6.04.2007

Hometown



On the corner of East 34th and 13th Avenue is the house I grew up in. If you drive by now you'll find graying paint covering the pink that I remember, and the owners have replaced the wooden window frames; some were rotting even when I lived there. They've cut back the ivy in the front yard and put up some chain link. Otherwise, it's pretty much the same old house it was when my family left 20 years ago, surrounded by a bunch of other little family houses, all looking pretty similar but cozy.




The house was built in 1921, part of a construction boom that was still reverberating through Oakland 15 years after the San Francisco earthquake. When the city burned, residents turned to less developed or agricultural land in the East Bay where forward thinking real estate developers had already bought up (or squatted) massive tracts in hopes of making a lot of cash. After buying the land, the developers would generally build a few impressive houses, and then run a streetcar to the new 'neighborhood' to bring people in.




My old neighborhood, including the lot my house was built on, were initially owned by banker E.C. Sessions who envisioned high-class, wide lotted properties gathered around the central hill that is now under Highland Hospital. His double-deckered horse-drawn street cars traveled up 14th Avenue (called "Commerce" at the time) and then cut over to Fruitvale.

Unfortunately for E.C., he was ahead of his time, and ended up selling off his land in small parcels before the neighborhood took off in the 20s. (Highland Hospital, a few blocks away, and the beloved Parkway Theatre down the street on Park Blvd. were built in the '20s too.)

My parents moved to the house around 1970, and paid $200 a month for three bedrooms, a living room, formal (if small) dining room, and a rumpus room downstairs, along with the backyard and its decrepit gazebo. Oakland had changed a lot from the pastoral (and profitable) oasis that developers like E.C. Sessions had imagined. In my neighborhood, the two story streetcars had long been replaced by more uniform Key System trains, which subsequently disappeared too. The city as a whole had never fully recovered from a post-WWII economic downturn, and because of the efforts of dozens of civil rights groups, it was just beginning to grow out of long-standing policies of racial discrimination.

By the time I was school aged, Oakland had a reputation as a crime center. Crack was beginning its ascent, and I'm sure even my not-so-deep section of East Oakland was impacted. But my sense of my home was that it was safe and that it was stable. My young neighbors and I hid in the bushes of my house to throw berries at passing cars, played football in the parking lot around the corner, and walked back and forth to the liquor store up the street for Now-and-Laters and Chick-o-Sticks.

Like anybody's hometown anywhere, Oakland is, to me, the place I know in and out, the place I can tell my kids about when I'm trying to help them understand my sense of the world. Lucky for me, and for them, they live here too, so they can compare their stories to my stories, and find their own adventures in a spot where they have roots.



I'm wanting to understand the history of this place in part because I'm a parent, and getting how things happened seems more important now, so I can do things right for them. I want to get the things that people did right, and avoid the things folks did wrong. And I want to be able to thank the people who gave me all the things I love about this city and this world. So I'm mostly going to write about activists and radicals and movements. Since I'm not any kind of expert, I'll just be writing as I'm learning. If you've got something to share about the activist history of the Bay Area, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks for reading.


Thanks too for photos on this site: the Highland Park advertisement is from the Oakland History Room, and the Key Line streetcar came from keyrailpics.org, an awesome photo site full of Bay Area streetcar photos.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Felix blogs. Hell froze over. And I'm so glad.

It looks fantastic, for real. I can't wait to see more entries.

~Laurie

danadane said...

Wow baby!! This looks amazing. I havent had time to really look at all of the links, but what a wonderful personal way to introduce your love for your city and your politics. I really love the old picture of Mac and 13th ave. It is so nice to hear you on the web.. this blog gives me inspiration to get my students to do this.. I will seek your help soon.

The white letters blur a bit, but I cant imagine a different color being better behind black. Black makes the pictures stand out so nice.. hummm

Dad said...

Very well designed blog. Actually the decrepit condition of the gazebo was due to your bro and the unstable kid from the old folks home across the street. They trashed it.

Bay Radical said...

Dad! I had no idea about the gazebo. I'll have to pick your brain for the details...

Amanda said...

Woo hoo! Go Felix! Outstanding! Can't wait for more.

Max said...

This is fantastic! Thanks for letting me know about it. XO

gordonzola said...

yay!

Hillary said...

I want to drive by your old house sometime.

Geoff said...

Hey Fi, this interestingly intersects with my very thoughts today. I was just driving through Emeryville today and reflecting on how much change there has been in just 8 years near our old 53 St house. The railroad tracks across Hollace + Powell that were live tracks 8 years ago are now paved over, and some new heinous creation stands where they once ran. It feels like Emeryville is recapitulating the history of much of the Bay Area, but at 5x speed. It's interesting how normally history moves slowly enough that you can only see changes after living in a spot for a long time -- as you have in Oakland. I'm just starting to have lived in SF long enough to see long-term change... on Valencia, along 3rd St, in SOMA. I wonder if/when this gentrification and rapid reurbanization will hit more suburbany neighborhoods like the Richmond or Oakland.

 
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