Editor’s Note: We are simultaneously thrilled and humbled to announce that the author of this month’s lead article, C. J. Hirschfield, has agreed to become a regular Splash Pad News contributor. Many of you may know C. J. as the recently retired director of Children’s Fairyland, a beloved institution whose transformation she spearheaded over a period of seventeen years culminating in the Grand Opening of Fairyland’s new entrance last year. You may be familiar with the columns she’s been writing for the Piedmont Post for the past thirteen years and, more recently, the documentary reviews that she’s writing for Gary Meyer’s Eat Drink Films. What you almost certainly won’t know (unless you saw her Facebook post earlier this month) is that C. J.’s love of journalism began in high school—one highlight being a radio interview she sat in on during which Little Richard sang “Lucille” at her request. Welcome aboard, C. J.
Oaktown: The Joys of Spicing in Place
by C. J. Hirschfield
The experience of walking into Oaktown Spice Shop across from Oakland’s Lake Merritt was unique. You’d stop, inhale deeply, and smile. You’d immediately engage with the staff—and other customers—about what spices they’d suggest for various dishes, and just feel thankful that such a special place exists in the neighborhood.
Now, because of Covid-19, the shop’s retail business is closed, but Oaktown’s hordes of shut-in fans are online ordering like crazy. Because they’re all home; all cooking. A lot. And the shop’s handmade, custom blends for which they’re known, can take even the simplest fare to new heights—and delights.
Leslie Harlib, who previously lived in the Bay Area and was food critic for the Marin Independent Journal, now lives in Hawaii and orders from Oaktown regularly, saying that it gives her “a huge Crayola Crayon box of 64 colors to enjoy with the natural bounty that grows here.”
Sam Morgante, formerly of Oakland and now a resident of the Washington, D.C. area, has taken cooking classes for 40 years and considers himself an “avid gourmet.” The specialized hand blends he orders from Oaktown “makes sure that whatever you’re cooking won’t be boring.”
by Kira Pascoe
It is with heavy hearts that we begin June 2020. We share the justifiable anger at racism and police brutality. We support peaceful, powerful protests to demand change. As the Lakeshore Business Improvement District, we remain committed to a just, safe and diverse community. We honor racial justice and economic vitality. We urge everyone to use words and take actions that enable and build togetherness. Please read our collective letter condemning structural racism and police brutality with partner business organizations and chambers here.
Over the weekend, Oakland experienced peaceful protests, but also destruction on its streets, buildings, and storefronts. As a result, Lakeshore looks different today with several businesses boarded up for protection. This does not mean they are not open, much of Lakeshore will continue its regular hours (closing by 8:00 pm during Oakland’s curfew) and many merchants can take orders online.
Grand Avenue Business Report
by Ken Katz
At time when locally owned businesses are mostly just struggling to survive, we were delighted to see several examples this past month of businesses doing far more than would have been expected under the circumstances. Their doing so is a strong indicator of their commitment to their future on Grand Avenue and to the community of which they are a part.
When the building exterior at Ikaros Greek Restaurant was hit by vandals, owners George and Rochael Andranly could have taken the easy way out and simply painted over the graffiti. Instead, they opted to paint the entire wall bordering the Walker Avenue parking lot entrance…
SUPPORTING LOCAL BUSINESSES THAT CONTINUE TO SUPPORT YOU
In order to help locally owned neighborhood businesses survive this ongoing crisis, the Lakeshore Business Improvement District and the Splash Pad News built a comprehensive list of all the businesses in the Grand Lake District that are open and/or soliciting assistance in the form of gift cards or fundraising campaigns
Music As a Destination
by Eric Hughes
Yes, in 2020, it can be hard to get away. We miss traveling, going to the movies, visiting friends—we all need a place that doesn’t threaten and can provide inspiration and escape. So let’s listen to more music… music is therapy for anything that ails you!
Sure, there are too many options nowadays for satisfying musical urges—but try not to let the vast number of choices stop you from finding interesting or new talent, especially with local and regional flavors. Here are some of my favorites on Facebook, Instagram, the Web, YouTube, Pandora, and even Zoom:
Here’s a link to a recently recorded show from our neighbor David Gans, who has performed live on Facebook every day at 4PM since early April! And no, you don’t always need a Facebook login to watch shows or prerecorded music—if the artist marks their post “public,” then anyone can enjoy the show. (See more about David in the April 2020 Splash Pad News.)
Another neighbor, David Sturdevant, is founder and leader of the Medicine Ball Music Band. Occasionally he stages live jazz shows on his Facebook page. This past week’s show featured Grammy-award winning violinist Mads Tolling. Access to these shows may require a Facebook login.
The Grand Lake District Art Scene
by Ken Katz
One of Oakland’s most valuable assets is the huge contingent of artists and craftspeople who make this their home and for whom the COVID 19 crisis has been particularly challenging with galleries closed and shows cancelled. In this month’s News, we’re pleased to feature the works of five artists who are an integral part of our Grand Lake community. From left to right, the artists are:
- Jane Norling, best known for her posters but whose recent commission was a major glass installation for Alameda County.
- Daniel San Souci, initially an extremely successful children’s book author and illustrator but now focused on fine oils mostly featuring the animal world.
- Karen LeGault, who specializes in floral watercolors using both Asian style techniques and Western realism.
- Denise Owen, who started her career as an architect but subsequently decided that she was an artist at heart.
- Lorrie Fink, whose oil paintings are primarily inspired by nature.
Grand Lake Farmers Market
The Grand Lake Farmers Market Bounty Boxes have proven very popular—particularly since the roll-out has been incredibly smooth and the curbside pickup totally seamless. Over time, the quality and variety of produce has gradually increased as well. The box we picked up this Saturday was easily the best yet. It included broccoli, spring onions, kale, and baby spinach from Ledesma Farms and one pound of first of the year cherries from Sunnyland Farms (nee EGB Farms). Both of these farms are family-run and have been fixtures at the market since the late 1990s—the bad old days under the freeway when there were about ten vendors and, on a good day, maybe three hundred customers. As we mentioned last month, thanks to a grant from Bank of America, EBT cardholders are eligible for a 50% discount on the bounty boxes which they can order online, but they do have to swipe their card when they pick up. Thanks also to Ruth Stroup, whose Farmers Insurance Company Farmers Market sponsorship is helping underwrite the additional staffing requirements for Bounty Box distribution. Orders can be placed beginning at 3 pm on Saturdays clicking on THIS LINK. FYI: Ordinarily, the boxes sell out early but Andy Naja-Riese emailed this morning saying that a few boxes are still available for this Saturday. Orders need to be received no later than 6 pm tonight.
If you’re continuing to shop at the market, please remember that masks are required and please take care to practice social distancing. If you’d like to volunteer to help keep the market safe and viable, please phone Agricultural Institute of Marin Volunteer Coordinator Will Finney at 415 472-6100.
This past Thursday, we had the pleasure of sitting in on the weekly meeting of the Oakland Rotary Club (the third oldest in the country), which was held online due to the Coronavirus. Their featured speaker was Oakland-based Landscape Architect Walter Hood—who, as most of you already know, designed Splash Pad Park. Walter’s presentation focused on two major projects that his office is currently working on. The first is a $20 million contract (already underway) to totally revamp the landscaping at the Oakland Museum, which was the lead article in the October 2019 Splash Pad News.
The second is a contract to design the International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina on the site of Gadsen’s Wharf—the location of the slave market where roughly half the individuals who were snatched from their homes in West Africa arrived. Considering the events of this past week, this portion of Walter’s presentation is particularly compelling. The Rotary Club meeting video has been posted online. Walter’s presentation begins with an introduction by Tristan Connor at the 20:35 mark.
Watching Walter explain what they’re doing at these two projects, and why, was a reminder of the genius that we recognized during the planning for our little neighborhood park. In his honor, we’ve pulled up a 2006 photograph from Dwell magazine about Walter that shows the park in near pristine condition. In the ensuing years, a lot of that luster is gone but the essential bones remain and the park elements continue to serve the same basic goals that were incorporated into his design. Thanks to Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas, we have $35,000 in funding committed to infrastructure repairs. Once the social distancing requirements ease, we’re hoping to see promised improvements implemented.
P.S. The Splash Pad website’s About Page includes more info about Walter, including a long list of awards that he has received and articles in which he is featured.
Odds and Ends
We’ve already congratulated Ikaros and MeloMelo for doing their part in making the Grand Lake shopping district more attractive – which in its literal sense in this case means more likely to attract shoppers. To that list, we need to add the Private Mail Box on Lake Park Avenue, which remains open as an essential service. They covered their front window with plywood to minimize the likelihood of break-ins and/or vandalism and then enlisted the services of local artist Chris Granillo to paint this wonderful wildlife mural.
The opposite side of the coin is the KFC two doors down which I’ve previously described as “vacant”. The more accurate description at this point may be “abandoned”. This is a perfect illustration of why major franchises and/or absentee landlords can prove highly problematic.
The Agricultural Institute of Marin is providing Bounty Boxes and keeping their markets open in order to provide essential services to the community in the form of fresh produce but also to help provide farmers with an ongoing cash flow in the midst of the COVID crisis. Unfortunately, farmers are also trying to cope with a host of other (maybe even more serious) issues. This February 27 article in The Guardian by Oakland resident Susie Cagle spells out the threat of severe water shortages now facing small farmers in the Central Valley.
And, the California Today column in the New York Times on May 6 centered on an interview with farmer/author David Mas Masumoto titled How Does a Farmer Adapt if People Don’t Want to Touch Fruit? The main focus was primarily on Mr. Masumoto’s response to the pandemic which is of great interest in itself but the column also has numerous internal links that lead to other closely related issues, some of which include:
- Climate change
- Labor shortages due to the immigration crackdown
- Farmers markets’ adaptations (Bounty Boxes, for example)
- The growing demand for CSA boxes (another example)
- Victory Gardens
- Delivery services
This is a very informative article we highly recommend but, unfortunately, if you’re not a NY Times subscriber, you may meet a Pay Wall.
The finals of the Oakland Library’s annual Youth Poet Laureate – Oakland competition will be broadcast live on Facebook beginning at 7 pm on Friday. Last year’s winner, Samuel Getachew has set an extremely bar for the remaining six finalists. Doing some background research for this calendar item, we came across Samuel’s video from last year’s competition in which he begins talking about the BBQ Betty incident at Lake Merritt – a haunting preview of what Amy Cooper just did in Central Park. Samuel not surprisingly saw the corollary and just had an opinion piece on the subject printed in the Washington Post. Because of the subject matter, his 3+ minute video may leave you even more depressed than you are already but hopeful for the future knowing that this next generation is going to clean up the mess that my and subsequent generations have helped create.
As you may or may not be aware, Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church has long been very supportive of the homeless and low income communities. They have a well-stocked food pantry inside the sanctuary and also do an annual Thanksgiving food-basket giveaway. This year they’ve been dealt a double-whammy due to the COVID-19 social distancing requirements. The receptacle in front of their nursery school where they usually accept cans and bottles for recycling has been shuttered and their annual walk around Lake Merritt has been cancelled as well. To help fill the void, their Hunger Task Force is doing a fundraiser online. Donations in any amount can be made on this Facebook page.
Long-time Grand Lake neighbor Stephen Duffy had big plans in place for this year’s edition of his annual summer camp program that’s been garnering Best Summer Music Camp awards for five straight years. Unfortunately, like just about everything else, those plans have been scrapped in favor of an online presence via Zoom that launches on Monday, June 8. Stephen envisions “summer classes that are short and sweet and NOTHING like school while retaining the essence of Mr. D’s Music Club.” They’ve hired fantastic teaching artists including a big contingent from the UCLA Theater Art Department. Classes scheduled to date include ukulele, drama, dance, singing, art, movement and “Broadway Toons.” All classes will be small in size with ages ranging from 7 to 14. Sessions, which are typically 45 – 60 minutes long, will be $15 each but if you’re an essential worker, check to see if they’re able to quote a better price. Artist/teachers who practice disciplines not already listed are encouraged to contact Stephen’s daughter Hailey if you’re interested in participating.
We’re closing this month’s News with two very timely items:
Item #1 is a link to the video that Fantastic Negrito compiled using responses to an email he sent worldwide asking, “What are you doing during the COVID crisis?” The original song that accompanies the video is titled “Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?” For most of us, the answer is likely “No! Even if we have lots of reasons to do so”. FYI: For more on this story, check out the related KRON TV’s interview with Fantastic Negrito.
Item #2 is a photo that I took on Friday. As I noted on my Facebook and Flickr accounts, it was a beautiful sunset that marked the end of an absolutely horrific week during which the pandemic death toll in the US surpassed 100,000; George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight by an on-duty police officer; and the protests that started peaceful turned to violent just as the sunset unfolded in our western skies.
Here’s hoping, sometime soon, for more beautiful sunsets accompanied by less violence and fewer senseless deaths.