Category Archives: ghosttown

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

Holiday GUIDE – part II

Only 1 week left (phew)… For those of you who didn’t make it out last weekend due to lousy weather, overindulgence, or more pressing engagements, there are a few more artisan oriented shopping events this weekend, if you still need to pick up some last minute unique and special gifts.  And if you’re not interested in shopping, scroll down (after photo) for other noteworthy events…

Friday, December 18th

  • Smokey’s Tangle Shopping Mall and Holiday Something to do (6pm – 9pm)

    Smokey’s Tangle Art Gallery has turned itself into a mall this December. Get your photo taken with Santa, make a holiday card, test out the chair massager, and listen to demented christmas music all in our heartwarming mall-like atmosphere.

Saturday, December 19th

  • Lil Tuffy @ Kuhl Frames + Art (11am – 4pm)

    The 2nd Annual Exhibition of works by SF designer Lil Tuffy continues with over 225 limited edition screenprinted rock posters for Bay Area, National and European shows. As always, ready-made frames will be available…remember your music and art loving friends this holiday season!

  • Stocking Stuffers Craft Fair @ We Art Space (11am – 4pm)

    Original ready-t0-hang art, and hand-crafted items such as jewelry, clothing, housewares, and more…

Sunday, December 20th

  • Stocking Stuffers Craft Fair @ We Art Space (11am – 4pm)

    Original ready-t0-hang art, and hand-crafted items such as jewelry, clothing, housewares, and more…

holiday lights, circle of lights, mountain view cemetery

Mountain View Cemetery Holiday Circle of Lights

For those of you ahead of the game and actually ready to kick back and enjoy that vacation you’ve been waiting for for months, here are some interesting local oaktown holiday and non-holiday events to check out…  have fun!

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (friday, 12/18)

Mentioned in yesterday’s post too… part of the Paramount’s classic movie series.  Tickets are $5 and include pre-film entertainment. Doors at 7pm… movie starts at 8pm.

Reality Playings: Experiments In Experience/participation Performance (friday, 12/18)

CRITIC’S Choice: East Bay Express… Frank Moore, world-known shaman performance artist, will conduct improvised passions of musicians, actors, dancers, and audience members in a laboratory setting to create altered realities of fusion beyond taboos… Temescal Art Center at 8pm.

Holidays at Dunsmuir Estate (sat/sun, 12/19 – 12/20)

Experience the wonders and classic beauty of the holidays at Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate. Walk back in time through our beautifully decorated mansion, enjoy live holiday music, have breakfast with Father Christmas, find the perfect gift in our Holiday Shops, activities for the kids, and much more!  (11am – 5pm)

Ghost Town Farm Tour (sunday, 12/20)

Due to popular demand, Novella Carpenter is having another farm tour!
When: Sunday, December 20, 11am-2pm
What: Signed copies of Farm City, Goat Town t-shirts, fried green tomatoes, and hot chocolate made with goat milk for sale. Goat snuggling and tours free.
Where: Ghosttown Farm, 665 28th Street, at Martin Luther King

Charlie Hunter at Yoshi’s, Oakland (sunday, 12/20)

Celebrating 10 years of Home for the Holidays CHARLIE HUNTER With Very Special Guest Doug Wamble… saw this show Saturday night… Awesome.
When: Sunday, December 20, 2pm matinee and 7pm shows

“A Christmas Carol, the Musical” at Lisser Theater, Mills College (12/19 – 12/23)

Charles Dickens’ classic gets the full Broadway treatment by the Broadway team of Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Little Mermaid,”), Lynn Ahrens (“Ragtime,” “Seussical”) and Mike Okrent (“Crazy For You,” “Me and My Girl.”)  This spectacular musical retains its emotional power and pure joy, thanks to the marvelously-told story, and the score with beautiful melodies and emotional lyrics.

The Oakland Ballet Performs the Nutcracker (12/24 – 12/27)

The Oakland Ballet Company presents Carlos Carvajal’s Nutcracker accompanied by the Oakland East Bay Symphony, performing the beautiful Tchaikovsky score.

This beloved holiday tradition has a spectacular growing tree, a spirited party, battle scenes, and a trip through the snow forest and the land of the sweets. The San Francisco Chronicle describes Carvajal’s Nutcracker as a “time-tested production, featuring glittering costumes and a live orchestra.”

TICKETS: $15-$50 with student and senior discounts through  or 1-800-745-3000.  Or better yet, avoid the butt-load of convenience charges that Ticketmaster applies by going directly down to Paramount Theatre (Box Office on 21st street – if you bring a non-perishable food item for the Alameda County Food bank, you get at additional 20% off your tickets – not a bad deal!), 2025 Broadway 510-465-6400,

Christmas is here ~ La la la la…

Ok. So it’s December. Can you believe it?!

Believe it.

In fact, you might as well embrace it. Christmas is here. And Hanukkah. And Kwanzaa. And the trees. And the lights. And the sales. And the sweets. And all that holiday cheer. Go on, embrace it. Would you rather be a Grinch?

I wasn’t sure what I was going to feature today. Especially since I just got a nice little write up in Oakland Magazine… thanks OM! It’s been a bit hectic and I haven’t had as much time to devote recently, so I’ve been wingin’ it a little bit. Which can have its own special benefits, but can also be quite challenging.

Tonight, the first thing I came across was in kind of a sketchy neighborhood near me in West Oakland… I wouldn’t usually get out and walk around here, but on the corner of 31st and MLK I saw a guy setting up an alter outside a corner liquor store. It looked pretty elaborate with words written out across the sidewalk in candles and it reminded me of the beautiful altars at the Day of the Dead festival.

I grabbed my camera and got out and asked him what he was doing. He said he was trying to light the candles. I asked if it was art. And he said, “Nah. It’s more like a remembrance for someone who died here the other night.” I said, “A memorial.” And he said, “Yeah.” We said a few more things. It was sad. But his effort at creating something to be experienced and shared was beautiful. And it was art, even if he didn’t know it. It said “R I P Miller.” I decided not to take a picture.

Then, talk about a 180, I came upon this… it’s a Frosty the Snowman merry-go-round inside an igloo ball. Fantastic. And horrible. All at the same time.

frosty the snowman, christmas ball, christmas is here

I decided this didn’t quite capture the essence of holiday spirit I was seeking… I made my way towards Jack London square. On the way I passed the gorgeous Tribune Tower framed by the full moon. I love this building. I thought about buying it in 2006 when it was for sale, but they were asking 12 million dollars for it… just a little bit out of my price range. It actually went for over 15, but that was 2006. Wonder if they’re appealing the assessor’s office for a reassessment… ahem.

oakland tribune tower, tribune tower with full moon, full moon

At Jack London I was hoping to see the giant xmas tree from years past with huge ornaments like mirrored basketballs reflecting back one’s glee. But it wasn’t there. In its place was a stand of geometrically arranged palm trees with green electric disco lights shooting up the trunks in coordinated choreography. I guess that’s progress, eh?

That didn’t quite get me either so I made my way across the street and snapped a couple shots at the Home of Chicken and Waffles on the corner of Broadway and Embarcadero. I love that place. If you haven’t been, you should check it out.  They have a pretty fantastic little art display inside, in addition to the delicious chicken and waffles, real southern style. I love that Santa’s got a chicken leg…

Chicken and Waffle, christmas decorations, jack london square

Don’t be fooled by the empty barstools… it’s kind of a late nite joint.

jack london chicken and waffles

On my way back home I spotted this new? restaurant out of the corner of my eye with a decidedly more elegant display. It’s Mimosa Champagne Lounge and they’ve actually been open for about a year now… guess I’ll have to check them out. They make Christmas look real classy.

mimosa champagne lounge, oakland champagne lounge on broadway

And as I made the home stretch I passed this display…

christmas lights, west oakland, ghetto christmas

Even in the ghetto, folks put in the effort to make things a little special during the holidays. It’s a ritual that crosses cultural boundaries, economic boundaries, etc. And it’s a kind of art. And it brings us all just a bit closer together.

I know I’ll be making Grandma’s special molasses cookies… What’s your ritual?

Crude & Gats

So I’m a little late getting this one up… always so hard to catch up after the long holiday weekends… busy busy busy. And even though this is a new week, it’s the last day of the month and I really wanted to finish up the graffiti focus of last week with the stellar and ubiquitous work of a couple of local artists

“Dead Eyes” is the tag you’ll see on much of one guys work, but he’s a West Oakland artist who actually goes by the moniker “Crude”. I know this because my graf friends tell me these things. Thanks Endless Canvas!

He’s enough of an entity that KQED actually did a brief feature on him as part of their arts program Spark… you can check out the clip here.

I’ve featured his works before… I think the first one was a hand-drawn USPS sticker right outside my home. You can use the search feature to find all the other posts if you’re curious… He does lots of faces with a wide flat nose and thick lips. He embellishes many of them with more ornate elements reminiscent of African masks.

Crude, graffiti art, sticker art, dead eyes sticker

In the shot below, the smaller sticker top right is his… it says “Dead Eyes”… duh. The sticker below and slightly left (with the beard) is the work of another artist named Gats (short for Graffiti Against the System). This is one of his simpler pieces… You’ll see a developing trend…

Gats, gats sticker, gats graffiti art, west oakland graffiti

Here’s another pair… Crude on the left (Army of One) and Gats on the right… This face with the beard seems to be his trademark.

crude sticker art, stickers by crude, dead eyes stickers, dead eyes graffiti, graffit art oakland

A lot of these works seem to be unique hand drawn stickers (rather than mass produced)… maybe that’s why one was ripped off below….

Dead Eyes Stickers, Crude stickers, West Oakland Sticker art, west oakland graffiti

This one below is the most detailed of Gat’s images that I’ve seen…. it’s incredible.

solidarity forever poster, poster art by crude, dead eyes graffiti art, wheat paste

Another Dead Eyes with a handful of other folks…

sticker art by crude, dead eyes stickers

And two more Gats…

wheat paste by gats, gats wheat paste

gats wheat paste, sticker art west oakland, wheat paste by gats