Tag Archives: lake merritt

The Heart of Our City

So I want to wrap up my focus on Lake Merritt… we’ve talked about the stunning architecture of the two catholic churches poised at each end of the lake… and we’ve explored the lovely gardens tucked into Lakeside Park. I would be remiss if I failed to mention some other fantastic developments happening around the lake.


In 2002, Oakland voters overwhelmingly passed Measure DD, a $198 million bond measure designated to “improve water quality; provide educational and recreational facilities for children; clean up Lake Merritt; restore Oakland’s creeks, waterfront and estuary; preserve and acquire open space; renovate parks;” and more. And it’s all happening now…

Here’s a summary of the projects around the lake:

1) Lakeside Drive – improvements to Lakeside Drive including installation of bike lane (yes!), new trees & landscaping (yes!), and conversion of the old defunct boathouse office facility into a new lakeside restaurant (yes!) It’s all done folks, and it looks awesome!  Here are a few pics of the restaurant, which I haven’t had the chance to check out yet, but it looks like great spot to meet for a bite and a drink after work.

It was opened in August with a ribbon cutting ceremony officiated by Mayor Ron Dellums, celebrating its 100th anniversary. He said, “What a tremendous pleasure to stand here 100 years later and celebrate not only the renovation of these architectural gems, but the restoration of our parks and waterways that our children and grandchildren may enjoy for the next 100 years.”




2) Lakeshore Avenue – improvements to Lakeshore Avenue including installation of bike lanes (yes!), improvements to the recreational trail including a new planting strip designed to buffer it from the roadway (yes!), over 8 acres of renovated planting and irrigation with over 100 new trees installed (yes!), pier reconstruction, and plenty of new seating areas. This too is done, and it looks fantastic!

3) 12th Street -redesign of the current 12-lane expressway at this end of the lake to a slower, scenic boulevard more congruous with the adjacent park setting.  To this end, the expressway will be reduced to 6-lane tree-lined boulevard, allowing for construction of a shoreline park, and installation of bike lanes (yes, yes, and yes!)  Additionally, the Lake Merritt Channel (waterway that feeds the lake) is going to be improved allowing for greater tidal circulation into the lake. (This project slated to be finished in 2011).

Which reminds me… did you know that Lake Merritt is not a lake at all?  It’s actually a tidal lagoon that is fed by the bay.  It’s salty!  And it’s teeming with life…everything from mussels to 4-inch fish to even small sharks, plenty of delicious food for the large population of birds… all kinds of ducks, geese (watch out for the poop!), coots, gulls, night herons, egrets, pelicans, and more.

And did you know that Lake Merritt is the oldest wildlife refuge in the United States (established in 1870)?  It’s true! And it’s smack in the middle of our city… amazing!




The Gardens continued…

Here’s my wrap up on The Gardens… I just had to inject a little punk energy following the serenity of the Asian gardens. Hope you don’t mind.

There are several more gardens that comprise “The Gardens at Lake Merritt”: Bay Friendly, Edible, Sensory, Mediterranean, Palm, Rhododendron, and more. It’s really quite impressive.

There are a few different entrance gates into the gardens from Bellevue Avenue; I used the gate nearest the Boathouse which takes you right into the Edible Garden (aka Lakeside Kitchen Garden) on your left and the Sensory Garden on your right.

The Edible Garden focuses on food….duh. Through the Community Gardening program, these plots of land are open to all members of the community for stewardship, and master gardeners are available to teach organic gardening methods, composting, best practices for water conservation, how to attract bees & butterflies (the all-important pollinators), and much much more. The program also works in partnership with local schools and youth service programs to teach kids about nutrition, sustainability, and community involvement in the midst of a beautiful natural setting.



The Sensory Garden, previously called the Herb & Fragrance Garden, was recently renovated and redesigned, incorporating new seating areas, tactile oriented pathways, and more drought tolerant plants.  Volunteers meet every Tuesday evening from 5:00 – 7:00 pm to maintain the garden.



And here are a couple of shots of the Palm Garden, or palmetum, which was established in the park nearly 30 years ago and includes over 80 varieties of cool weather Mediterranean and high altitude tropical species and hybrids. It’s the largest collection of its kind in the United States. Woo hoo!!



What is Art?

I taught a high school photography class last year at a charter school in Richmond… though most of the kids had cell phones with cameras and were fond of taking quick snaps of each other striking poses, few had been exposed to the idea of photography as art, or even the idea of Art itself.

I put together a handout for them that they begrudgingly plodded their way through, then promptly discarded as they raced out the door at the sound of the bell.  What I realize now is that it was way over their heads.  The idea of Art is a heady one indeed.

The definition I came up with after consulting various sources was this:

Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions.”

There was more to it than that, but that’s it in a nutshell.  And if you agree with that definition, which I personally do, then all kinds of things can be considered Art.  The “elements” one is arranging can be paint, paper, fabric, metal, concrete, words, one’s own body parts, the ingredients of a pie, a pocketful of pennies, plants in a garden, the list is really endless

And what I’d like to focus on for the next couple of days are the gardens, specifically The Gardens at Lake Merritt. As I mentioned the other day, I truly feel that these are a little known secret that need to be exposed to the world. They’re fantastic and my pictures do not do them justice, as I was there during the not-so-pretty light of the middle of the day and was too lazy to go back and get better pictures later. Sorry.

The Gardens are a seven-acre collection of themed gardens… today we’ll look at the Asian gardens: Bonsai, Torii Gate, and Japanese.


The Bonsai Garden is Northern California’s only public bonsai collection and is home to over 200 amazing specimens, though they are rotated frequently, so generally around 50 are on display at any given time. This demonstration garden has some rather historic (and artistic) features including the oldest documented bonsai in the United States, as well as many viewing stones (suiseki), a dry waterfall and stream-bed, and an authentic Japanese garden gate (no nails or screws). The garden was developed and continues to be supported exclusively by volunteers and donations, so don’t forget to throw a few bucks in the basket, or better yet, donate some time (contact bonsailakemerritt@gmail.com).



Just west of the Bonsai Garden is the Torii Gate, a traditional Japanese gate commonly found at the entrance to Shinto shrines; it marks the entrance into a sacred space. The original Torii gate was a gift to the City of Oakland in 1969 from our sister city Fukuoka, Japan. Did you know we had a sister city there?? I didn’t. Fukuoka has many features similar to Oakland… it’s a port city, has a similar moderate climate, experiences occasional earthquakes, and is praised for its green spaces in a modern metropolitan setting.

The gate was rebuilt in 2002 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the sister city relationship by the Oakland Fukuoka Sister City Association (OFSCA), which is dedicated to fostering and promoting cultural awareness, understanding, and friendship between the peoples and cities of Oakland and Fukuoka. For more information, please visit http://www.oakland-fukuoka.org.



Ok… you still with me?! There’s one more. It’s actually called The Japanese Garden, and is not immediately adjacent to these other two, so you’ll have to do a bit of exploring, but then again, that’s half the fun! The garden was built back in 1959 by members of the Japanese-American community under the direction of designer Hisaichi Tsugawa, and recently received some necessary improvements to the aging gate at the hands of local wood-working artist Jay van Arsdale and many of his students from Laney College. It’s quite lovely… please check it out.


Grand Lake Love.

So I spent a good chunk of my Saturday meandering around Lake Merritt and the Grand/Lake area… I started at the Farmers Market which is simply awesome and definitely one of my favorite things about Oakland.  It’s a wonderful combination of fresh farm produce & flowers, prepared foods, artisan goods, live music, and more.  They even have a stand with massage therapists & tables ready to ease any remaining work-week stress right out of you!  I made my way to the food court where a great lo-fi funk band was playing… I think they were called Sprocket (not sure about this though).  Check out these little tykes… they were totally groovin’!


Then I pedaled around the lake… and at 11:45am sharp, the bell tower of The Lady of the Lourdes church (featured last week) started chiming what I believe is a portion of one of Beethoven’s symphonies… it played for several minutes, which I honestly had never heard before. Pretty cool.

As I rounded the next corner, I came upon a group of about 50 people on a lawn section adjacent to the lake, doing the Thriller dance.  Yes, Michael Jackson’s Thriller.  They were doing it without the music, but anyone who knows the video (is there anyone who doesn’t?) knows this dance!  A group of random passerbys (myself included) stopped to gawk and laugh.  It was quite hilarious.

What I’ve since learned, is that this group (and others) are preparing for an attempt at the Guinness World Record for the largest simultaneous worldwide dance to Thriller on October 24th (called Thrill the World).  It’s just a week away folks, so if you want to get in on this ridiculous fun and dress up like a zombie and get down with the funky grooves, there’s one last rehearsal scheduled for this Thursday, October 22nd.  Click here for full rehearsal schedule as well as a link to practice the dance at home.  How can you not love this???

After leaving the zombies-in-training, I parked my bike and spent a lovely time strolling through The Gardens at Lake Merritt. It’s amazing how many people cruise the lake every day – bicycling, pushing their strollers, running their dogs – but how few people know of this gem. Located on the north side of the lake within Lakeside Park, the gardens are comprised of a seven-acre collection of themed gardens. I’ll have more info on this in the next couple of days, and will be focused most of this week on all the cool things that are happening around Lake Merritt. It’s really the heart of our city.

And something new…

Catholicism isn’t really my cup of tea… all this business about sinning! But if there were ever something that might make me want to convert, it would undoubtedly be the experience of walking into this church. It’s like no church I’ve ever seen.

The building was designed by architect Craig Hartman of the San Francisco firm of Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill. You might recognize his work from another famous Bay Area structure… the international terminal of SFO. Having just been there days ago, there are definite stylistic similarities, in use of materials (especially metal and glass) and in the manipulation of space and light.

What’s different is the feeling you have when you enter the Cathedral of Christ the Light. And you do feel something.

It is considered to be one of the most “riveting examples of recent architecture” in the Bay Area, and I think I can speak for many when I say, we are happy to claim it as our own in good ol’ Oaktown.




Though the architecture is truly modern, it has “strong underpinnings in traditional religious architecture, such as the concentric plans of Renaissance chapels, or the manipulation of light in Baroque churches.” This information, and much more about its design, can be found here, on Architectural Record’s website.


There is a small memorial garden dedicated to the victims of clergy sexual abuse.


And below is a shot in the crypt/mausoleum in the the lower level of the building, which is quite stunning in itself, and incorporates the original 1870 stained glass windows taken from the previous church (Cathedral of Saint Francis de Sales) which was damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. We’ll be talking more about that tomorrow…



So here’s something random I came across yesterday… These are wheat pastes, which are essentially home made stickers.  These were spotted around Lake Merritt on the bases of a few light fixtures.  I’ll be covering Lake Merritt in more depth in upcoming posts… there a lot going on there right now.

Each base had a bunny/carrot cartoon on one side, and what seems to be a piece of newsprint on the other.  I have no idea if this was all done by one artist, or a pair, each claiming one side.  In either case, it’s pretty weird.


Wheat paste is commonly used by graffiti artists to hang posters & smaller applications and is a simple solution made out of water and flour. It’s one of the most environmentally friendly adhesives because it’s made from organic materials that eventually break down.

It’s also essentially the same goop we all used as kids to make paper mache piggy banks around balloons in arts & crafts… do you remember? I do!


Here’s a link to “the best wheat paste recipe” (self-proclaimed):

The post also offers some tips for how to go about applying your art without getting caught, and undoubtedly my favorite is “Carry a Gap shopping bag.” Who could possibly suspect a fine upstanding consumer of Gap products?  I love it!