Category Archives: My favorite things…

I ♥ Temescal Tool Lending Library – please help save…

So everyone is talking about the potential library closures… you can read all about it

And lots of great points are being made… about the need for these neighborhood resources, providing accessibility to books and the internet for all residents regardless of income, providing social gathering spots and places of refuge from the neighborhood violence in some parts of Oakland, providing a suite of services and resources that once were offered by public schools but now have been cut from there as well.  The list goes on and on, and these are all incredibly important points.

But what I don’t hear anyone talking about is the Temescal TOOL Lending Library.

I have to admit that this is my most frequently visited branch/service of the entire Oakland Public Library system.  They know me by name, and I know most of theirs as I see them nearly weekly.

I’ve always liked fixing/building/making things. I was a born DIY’er before the term DIY even existed. You can see this was either instilled early (by my grandfather – pipe in mouth), or perhaps just came naturally, by this photo of my first home building project (I think I was 6).

projects with grandpa, early DIY training

For those who don’t know, and I’m always amazed when I meet folks who don’t, this is an incredible resource exclusively dedicated to Oakland residents. Modeled after the tool lending library in Berkeley, they house thousands of tools that can be “rented” FREE of charge for short periods of time. Everything you need to tend to your home and garden (carpentry & woodworking, concrete & masonry, electrical, floor & wall, garden & digging, ladders/dollies/handtrucks/wheelbarrows, mechanical & power, plumbing, etc.) plus books and how-to videos.

I think I’ve checked out tools in nearly every one of those categories from the early days in 2000 (this was when renovating my loft in West Oakland, photo left) to more recent projects on the home here in Dimond (photo right).

bathroom tiling project, kitchen painting project

This arm of the Temescal Branch library was launched in January of 2000 (thanks to seed money from a Community Development Block Grant).  It was an outgrowth of a small “Home Resources Collection” established at this branch after the Oakland Hills Firestorm of 1991 to help residents with rebuilding and repairs following the disaster.

And it just makes sense.  In a dense urban environment where homes are frequently smallish apartments or “cottage” houses (read small!), who’s got the space to store all the things you need to care for your home? And more importantly, who wants to shell out the cash (tools are expensive!) for something you may use once or twice a year??

I LOVE the Temescal Tool Lending Library!  Please help save it.

According to the budget proposals currently being considered, the following library branches and resources would be slated for closure:

Asian, Brookfield, Cesar Chavez, Eastmont, Elmhurst, Golden Gate, Lakeview, Martin Luther King, Melrose, Montclair, Piedmont, Temescal, West Oakland, AAMLO, and the Tool Lending Library.

Is this not crazy?!? Especially after residents voted in 2003 for continued support of our libraries (Measure Q).

Here are five things you can do to help (from Save Oakland Libraries):

  1. Tell your friends and neighbors about the devastating funding cuts to libraries – Ask 10 of your friends to call or write the Mayor and City Council. Like the Save Oakland Library page on Facebook.
  2. Share your library experiences with city officials – Make sure that Oakland’s mayor, city manager, and city council know what libraries mean to you and your community.
  3. Attend Oakland City Council meetings – We need a big turnout. Bring signs supporting libraries. Bring children who love libraries. Request to speak. Speaker cards can be requested online one week in advance at the Office of the City Clerk page.  Next meetings 6/7 and 6/21 at 5:30pm
  4. Organize – Gather petition signatures and distribute fliers – These activities must happen outside the library locations–near branches or at community events. Fill our volunteer form and help save your library. Check our volunteer page for an activity near you. Download instructions on how to petition (PDF). Download the petition (PDF).
  5. Contact newspapers, radio stations, TV stations and local blogs – Call the media and ask if they are covering the proposed Oakland library closings. When you read related news coverage, write a letter to the editor with thanks and a message about why Oakland’s public libraries are needed

KALX ~ “the greatest radio station in the world”

Ok, so that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s the tongue-in-cheek claim of one of their on-air pre-recorded DJ messages, and it always makes me smile.  Yes, this institution is based in Berkeley.  But their airwaves stream across Oakland and the greater Bay Area, and it’s one of the things I love most about living here.

The station was started nearly 50 years ago in 1962, broadcasting through a cigar-box mixing board (literally made out of a cigar box) hard-wired to the UC Berkeley dormitories. They played classical music for 4 hours a day .  Just classical music.

They’ve come a long way since then, broadcasting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with an incredibly diverse set of programming, not to mention their amazing roster of DJ’s. You can read The Full and Unabridged History of KALX if you want all the gorey details, including how  President Ronald Reagan inspired the station’s complete embrace of punk rock in the 80’s.  F&*k yeah!

There’s a great quote from 1986 by then General Manager Bill Davis: “What KALX stands for, more than anything else, is freedom. KALX doesn’t have a true format. KALX has no predetermined playlists. In general, KALX’s policies are designed to give programmers, reporters, producers, and sports announcers maximum flexibility, responsibility, and freedom. And that gives the listener the opportunity to hear things on the radio at 90.7 that he or she would never hear anywhere else on the dial. If that freedom is important, call 642-5259 to keep KALX independent.”

It’s still true today.  They play everything.  Ambient, disco, funk, hip-hop, punk rock, indie pop, country, bluegrass, classical, the list goes on… I can’t tell you how much amazing music I’ve discovered listening to KALX over the years.  I always keep pen & paper handy so I can jot down who I’ve heard when the DJ comes on air and announces their playlist.  Or even better, now you can go straight to the website and see the entire playlist for the last 24 hoursThank you KALX!

So please, support your local independent radio station.  You love freedom, don’t you? KALX is holding it’s annual Fall Fundraiser right now!  It’s one week only and we’re already mid-way there… drive ends this Sunday, October 31st.

They’ve got all kinds of schwag for your hard-earned cash:  bumper stickers, t-shirts, sticky notes, etc.  But they’ve got great packages too where they’re giving away limited edition cd packages, concert tickets, and more.  And one of my favorite donation options is to buy an hour of guest DJ time.  I did this two years ago… for 100 bucks (I was feeling flush then!) I purchased the right to join Alisa, Queen of the Cowbell, in KALX’s underground lair for an hour of spinning tracks of my own choosing, and even speaking on air.  It was awesome!

So please… take the next few days to tune into KALX… 90.7 on your FM dial.  Or you can find them on the internet (info here), and through iTunes (go to Radio->College/University->KALX). And call them up with your donations…

Support Freedom on the airwaves!

note: image above found on Facebook, no info on artist.  sorry.

SIBLEY – Volcanic History, Labyrinths, & Amazing Sunsets

I want to get back to my sum-sum-summertime thread of fun stuff to do while the days are long and afternoons are warm (though these last few morning have been foggy and brrrrr!) So far I’ve covered our local swimming hole (Lake Temescal), musical theater under the stars (Woodminster Theater), the best movie palace in the East Bay (Grand Lake Theater), and today we’ll be exploring Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, and man, there’s a lot to it for such a small park!

sibley regional volcanic preserve, round top, east bay hiking trails

east bay wildflowers, pink wildflowers, east bay hiking trails

view of Mt. Diablo, Sibley hiking trail

Located on the border of Oakland via Skyline Boulevard, Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve is actually in Contra Costa County proper and is managed as part of the East Bay Regional Park District. The park, similar to others in the East Bay hills, hosts a network of interconnected trails meandering over grassy hills, through woodland forests, and along vista-viewing ridgetops.  What this park has that the others don’t are some really fantastic features:

  1. An extinct volcano and its geological remnants, exposed for study.
  2. At least four, perhaps five, constructed labyrinths for meditative meanderings.
  3. Amazing views of the sun sinking into the bay.


Sibley is the site of a 10 million year old volcano complex, responsible for most of the lava rocks underlying our East Bay ridgeline from Berkeley down to Moraga. The volcano was created as a result of the forces on the two major continental plates in the region (the Pacific Plate carrying the Pacific Ocean, and the North American Plate carrying California among other things).  Most of us know it’s the friction between these two plates that causes our earthquakes today, but did you know this force was also responsible for volcanos?  As the plates collided, the Pacific Plate dipped below the North American, plunging into the Earth’s depths to be heated and melted into magma, to later rise back to the surface as lava. Cool, huh?

There’s actually a series of volcanoes that follow this collision path, but Sibley is completely unique due years of geologic folding and erosion that literally tilted the volcano on its side, and additional quarrying of the site (harvesting materials for road building, etc.) that further exposed its guts.  No other volcano in California has an interior exposed to this degree.

The park is dotted with numbered sign posts and visitors are encouraged to discover the more interesting features through a self-guided tour (info provided in park brochure). There is also an interactive display at the parking area hosting information about the park’s geology (from Paleozoic era onward), wildlife, plants, and more…

sibley interactive displays, sibley volcanic preserve

grassland in sibley, east bay grasslands, east bay hills

plant life in sibley, east bay hiking,


Anyone who’s hiked the trails of Sibley has likely discovered at least one of the labyrinths tucked into the nooks and valleys of this park… there are at least four.

According to Webster’s Dictionary a labyrinth is “an intricate combination of paths or passages in which it is difficult to find one’s way or reach the exit” or a “maze of paths.” But this does not seem entirely accurate (at least not in this context).  Wikipedia offers this:

In colloquial English labyrinth is generally synonymous with maze, but many contemporary scholars observe a distinction between the two: maze refers to a complex branching (multicursal) puzzle with choices of path and direction; while a single-path (unicursal) labyrinth has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to the center. A labyrinth in this sense has an unambiguous route to the center and back and is not designed to be difficult to navigate.

These are the types of labyrinths that exist at Sibley… there is one way in, and one way out.  With origins dating back centuries to a variety of religions and regions, these are thought to be spiritual and/or meditative exercises, symbolic of pilgrimage. Often the “stones [are] ceremonially placed on the ground to magnify spiritual energy” and typically are laid out in a north-south and east-west orientation. (Friends of the Labyrinth)

In my years of hiking at this park, I believe I’ve come across them all, but strangely enough have never photographed them.  Call it subconscious superstition, or perhaps just stupidity, because now I wish I had some damn photos!  The largest one is just a short walk from the parking area and was created by Helena Mazzariello, a Montclair sculptor and psychic, as “a gift to the world.” You can see it below in this Google map (lower center) as well as smaller one directly above (top third)…

Other labyrinths in the park are unattributed and there is much folklore surrounding their origins and current uses, including full moon rituals by local witches and warlocks. Ahem. Here is another large one, located north west of the Mazzariello Labyrinth…

And here is a smaller heart-shaped one friends and I hiked last week (left, thanks to Tim for the photo):

sibley volcanic regional preserve, east bay labyrinths

It’s always a treat to walk through these, not just for the experience of circling back upon oneself, weaving inward only to be directed back out… like a metaphor for life, but also to arrive at the spiritual center, where previous visitors have left various trinkets – rocks, jewels, feathers, seeds, notes, etc. – whose meaning we can only wonder about.


Last but not least, the sun! A friend of mine lives very close to Redwood Park (another favorite hiking destination) but whenever we get together to tromp through the hills, he always says, “Let’s go to Sibley… let’s go to the sun!”

Unlike many of the other nearby ridgeline parks (Huckleberry, Redwood, Roberts) that have vistas facing East (great views of the reservoirs and Mt. Diablo), Sibley also has clear exposed ridges facing West, exposed to late afternoon sun and gorgeous views of the bay. It’s a sweet spot to watch the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge…

sibley volcanic regional preserve, sibley regional park, east bay sunset, view of golden gate bridge

summer san franciso bay sunset, golden gate bridge,

Additional info…

Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve – KQED QUEST Exploration

The Labyrinths of Sibley

The Sibley Mazes

Grand Lake Movie Magic…

So after spending several sweltering hours in our dirty, heat-trapping, and bug-ridden garage reorganizing everything last Sunday, we decided to treat ourselves to a good ol’ fashioned summer blockbuster movie at a great ol’ fashioned movie palace… The Grand Lake Theater.

Tim knew which movie he wanted to see and when he went online to lookup the movie times, he went straight to the Grand Lake’s info… 7pm.  That set our pace for the rest of our late afternoon project, because frankly, despite the fact that the movie was likely playing at other local theaters at other times, he knew there was no place else I’d rather go.

grand lake movie palace, grandlake theater, rialto cinemas

The Grand Lake Theater is my favorite movie theater in the East Bay for the following reasons:

  1. It’s gorgeous. An old movie palace dating back to the 1920’s, its main auditorium is huge (rare these days) and the decor is elaborate and beautiful, definitely from a bygone era.
  2. They never ever play commercials.  And they never will according to an interview with owner Allen Michaan.  This is practically unheard of and I really know of no other theater that doesn’t except for the Paramount, which only occasionally plays classic movies.
  3. They play first run movies. A great place to see the big blockbusters… especially on opening night. The energy is amazing!
  4. Great location. Plenty of options for dining and/drinks nearby for before or after, or a leisurely stroll around the lake… always lovely.
  5. Their incredible rooftop signage. Only now occasionally lit, due to the extreme expense of running and maintaining, this spectacular rooftop sign is one of the few remaining constructions of its kind, rising over 50 feet above the roofline, with letters as tall as 12 feet!  It’s a real treat to catch it lit at night in all its glory, but it’s also a stunning Oakland landmark by day, everyday.
  6. Independently & locally owned and operated!
  7. The Mighty Wurlitzer played on Friday and Saturday nights. Taking you back to a simpler time, and often featuring a musical medley of classic soundtrack songs, this wholesome entertainment surprisingly sets an almost reverential tone for the big screen movie experience. Here’s a shot of the organ player on one of my weekend night visits…

mighty wurlitzer, organ player grand lake, grand lake theater organ

The Grand Lake was opened in 1926 by West Coast Theaters (also responsible for Oakland’s Fox Theater) as a vaudeville show and silent movie house. The Mighty Wurlitzer was a common feature of theaters dating to this era – its purpose to provide accompaniment to the silent movies.

I didn’t feature this theater in my Art Deco series because the building has very little in the way of Art Deco design, other than the added Streamline styled marquee.  I’m not sure what year it was added, but below you can see a historical photo from 1926 without the marquee.

grand lake theater circa 1926

courtesy acmeron

And below is the marquee from late 2007, adorned with one of the owner’s frequent lefty political rants. People either love this blatant politicking or hate it, some even boycotting the theater in protest. Personally, I find it refreshing to hear a local individual’s voice speaking out in an effort to better our society (regardless of whether I agree with his stances). This is one of the benefits of being independently run… not to be confined to corporate-driven consumer messages.

art deco streamline, streamline marquee, bush cheney political rant, grand lake theater politics

As you can imagine, running an old movie house like this can be quite expensive. When Michaan (technically his company Renaissance Rialto, Inc.) bought the theater in 1980, he spent $3.5 million on renovation and expansion. The balcony was converted into a second theater, and the Grand Lake Theater saw its heyday of profits shortly thereafter with a multi-month run of E.T. (1982) in which lines wrapped around the block.

Later in 1985, two adjacent storefronts were converted into additional auxiliary theaters, both with classic period decor for similar era movie palaces (Egyptian Revival & Moorish). Since then, the expansion of multiplexes like those in Jack London Square and Emeryville has increased competition for movie goers, and profits have dwindled. Owner Michaan is fiercely dedicated to the theater’s preservation however.

“I would feel really, really bad if something happened to this building – if it wasn’t a theater,” Michaan says. “The Grand Lake is special. It’s one of the last of its kind. I sort of feel like I made a lot of money here over the years, and I owe it to the theater, even though it doesn’t make me any money any more.” (For Grand Lake Theater owner, movies must go on (by Peter Hartlaub, SFGate))

Anyone who’s been in the neighborhood recently has surely noticed the new paint job the exterior has received, huge scaffolding set up on all sides of the building. Improvements like this, plus the new roof and recently added 3D projection system (comparable to Pixar’s private screening auditorium) don’t come cheap. It’s all part of Michaan’s effort to woo the public back to the “classic golden age of Hollywood moviegoing experience.” I hope he succeeds.

This gem is one of my favorite things about living in Oakland.

And here’s a wonderful little film featuring interviews with the theater’s owner, the wurlitzer organ player, the general manager, and projectionist. It’s fascinating, featuring history, finances (did you know ticket sales cover only the costs for the studio films and the PG&E bill?), and a neat glimpse at that amazing sign on the roof and the mechanics behind it…

More info…
Grand Lake Theater on Yelp
Grand Lake Theater on Flickr
Grand Lake Theater on Cinema Treasures (interesting comments thread)

Sum Sum Summertime Summertime Summertime!

Hey all… looks like I unofficially abandoned my blog last week. My apologies… June was tough and I’m hoping that now that I’ve officially moved (and mostly unpacked), celebrated two birthdays, hosted our first gathering, and nearly finished the remodel projects on my loft, that July will be a bit smoother sailing…

As last weekend’s temps hit into the 80’s and my BBQ guests wilted into the shady patches of my yard, I decided it might be nice to feature some of the best summertime hang spots in Oaktown. Here’s one of my favorites…

Lake Temescal (in Temescal Park)

oakland summer swimming spots, Temescal Park

Named for the Temescal Creek that flows into this waterway, this gem is perched at the intersections of highways 24 and 13 in the Oakland foothills, and as far as I know, is the only unclorinated body of water available for swimming in Oakland, other than the bay and your bathtub.

The creek was dammed in 1868 to create a drinking water reservoir for the greater East Bay.  According to Wikipedia, “the bulk of the manual labor of removing soil and digging to bedrock was provided by Chinese immigrants, who probably immigrated to work to build the railroads, [and] herds of wild mustangs were used to compact the tons of dirt that were brought to create the dam.”  Can you imagine herds of wild mustangs in the hills?

Temescal Park (including the lake) opened in 1936 as one of the East Bay Regional Park District’s first three parks.  It features lovely lawns (ideal for croquet, badmitton, etc), picnic areas galore under mature shady  trees, and small trails that skirt the lake. I’ve hosted at least three birthday parties here and they’ve all been beautiful fun-filled days!

lake temescal, oakland picnic spots, oakland swimming holes

We rushed over there during a particularly searing Saturday (a week ago) when we realized our local pool was already closed due to the late hour of the day…  the beach was packed, the water temperature perfect, and the beach attendant had just put away his cash box.  Woo hoo! (though the $3 fee normally required is certainly reasonable.)

The swimming area is roped off… shallow areas for free swim and a deeper section for lane swimming.  Lifeguards are on duty from 11am to 6pm, but you can swim at your own risk during any open park hours – 5am to 10pm – though the lake is closed to swimming from November thru March.

There’s a nice little beach area for sunbathing, a historic beachhouse constructed from stone by the WPA in 1940, and trails that surround the lake providing access for fishing.  The lake is stocked in the summer with catfish and rainbow trout in the winter, but also hosts largemouth bass, red-eared sunfish, and bluegill.

I love this spot!

NOTES:  parking lots are $5 and dogs are not allowed on swimming beach or in swimming area of lake

beach at lake temescal, oakland swimming holes, temescal park

Garden of Memory ~ Summer Solstice Concert

Did anyone check out this event?  I did.

I try to go every year and it’s easy to plan ahead because they always hold this event on the Summer Solstice, in the fantastical venue of the Chapel of the Chimes.  If you haven’t seen this incredible building, it’s one of the most precious architectural gems in Oakland… a real treasure.  So much so I think I’m going to dedicate a separate post just to the Chapel. But for now, let’s talk about this awesome event…

garden of memory, summer solstice concert, new music bay area

The event is organized by New Music Bay Area, an organization of composers, musicians, and new music lovers dedicated to promoting contemporary music in the local community. 

So what exactly is “new music”? It’s obviously contemporary, but it’s more than that.  I’m probably not the best person to explain it, but it seems to be primarily experimental in nature.  This is accomplished through any number of means… unusual treatment of conventional instruments (eg – using the body of a standup bass as a percussive instrument), unusual instruments (ie – fabricated concoctions out of organic or electronic materials), unconventional musical arrangements where genres are mixed, boundaries are pushed, and outcomes are completely unpredictable, and more.

It’s often not the easiest stuff to listen to, but as one who is completely uninterested in Top 40 music, and often bored by conventional mainstream music (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus… ho hum), I find this stuff fascinating.

This year there were just under 40 separate performances and an incredibly wide spectrum of musical styles and genres was covered…   It’s nearly impossible to see everything, but half the fun is wandering through the incredible labyrinth of rooms that comprise the Chapel of the Chimes to see what one can discover.

Here are some pics and video from my exploration…

new music bay area, summer solstice concert, garden of memory

This was the first performance I saw… Laura Inserra playing a type of drum that I have never even seen before. Completely mesmerizing…

This musician had fashioned a very Dr. Seussian contraption of an instrument… long plastic tubing from his trumpet climbed around the room, terminating in “speakers” made from the hollowed out gourds of seaweed. Crazy, right? It sounded amazing.

bay area new music, garden of memory concert

bay area new music, dr seuss, organic musical instrument

Here is Larnie Fox with The Crank Ensemble… I’ve seen these guys numerous times over the years. It’s always good fun. Wielding homemade instruments of the most unusual designs (and I do believe every one has to have a crank), all mic’d and connected through a sound board for amplification and sound mixing, they performed while two directors communicated changes to them through a series of small handwritten signs. Hilarious.

A short snippet here of a guitarist performing in one of the tiny cloisters… (regretfully I did not get the artist’s info)

summer solstice experimental music concert

Another brief snippet of the performance of Adam Fong, Ken Ueno, and Edward Schocker. I was particularly fascinated by the incredible sounds that were generated from these vases of water…

This installation (below) by Maggi Payne was really cool. She basically constructed a series of small devices to act as musical instruments, each triggered by the flowing water of a fountain. Essentially, the fountain was conducting its own mini orchestra. She was able to change the instruments by tapping an orchid linked to a motherboard programmed with varying instrument groupings. Incredible.

bay area new music, summer solstice concert

bay area new music, garden of memory

Last, here is a beautiful piece performed by the women’s vocal ensemble Kitka

If you’re at all interested in this kind of music/performance art, there’s a cool event this weekend on Sunday evening at the lovely Kaiser Rooftop Garden near Lake Merritt…

Scenes from a Lingering Garden
Sunday 6/27
5 – 8pm

$5 donation suggested

From the website…

Oakland sound artist and composer Hugh Livingston presents “scenes from a lingering garden”, a combination performance and installation covering the 3.5 acres of the Kaiser Rooftop Garden in Oakland.

A field of gongs will occupy a back corner of the garden, designed and engineered by Matthew Goodheart.

Roving instrumentalists add to the mix of hidden speakers in magnolia trees, ornamental firs and a black bamboo grove. The soundscapes are composed from sounds of Oakland and around the world, calling attention to the presence of wind, water and birds. The scenes are a set of variations, providing different views of similar musical material, without a driving component of time, allowing each visitor to experience the composition at their own pace and according to their own tastes.