A transforming stretch of Telegraph…

So I’ve been running back and forth between my place and the new Oakland Youth Center, in my endeavor to document the new mural that’s been developing all week.  REMINDER: Grand Opening Party this Thursday January 14th starting at 3pm onward with freestyle rap, dance cyphers, live painting, arts performances and more. Check it out at Telegraph & 28th Street! Here’s the blank wall that’s being transformed as I type…

blank wall for mural

Did you hear I’m making a movie?!? It’s true, it’s true.

And it’s extremely exciting because, at the risk of dating myself here, let’s just say I didn’t grow up with flip video cameras and kid-friendly computer applications like iMovie. Hell, I had a programmable typewriter in college. A typewriter!  You get my drift?

In any case, it’s been back and forth, back and forth between my little corner of West Oakland, called Ghosttown, and the neighboring corner of North Oakland called Pill Hill, where the Center is located. For those of you unfamiliar with these neighborhoods, they border the MacArthur Maze, Ghosttown just southwest, and Pill Hill just southeast. Here’s a map…

Wikipedia says Ghosttown is “known for its violence and blight.” Jeeezzz… they forgot to mention the drugs & prostitutes. It doesn’t say much about Pill Hill, but the area takes its name from the two huge medical centers found in its boundaries: Alta Bates Summit and Kaiser (which is currently undergoing a huge expansion), in addition to a growing number of alternative medicine practices (Oakland medical hub draws more alternative healers).

In my mind they both strike me as sort of no-man’s lands… and perhaps this is due to their inescapable proximity to the monstrosity of the maze. Here’s a shot under part of it…

macarthur maze, freeway underpass, under the maze

Feels oppressive, doesn’t it?

And what’s really disheartening to see are all the gorgeous Victorian’s immediately adjacent to this freeway. Here are a couple… This first one looks like a foreclosure (just one of hundreds, if not thousands, in Oakland) but what a beauty. It’s an interesting style that is not particularly common. C’mon you architect types… send me some info!

oakland victorian, adjacent to macarthur maze

The windows of this lovely look right out onto the freeway just across the street.

oakland victorian, macarthur maze

You can imagine the once thriving connected neighborhood that likely existed there before they plowed a freeway through the middle of it. I’d like to do more research on this. If anyone has any reading recommendations, please send them my way…

I really wanted this post to be about the Telegraph stretch of Pill Hill because so much is happening there right now… it’s literally undergoing a transformation.

But first a couple points of interest in its Ghosttown neighbor across the freeway…

I’ve already written about Ghosttown Farm and the mural across the street… May Peace Prevail on Earth. If you remember, I asked on my post for some assistance interpreting the god-like imagery, and sadly no knowlegable readers chimed in. But lucky for me, I crossed paths with the creative force behind the mural, Desi… who just so happens to be the leader of the Community Rejuvenation Project, now working out of the new Oakland Green Youth Media & Arts Center. Can you say small world?!? Desi explained that the four masks or faces represent gods of the four elements. Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. Now we know.

One other point of interest marked on the map is the old Calou Building. Do you know it?  It’s gorgeous.  Here’s a pic…

calou linen service, calou artist lofts, calou building in oakland

I don’t know what style of architecture it is, but it has some lovely brick work and a striking slate roof… you don’t see that too often anymore. I had hoped to do a whole post about this building, but Google and Wikipedia have really let me down here. After numerous searches I was unable to uncover anything about the history of the building itself or the linen company that was originally housed there. It’s listed as an Oakland Landmark in the Oakland Heritage Alliance’s compiled list, but it doesn’t even include the date built. This is probably the first time the web has really let me down. The only sites that turn up are realtor’s ads for lofts in the now converted building.  Not a great time to be selling real estate.  Especially in areas characterized by “blight and violence.”

Now let’s scoot back under the freeway to Pill Hill…

So there’s the new Oakland Green Youth Media & Arts Center… But there’s more!

The whole block between 29th and 30th streets has been razed to make way for a new residential development that’s slated to begin construction any day. Looks like it’s going to be big!

There’s a new family BBQ joint at 34th street called Phat Matt’s BBQ. Their motto is “So good it’ll make you want to slap yo momma!” I had a pulled pork sandwich there the other day and it was fabulous. Plus I love their back-story… husband and wife team, homemade sauces and rubs all developed without salt due to the dietary needs of Phat Matt’s wife. Check them out any day except Mondays.

phat matt's, phat matt's bbq, telegraph ave

Then there’s the new Oasis Food Market highlighted in last week’s East Bay Express article Neighborhood Comes Together Around New Market by Emilie Raguso.  It’s a great article full of information about this transforming neighborhood and the new identity that’s taking hold there… I’m going to excerpt from her article briefly:

“Oasis Food Market has it all: an unmatched supply of oils, grains, and canned goods; a mouth-watering eat-in deli offering soups from scratch, juicy shawarma, olives, feta, and a bevy of stuffed vegetables; fresh-baked breads and honeyed pastries handcrafted on site; and a full halal butcher shop complete with hanging carcasses in a chilled case. And, of course, there are fresh fruits and vegetables, cheeses, juices, and, somewhat less expectedly, a Western Union counter, post office boxes, household goods, traditional Arab clothing, water pipes, and flavored tobacco.

Stepping through the shop’s doors feels like stepping into another country.

Oasis food market, oasis market on telegraph

halal butcher shop, oasis food market

olive counter, oasis food market

Oasis has a full bakery and in addition to baking their own breads and pitas, they produce a mind boggling variety of baklava desserts. I was eye-ing them while snapping a few photos and waiting for my chicken shawarma plate… the baker kindly offered samples for me to try while explaining they roll all their own filo dough out on-site… no frozen filo! All I can say is… delicious.

baklava, oasis food market

13 thoughts on “A transforming stretch of Telegraph…

  1. Staxnet

    Awesome post!!!

    One book to definitely check out is “Key System Streetcars: Transit, Real Estate and Growth of the East Bay” by Vernon J. Sappers, Signature Press 2007.

    You can read a good summary of the book (or purchase it, but it’s spendy) here: http://www.goldenspike.us/si/SP131.html

    I am sure the library has it, as well.

  2. Gene

    Great post! The map is a nice touch. Can’t help you on that Victorian. The ground floor is clearly Victorian, but I’ve never seen a second floor like that. Flat roof, yes (Camron-Stanford House has one), but those dormers are something else.

    The two explanations I’ve heard for the name Ghost Town are (1) the neighborhood was left a veritable ghost town after being split by the freeway and (2) the presence of multiple casket companies (at least one of which is still there, I think). The first seems more likely — at some point in its history it was a beautiful neighborhood, then the freeway just plowed through the middle of it. It’s slowly coming back, though.

  3. matt

    I’ve done a lot of rummaging through image archives, pictures and maps, to see the pre-freeway Oakland. In doing so I’ve gone through all the typical emotional responses to a tragic loss. Most recently I’ve entered the acceptance phase. We’re not going to be rid of these awful freeways in our lifetime. It’s best if we work to augment them in order to pull them down and back into the neighborhood fabric. Paint them creatively, light and landscape them creatively. All with the goal to minimize the disconnect they cause from one side of them to the other. This has been done all over the globe and not above the abilities of Oaklander’s.

  4. emilie

    saw your post and found it very informative. i love your take on the neighborhood. there’s so much to learn about this area. it’s clear that there’s a rich history here. so many of us are relatively recent transplants to oakland that it’s easy to see the cultural explosion as new. thanks for linking to my ebx story on oasis.

  5. ab

    The funky victorian’s roof burned off around 2002. When it was rehabed the original roof style wasn’t restored. It’s a shame because the old roof looked really nice.

    1. studiodeb333 Post author

      Wow… I had no idea this post would be so interesting to so many folks. Thanks to everyone for all the great feedback, especially the reading materials. I will definitely check them out. Thank you!!!

  6. Pingback: Beer, bicycles, and my new favorite pub. « Oaktown Art

  7. Terry T

    What would you like to know about the Calou’s Linen Oakland Laundry Bulding. I know a lot about it and might even be able to unearth some old pictures. I worked there for 15 years

    1. studiodeb333 Post author

      Thanks for writing in Terry! I’d love to know more about the history of the building and the linen service that ran out of it. Like when the building was built? And an information about the design/architecture/architect? And what years did the linen service run, and who did it service? Households? Hotels? And what type of folks worked there? Any old pictures you can find would be wonderful! Feel free to email me directly (studiodeb@yahoo.com). Thanks again!

  8. Bob

    In 1887 my grandfather was working as an ironer at the French Laundry owned by Peter Calou. Since his (my grandfather’s) address was given as 690 29th, I’m assuming the building where he worked is the one in your photo – 730 29th

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