Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tour of West Oakland

Oakland-bashing is a lot of fun, because it makes you sound really hardcore. Unfortunately, I have to tone down the hardcore a bit, since I have an active interest in enticing people to move here. Interestingly, I don't want the value of my house going up, I just want the neighborhood to become safer. I don't want the value of my house going up because I don't want to pay more property taxes than I already do.

I must say that I know absolutely nothing about digital photography. In fact, I'm pretty certain that photography is best conducted through film. On the other hand, I'm also certain that the medium, apparatus, and software are all secondary to the eye. Recently, I've been eyeing through a Canon 30D, which is way better than the iPhone because it shoots when you tell it to, not at some point in the future. The thought of actually going through the Canon 30D manual frightens me, so I decided to just not worry about it.

The area San Francisco Chronicle calls "West Oakland" when reporting on the murders is way too big to be a neighborhood. When I say West Oakland, I mean the area called Lower Bottoms, The Bottoms, Prescott, or Oakland Point. Until the name is settled, let's just say West Oakland for now. Here's a map:

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West Oakland has the highest concentration of really cool old Victorian homes that are in remarkably dire shape per square block in the world. Many of these homes stand next to vacant lots, because the cool old Victorians in dire shape that occupied those lots had burned down.

This possible former church on the right has been undergoing some sort of renovation for years.

This is the Prescott-Joseph Center. This building will put every single Painted Lady to shame.

Prescott-Joseph Center fragment. A statue of Zeus. Or maybe Julius Caesar.

About three years ago we watched this big white building being wheeled into its current location by a huge semi truck. PG&E was on site, removing electrical cables so the building could get by. The building was born in another part of Oakland, where it lived happily until the Condos started moving in. The building decided to relocate, so it sold for $1 and moved. It has since acquired a new — expanded — derriere, another floor, new siding, new roof, and several new windows.

This big building occupies half a block. It appears to be condemned — it's been empty for at least three years, possibly twenty-five. The runes are new. It's astonishing there exist people who think they can paint something on old red brick that will be more interesting than the old red brick.

It's hard to tell at the moment, but in its prime this corner beauty would have turned the head of the Sentinel Building. Until very recently the building housed a corner store which was registered in the Guinness Book of Records as the record-holder of the "Corner Store You Are Least Likely to Enter" title. Then, apparently, Chuey was killed either inside it, or in its direct proximity, and the store has been closed every since. For the time being the building is called "Chuey Team Bitch".

Just down the street we see AMERICAN STEEL. I hope this sign is too big to fail. No, I'm serious, I dread the day this building will be gone — it's absolutely spectacular.

West Oakland is the last bastion of residential life before the Port of Oakland begins. Many streets feature mysterious tracks that suddenly end. We know some people who used to live right next to these particular tracks. They say that sometimes the Port gates open and wagonettes laden with export goods roll out and just sit there, waiting.

If I stood where I'm standing to take this picture on October 17th, 1989 at 5:04 PM, the Cypress Viaduct, a double-decker freeway, part of Interstate 880, would have fallen on me. Luckily, at the time I was sleeping in the USSR.

After the freeway collapsed, the residents of this neighborhood put up a titanic fight to prevent the motherfuckers from rebuilding it here again. Instead, I-880 went around the neighborhood, leaving this space for Mandela Parkway. In five years, when the trees will get taller, this parkway will cause people to fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after.

Mandela Parkway is a perfect biking corridor. The problem is the safety hazard created by all amazing distractions on the left, on the right, and in the middle. The parkway begins at West Oakland BART and goes straight to the Home Depot parking lot.

Speaking of Home Depot, the Oakland-Emeryville Home Depot (nobody knows within which city it is actually situated, but sales taxes go to Emeryville, because Emeryville is business-friendly and Oakland hates businesses) has just undergone a metamorphosis from Despicable Garbage to Hardware Store Mona Lisa.

Five years ago, they had these buckets with rotten fish at the entrances. Upon entering, you had to pick up a rotten fish and gnaw on it throughout your shopping experience. This way you would not notice the fact that the three employees there to help you are not only retarded, but also drunk, high, and haven't slept for six days. The merchandise was comprised of the returned items from the other Oakland Home Depot. There were twenty seven checkout registers and 0.4 cashiers at peak hours and 0.2 during other times. But you didn't notice any of it, because you were gnawing on a rotten fish.

Today, they've cancelled the fish.


This is Brown Sugar Kitchen. When we moved to the neighborhood almost four years ago, this building housed a permanently-closed Jamaican restaurant.

Brown Sugar Kitchen opened and quickly developed a Bay Area-wide following large enough to guarantee a 40-minute wait for a Sunday brunch. While I was going through some serious soul-searching regarding the sanity of staying in this neighborhood earlier this year, BSK hosted its second birthday party. I talked to some people, and it definitely helped in convincing me to stick it out. Things are getting better.

Oh, and the food here is amazing, I'm telling you.

Every once in a while, the Devil comes up for a field trip. To remain incognito, he settles into somebody's head. His stint in Lovelle Mixon's head was particularly devastating for Oakland — last year on March 21st, before exiting, he killed four police officers. This is a memorial to officers Hege, Dunakin, Romans, and Sakai.

Industrial zone.

This is a fragment of Lone Star Industries, a functioning concrete factory.

Peralta Studios, the proverbial lofts.

On the way to the port we see Downtown Oakland. I'm standing about a mile away from the Bay Bridge toll plaza.

When three generations ago black people from the South boarded trains and headed to California in search of better life, they got off here, at 16th Street Station. The current state of the station is a condensed version of what happened to the people, who didn't have enough time to build up enough Old Money before the economy emigrated.

The rights for new development that we're about to pass on our left were granted with some sort of a clause that requires the developer to restore the train station.

We'll see.

Own a loft from $1900/month. After this housing was completed, it was vacant for so long, our initial disdain for it turned to pity. For so long exactly one apartment had any signs of life, and even those were fake — it was staged to lure prospective buyers.

Now the people are moving in, and it's great, absolutely great to see all the new cars, TVs in the windows, and occasional humans sitting on the porches of their new dwellings. Welcome!

The Port of Oakland is the fourth busiest container port in the United States.

Residential West Oakland is on the other side of this underpass. The pavement of the underpass is quite possibly the worst in Alameda County, which would place it high in the running for worst worldwide.

Berths and US Customs.

These are AT-AT walkers' kids' toys.

AT-AT walkers on a break feeding their young. Also a bus stop who thinks it's in Chernobyl.

Our chariot. In West Oakland, we don't use license plates. Just kidding — it was stolen back in January. I've been driving this truck since July 1999.

Since 1999, the Oakland Army Base hasn't welcomed anybody.

Ukraine St.

My wife thinks the gravel is where the taco truck stops on weekdays.

Streets here are vast, kind of like prairies in Kansas.

Oakland is home to the world's largest brachiosaurid zoo in the world.

All the tarmac around the Port of Oakland is excellent for road biking.

This is where BART trains dive out for oxygen.

To the left we have Port View Park. Middle Harbor Shoreline Park is just ahead.

Port View Park.

After a BART train dives under the bay, it takes about six minutes to get to the first San Francisco stop — Embarcadero. Proximity to San Francisco produces major dividends in compound commute time for West Oakland residents who work in SF.

Domesticated AT-AT walkers at work.

The lord works in mysterious ways. If we board this thing and ride it for about a mile, we'll end up in Jack London Square.

In the summer of 1997 I got a job. It was in this building. I worked as a sculptor's assistant — my duties consisted of applying drywall mud to structures cut out of styrofoam. This building is a few blocks from West Oakland BART, but my employer picked me up Downtown Oakland, citing safety. A few weeks into the job, on my 16th birthday, I got a driver's license. From then on I drove our 1985 Caprice Classic to work. The bridge cost $1.

This is a fragment of Svenhard's Swedish Bakery. It always smells like pastries here. Also, check out the benches.

This is a fragment of the MacArthur Maze.

Bus bench ads are the lowest form of advertisement. Any bus bench ad revenue is offset by the loss in property taxes because of decreased property values.


  1. "Bus bench ads are the lowest form of advertisement. Any bus bench ad revenue is offset by the loss in property taxes because of decreased property values."

    This is an interesting and very depressing thought for advocates of public transit and walkable neighborhoods like myself.

  2. @sergey

    Bench ads are kind of like ads between paragraphs in a blog post -- they sacrifice the view for a very dubious financial reward. Not to mention that 9 out of 10 bench ads advertise ... bench ads.


    1. I didn't know people like you read blogs

  4. Very nice photos.. I like it.. All of them was very great.. Keep it up. Room Dividers nyc

  5. Informative and funny blog, keep it up!

    If West Oakland ever improves significantly the property values have to go up because of the stunning Victorian architecture, amazing commute, and perfect weather. Unfortunately, I think the bad people are going to keep driving out the good people and anybody who's not a masochist will wisely leave the area (I hope I'm wrong because I'd love to see the area improve!).

    Funny point about the bridge toll, the toll is currently 5x what it was in 1997! Does that mean in 2027 it will be $25!?