Tag Archives: art deco buildings

What is Art Deco?

Art Deco was an international design movement popular in the 1920’s and 30’s, focused on themes of luxury, technology, modernization, and craftsmanship. The movement was born in Paris, an outgrowth of the previous Art Nouveau movement that was declining in popularity at the turn of the 20th century.

Art Nouveau (French for “new art”) focused on the importance of artisan craftsmanship, and typically featured organic motifs of flowers & plants, and/or highly stylized curved forms. Art Deco retains many of the same inherent aesthetic qualities as Art Nouveau, but was considered a modernization of the style, and until a comprehensive book was written about it, following an exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 1971 by Bevis Hillier, Art Deco had often been referred to as “Style Moderne.”

Hillier’s book was titled Art Deco of the 20s and 30s, which first popularized the term. He took his title from an exposition held in France in 1925, the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (truncating the words “Arts Décoratifs”). The Exposition was organized by a collective of French artists known as La Société des Artistes Décorateurs (the society of the decorator artists), and its purpose was to demonstrate French artists’ and designers’ dominance as leaders in the world of luxury design. The French are not known for their modesty!  The exposition was originally slated for 1915, but was postposted due to WWI, which had the unlikely effect of expanding the historical influences to the designs presented.

With the increasing ability to travel abroad, and international interest in archeology fueled by discoveries such as the lost city of Pompeii and King Tutankhamun’s intact tomb, artist and designers began incorporating exotic cultures and primitive arts into their design themes. These influences are pervasive throughout the Art Deco movement – Egyptian motifs are prevalent, as well as Grec0-Roman, Babylonian, Azteca, etc. and can be seen in sunburst and zig-zag patterns, staggered tiered/pyramidal structures, pictorial representations and more.

This period of Deco, sometimes referred to as Zigzag Moderne, flourished during the hey day of the post-war roaring 20’s. The economy was booming, people were optimistic, and the lavish yet modern stylings of Deco ushered in this age. Classic examples can be seen in the Empire State Building (pictured below) and Chrysler Building, both built in the late 1920’s in New York.

art deco architecture, empire state building, sunburst pattern, staggered pyramid

As I mentioned last week, I took the tour this past weekend of our incredible Paramount Theatre, “one of the finest examples of Art Deco in the United States,” which displays many of the Zigzag influences as well as references to Art Nouveau, through repetitious use of organic themes of grass, flower, leaf, & vine. I’ll be posting about it later this week, but it’s a lot of material to compose (the Paramount’s website alone has more than 4 pages of history and artists information, so I may need to break it up a bit). We’ll see… Please stay tuned.

As Deco continued to develop throughout the 1930’s more industrial influences can be seen, such as sleek, aerodynamic stylings often referred to as Streamline or Streamline Moderne. Rounded corners, chrome surfaces, and the conveyance of speed influenced everything from buildings to cars to kitchen appliances. The renovated marquee of the Fox Oakland Theater (shown in my last post) is a good example of Streamline design, as is the 1934 Chrysler Airflow pictured below (photo courtesy of Randy Stern on Flickr).

art deco moderne, chrysler airflow 1934

Though a dominant design form through the early 1930’s, Art Deco waned in popularity mid-decade as the Great Depression continued to take its toll. The glitzy elegance and luxurious treatments of Deco-inspired buildings and products were seen as stark reminders of a promised prosperity, never realized. “Moreover, as the threat of a second world war loomed closer and closer, Art Deco was looked upon ever more vehemently. And with the outbreak of WWII in 1939, Art Deco was dead.” (Art Deco Style)

Not truly dead however… Because we have our wonderful historical homages to this period, many of which have been spared the wrecking ball due to their incredible beauty and craftsmanship. I’ll be looking at many of our Oakland Art Deco masterpieces in my coming posts…

Dave Chappelle played Oaktown!

Ok…  I’m backtracking a bit here, so no spoiler alert necessary… I’m sure everyone and their brother knows by now that Dave Chappelle played a great, relatively new (opened in October 2009), little club in Oaktown called The New Parish.  What folks may not know, is that I was lucky enough to see one of these shows.  Woo hoo!!

First, The New Parish at 18th and San Pablo.  It was called “Town Hall” prior to its new debut last fall, and apparently Dave made a super-secret appearance there in April of 2009 (his first appearance in Oakland since 1996)… not a bad notch to have on your belt.  Prior to its short-lived incarnation as Town Hall, the venue was known as Sweet Jimmie’s after its proprietor Jimmie Ward, who opened the club in 1990 (he had a previous location, opened in 1982, but it was damaged during the Loma Prieta earthquake).

“Sweet Jimmie” Ward died just a couple of weeks ago at the age of 74… I’m going to quote extensively from a blogpost I found about his passing (Sweet Jimmie Ward Dies – Aimee Allison | Oakland Seen) because his story fits neatly into the framework I discussed last week, of that first generation of Southern Blacks who came to Oakland in search of better opportunities, to leave their lasting marks on our city:

A former longshoreman, he was one of hundreds of thousands who came from the South to work at the shipyards or on the Army base during World War II and stayed to raise families and start businesses and shape neighborhoods. Ward made Sweet Jimmie’s into the place to go – dressed to the nines – where old soul from Mississippi and Louisiana and Georgia was alive.

Those in Sweet Jimmie’s generation brought small town manners and blues and political organizing and art. They created a legacy and culture in Oakland that defines us today. Now, Oakland’s black population has plummeted under the weight of unemployment and police sweeps and shady mortgages. But you can still see the storefront of the old Sweet Jimmie’s at 577 18th Street in downtown Oakland. Many people don’t know that for many years it was an important meeting place for African-American political and community organizations. It was a center of influence. And while many celebrate the remaking of culture and nightlife in the city, I am taking a moment to mourn what we lost. See, Sweet Jimmie’s wasn’t just another nightclub, Jimmie Ward just another nightclub owner. He represented an era here in Oakland. And that era is over.

While that era may be over, it is no secret that Sweet Jimmie’s nightclub suffered a decline in its later years.  There are some entertaining stories on YelpEven Dave Chappelle did a riff on this during his show, spoofing on the scene from Sixth Sense… “I see dead pimps… and they want me to do things for them!” The crowd roared in hilarity, because before the whole remaking of the Uptown district of Oakland, this little stretch of San Pablo was known to be hella-ghetto, to put it bluntly.

One era ends… another begins… and I am here to loudly celebrate the new era of The New Parish, Uptown, and Oakland at large.

But let’s get back to the show…

For those who don’t know (I didn’t know) Dave is known for his ridiculously long sets… My friend who went to the late show said she left at 4:15 am and Dave was still going strong! We went to the early show… Thank God!

While we lined up outside, we were told that Dave was across the street at the Piedmont Piano Company.  Doing what you might ask?  Well… I assume playing piano.  And if you’re gonna play piano, this is a pretty sweet spot indeed.

piano company, piano company on san pablo, uptown piano company

Housed in the historic California Furniture building, just one of dozens of Art Deco gems in downtown Oakland (stay tuned… I’m hoping to do a whole Art Deco series next month), the new location just opened a few weeks ago. They’re a family owned and operated business, providing not just new and used pianos for sale, but rentals, tuning services, music lessons (including guitar, drums, and more), and recitals. That’s right… they’re utilizing this gorgeous space for live performances too. Next performance is March 13th at 8:00pm Rebel Tumbao…  “merging Roots Reggae and Roots Afro-Latin vibrations with original compositions and wicked arrangements of Bob Marley’s music, all with a critical progressive social message for our times.”  Sounds pretty cool, eh?

But I digress…
waiting in line, dave chappelle, new parish

As we waited in line, we chatted with all the folks who were equally excited to see Dave in such a small venue. I don’t know for sure but my guess would be that the Parish holds about 300 people. The line ran right past the windows of the new restaurant next door, Hibiscus, where Dave would later eat dinner after he tired of his piano playing. I heard from friends the drinks are good. We’ll have to check them out another day…

The Parish staff were ultra-professional and seriously buttoned-up. Notices were posted along the full length of the line about restrictions on photography, video, and most interestingly, heckling… “NO HECKLING WILL BE TOLERATED.” Who the hell would heckle Dave?! Anyway, despite all the notices, the doorman gave us the full verbal run-down as well… You can’t do this, you can’t do that, you will get thrown out. I asked, “Jeeezzz… Are we allowed to laugh?!” Absolutely. Enjoy the show.

new parish, oakland new parish, oakland music clubs

Above is the one and only picture I took inside, taken well before Dave took the stage… there was no way I was getting thrown out of that gig. It’s a pretty bad shot, but it gives you a feel for the space. I’ve been to one other show at the Parish and there was no seating as there was for this show (to enforce the two drink minimum). Typically there’s a nice dance area directly in front of the stage with wrap around areas on three sides and an upstairs with another bar and prime viewing from on-high.

What else can I tell you? Dave was hilarious. Of course. There was a ton of interplay between him and the crowd and I was surprised how conversational the show was… definitely not a scripted routine. The man is smart. And quick. Of course race played a big theme throughout the show, but not just black vs. white and not your stereotypical race-based humor. The crowd was incredibly diverse, as is our city, and Dave poked fun at all of us equally. The female scientist from Tunisia. The hipster Saudi with his trucker cap askew. And the hippy kids from Nevada who entered the club with backpacks in tow. I could try to replay the jokes, but I know they’d fall flat. I’ll just say we all laughed together, at each other, at ourselves, and for me, it was a truly transcendent experience. Props to The New Parish… Thank you!