I’m falling in love with Oakland all over again.
Ene and I moved here from the East Coast in 1991 after a formative time living in West Africa, followed by meandering road trips cross-country, capped off with a season of commercial fishing on a salmon seiner in Alaska’s Alexander Archipelago. We spent our ‘crew share’ earned on the boat traipsing down the coast to visit friends who had migrated West from New York during the recession of the late eighties, obliquely seeking a home place along the way. We shared the dual mindset of wanting to stay in one place after over a year of travel, but still maintain the perspective of living by one’s wits we had cultivated along the way. Seattle, Portland and San Francisco were OK, but the flatlands of North Oakland where we eventually settled, bought a house and raised our daughter, appealed more viscerally. Oakland’s flatland neighborhoods felt like a cross between a West African village, a small Southern town and the best of the kind of suburban ‘craftsman’ vernacular I had only ever thought possible in theory. We fit right in, stayed for over fifteen years, shifting our global travel modality to the simple, domestic scale of the day- meals shared, childcare and getting to know the neighborhood.
Ene and my art/design collaborative Wowhaus grew naturally from our newfound domestic modality. We thrived in the Bay Area’s receptive climate, and slowly developed a market for projects that were very much an extension of our daily lives. As our projects grew in scale, we were faced with the dilemma of space; our rented warehouse and woodshop were being sold to developers, and our interests were shifting towards self-sufficiency. So we sold the house before the market tumbled and bought a small rural compound near the coast in West Sonoma County, where we can grow food, be close to nature and have plenty of room for all of our projects. Fortuitously, some of these projects have brought us back to Oakland, and my current ‘residency’ near Jack London Square lends me new perspective on my adopted Home Town after three years spent settling in up the coast. This new perspective is the subject of this dispatch, despite the biographical digression.
Lake Merritt, looking East
After a long day on site working in the sun, I’ve been winding down by riding my Dahon folding bike around Lake Merritt, just following my nose. I had only ever approached the Lake by car, usually from the North, and found the experience disorienting to the extent that we avoided the area as much as possible when we lived in the Temescal neighborhood. Approaching the lake from The Waterfront has been revelatory. Originally a salt marsh estuary, Lake Merritt is still connected tidally to the Bay, its waters flowing under roadways. On my bike, I’ve been able to intuit which roads connect to the lake, and have deciphered a new pattern to the inner logic of the City based on its relationship to the Bay, to sea level. This has been especially enlightening as we begin research on a new commission to design a system of Watershed Markers for the City of Oakland.
Ene joined me on site for a day this week as we raised the first steel substrate panels for Oakland Fusion. She loved working on the scissor lift, despite her aversion to heights.
We sneaked a peak at a heroic bronze sculpture just in front of our mural project, apparently of the father of Ron Dellums, Oakland’s current Mayor. The sculpture is housed in a protective crate, and is currently coated with construction dust from a small opening in the crate.
The first ten foot by ten foot panel is up, ready for tiles!