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For now, the Parkway’s dreams of reopening are deferred. This week news broke that Motion Picture Heritage Alliance, a Midwestern-based cinema company, moved its business elsewhere.

It’s bad news for Oakland, and for Park Blvd. neighbors who wanted the boards on the storefront taken down. It appears then that the “Curious Case of Benjamin Button” poster will remain for the next while; Brad Pitt’s visage seems to mock passers-by that he’s the starring role in the forthcoming film based on the book “Money Ball,” by Michael Lewis. It’s about Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s (and presumably how we let players like Eric Byrnes go to other teams). Whatever you think about Pitt’s acting, it brings to mind an Oakland tendency: losing a good deal to somewhere else.

Recent developments show that while the Parkway’s closing felt sudden, it really suffered a slow financial death. Reportage of how the Cerrito theater bankrupted the Parkway reminded me of how it went down at Cody’s Books. Then and now, expansion proved too big for business. In another development, Oakland Focus blogger Zennie posted a heart-wrenching interview he had yesterday with the Fischers. No word from Pat Kernighan about the potential investors, or from the pro-Parkway movement at iliketheparkway. Its site remains quiet and has not been updated as of this posting. Blight, wherever you find it, is a sad thing.

But as reported, former Parkway programmer and host Will “The Thrill” Viharo remains optimistic about the theater’s fate. In an email announcement today, Viharo has said that talks between the city (District 2’s Pat Kernighan) and the potential investor (Mark Haskett) are officially on:

“Mark has very specific ideas on how to streamline the original business model. He shares my view that the overhead should be split between a team with specific theater experience and one with restaurant experience, working in concert under one roof. This has always seemed the most cost effective and efficient way to operate this kind of business, as far as I’m concerned.

“Anyway, some of the players have changed but the goal remains the same: let’s get this damn thing reopened. The longer it stays dark, the harder it will be to light up again.”

It would seem that the Parkway dream may come out of deferment. It did, at any rate, for a movie house outside of Pittsburgh, PA. Viharo mentioned in another email this week that the Motion Picture Heritage Alliance has revitalized another movie house called The Hollywood Theatre. It opened last weekend in Dormont, a southern suburb of the Iron City.

The Hollywood Theatre in Dormont, PA

On Opening Day: The Hollywood Theatre in Dormont, PA

It all started when Dormont’s city council president John Maggio approached Bill Dever at MPH to reopen the Hollywood after it shuttered last June. Months later, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Hollywood will once again operate as a cinema and also as a live performance venue. (Plans for the brew-and-view will go into effect once they obtain a liquor license.) It’s an inspiring success story, and one that Oakland could take into account the next time new business rolls into town. Then we could save all the drama for the “Gentlemen of Leisure.”

Here are some archival photographs of Oakland’s fave speakeasy in brighter days. I unearthed them at the Oakland History Room and found a lot of images by Vernon Sappers, Oakland’s own railway historian who wrote a book on the Key System Streetcars. When Sapper took these images, the 18 streetcar passed the Parkway on its hill-bound route.

"Construction of Parkway Theatre," Vernon Sappers (ca. 1925)
“Construction of Parkway Theatre” photo from the Vernon Sappers Collection (ca. 1925)

…Interesting to see a view of the Parkway in pre-Kragen times. The homes to the right of the construction site gave way to a co-op, which later gave way to the auto parts store chain.

"Construction of Parkway Theatre," Vernon Sappers Collection (ca. 1925)
“Construction of Parkway Theatre” photo from the Vernon Sappers Collection (ca. 1925)

…Here’s a view facing Park Blvd. and the Brooklyn neighborhood to the north.

Parkway Theatre's initial storefront, Vernon Sappers Collection
Parkway Theatre’s initial storefront, Vernon Sappers Collection

…The theater started out, an older resident told me, as an independent arts cinema.

"Parkway Theatre - Oakland," Gary L. Parks, spring 1986
Photo by Gary L. Parks, spring 1986

…Gotta love Oakland in the ’80s.

Photo by Mark Koehler (ca. 1980s)
Photo by Mark Koehler (ca. 1980s)

…The Parkway marquee here touches on themes of the present-day closure.

The Parkway this spring
The Parkway this spring

…Thank you to the Fischers for creating the dream, Viharo for stewarding it and to those who, in a campaign for the Parkways’ survival, showed their Oaktown love in reviving it.

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A shot of the library, courtesy of Bourbon and Branch

A shot of the library, courtesy of Bourbon and Branch

For now, my friends-in-town season is over. Colorado Johnny got the full Oakland tour while a few weeks later, the two Js opted for the abbreviated version. (No, J-man, I do not own a bullhorn.) They all seemed surprised at the beauty of the city. Johnny really liked the air, saying that the slight humidity combined with the sun felt like “a million licks on the skin.” Too bad it rained most of his trip here. But if anyone needed more rays, it was the grayed-out Pittsburghers. I’ve never seen people more psyched to sit on a porch that wasn’t an ice-slick.

Several reps. from Pitt flocked to a composition conference in San Francisco that week. One night we met at the Bourbon and Branch for cocktail hour. The former speakeasy sits on the corner of Jones at O’Farrell, under a corner sign that reads “Anti-Saloon League.” We entered the left of two oak doors with a password (“bird”) and a petite woman led us past a bar so dimly lit that I almost walked into the bookcase at the back. Our hostess stopped me short and opened the shelves like a door with a flick of her wrist. We stepped into the library to see books and backlit bottles of bourbon lined the walls. The gold-striped bindings of familiar Funk and Wagnalls encyclopedia volumes flashed in the candelight so that on my way to the bar, I had some grade-school flashbacks of writing book reports.

I wanted to try New Orleans’ official cocktail ever since I heard a great NPR story last summer. That my waist-coated bartender made a Sazerac in a room with red velvet wallpaper made my first sip almost as awesome as it would’ve been in The Big Easy. The bartender started by coating a rocks glass with Absinthe and filling it with ice. Then he muddled a sugar cube in Peychaud’s Bitters and tossed them in a shaker with bourbon. He served it to me neat and with a lemon peel draped across the glass. First I inhaled the citrus. Then the taste of the licorice liqueur slid down the glass, and the fireside-orange flavor reached the back of my tongue. Ah, there was the rub: just one swig had me reconsidering that road trip to the south.

Also in the Tenderloin, and just a few blocks south from our perch, once stood another speakeasy. It operated around the same time but posed as a breakfast joint. My great-grandma opened it as Em’s Waffle Kitchen and in the back room served a little somethin’ with the syrup. I never heard an account of the bar; it was probably sparsely furnished and stacked with kegs. My great aunt did remember seeing sailors stumble out from the bar and onto Turk Street. For sure, Emma’s restaurant was a “come for the waffles, stay for the booze” establishment.

I hear some old Oaksterdammers talk about the early days of medicinal marijuana with a speakeasy-esque fondness. Pot clubs lit up Broadway back in 1996. Awash from the hope of Prop. 215, many patients toked skunk on site, but once the smoke drifted to a nearby youth center (and Ignacio De La Fuente got wind of it at City Hall), a regulatory era reduced the legal number of “dispensaries” in the city to four. The Bull Dog became a coffee shop and poof, the Purple Dragon vanished.

These same folks also talk about how marijuana regulation is a bad idea. They don’t want the government knowing they’re patients, restricting where or how much they purchase their herbal meds, or how much they pay for the pleasure. But there are strong arguments to the contrary, and with Oakland’s Measure Z in place, taxation could bring in some major revenue once it’s all implemented. I would’ve happily paid a tax at the Oaksterdam speakeasy A. and I visited last week. We walked a lot farther for taxable inebriates back in Pittsburgh, where the wine shop and the beer store were miles apart. Gotta love Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. (Do their laws really curb drinking habits?) I drank the same amount in PA and CA (one or two a week) and suffer less frostbite getting firewater out west.

Marijuana reform is on the verge of its next big win. You could say it’s in the air. Recently the California DMV recently changed its policy to treat medical marijuana the same as prescription drugs. And while President Obama has stated that he doesn’t support the wholesale legalization of marijuana, it looks like the days of DEA raids are numbered. Helping the cause is the taxation wave coming out of California. Oakland’s best dispensary—Harborside Medical Center—will be featured on CNN’s “D.L. Hughley Breaks the News.” Check it out the weekend of March 28.

I’m hoping that marijuana will go the way of alcohol and become legal, even become a model for regulating the alcohol industry. Taxation doesn’t have to mean prohibition. I’m thinking though that West Oakland could stand to lose some liquor stores.

RIP Parkway Speakeasy Theater!
Catherine, Kyle and Will the Thrill, you will be missed.

I may not stack them as high as my grandmother did, but I do collect newspaper clippings. Mostly, they’re old articles from the Oakland Tribune, about installation of Lake Merritt’s “necklace of lights,” or an archival photo of the Montclair district when La Salle was just a dirt road. Some of them are bad news. My Sept. 24, 2001 issue of The New Yorker has an all-black cover, which, when held up close to the eyes, reveals two darker towers in silhouette.

It wasn’t until November 5, 2008 that I added to my small archive. At 6:00 a.m., I got up and walked down Park Blvd. to the newspaper racks outside the organ shop, and picked up the San Francisco Chronicle. The whole front page featured a smiling President-Elect and the words: “Obama: ‘Change has come to America.’” By the time I left the mingling coffee drinkers at the coffee shop and walked up the sun-lit street, I found my copy of the Oakland Tribune on my walkway. “A New Era,” the headline read. An image of Barack flanked with American flags stretched across the page. Finally. Some good news worth holding on to. And everyone wanted a copy; the Chron sold out and took special orders for additional printings. For a moment it seemed that newspapers were once again a thriving industry.

Decades ago, local writers printed neighborhood rags all over Oakland. All corners of the city had some kind of glorified newsletter that functioned like the sites in today’s ‘Oakblogosphere.’ The West Oakland Press, Temescal News, Central Oakland Eagle, Elmhurst Herald and some 59 other papers had a home on the news racks. The Dimond district had two publications (the Dimond Herald and Dimond Review) and I’m still trying to figure out from where a newspaper called simply “The Windbag” came. Remnants of these papers are on file at the Oakland Public Library. I dropped by the main branch to read some of them. Before my head got dizzy from microfiche whiplash, I recovered an old publication set in my little neighborhood. In a craftsman-like font, the masthead read: “Glenview News.”

Much of the content recorded the meeting minutes of the Glenview Improvement Club. Requests for streetlights, a new set of streetcar tracks and a neighborhood library branch started in the club and got press in the Glenview News. The Improvement Club printed their meeting minutes here, but also allotted space to other orgs. in the neighorhood. The Women’s Club, for instance, held a “Depression Party” in 1935. Such a bash could take place today, what with the economic strife we face going into the Obama era. Only the wording seemed a little, well, out-dated:

“The Depression Party presented by the Glenview Women’s Club at their Club House on the evening of Jan. 24th is just going to be one grand surprise. It will be one continuous riot of fun and laughter, with games and dancing to follow.

“Contrary to the ‘impression of the word depression’ it’s going to be a jolly evening when that old ‘bogey’ will be dragged through his own historical past and forced to yield to the glorification of better times. The party will appeal to all ages and no one can afford to miss this how of shows for thirty-five cents.”

I can’t say what a “bogey” is, but I’d say that the country has temporarily forgotten our impending depression the past few days. Party-goers in Washington D.C.—and pretty much anyone with access to a television—know that the Inauguration of Barack Obama is taking our minds off of the signs of the economic times. Oaklanders can view the ceremony at the Oracle Arena tomorrow morning and party with the East Bay Democrats in the evening. I may swing by if I get some work done (gotta find my next paycheck) because there’s no cover and plenty of music, libations and Oakland’s newly elected Councilwoman at Large, Rebecca Kaplan. And there are more anti-depression bashes going on in and around The Town. For a party catered in part by G’view restaurants Bellanico and soon-to-be neighbors À Côté, buy your tickets now for Montclair Women’s Inaugural Club. There are more Inaugural events in the Bay, some of which are listed in today’s Chronicle. The champagne toast with the Shotgun Players just may lure me away from my G’view living room.

If yesterday’s Inaugural Concert is any indication of what will follow tomorrow, the swearing in will be, in the words of the Glenview Women’s Club, “one grand surprise.” I watched the star-studded line-up (including Skyline High alumni Tom Hanks, whose belabored pauses still didn’t drain the event of its poignancy) rock Americans to the tune of hope. Stevie Wonder brought the Obamas to their feet; Garth Brooks had the crowd putting their hands in the air to make the most awesome wave I’ve seen since the A’s made the playoffs at the Coliseum; and the sight of U2 playing their MLK anthem “Pride” amidst the Lincoln Memorial brought tears to my eyes—even if Bono went on too long about “four boys from North side Dublin.”

In the spirit of the “glorification of better times,” I leave you with this picture. My niece Nora drew this Obama portrait during the concert, and I’m taking it as an omen of more good news.

nora-obama1