The Names in Lights Have a Tale to Tell – Part 1

by Ken Katz
Unlike the “Chalk Talks Festival” (the subject of our article last month), the Names in Lights panels that were installed in the Splash Pad Plaza in 2004 are discussed at some length on the About page, where you’ll learn that the lettering and designs were cut into high density steel using computer-operated high-pressure water jets. You’ll also learn that the panels were part of a fundraising effort (that included T-shirts and a plaque honoring major donors) to pay for the water feature, in Walter Hood’s original plans, that was about to be scrapped. All that information is, however, restricted to a “when and how” description circa the early 2000s. This month and next, we will be reporting instead on what’s happened since to the businesses, individuals, and other entities whose names are literally writ large in the Splash Pad plaza.

There are a total of twenty-seven panels recognizing more than three hundred donors, which represents a lot of data to process. This month, we’re beginning with three panels that specifically feature Grand Avenue merchants – all of whom were recruited thanks to the concerted efforts of Lou Grantham, a key member of both the Fundraising Committee and the SPNF Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Committee.

It’s readily apparent that most of the key donor businesses have survived through the subsequent seventeen years – including 2020, the most challenging  year yet – and a majority of the smaller businesses have survived as well. This is a testament to the quality of the services they provide but also indicative of the extent to which the surrounding neighborhoods reliably support locally owned independent businesses.

The list below tracks the businesses that have closed or moved elsewhere. It’s not quite complete and likely has inaccuracies. Your input via the Comment tab on the bottom of the page would be much appreciated.

Panel #1:

  • Grand Donuts was at 3249 Grand in a space that subsequently hosted a succession of bakeries including Boniere, Good Chemistry, Patisserie Française (under two different owners), and, most recently, Wild Rabbit Bakery – which had the misfortune of opening just prior to the start of the pandemic.
  • The Country Home Furniture space closed three years after the NIL panels were installed. Two years later, Mary Ellen Navas announced through a post in the Grand Lake Guardian that Russell Moore had leased the space for Camino – the high quality restaurant that she herself had quietly lobbied for. In 2018, Camino closed due to “rising costs, increased staff turnover, and the extent to which restaurant operations hinged on Russell’s presence – which translated into minimal vacation time” – as reported in the Splash Pad News.  A year ago, Zachary’s Pizza opened in that space – fulfilling a request for a Grand Lake location that had been made and rejected a decade earlier.
  • Cafe Jenny was displaced when its storefront was combined with the vacant paint store next door to accommodate Penrose, which was later sold and renamed Almond & Oak. Cafe Jenny moved downtown but closed not long after.
  • Landscape Architect Leslie Golden moved from her office in David Thorne’s building on the hill above Brother & Sisters Flower Shop and has since retired.
  • In 2003, Cycle Sports was in the building that’s now vacant next to Urban Furniture and Boutique, which explains why there are multiple bike racks in front. They subsequently moved up the street to their current location.
  • Wyman Foorman (a food broker on Boulevard Way) has closed.

Worthy of special mention in Panel #2 is Miss Saigon, which caught our eye back in 2002 when we learned that owner Timmy Nguyen wanted his entry to specify a midnight closing hour. Reminded that this would literally be etched in steel, Timmy remained adamant. Although, years later, the closing hour has been changed to 10 pm, it’s still open well after all the other food establishments in the district have closed (aside from Colonial Donuts). Here’s a summary of the changes on panel #2.

  • Art Deco Collection was a long-time fixture on Grand in the Adams Point district but relocated to 14th Avenue quite some time ago.
  • We can’t quite place La Fleur Antiques. A little help, please!
  • Cultural Crossroads was a lovely shop in a space now occupied by Alyce on Grand, whose name will crop up later.
  • We’re also drawing a blank regarding Shades of Sienna.
  • House of Amber closed fairly recently and the space is now a massage parlor.
  • Wow! Children’s Clothing. Although Silver Moon Kids started on Grand, this wasn’t them.
  • Grand Alteration Shop at 3715 Grand has recently closed.
  • Glow moved from its original Grand Avenue location to Lakeshore but has since closed.
  • As we reported in the January 2017 Splash Pad News, Bob Jaffe reluctantly closed Grand Bakery after eighteen years. The space is now occupied by Melo Melo Kava Bar, which has the very best living walls around. Editor’s Postscript: Subscriber, Anita Tenley pointed out that Grand Bakery moved under new ownership to a second-floor space at the Food Mill. A Google search turned up over 40 retail locations in the Bay Area that offer Grand Bakery products.
 Lou in 2012 Promoting the Festival

Panel #3 includes a listing for San Francisco Fiber, the life’s work of Lou Grantham who, as mentioned above, took sole responsibility for soliciting donations for the NIL on Grand Avenue. Back then, she was doing business out of her home on Valle Vista. Later, she opened a small shop on Grand where she demonstrated weaving and spinning techniques for the monthly First Thursdays Art Walks and also hosted frequent workshops, including one on Navajo rug weaving techniques that we documented in a November 2017 post. In addition, she co-chaired three “Oakland Fiber and Textile Festivals” at Splash Pad Park beginning in 2011 – the proceeds from which were donated for Splash Pad Park improvements. The three festivals predate the online version of the Splash Pad News but, if you’re interested, there are fifty-three images posted on Flickr. BTW: SF Fiber has gone full circle and is now back on Valle Vista. Here’s the list of closures from panel #3:

  • Dr. Pfost retired and his office now serves as a second location for Dr. Moonsamy’s Eye Care For You.
  • The Heads Together space is now occupied by Ikaros Greek Restaurant.
  • Queen closed a while back, and the space is now the office of Alchemy Restorative Medicine.

Next Month: Lakeshore and Lake Park Businesses
July: All the Rest

Ken Katz is a semi-retired antiques dealer. He founded the Splash Pad Neighborhood Forum in late 1999 and in his role as Chair,  coordinated the community efforts to lobby for a new park and subsequently served as a liaison to the City of Oakland and to Walter Hood’s office during the planning process. The first Splash Pad Newsletters were emailed beginning circa 2006. Currently, he acts as an editor, contributor and publisher of the online Splash Pad News – but the Editor in Chief (and sometimes contributor) Keila Diehl, proofreads all the copy; filters content as needed and makes us look our very best.





4 responses to “The Names in Lights Have a Tale to Tell – Part 1”

  1. Nina Steinberg Avatar
    Nina Steinberg

    I bought 2 panels, one from me and one In Memory of a Book Club friend. Little did I realize how the area was to grow and transform the whole area in the future.

    1. Ken Katz Avatar
      Ken Katz

      Nina, The memorial panels and the ones for individuals and families will be discussed in June or maybe in July if we decide to do this as a three-part report.

  2. Anita Tenley Avatar
    Anita Tenley

    Apparently, the Grand Bakery still exists as a production bakery located above the Food Mill on MacArthur Blvd.

  3. Debra Chaplan Avatar
    Debra Chaplan

    Great living history! Thank you!