (Saturday, August 8th)

Scenes from the Life of Julia Morgan - A special reading of Julith Offer's play, Scenes from the Life of Julia Morgan at the Pardee Home Museum. Learn more about California's first woman architect, take part in the reading, and enjoy hors d'oeuvres. (Sunday, August 9th) ($25)

PARK(ing) Day - Enjoy the streets in a new way as a pedestrian or cyclist, with dozens of parking spots around Oakland converted into temporary parklets. Plus a chance to celebrate a several permanent parklets, like in front of Farley's East. (Friday, September 18) (free)

Did I forget something interesting? What can I say? I'm out of practice. Let me know...

Monday, July 13, 2015

Oakland Urban Paths: Montclair and the Sacramento Northern Railway

Note: Many of the links below are links to OaklandWiki.org, where you can find more information about the subjects. At the end of the article there are some additional links to other sites I mentioned, plus a link to a map of our route.

Saturday we had about 50 people (and two dogs) turn out for a walk exploring Montclair and the Sacramento Northern (SN) Railway with Oakland Urban Paths. The Sacramento Northern was an all-electric railroad running from Oakland to Sacramento to Chico.

We started in Montclair Park near the duck pond. From there you can see some traces of railroad, including the bridge abutments on Mountain Blvd. We headed up Moraga Avenue to the nearby Montclair Firehouse. The lovely storybook structure hasn't been used since the 1989 earthquake, because it's seismically unsafe, and the Hayward fault is basically out its front door. There are some people who'd like to turn it into a firefighting museum, but without a lot of money that's not going to happen soon. From there we headed to the corner of Moraga and Thornhill Road, and I showed people a picture of an SN train crossing the bridge that used to be there.

Then we walked over to Fernwood Drive, which is named for the historic estate that once filled the valley. It first belonged to Jack Coffee Hays, who gained fame as a Texas Ranger hunting down the Comanche people. After a stint as San Francisco sheriff, he moved to Oakland. He improved the county road that is now Moraga Road to access his estate; for many years the area was known as "Hays Canyon" or "Jack Hays Canyon". After Hays' death, his widow sold the beautiful Fernwood estate to William Dingee of the Oakland Water Company.

A bit of backtracking took us to the Montclair library, another local storybook gem, and the Montclair Women's Club. We talked a bit about the controversy surrounding it. After decades as a women's club, it's been sold, and a group wants to put in a Montessori school. Nearby neighbors are concerned about the increased traffic, because there are two elementary schools within a half mile of the already busy intersection.

Then it was up our first flight of stairs to Cabot Drive. If you approached from the top, you might think you were trespassing, but the stairs are a public right of way. They're just unmarked, so you have to know that they're there. We walked down the hill to Mountain past one of the elementary schools, then climbed another flight of stairs up to Magellan Drive.

Finally, we dropped down to the Montclair Railroad Trail. This follows the actual right of way that the trains followed, and so has a very gentle grade and wide curves. We viewed one of the information signs about the SN, and another about Highway 77, the highway that fortunately was never built up Shepherd Canyon. We walked a bit further up, and I talked about the tunnel that the trains went through to get over to the Moraga side of the hills.

We backtracked, then went through Montclair Village and checked out some of the new murals. Including some in the first-ever-OUP parking garage traversal, as several of the latest murals are inside. We crossed Highway 13, climbed up to Bruns Court, then returned to our starting point via a pedestrian bridge back over Highway 13 (and Hayward fault!).

Thanks to everyone who came out for the walk and for your donations, and special thanks to those who carried the loudspeaker and clipboard for me at different points. Hope to see you on the paths again soon!

Additional Links

  • East Bay Hills Project - Stuart Swiedler's amazing web site with lots of photos of the Sacramento Northern
  • Sacramento Northern on the OB&E - Daniel Levy's great web site with photos and more, including info about the Key System and other local transit. Daniel was the Eagle Scout behind the project that placed the informative signs along the SN right of way
  • Western Railway Museum - a museum near Rio Vista on the way to Sacramento. They've preserved some of the engines and cars of the Sacramento Northern (as well as the Key System)

Our Route

A Google map of our route.

More Photos

Some more photos, both from the day of the walk and other

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Kayaking by Moonlight

Wednesday was a full moon, so K and I celebrated our wedding anniversary with a moonlight paddle on the estuary, led by California Canoe and Kayak at Jack London Square. The weather was warm, but perfect for being out on the water. There were clouds, but they broke up enough so we could not only see the moon, but had a spectacular sunset. Thanks to Sou and Kathy, our fearless leaders, for a great tour around the estuary.