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Photo Courtesy of the Oakland History Room

Photo Courtesy of the Oakland History Room

When Vernon J. Sappers took this photo circa 1925, the Parkway Theater was still an empty frame of moulded metal. It would be months before architect Mark T. Jorgensen’s sunburst would appear on the building’s facade, and nearly half-a century before couches would replace much of the main floor seating. An independent arts cinema, porn theater and second-run movie house—these phases remodeled the Parkway anew over 84 years.

It could be that the Parkway faces its biggest renovation yet. And not simply reinstall the “picture, pub and pizza” vibe.

In case you haven’t heard the news, the San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday that a group of investors called the Motion Picture Heritage Company has its eye on the Parkway. (Note: the building was dedicated in 1925, not 1926 as reported.) They are a chain of movie theaters based in the Midwest and the front man is a movie lover named Bill Dever. He became interested when Will “The Thrill” Viharo, who directed programming at the speakeasy to 12 years, showed him the I Like the Parkway website.

“The bottom line is that you have a venue that needs some help, and a venue that is economically viable, and I think that it’s intriguing, Dever said. “We’re a firm believer, corporately, that the theater should reflect the social mores and outlook and wishes of the community it serves.”

This could be a great opportunity for fans, who enjoyed a brew with their view of the silver screen. A disclaimer: nothing is set in stone yet. And no one at I Like the Parkway—the resident and business advocates for a refurbished theater—has seen the business proposal. Dever did say he wants to take the former template and remodel it a bit. This would include re-working the concessions.

“[The Parkway] could have something with an Alice Waters feel, something organic and reflective of the community—a green menu that would have a belgian brasserie on site, which would not have any of the fru-fru, but the variety and quality of those places,” he said.

Dever seems interested in reinstating Will Viharo as program director. Will writes public relations pieces for one of Dever’s film release companies, called Monogram Releasing.

“It would be great to work with someone who shares this passion for films with me,” Will said, who also intimated that the new management would permit more types of screenings at the theater. “Big film companies like giant corporations; that’s the model. [But] the thing about this deal, is the Parkway would be taken over by a chain but run like an indie theater.”


Update: Will “The Thrill” Viharo posted on his blog last week that things are moving slowly but surely with the Parkway negotiations. Nothing is set in stone, of course. But a preliminary inspection of the venue has taken place and each stone has been turned to see what an overhaul upgrade would cost. Subscribe to Will’s Thrillville blog for the latest details.

The place where I lay my head used to be a laundry room. The contractor who bought the house in the late ‘80s rehabbed it and flipped it to my grandma in ‘90. Down came the ivy wallpaper and up went a backyard deck. The laundry nook extended into the master bed and bath. Insulation went in the back half to weather sun and fog.

The day my grandma moved in, she planted a redwood sapling she stole off of the side of the highway. (She claimed its place on a housing construction site was precarious.) It stands in the backyard next to the garage, many limbs taller than the Meyer lemon and pagoda trees.

The typical Glenview houses are like my grandma’s—craftsman bungalows with a twist. They’re single-family homes, some with cement stairs painted in red, with the remnants of shared driveways. These came in off the road and forked a few feet back into separate garages. And while the couple next door razed theirs, ours still (barely) stands. It has the same pueblo-style beams like the house but squats on its haunches in slow collapse. My old friend Sawyer had this to say about the garage: “There’s gotta be dead bodies under there.”

None that I’m aware of. Perhaps under the hard earth there are remnants of an old farm or the bones of some beloved ranch dog. Maybe even the camp fragments of Ohlone Indians. What I do know is that the garage used to house piano parts.

They belonged to a Chinese couple who, so the story goes, bought the house when the Glenview tract first went on the market. The husband liked to build pianos and in the front room, play an old organ. He set up an amplifier in the window and blasted showtunes onto the street. Sometimes he’d catch a passerby with a peal of the pipes; each time (said his neighbor), he’d look out the window to see if they’d bust a move.

Exactly when this neighborhood Liberace and his wife moved into the house I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll do as City Homestead did and pay a visit to the Alameda County Assessor and Public Records office. Hopefully I’ll find a sale date and a name, even if I don’t find out what organ riffs blared onto Park Boulevard. Those details are left to the neighborhood’s muscle memory.

In her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” Jacobs talked about development as a way of directing energy. Her urban planning philosophy seems to me a kind of city feng shui. Buildings (furniture) are designed (arranged) so the city (person) can become prosperous. It all comes down to keeping up the flow.

I consider this in my qigong class. At the Park Boulevard Yoga Center, I’m learning the wild goose style of an ancient Chinese exercise. My arms extend for the flying set. I step forward with the left foot and flap my hands left from my right; I step forward with the right foot and flap from left. My hands sweep by my lower abdomen, or lower dantian. There the qi (metaphorically, the “life force” and literally, the “breath”) feels magnetic. I swoop it back around again with my arms. A tangible energy current builds. I guide it through and around myself.

The practice of qigong is to vitalize the mind and body. It’s also to stir dead qi. Similarly, the Jacobs model for urban planning is to eradicate “border vacuums.” These are barriers where flow is interrupted. To Jacobs, it could be the space on either side of train tracks, or places with a “simplification of use”—points on the city map that stimulate the least amount of movement. Think of the area underneath elevated BART tracks. Or the lull along Broadway’s Auto Row.

Park Boulevard is fortunate to have so much traffic. As a major artery of Oakland, Park carries people through and around the Glenview. Residents come here for coffee, for meals, for errands. The Glenview is almost what Jacobs calls a “successful street neighborhood”: “not discrete units…[but] physical, social and economic continuities—small scale to be sure, but small scale in the sense that the lengths of fibers making up a rope are small scale.” Still, there are dead spaces here.

Upstairs at 4226 Park Blvd. my teacher shows me how to gather qi around the heart and direct it so the whole body benefits. As I fly-over-water, a bird’s eye view comes to mind of the neighborhood; its closed library, and the dark performing arts center around the corner. My diaphragm pushes out the air, takes it in. I’m aware of every tendon and ligament in my body.

After class, I’m buzzing. I step out onto Park and walk up a leg of Oakland back home, past the library that’s now an organ dealership, and marvel how I’ve never seen the light on, or the door open.