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old picture of park blvd.

Before it was known as Park Boulevard, the Glenview's main drag was known as Walker Street and an extension of 4th Avenue.

How well do you know your neighborhood? Before Mandela Parkway grew flowers, the Cypress Freeway threw shadows over West Oakland. Pre-dating the Uptown swing in fine downtown dining, dives like the Hof Brau hung signs with blinking lights on Broadway. And who would’ve known that the Fruitvale, a mecca for Hispanic foods and festivals, was lined with cherry orchards?

City history rests just below the concrete surface in our lovely, multi-layered Oakland. This summer, the Oakland Heritage Alliance continues its walking tour series. Inspired by the architecture, landscapes and people that have characterized the Town, a few armchair historians continue to lead the curious on several strolls through time.

image of park blvd. apartment building

Today, Park Boulevard has a mix of single-family and multi-unit homes.

Tomorrow, I invite you to join me on a stroll through the Glenview. Oakland History Room historian Kathleen DiGiovanni and I will traverse a hillside neighborhood and share the stories of a growing Oakland. Before the gourmet restaurants opened, ranchers raised cows and crops along Park Boulevard. A train carried passengers up Trestle Glen and loggers hauled redwood trunks down Park from the hills.

When the “Glenview Heights” subdivision, as it was called in 1925, took shape, settling space ran for $150 a foot. Some scrambled for homogeneity while others welcomed diversity with the Key Route streetcars that rambled up Park to Leimert. As one property owner put it, “Just picture another Oakland built almost entirely around the outside of the present city. That will give you some idea of the coming importance of Park Boulevard. It is going to be Oakland’s great north and south artery, and it cannot be paralleled.”

1925 map of "Glenview Heights"

The Oakland Tribune ran this map of "Glenview Heights" in 1925.

Saturday’s route will start at Glenview Elementary School, wind through Dimond Canyon and head up E. 38th toward Hampel, ending on Park’s business district. The tour lasts from 10 a.m. to noon.

For histories and poems from all corners of our city, check out Erika Mailman’s compilation “Oakland’s Neighborhoods.” You’ll find a complete listing of the Oakland Heritage Alliance tours here.

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It is autumn in the Glenview. Dried sycamore leaves collect at the foot of red cement stairwells and crack underfoot. Spiders have spun webs all over yards up and down Park Boulevard, almost as thick as the store-bought cobwebs I see clinging to hedges next to dummy witches. The summer warmth makes its exit in fits and starts as the crisp air settles in. The holiday season, a marathon of sugar binges and punched-up cider, begins with Halloween this weekend. Here’s what Oakland has in store:

dia-muertos

The Oakland Museum Honors Dia de los Muertos in 2008

In the Glenview: Tomorrow on All Hallows Eve, Glenview Elementary will host its annual block party from 11 a.m.–2 p.m., on Tiffin Road. Bring a dish to share and meet the neighbors. Take part in the food, games and in making a financial pledge to the school; costumes, like donations, are encouraged but not required. Later on that evening on Greenwood Avenue, a spooky puppet show and yard haunt is rumored to start at nightfall. Glenfriend John has created a Flickr group so Oaklanders can share their photos of the festivities.

In West Oakland: Also for Halloween, check out “FrankenSk8,” an event held in Town Park. It’s Oakland’s premiere skating venue brought to you by Hood Games, a community grown out of East Oakland. They successfully convinced the city to carve out a space in deFremery Park for skaters to work on their skills and officially opened in July. Bring your board or simply scope the local talent from 12 p.m.–3 p.m.

On Piedmont Avenue: This neighborhood will be all things Samhain from dawn ’til dusk. The merchants association will throw its 23rd Annual Piedmont Avenue Halloween Celebration from 9:45 a.m., when patrons can see free cartoons at the Landmark Theatre. After the parade and a trick-or-treat at Issues, visit Mountain View Cemetery. It rests at the top of Piedmont Avenue and hosts a pumpkin festival, where kids can count on a free pumpkin, treat bag and plenty of time in the jump house.

Closing out the evening is a free screening of “Nightmare Before Christmas” at the Video Room. The film runs in the yet-to-rented storefront beside the store’s current location. Prizes go to the best kids costume:

halloween-videoroom

Downtown: For the cocktail crowd, The Den serves up a “Thrillerthon” costume ball this Halloween. Give-away treats at the Halloween bash range from dinner certificates at local restaurants to free drinks at future Den parties. DJ Epic and DJ Mpenzi will spin in honor of Haitian Gede and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” explaining one of the costume contest categories: Best MJ Look-alike. Also performing is the Kendra Kimbrough Ensemble and the El Wah Movement Caribbean Dancers. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. with tickets at $5 before 10 p.m. and $10 thereafter.

Dia de los Muertos in The Fruitvale: Oakland’s best festival is arguably Dia de los Muertos. In past years its attendance has surpassed many Dia de los Muertos celebrations across the country. This year, it was almost in danger of dying out but was resurrected in time for Sunday, November 1, thanks in part to Oakland’s Vice Mayor Ignacio De La Fuente. Every year on International Boulevard, the entire Fruitvale skyline transforms with rainbow-colored paper prayer flags. Sugar skulls and sweet pan de muertos pile high. But front-and-center for food concessions are from La Borinqueña Restaurant & Specialty Shop in Old Oakland; Tina “Tamale” Ramos represents with family recipes going back for generations—hopefully with some of their tasty green chile and cheese tamales.

This year more than 25 altars spill out onto the street from the ‘Vale Transit Village. A portion of them are provided by the Oakland Museum, which is currently closed for renovations. Still, they make an appearance at the festival with an interactive display and make a virtual ofrendas online. The dead fest begins at 10 a.m. with music from local Latino bands, cultural crafts and games, and shutters at 5 p.m. To get there, you could take the bus or BART to the Fruitvale station. From the escalator, follow the scent of marigolds and you’ve arrived.

aztec-muertos-goddess

Mictecacihuatl, or the Aztec's Lady of the Dead

Mas Muertos: Many peoples observe the dead with rituals. The Haitians, Celts and Native Americans each had their method of reaching for loved ones in the Otherworld. There’s also curious overlap across cultures. The Greeks spoke of Persephone presiding over the dead, and ushering departed souls to their new residences. The Aztecs, for their part, personified this “Lady of the Dead” as the goddess Mictecacihuatl. According to the story, she dies in childbirth the Underworld, where she and her husband Mictlan watch over the bones of those passed. This ensures that the lifeless bones could, if needed, build a people for some future world.

The Oakland Museum has online resources on the Day of the Dead that’s worth a peek. Under the Bay Area events is a healthy book list, featuring the indispensable “Digging the Days of the Dead,” by Juanita Garciagodoy. She writes somewhat academically but lucidly about the origins of the rites and looks at death as viewed today. It’s a great read for information and the index contains poems like the one by an ancient American poet, Cuahcuauhtzin:

My heart longs for flowers anxiously.
I only suffer with songs,
I only essay my songs,
on the earth, I am Cuahcuauhtzin.
With anxiety I want flowers,
may they rest in my hand,
I am wretched!
Where will we go
that we may never die?
Although I were jade,
although I were gold,
I will be melted, I will be perforated
in the crucible.
My heart, I Cuahcuauhtzin,
am a wretched man!

In her chapter “The Lively Skeletons,” Garciagodoy examines the oxymoronic nature of the Mexican holiday. She writes, “The calaveras are working, self-reflexively making offerings to the dead, socializing, or displaying themselves. Whatever they are doing, what may be most obvious about these skeletons is that they are not dead.” Skulls shrouded in vibrant colors walk a line between life and death. They do not dwell on last rites but on timeless rituals. In this realm, life seems the most brilliant.

One could make a similar argument for Oakland: it may be haunted by wayward ghosts, but it’s on the cusp of renewal. The city lets out its closeted skeletons every fall and takes stock of the living and the dead. A dark subject and bright colors show the beauty of life in stark contrast. And fittingly, Oakland shines.

Hiatus happens. I hadn’t planned on taking a blog break but things got out of hand when my friend Johnny came to town. I won’t go into the details here but a one-day trip turned into a week. Now he’s back in Colorado and I’m playing catch-up with work.

But what a great Oakland sojourn it was. I got a chance to give my third tour of the city since last summer, when friends I had just left in Pittsburgh, PA started dropping by. Usually I start with my neighborhood of the Glenview:

here's a view looking down park blvd. toward wellington st. note that parking is a bit tight; be sure to share the curb when you visit.

here's a view looking down park blvd. toward wellington st.

here's a shot at the corner of park blvd. and hollywood ave. some of the best sunsets in town are visible from here.

here's a shot at the corner of park blvd. and hollywood ave. some of the best sunsets in town are visible from here. this is also near where the key system streetcar turned around and head back to town.

there are some great walks in dimond park. i love exploring the trails in the canyon and taking a dip in the pool, preferably avoiding the marco polo sessions in the summer.

there are some great walks in dimond park. i love exploring the trails in the canyon and taking a dip in the pool, preferably avoiding the marco polo sessions in the summer.

this is the church where bishop cummins absolved me of sin. that was right before they painted it dark orange. we called it "jesus and the giant peach" until it faded to a warm adobe beige.

this is the church where bishop cummins absolved me of my sins. that was right before the parish painted it dark orange. we called it "jesus and the giant peach" until it faded to a warm adobe beige.

here's a cool apartment building on park blvd. during the prop. 8 fiasco, there were reports of stolen anti-8 signs. luckily the g'view is also known as the "lesbian castro," so much of the signage remains.

here's a cool apartment building on park blvd. during the prop. 8 fiasco, there were reports of stolen anti-8 signs. luckily the g'view is also known as the "lesbian castro," so much of the signage remains.

look for this banner on the gna website one of these days. change is percolating.

look for this banner on the gna website one of these days. change is percolating.

One of the walks Johnny and I took will appear in an article coming out in the OakBook this spring. I wrote up three of my fave stairway strolls for the magazine. It could’ve been a book-length guide as there are many great walks in Oakland. Some are more urban than others; all are little voyeuristic pockets that make you feel like a neighbor.

For the car tour, I like to highlight the sights with a story. A running soundtrack of Bay Area funk is optimal but not necessary. When my buddy A. flies in for a week this Saturday, I’ll be sure to check these items off the must-see list:

• The tasty new restaurants Marzano and Bellanico in the G’view, and the empty space where À Côté will move very soon.
• The new cathedral by the lake that looks like a female body part (the inside, as you can imagine, is pretty awesome).
• The best Oakland taco truck on 22nd and International (press play on Roger Collins’ “Foxy Girls in Oakland” tune here).
• Mexican cookies and the transit village of the Fruitvale (my gramma B. lives in this ‘hood).
• My high school’s parking lot in East Oakland, where some dude stole my friend’s Suburban and then drove it off a cliff, magazine clips and all. (I first found out about this when I saw M.’s car on KTVU news, crashed into a house. Thank goodness no one was hurt.)
• The Coliseum (ruined by those supporting the Raiders’ return and where I love to see my A’s) and the strip by 880 (where the Matrix car chase was filmed), close to where the Oakland Tribune and Oakland Magazine reside.
• The sinewy road up Golf Links, past the Oakland Zoo, through the eucalyptus-lined drive and the entrance into Joaquin Miller Park.
• Just past the Chabot Space and Science Center, there’s a kick-ass view of the Bay. Lots of hiking opportunities around here.
• Swing back into Montclair, where I grew up before it got yuppie, and the field where my soccer team used to practice (go Maniacs). Drive by the old firehouse that closed down after the Hills Fire in 1991. I still remember what I took with me when my family evacuated.
• Take the Highway 13–24 on-ramp (love this) to West O. Cruise down 7th Street, past The Crucible, past my favorite papuseria, by Esther’s Orbit Room and the project formerly known as Slim Jenkins’ Club. Check out the sagging but beautiful Victorians.
• Head up the Mandela Parkway to North Oakland, past the annoying “Here…There” metal sculpture and down MLK. Show folks where the first Black Panther Party office opened, where my great-grandparents lived (under the BART tracks before the house was demolished), and the still standing home on 52nd where my gramma P. grew up.
• Hit up Bake Sale Betty’s before riding up 51st and into the Piedmont Ave. strip. We’ll drive through Fenton’s if we haven’t over-stuffed ourselves. Never can pass up their Black & Tan.
• Make it down past Mosswood Park (where my mom used to play as a girl) and toward Uptown, with all its newfound finery. Special visits to Oakland Fox and Oaksterdam landmarks.
• Roll by Lakeshore area, my fave commercial strip in town: Arizmendi, Lamyx, Peets, Urban Indigo, Spettro, Colonial Donuts, Maribel and my friends’ bar, The Easy. Always nice to get their sustainable cocktails on Saturday morning, when Kolin gathers fresh ingredients at the farmers market.
• And of course there’s my breakfast place of choice, Full House (Laurel district). I usually include this on a trip to Mills College, where I studied as a preschooler.
• If my visitor isn’t maxed out on historical references and foodstuffs, I’ll get us (more) ice cream at Loard’s on MacArthur before returning to my place in the G’view.

Since I’ve two other friends staying in San Francisco for the weekend, I may head to the “west side,” hopefully to the Mission or to see a new flick I’m interested in. Tomorrow, I’m checking out a new restaurant in Jack London Square area. More details on that very soon.