Category Archives: parks & gardens

Upcoming in Uptown…

So there’s much ado in the Uptown District of Oaktown and it’s all pretty fun and exciting stuff…

uptown sculpture garden, uptown art park

First up, an Art Park / Sculpture Garden. Becks’ Living in the O blog posted about this news late last week with We did it! The Uptown sculpture garden will soon be a reality.  Her post tells the story of a bunch of scrappy folks (activists, bloggers, and blog readers) who fought the good fight against plans to install a large parking lot in the now vacant lot on Telegraph [photo above], in favor of something far more interesting. Against all odds – they were frequently told there were no other viable options for the lot and a motion to approve it was even unanimously passed – they pressed on and proved that a few committed individuals really can make a difference.  And what a difference this will make…

With a $200,000 grant from the NEA to help make the art park a reality:

“The park will include rotating temporary exhibitions of public sculpture, newly commissioned public art projects, and an amphitheater for events by arts and community organizations… [and] the division is partnering with Black Rock Arts Foundation to exhibit works of public art, many by Oakland artists.”

How cool is that? Super cool.

oaksterdam, oakland pot school, new mural for uptown

Next up, a new mural for Uptown. Possibly.  I’m not sure of the status of this project but I was informed a few weeks ago that Oaksterdam University was interested in painting over one of their walls (all white with green lettering) with a more artistic mural depicting the cultural richness of the Uptown area. My understanding is the project was slated to be completed by the end of the year, and that the hope was for local Oakland artists to produce the work.  I heard there was going to be an open proposal process but haven’t heard any specifics since… I’ll keep you posted.

Also, a restored street clock. Remember my post Past & Present about the old Art Deco street clock at 16th and Broadway? Well, apparently the clock is in the process of being restored (this info in from Naomi Schiff, thanks!).  I happened by there a couple of weeks ago with my beau… we were on our way to a show at the Fox, and I said, “Hey!  The clock is gone!”  He thought I had the wrong corner, but I knew I was right.  Hah.  I can’t wait to see the finished product…

And lastly, how about a new Parkway Speakeasy? Ok, this is not a for sure deal, but a group of film lovers, community activists, and entrepreneurs are rallying to re-establish the sorely missed Parkway Picture Pub Speakeasy Theater, and one of their proposed locations is Uptown (they’ve cited difficulties in negotiating with the landlords of the old location).

I, for one, think Uptown would be a fabulous location for a small dual screen theater specializing in eclectic films.  If you think so too, check out their site The New Parkway for more information including multiple ways to get involved and help make this a reality.

Remember, individuals can make a difference.  Go Uptown!

There once was a garden here…

I was in my old hood the other day and passed a fenced in triangle of property at the intersection of 32nd and Union streets. I’ve driven or biked past this spot hundreds of times over the years.

It’s right in front of a couple loft developments, an older converted building called West Clawson Lofts (the building once housed the Clawson Elementary School ) and a newer development called Magnolia Row, built from scratch on the neighboring empty lots in the early 2000’s.

There once was a community garden installed in the small lot. I thought it was wonderful. I never knew who installed it there, but it existed for a year, maybe more, and consisted of raised vegetable beds surrounded by more ornamental flowering plants. One of the cool features was the reuse of old bicycle wheels (without the tires) along the chain link fence. They were used as trellising to encourage climbing plants (like morning glory) to obscure the ugly fence. I thought it was a lovely addition to the neighborhood.

But soon after it was established it was removed. My information is only hearsay so I can’t verify its validity, but someone told me that there was a dispute over the ownership of the lot and that, apparently, the rightful owner was intent upon installing a coffee stand/shop there.

I thought, well it’s a shame the garden is gone. But a coffee stand could be cool too.

It never came.

Years went by, and at one point it seemed promising as a small wood shack was erected inside the fence. But nothing ever followed.

And so for years, we West Oakland neighbors were deprived of our pretty little community garden, and instead, were left with a ramshackle hut inside a weed and litter strewn lot locked inside a chain-link fence. sigh.

empty lot west oakland, vacant lot art installation, west oakland graffiti

But recently some artists have taken measures to reclaim the lot, repurposing the walls of the hut as outdoor gallery space for their art. It currently houses a number of pieces but it looks like the bulk of it was jointly installed by a number of artists working collaboratively: Ras Terms, Dead Eyes, and Safety First included. I’m not sure about other participants.

Ras Terms, Safety First, Dead Eyes, Turnip, empty lot art

collaborative art installation, west oakland graffiti art, empty lot 32nd street

safety first graffiti art, safety first west oakland art

I hope more artists follow suit.

And who knows… maybe one day we could have our garden back too. A peaceful green space to sit and reflect upon the art…

Chasing Spiders…

I warned you things might be sporadic. I didn’t lie.

Today you get spiders. Just because.

oakland california, spiders, spider

backyard spider, california spider

backyard spider, oakland california spider, spider on thread

backyard spider, macro photography spiders

close up photography spiders, backyard spiders, california spiders

All shot today in my backyard, which was actually… a little scary.

Any arachnophiles out there wanna tell me what I’ve got??

Sausal Creek ~ Canyon Trail

This is a good story.  It’s got it all.  Adventure. Discovery. Danger. Sex (well… kissing). And more.  It’s the story of my Sausal Creek exploration last week.  I had hoped to share it last Friday but couldn’t pull it off and still do it justice. I hope you’ll join me now.

First, some background…

I went to my neighbors’ BBQ about a week ago and was speaking with some of their friends about the local area (Upper Dimond/Lincoln Heights)… I had recently discovered a small creek trail and gorgeous greenbelt just a few blocks from our houses on an old closed road that was shut down over a decade ago, thanks to a landslide during the El Niño winter of ’98.

Having lived in the neighborhood for years, and also being outdoorsy hiker-types, one of them asked, “Well do you know Dimond Park?” Sure I know Dimond Park.  I’ve played tennis there, picnicked there, checked out the pool, etc.  “Yeah, but did you know there’s a creek that runs into that park and there are trails you can follow all the way up the canyon that eventually connect to Joaquin Miller?”  No, I did not know this.

So a few days later I set out on my mission of discovery…

I followed my normal route to Dimond Park at the end of the workday – it’s about a 10 minute walk from my house.  But first, I popped down Fruitvale a couple blocks to get a delicious ice cream cone from Flavor Brigade (I was going to need sustenance afterall)…

All kinds of folks were out – playing tennis, walking dogs, strolling with strollers… kids were playing basketball, toddlers were climbing and swinging in the playground, and adult swim lessons were going on in the pool. It was a beautiful slice of community.

I kept walking and spotted the mural featured last week, and then seemed to come upon the end of the park. At least it was what I had always thought of as the end of the park…

Just past a patch of grass beyond the playground area there seemed to be an opening into the woods. As I walked towards it, casting a quick glance over my shoulder, I felt like the parents in the playground were watching me… “now where does she think she’s going?”

I stepped into the forest, and immediately felt like I was in a different world… all woodsy and canopied and dark. From the bustle of an urban park on Fruitvale Avenue to the quiet realm of bugs and newts and trolls, I seriously felt like I had walked through the closet door in the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

dimond park, sausal creek trail

The creek ran along the left side of the trail, water gently trickling over exposed rocks. Old growth oak trees loomed overhead and yellow and brown laurel bay leaves dotted the ground and swirled in the water. Birds chirped and flies buzzed, and there literally was not another human in sight. I followed the path a short while before crossing a small road where the signs (above left and below) were stationed. The trail ducked back into the growth on the other side, and so I followed…

sausal creek hiking, dimond park recreation area

The creek, though low which is normal for summer, was lovely… delicate bright openings in the canopy reflected in slow moving waves. Blackberries and wildflowers grew trailside. Someone had scrawled a message in chalk along the wooden fence marking the edge of the trail… “Where is the LOVE?”
chalk art, graffiti art in nature
Followed by this…
graffiti art in sausal creek

I walked for what seemed ages… I came across no one, except for a young couple making out while standing under a tree about 50 feet to the right of the trail. They didn’t seem to register my presence at all, as their lips were fully locked.

As I continued along the trail taking photos and noting plants and critters, I wondered how far I would have to go in order to get up to Joaquin Miller. I was in an adventurous mood and was willing to press on without knowing for sure how long it might take… it was still early and our July days still long, and I hoped to make a large loop out of my hike, rather than having to backtrack the same way I had come. I pressed on…

Sausal Creek, sausal creek hiking trails

I noticed that parts of the creek had been built up with concrete, stamped “W.P.A. 1939”, yet another project resulting from heavy government stimulus funding post-Depression…
WPA 1939, works progress administration

I know now that the W.P.A. did a number of projects in the canyon including the stabilization and channelization of the creek thanks to A Short History of Dimond Canyon and Sausal Creek by Eleanor Dunn, provided by the Friends of Sausal Creek, a non-profit dedicated to protecting the creek and promoting watershed awareness.

I continued following the trail and came across the only other individuals I would see for the rest of my journey… two goth teenagers running down the trail towards me, chasing each other and laughing.  I asked if they knew where I’d end up if I kept going, and they said they weren’t really sure.  Where did I want to go? I told them I was hoping to make it up to Mountain Blvd or Lincoln or somewhere near the Mormon Temple.  They stammered a bit and said I’d better go back the way I came.  It wasn’t the answer I was looking for, and I decided to dismiss their youthful inexperience…

A few minutes after passing them I spotted something enormous overhead… some kind of landmark.  A bridge.  A big bridge. I was trying to get my bearings and figure out where the hell I was when I spotted the colorful markings of graffiti taggers on the concrete and steel above.  I decided to get a closer look…

Leimert Bridge, Sausal Creek, leimert bridge graffiti

It reminded me of my trip to Amsterdam with friends when we were out bicycling in nature and came across the most amazing batch of graffiti under a highway bridge (Under the Bridge in Amsterdam). I climbed up the steep and dry gravelly banks of the canyon to see if there was anything equally interesting here… Most of it was simple letter writing, which was somewhat disappointing, especially since I was scaling steep and treacherous terrain…

graffiti writing, leimert bridge

But there was one piece that looked amazing. You can see it small in the images above, and a little bigger below as I climbed up under the bridge, rather impressed with my climbing skills, and seriously impressed with this painter’s skills…
Graffiti Face under bridge
I managed to make it safely down from what I know now was the Leimert Bridge.

The bridge, conceived by developer Walter H. Leimert, was completed in 1926 and was the largest single span bridge of its time. “From its intersection at Park Boulevard , the bridge spanned over Sausal Creek and the 325 ft Dimond Canyon. After completion it brought commuter streetcars (the Park Boulevard #18 Car Line spur off the Key System) as well as automobiles into the heart of the new business center and the residential development [at Oakmore Highlands].” (The Leimert Bridge: Historical Background)  Cool, eh?

So back on the trail again, it seemed that hours had passed… the sky was growing dimmer, and I had no idea (despite my bridge landmark) how far I had come or how far I had to go.  I pressed on, but wasn’t entirely convinced of the shall-we-say “smartness” of my plan… the words of the goth kids were echoing in my brain… “you should probably go back.

I kept going but the trail seemed to be getting smaller and the thicket of growth surrounding it, denser. I was torn.  It seemed like it must be shorter to go forward, rather than all the way back that I had come. But I just wasn’t sure. I came to a point where trees had fallen across the trail and I had to crawl under them to keep going.  My sense of doom was growing.  And as I walked on I realized that either the trail had ended, or it was following the creek bed, which was not exactly my idea of casual hiking.

sausal creek hiking, sausal creek culvert

I decided that instead of pushing on through the creek, I would find a shortcut! Yes, intrepid traveler that I am, I would find a way to bypass the whole retracing-my-footsteps-back by cutting up the side of the canyon to the road above. I could see the open sky off to the right and even a house up above a concrete culvert designed to divert water into the creek (see photo, right). I would simply climb up it and pop on out to the road where it would be obvious which way was the shortest way home. Right? Ahem.

Thank god there was no one else hiking that trail that evening because I would have died from sheer embarrassment. I hiked up the culvert to the right and got stuck. I jumped across it (thinking WTF am I doing?!) and tried climbing up the left and got stuck. I was being a complete idiot. I couldn’t help but think that if I lost my footing and crashed my head on the concrete below, despite being free from embarrassment, no one would be there to save me. And my iPhone would be of no use thanks to AT&T’s wonderful reception, despite the exorbitant fees I pay them every month. No… I would die a slow and painful death, immobilized by concussion and broken bones, as possums gnawed my face off in the dark of night.

I carefully made my way down, incredibly grateful for flat ground, and decided to follow the goth kids advice. The kids are our future afterall…

The crazy thing is, I had entered some kind of time warp from Inception where each minute of time in the real world was transformed into 20 minutes of real time in this “canyon world,” because what seemed to have taken me hours on the way in, took about 6 minutes on the way out! I’m not kidding. All of a sudden, in about two blinks of an eye, I was back before the signs at the road crossing, just a short stretch from the playground. Phew, I thought.

A minute later I popped back out of the woods and walked across the grass, pass the playground & towards the pool, and I swear those parents were saying “Now, where did she come from???

Sausal Creek Mural

Spotted this lovely little interactive mural on my stroll through Dimond Park the other day.  For those who haven’t been, this park is a real treasure and now one of my newest frequent destinations in this new neighborhood I’m discovering…

Featuring a recreation center, tennis courts, the Lions Pool, gorgeous picnic & play areas shaded under old growth oaks and redwoods, and hidden trails that lead along Sausal Creek up through 12 acres of restored canyon watershed, Dimond Park is an incredible neighborhood resource.  More on the creek & canyon tomorrow…

dimond recreation center, dimond park, sausal creek mural

sausal creek, dimond rec center, dimond park oakland

Mural produced in 2008 by:

Dimond Rec Afterschool
Ace Arts (friends of Oakland Parks & Rec)
Kristi Holohan

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

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