Back to East 14th Street

There’s a viral movement to change the name of International Boulevard back to East 14th Street—the name it had for nearly 100 years.



Michael Budd said he's been "blown away" by the positive response to his idea.

Photo by Stephen Texeira

To some, International Boulevard is just another street, a shortcut to the Coliseum or a nondescript tangle of gridlock best avoided. But to Michael Budd, it is the street of dreams.

“I grew up there. Back then, it was everything. There was the Fruitvale Theater, Al’s Chop Suey, dance halls, and night clubs, even a feed store,” said Budd, 66, a retired engineer and third-generation Oaklander. “And there was Montgomery Ward with its popcorn and beach balls. If you were 9 years old, it was magical.”

On a nostalgic whim recently, Budd posted on social media how he wished the city would change the street’s name from International Boulevard back to East 14th Street, the name it held for decades before the city council voted to change it in 1996 in hopes of improving its reputation.

Almost immediately, Budd’s post went viral. Within days he had hundreds of “likes,”  “shares,” and comments from strangers around the country enthusiastically voicing their agreement. In short, Budd had launched a movement.

“We all still call it East 14th Street. Why not change it back?” said Chris Iglesias, chief executive of the Unity Council in the Fruitvale district, who also grew up in the neighborhood. “East 14th Street—it’s iconic. It’s Oakland. It’s directional. Oakland is laid out on a grid, and East 14th Street tells you where you are. ‘You’re at 86th and East 14th? Whoa!’”

He understands why the city changed it. After all, the street passes through some of the most diverse pockets of the Bay Area: neighborhoods of Latin Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Middle Easterners, and other groups.

But maybe it’s time to admit International Boulevard never really stuck. The street is about to undergo major changes at bus-rapid-transit moves in. Hundreds of million of dollars in infrastructure improvements will bring new sidewalks, lighting, and a dedicated bus line down the middle of the street, among other improvements. Maybe this is a good time to change the name, too, he said.

City Council President Larry Reid, whose East Oakland district includes a long stretch of International Boulevard, said he was open to the idea. “I have not heard about the efforts to change the name again, but it’s something I’m willing to look at,” he wrote in an email.

East 14th Street has had many name changes over the decades. Originally, it was a Native American north-south route, perfectly situated on a dry, flat surface just above the shoreline wetlands. Later, after the arrival of the Spanish in the late 1700s, the route linked the East Bay’s ranchos to Mission San Jose and points south, sort of an eastern version of El Camino Real. Along with Foothill Boulevard, East 14th was one of the primary north-south arteries in the East Bay.

As the city of Oakland began to grow in the mid-1800s, the road—then called Adams Street—linked the towns of Brooklyn, Melrose, Fairfax, Fruitvale, and others to downtown, said Oakland historian and author Dennis Evanosky.

A rail line down the middle of the street—a precursor of sorts to bus-rapid-transit—delivered agricultural goods and passengers from Hayward to Oakland. The name changed to East 14th Street in the early 20th century.

The street was built in “fits and starts,” Evanosky said, but in general it has always been one of the main arteries along the eastern shoreline. It’s the main drag through San Leandro, where it’s still called East 14th Street, and in Hayward becomes Mission Boulevard, which stretches to the southern end of Fremont before becoming State Highway 238. In all, the street is about 23 miles and traverses four cities.

Oakland’s city council decided to change the name of the Oakland stretch in the mid-1990s to both recognize the diversity of people living along the street and try to spruce up a part of town that had been plagued for years by high crime rates. Some residents and merchants opposed the idea back then, saying they liked the old name just fine and swapping out street signs would do nothing to lower crime.

“Changing the name never made any sense. It was an attempt at gentrification,” Evanosky said. “San Leandro didn’t change it. Everyone still calls it East 14th Street. It was a stupid idea. I think it’d be great if they changed it back.”

Budd said he’s been “blown away” by the positive response to his idea. He grew up in the Lockwood Gardens housing project and later on 35th Avenue, and has nothing but fondness for what he describes as the best street in the world.

“Sometimes, I skip the freeway and drive the entire length of East 14th Street all the way home just for fun,” he said. “I love this street. It’s my heritage. ... I hope we can get this to happen.”

 

Published online on March 6, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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