Category Archives: beautiful buildings

How well do you know Oakland? Name these mystery art locations.

It’s our last day abroad and we are back in the buzzing, sweltering metropolis of Athens after several days in the gorgeous Greek Isles. It’s been an amazing trip so far, and though I know the amazement will continue as we head to the Acropolis later this afternoon, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m just a tad homesick for Oakland.

So in homage to my hometown, I’m posting a small collection of random art snapshots from various locations throughout the city, and I’m curious to see how many of these you recognize.

So let me know how well you know Oakland… can you name the locations of these art pieces???  Post your answers in comments and we’ll see who gets the most right! (no cheating please)

Eyes Mural

1. Eyes Mural

Crest with Dragons

2. Dragons & Crest

Church of the Buzzard

3. First Church of the Buzzard

Metal Flower Sculpture

4. Conservashun Flower

Love Oakland Mural

5. Love Oakland Mural

Metal Man Sculpture

6. Metal Man

skull mural, black and white skull

7. Skull Mural

Summer Solstice fun in Oakland, and across the world.

Last night we landed in Greece. Yes, Greece! We flew into Athens around midnight, seeing the merest hint of this 8-million person city, just a smattering of city lights surrounded by a sea of blackness. We arrived at our hotel around one o’clock in the morning while locals were flocking to nearby bars to watch the World Cup game between Greece and Japan, but we were ready to collapse after 24 hours of grueling travel and turned in for a scant four hours of sleep. We rose before the sun in order to catch our transport to the ferry, and while driving to the terminal the sun peeked over the low slung hills as we caught our first real glimpse of the city and the gorgeous blue water surrounding it. Now, as I type this, we are soaring across the Aegean Sea on a ferry the size of the Love Boat, on our way to the island of Naxos. You hate me, right?

athens-small

We’re here for the marriage of our dear friends who are tying the knot on this mythical Greek island on the eve of the longest day of the year, the summer solstice. Our attendance is mandatory since Tim is serving as the ceremony officiant, responsible for the hefty task of ritualizing their union, just as his friend did for us nearly a year ago. I can’t think of a more wonderful favor to return. We know it will be a truly magical event and feel incredibly blessed to be invited to participate.

It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that I’ll be missing one of my favorite solstice events: the Garden of Memory concert in the Chapel of the Chimes, one of my favorite places in Oakland. The building is one of the most beautiful and historic in Oakland, originating in the early 1900’s and largely redesigned in 1928 by the amazing Oakland-based architect Julia Morgan, one of the first major female architects. The building features a labyrinth-like maze of Moorish and Gothic-inspired rooms, each adorned with unique and ornate stonework, statues, gardens, fountains and mosaics. Needless to say, these rooms make for some amazing acoustics, which is why the chapel and columbarium serve so well as the home for this magical musical experience.

My hope is that some of you will go in my stead, to experience this unique celebration. The concert takes place from 5-9pm this Saturday, June 21st. Parking will be limited so carpooling or public transportation is suggested. You can get a sneak preview on the Garden of Memory website below which includes program and schedule information for this year as well as archives of past years dating back to the first concert in 1996, nearly two decades ago. I also wrote a post about my last visit in 2010 (despite my love for this event, without fail I seem to be out of town on the solstice).

Chapel of the Chimes
4499 Piedmont Avenue
www.gardenofmemory.com
Saturday, June 21st  5-9pm

So I’ll be away from Oakland for a little over a week, but do please stay tuned because I’m planning to get some fun posts up while I’m gone, including several mystery location photos to test how well you really know Oaktown…

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)

Woodminster Theater: Cathedral in the Woods

Ok kids… it’s time for our summer musical kickoff!!!

Uh oh, I can hear a few of you groaning already…

I’ll admit it… I have a few friends (not to be named) who’d rather have splinters driven under their fingernails than be forced to sit through hours of song & dance.  But I feel bad for them.  I really do, because for me (someone who saw Grease at least 14 times and, decades later, still knows every song word for word), this is pure summertime bliss…

Imagine  yourself perched above the fray of the city, nestled into a 1940’s amphitheater tucked into the redwood forest of Oakland’s hills, the sun is sinking low, and you see the first twinkling star pierce the indigo sky as the actors take the stage… this is the scene every summer at the Woodminster Amphitheater (dubbed Oakland’s Cathedral in the Woods) located in Joaquin Miller Park.

joaquin miller park, art deco outdoor amphitheater, woodminster theater

The Woodminster Summer Musicals

“The Woodminster Amphitheater is a classic open-air performance facility that seats 1500. In its early years, it was host to a variety of performances, pageants, and events. Then, in the summer of 1967, a fledgling Oakland arts organization called Producers Associates began to produce Broadway musicals at the Woodminster Amphitheater. A beloved Oakland tradition was born. ”

For  those who haven’t been to this hidden spot, the venue is quite similar to the Greek Theater in Berkeley, though smaller, more comfortable (real seats rather than concrete), and quite a bit more picturesque.

Woodminster Cascades, woodminster amphitheater and cascades, joaquin miller

Built in 1941 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project (I’ve been covering a lot of these lately, eh?), the art-deco amphitheater and its associated “Cascades” (a stunning series of waterfalls, fountains, and reflecting pools built into the hillside) were dedicated as a memorial to California’s writers.  In fact, “the trees and other vegetation along the Cascades… are designated Writers Memorial Grove, and individual plantings are dedicated to California’s great authors, including Joaquin Miller as well as Bret Harte, Jack London, Mark Twain, Dashiell Hammet, Ina Coolbrith, and many others.”

Woodminster Amphitheater, Joaquin Miller outdoor amphitheater

Joaquin Miller Park, Woodminster Theater, woodminster amphitheater

A portion of the park was originally land owned by “Poet of the Sierras” Joaquin Miller, who “settled on 70 acres of grassy hillside, which he purchased parcel-by-parcel in the hills above the ‘City of the Oaks.'” He built numerous structures and monuments on the land (still present today) and coordinated the planting of over 75,000 trees (many also still standing today, though we now know these to be non-native and not necessarily ideal… eucalyptus, monterey pine, etc) all in an effort to create an inspirational artists’ retreat.

After his death, the Oakland Parks Department purchased the land from his estate, later adding adjacent redwood groves.  “Today, Joaquin Miller Park covers more than 500 acres. Many of its trails lead to adjacent Roberts and Redwood Regional Parks, which are part of the East Bay Regional Park System. ”  But I digress.

joaquin miller park, cascades, east bay outdoor amphitheater

east bay parks, oakland parks

Back to our summer musicals…

The opening show of the season is going to be fantastic… John Waters’ classic Hairspray.  Waters has been touring the PR circuit recently (NPR, Colbert Report, etc.) touting his new book Role Models so he’s been on my mind a bit, and I’m excited to see this revival.

woodminster amphitheater

woodminster amphitheater

Tonight is the final dress rehearsal at 8pm… get your sneak preview on for just $10. Otherwise show officially opens this Friday, July 9th and will run through July 18th. Adult tickets run from $25 to $40 (depending on seats), but group discounts are available, and all kids 16 and younger are admitted FREE (with paying adult).  Ticket info here.  Don’t forget to dress warmly… bring layers and blankets; it can be quite chilly at night.

See you at the show!

More info…
Woodminster Theater on Yelp

Burns and Byron
In men whom men condemn as ill
I find so much of goodness still.
In men whom men pronounce divine
I find so much of sin and blot
I do not dare to draw a line
Between the two, where God has not.

~ Joaquin Miller

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.

WPA Murals at the Courthouse

So remember a few months ago (actually, January… yikes!) when I went to The Alameda County Courthouse?  I mentioned a couple of imposing marble mosaic murals that somehow, despite their large size (15 feet tall) and proximity to the main entrance of the building, I missed.

Well, I was back at the Courthouse last Friday and can happily say, I’ve seen them now and am bringing them to you a mere 6 months later.  Phew.

First an explanation…  The main entrance and lobby which feature the lovely artworks, are no longer the main entrance and lobby.  The entire area has been cordoned off, and signs warn visitors that venturing beyond the ropes will set off the alarm system.  Did I listen? Of course not.

I wasn’t going to try to exit that part of the building which has now, sadly, been designated an emergency exit only.  But I was going to sneak closer to get a few better shots of these beauties…

The alarms signaled immediately. That’s it, I thought.  I’m done for. They’re coming for me.  But I might as well get the shots!

I probably set that damn alarm off five times before a security guard came and said, “Hey, you’re setting the alarm off.”  But I just want to take a picture of the pretty artwork sir. “OK.”  And then he left.  Nice security.

marble mosaic murals, terrazo floors, alameda county courthouse

Here are the two murals, mosaics created out of colored marble with backing of silver and gold leaf… created through the WPA (Works Progress Administration), a federal funding program that was established in 1935 to “provide economic relief to the citizens of the United States who were suffering through the Great Depression.” Think stimulus funds, but 75 years ago. Amazingly, a significant chunk of this money went to fund art projects. (wpamurals.com)

The murals, designed by Marian Simpson and sculpted by Gaetano Duccini were completed in 1938.  The first depicts Native American and Hispanic history of Alameda County, while the second portrays the settlement of the area by frontier settlers.

marble mosaic mural, marian simpson marble mural, alameda county courthouse

marble mosaic murals, WPA murals, courthouse murals, marian simpson marble murals

I’m in awe of the fact that these are constructed out of colored stone…. it’s some incredible craftsmanship. It’s too bad we can’t readily view them as they were intended to be viewed.

Rather you must now enter the courthouse through a side door to pass through “airport security” before entering the building.  And should you want to sneak a peak, you can do so only while sirens wail as you wait for the man in the uniform to come for you.

Mormon Temple

Like a giant night light in the sky, this glowing beauty guides me towards my new home…

mormon temple, lincoln heights, glowing spaceship

Pics shot with my iPhone, these two after hoofing it up the hill a bit…

glowing church on hill, church of latter day saints

oakland mormon temple, glowing spaceship on hill

More on this in a future post…