You're an Oaklander If ...
30 Ways to Gauge Your Authenticity
Photography by: Pat Mazzera
Edited by: Judith M. Gallman
Text by: Angela J. Bass, Amanda Cherrin, Charleen Early, Cyrus Farivar, Alex Handy, Jessica Hilberman, Daniel Jewett, Laurie Isola, Derk Richardson and Marcus Thompson II.
Just because you live in Oakland doesn’t mean you can call yourself an Oaklander. But if you can relate to these gems about the five-and-dime, then you can rightfully claim your Oaktown heritage. Latecomers and recent immigrants to the land of Oaks may boast high Oakland IQs, but mining the depths of everyone’s Oakland-ness is what this quintessential list of Oakland-centric trivia is all about.
We’ve also prepared a little quiz so you can test your Oakland knowledge to see whether you’re an ultimate Oaklander or ought to hightail it back to from whence you came. Nostalgia abounds in these 30 mini-history lessons, so check off how many ring a bell for you, and look for more maxims about being an authentic Oaklander in upcoming issues. For now, here’s a guide to judging your inner Oaklander, so you’re an Oaklander if …
1. Your wardrobe includes a "I Hella ❤ Oakland" T-shirt.
It packs more pride than a Raiders decal. It’s more grassroots than an A’s cap. It’s more diehard than a Warriors jersey. Only Oaklanders would dare wear it. “I always liked the ‘I ❤ NY’ shirts,” says creator David Renshaw, 33, who peddles the gear on www.hellalove.com. “I thought it would be a great idea if Oakland had one of its own, but something unique to Oakland.” Hella—as Oakland a phrase as there ever was—is synonymous with “a lot” or “really” or “very.” You can say it in front of anything to add emphasis. Oaklanders wear it in front of anyone to represent. (M.T.)
2. You long for a footlong from Kasper's (not Casper's) Original Hot Dogs.
The saddest scene in Oakland’s burgeoning Temescal neighborhood is the boarded up flatiron storefront on the triangular island where Shattuck meets Telegraph at 45th Street. The dormant neon sign reads “Kasper’s Original Hot Dogs,” an unblinking paean to the icon of Oakland weenerie, since 1929. Although Casper’s outlets (plus another small Bay Area chain of Kasper’s joints) stemmed from the same family tree, the tiny Temescal outpost remained the lone indie and closest link to frankfurter founder Kasper Koojoolian, who passed it down to his son-in-law Harry Yaglijian. Only a few years ago, Harry Jr. was assembling the Kasper’s classic on a steamed bun—with mustard, relish, tomato wedges, sliced onions and a dash of salt and special combo pepper. (D.R.)
3. You’ve got a favorite couch at the Parkway Theater.
Every night, thousands of people in lesser cities curl up on a couch at home and watch a movie while dining on pizza. But Oaklanders don’t need the “at home” part of this equation. We’ve got the Parkway Theater, about the only American movie hall with Boont Amber on tap and pepperoni pizzas in the lobby. As if it weren’t cool enough to eat pizza and drink beer in a movie theater, those glorious couches in each of the Parkway’s two screening rooms are the perfect place to cuddle up with your sweetie after Jaws pops out of the water or the Grudge girl makes that creepy noise again. True Oaklanders know that to get your favorite couch, you’ve got to come early and jump on it first. (A.H.)
4. You’ve held a charter membership to the Downtown YMCA.
When the 75,000-square-foot Downtown Y opened on Broadway in 1986, it was a cutting-edge center (and still is) and all the rave as the newest and largest gym in the East Bay. As a teenager wearing a rubber swim cap with flowers, I visited the Y with my girlfriend, her grandmother and senior friends for water aerobics. The initial charter membership, established to help cover construction costs, consisted of 2,000 members. Today, the Y (soon to be 80,200 square feet) offers a steam room, whirlpools, indoor cycling, Pilates, indoor pool, basketball gym and more, including aerobics classes with Jack Holleman, associate executive director, who’s been teaching some of the same students since 1990. (C.E.)
5. You saw Primus at the Omni.
In what seemed more like an adventure from Homer’s Odyssey than a simple trip to a club, my high school friends and I made a monthly trek to Oakland from the protected suburbs we called home to hear great live music at the Omni Ballroom. In the late 1980s a trip to Oakland seemed pretty scary to a car full of teenagers, but hearing bands like Primus, the Limbomaniacs and Mr. Bungle made the long haul worth it. The faded marquee on this North Oakland landmark at 4799 Shattuck Ave., a Spanish Colonial-style building that began life as the Ligure Social Club in 1934, is still visible, even though the music has been silent for more than a decade. This club featured national acts and local favorites, and access could be had, even to those not yet 21, for the price of admission plus the cost of two pre-purchased, non-alcoholic drinks (OK, so it wasn’t perfect). (D.J.)
6. You’ve made a mad dash to the Main Post Office for a late-night postmark.
Ah, relief. It washed over me as I stood at the row of blue mailboxes on Seventh Street. Like many Oaklanders, the late hours of the Main Post Office in West Oakland had bailed me out. Some 11 years ago, I was putting together my college application packages when I realized UCLA’s application had to be postmarked that day. It was 10 p.m. I nearly punched a hole in the wall—until I remembered the main branch postmarked up until midnight (sadly, it’s 8 p.m. nowadays). I took BART to the West Oakland station and walked down the block to the row of blue mailboxes, where sweet relief was waiting for me. (M.T.)
7. Oliveto’s Whole Hog Dinner is plugged into your PDA.
Every February, Oliveto, the gourmet anchor of Oakland’s food scene, brings down the house with its Whole Hog Dinner—and, yes, said hog is shipped direct from a pig farm in Iowa. The annual event incorporates the whole hog, and the 2006 deluxe dinner included everything from expected pork classics like headcheese (coppa di testa), prosciutto and pastrami but rounded out the evening with new treats such as bacon ice cream. This six-course meal remains one of Oliveto’s most popular events of the year, and the reservation list of people looking to stuff themselves silly with salumi and porcine pickings fills up quickly. Chef Paul Canales will be serving up these carnivorous treats Feb. 6-9. (C.F.)
8. You watched minor league baseball at Oaks Park.
The Oakland baseball stadium was located on 45th Street and San Pablo Avenue, and the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League played there from 1913 to 1955. The Oaks, also known as the Acorns, weren’t a run-of-the-mill minor league club. They had well-known managers such as Casey Stengel, Chuck Dressen and Mel Ott, all of whom managed in the majors. They also had future notables such as Billy Martin and Vince DiMaggio on their roster. The 1948 squad, known as the “Nine Old Men,” was a collection of old major league players. (M.T.)
9. You brag about Oakland’s connection to Star Wars AT-ATs.
Star Wars nerd-out time! Those circular metal footfalls shook the theater with a galactic “fwooomp.” Down underground, the Rebels raced to evacuate their base on the planet Hoth, their window for escape quickly dwindling as the hulking four-legged war machines known as AT-ATs, for All Terrain-Armored Transport, stomped closer and closer to their planetary defenses. Everyone remembers these behemoths of the battlefield, and we all know that Luke Skywalker took down two of the buggers himself (Luke’s co-pilot, Wes Janson, bit it in combat). What you may not know is that the AT-ATs used in The Empire Strikes Back were assembled in two different shipyards. The Kuat Drive Yards cooked up that particular film’s AT-ATs, but there is another, less fantastic shipyard behind these walking war machines: the Oakland shipyards. True Oaklanders already know that George Lucas based these science fiction standing frigates on those huge four-legged cranes at the Port of Oakland. It’s the sort of cool fact that rolls off the tongue of a driver bringing a newcomer across the Bay Bridge and into the maze. (A.H.)
10. You get pissed when somebody refers to San Francisco as “the city.”
Make no mistake: The reference is a snub. Sure, you’ve allowed this affront to slide, but no more. You now defend Oakland’s urban status—just the eighth largest city in California, the county seat of Alameda County and the third most populous Bay Area city—by countering with, “What’s Oakland? The friggin’ backcountry?!” (A.B.)
11. You can keep a beverage level inside Heinhold's.
Heinhold’s First and Last Chance Saloon is more than just a bar; it’s an Oakland institution. Nestled at the end of Jack London Square, this boxy little wooden shack, encrusted with green neon, is the only place still standing on the Oakland waterfront that was there when London himself was. Oaklanders have memorized Heinhold’s fact sheet and rules and know that the Regulator clock on the wall inside hasn’t ticked a single second since the time (5:12 a.m.) of the 1906 earthquake. Only the truest of Oaklanders, however, can stay level headed while navigating the steeply angled bar without spilling a drop of their beer. (A.H.)
12. You crave Everett & Jones Barbecue.
E & J is a staple of Oakland cuisine. But not the ’cue from the uppity digs at Jack London Square. That’s where you take out-of-towners. True Oaklanders eat at the hole-in-the-wall on Fruitvale Avenue. There’s something about spending the wait scanning historic pictures, archival articles and aged autographs from celebrities such as Patti Labelle, John Madden and the original Destiny’s Child. There’s something about freeing that sweet, pungent aroma from the confines of a brown paper bag and a Styrofoam tray. There’s something about wheat bread in a sandwich bag, barbecue sauce leaking into your potato salad and peach cobbler crammed into a plastic container. And there’s something about having to lick your fingers and let them air dry after your realize there are no napkins in the bag. (M.T.)
13. You were born on Pill Hill.
Before HMOs, chain drugstores and Medicare reform schemes dominated the health-care landscape, medicine’s physical horizon in Oakland peaked at the gentle rise behind what became Broadway auto row. Once the site of Rev. Edward Brown Walsworth’s Female College of the Pacific, a post-Civil War military academy for boys and St. Mary’s College, the ridge began its evolution with the turn-of-the-century construction of Samuel Merritt Hospital. In addition to the summit’s relatively towering hospital buildings, where thousands of natives were delivered, clusters of independent pharmacies and doctors’ offices on the surrounding neighborhood streets made Pill Hill Oakland’s original medical Mecca. (D.R.)
14. You’ve dined late night at Merritt Restaurant & Bakery.
Winding down after clubbing? Need a bite after a show? Hungry and nothing’s open? Real Oaklanders have dined late night at Merritt Restaurant & Bakery. “The fried chicken is what’s popular,” say Rickey Persons, 48, a lifelong Oakland resident. “It could be 11, midnight, 1 a.m., it doesn’t matter.” Merritt—a greasy spoon just off the lake that has survived a bankruptcy scare, ownership changes and a fire—has silenced late-night cravings for decades. It’s usually bustling with a diverse crowd and serves everything from country breakfasts to veggie burgers. On the way out, stop at the bakery side for some saucer-sized cookies, mocha cheesecake or pecan pie. Persons has his favorite: “I like their peanut butter cookies.” (M.T.)
15. You’re expert at nabbing a primo table on the Paragon deck.
Tucked away at the mouth of Claremont Canyon on the Oakland-Berkeley border, one can find the Paragon Bar and Cafe, inside The Claremont Resort & Spa. Come for the eats, the drinks and the live nightly jazz, but stay and get drunk on what may be one of the best views of the Bay, its astonishing bridges and the pearl of the West Coast, San Francisco. If you bring your out-of-town friends (or a date) here on a clear night at sunset, you may just have impressed them for life. (C.F.)
16. You watched movies at the now-dark Coliseum Drive-in Theatre.
Those days of watching Love Story on the outdoor screen are long gone, with the beloved Coliseum Drive-in Theatre replaced by a gigantic almost-daily flea market. Remember hooking that heavy, bulky metal speaker, with more static than your 1950s sweater, onto your hand-cranked roll-down window? Sadly, closed is the norm for the rest of the Bay Area drive-in theaters, but movie lovers can no doubt still find those classic VHS films at the flea market. The first California drive-in was built in June 1938. California had tons of them and, with more than 20 still open today, remains a top 5 drive-in state. (C.E.)
17. Your last apartment was a 6,000-square-foot abandoned warehouse.
Best thing about the booming economy? Not having to live in a nonresidential-zoned warehouse anymore. Sure, while the dot-coms were all dot-bombs, that 6,000-square-foot former furniture factory was a great place to hang your hat: low rent, no neighbors and tons of space. And you lived in the cool neighborhood before anybody else even knew it was cool. The amenities afforded by your current digs—showers, working stoves and closets—put your old place to shame. But no matter how much of an upgrade your new abode really is, that last warehouse will always hold a speical place in your heart. (A.H.)
18. You think of Yoshi’s at Jack London Square as the “new” Yoshi’s.
In 2007 Yoshi’s Jazz House and Restaurant celebrates its 10th year at its Jack London Square location, and in 2008 there will likely be another new Yoshi’s, in San Francisco’s Fillmore district. Authentic Oaklanders, however, will still fondly recall the original Claremont Avenue location in the Rockridge district, where Kaz Kajimura and Yoshi Akiba gradually built a neighborhood eatery with a music program into a jazz destination, starting with local bookings and gradually adding international stars. Those artists, such as McCoy Tyner, Oscar Peterson, Pharoah Sanders and Marian McPartland, and faithful fans consider the “new” Yoshi’s one of the finest music venues in the world. (D.R.)
19. There’s a brick with your name on it at the Oakland Zoo.
Today’s Oakland Zoo is nestled atop the rolling hills of the 525-acre Knowland Park, though the first, founded by naturalist Henry Snow, opened its doors to animals and humans in 1922 in downtown Oakland. The zoo ultimately relocated to Golf Links Road in 1936. The bricks were in vogue roughly 10 years ago, where a $100 donation bought a brick with your name and helped pay the costs of new exhibits for the sun bears and caribous. The brick program is a thing of the past, but new sponsorships are available for partnering and learning about the zoo’s 440 native and exotic animals, from pygmy goats to elephants. And you’re never too old to ride the train either. (C.E.)
20. You're a magic key holder to Children's Fairyland.
Visitors must walk through a shoe to get into the historic 10-acre land of storybook characters, kiddie rides and live animals known as Children’s Fairyland, around since 1950. Real Oaklanders have a coveted gold key, which can’t be bought; they’re given out annually in June at fundraisers. Colored keys cost $2 and are kept for life—or until they’re lost. Ordered in batches of 10,000, they unlock Granny Goose stories told through sound boxes throughout the park. Fairyland, which recently opened an annex to sell keys and more at the Oakland International Airport, also has a famous puppet theater that has trained America’s foremost puppeteers, including Tony Urbano, Luman Coad and Frank Oz. (C.E.)
21. Lois the Pie Queen personally served you.
An Oaklander knows that if you say, “Lois the Pie Queen,” you’re not talking about a person; you’re talking about chicken, waffles and sweet potato pie. Sure, there was a Lois Davis, and her recipes are still used to make her namesake restaurant’s desserts. Today, her son Chris Davis runs the restaurant and dishes out the Lemon Ice pie that’s the restaurant’s specialty. Pre-pie, the Reggie Jackson special—a very hearty plateful of pork chops, eggs, grits and biscuits—is the joint’s most popular meal. Jackson’s favorite back when he played for the A’s, the special has been making cardiologists cry for 54 years, but it’ll make your taste buds sing. (J.H.)
22. If you saw the first fantasy football draft at the King’s X.
In its heyday, the King’s X was far more than a bar. It was a bar, a restaurant, a home to the best business lunch on Piedmont Avenue and the center of a little game called fantasy football. Fantasy football did not actually start at the King’s X; it’s origins were in an Oakland home in 1963, where Andy Mousalimas had the first pick in the first fantasy draft ever. His choice? George Blanda, who still holds the record for most NFL seasons played (26, if you’re wondering). The draft moved to the X when Mousalimas bought it in 1968, and that’s when fantasy football really took off. In the pre-Internet era, Mousalimas spent seven hours a night tallying fantasy football results from the newspaper after he closed up shop. There the game lived, and thrived, until 2005 when the X changed hands and became the Kona Klub, a tiki bar. But the draft still exists. It moved to the Grand Oaks bar on Grand Avenue, and it’s still called the King’s X Draft despite the new digs. At 82, Mousalimas still picks a team each season. As the first fantasy draft-picker ever, he has a long tradition to maintain. (J.H.)
23. You’re a diehard Genova Deli fan.
There’s only one sandwich in Oakland that’ll satiate the deepest of bread/meat/bread cravings, and it’s been crafted at a Temescal institution since the 1920s: Genova Delicatessen. Doesn’t matter if the line is out the door, you’ll join the throng, take a number, pick a golden Dutch crunch or French roll out of the bins and wait patiently for the team to stack it with Italian deli meats, gobs of mayonnaise, shredded lettuce and balsamic vinegar and oil dressing. Your sandwich also comes with a hearty helping of guffawing with the super-friendly staff. So step inside, pull a number and inhale. You’re in Oakland now. (L.I.)
24. You know the difference between Rod Dibble and Rob Dibble.
For ’60s and ’70s culture snobs, it was a comic anachronism, an Oaktown version of the Bill Murray lounge-lizard parody on Saturday Night Live: The permanent sign painted on The Alley’s outside wall said it all: “Rod Dibble at the piano.” But Dibble, still saloon crooning a half-century since Grand Avenue’s post-WW II glory days, has the last laugh. His devotees flock around “the best bar piano player in America” (not to be confused with the heat-throwing “bad-boy” major-league pitcher Rob), as he rambles through sentimental pop and jazz standards, providing impeccable keyboard karaoke for faithful septuagenarians, boomers whose cynicism has turned to nostalgia, and young nightcrawlers who know a good old thing when they find it. (D.R.
25. You’re a regular at the Super Longs.
You’re an Oaklander if you’ve discovered the one-stop shopping Mecca at the Longs Drugs on 51st Street (aka as the Super Longs to some). Seemingly three times the size of any other drugstore, this 24-hour outfit at 51st and Broadway must have taken to the juice. Prescription pickups and toiletries are only the tip of the iceberg here. Have a late-night hankering for some English tea biscuits? Re-landscaping the yard? Goin’ fishin’ and misplaced the pole? Looking to outfit an entire apartment? Need fabric for the curtains? Making a salad? It’s hella possible at Longs, which is one of the reasons why I hella ❤ Oakland. (L.I.
26. All your childhood birthday cakes came from Neldam’s Bakery.
This time-honored Telegraph Avenue confectionery in the 3400 block is one of the few scratch-mix, independently owned bakeries left in the Bay Area. George and Rosalia Neldam opened their doors to make pastry treats when the Great Depression hit in 1929. According to their grandson, Mike Neldam, George Neldam worked other bakeries full time, until 1930, when he focused solely on his own. In a single year, Neldam’s goes through approximately 17 tons of butter, 65 tons of sugar, 34 tons of cream, 4 tons of chocolate and 4,000 cases of fresh strawberries—which translates into childhood birthday bliss of about 100 cakes a week for thousands of little customers. (C.E.)
27. You embrace jury duty, which allows a lunchtime duck into Ratto’s for a sandwich.
If you’re, say, bound by law while serving jury duty in downtown, then you’re bound by tradition to stop in for a sandwich at G.B. Ratto & Co. International Grocers, a cornerstone of Old Oakland eateries. More than 100 years old, the deli is a landmark where you can get a delicious sandwich to keep you fueled for the rest of the trial. While you’re waiting for your sandwich, your wandering eyes (and stomach) may be drawn to the wide assortment of other worldly goods, including grains, pastas and the house brand olive oil. And before you know it, you may walk out with a lighter wallet, albeit with a hearty meal and a heavier grocery bag. (C.F.)
28. Holding your breath through the Caldecott Tunnel is a family affair.
It was the wrong turn that lasted an hour. On a drive to Berkeley, my dad missed Highway 13, and we ended up on westbound Highway 24 headed east. Being good sports, my mom, sister and I took deep breaths and tried not to explode before we reached the other side of the Caldecott Tunnel. We made it. On the turnaround, we vowed to puff out our cheeks and not breathe, but 15 feet inside the tunnel, we gave up in a chorus of noisy exhalations. Holding one’s breath is a skill, sure, but time of day and direction of traffic are everything. And while that problem may one day be solved by the advent of the elusive fourth bore, I’m not holding my breath. (J.H.)
29. You did all your holiday shopping at I. Magnin.
I. Magnin was the first retail chain founded by a woman, Mary Ann Magnin, and in the late 19th-century, it was the first to introduce Coco Chanel to the West Coast. On par with Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus with stunning Art Deco buildings filled with lots of Lalique chandeliers, eglomise mirrored cabinets and bronze elevator doors, I. Magnin made shoppers feel like they were above upper class. Original Oaklanders may remember the classic line about the I. Magnin in Uptown: “It was so fancy, the bargain basement was on the 6th floor!” (C.E.)
30. Pop quiz: Where did the Oakland Raiders play before the Coliseum was built?
You’re an Oaklander if you the know the answer is Frank Youell Field, which is now part of Laney College. From 1962 to 1965, the Raiders played their home games next to the Nimitz Freeway in the 22,000-seat stadium. That’s back when Al Davis, now the owner, was the head coach. “[Receiver] Art Powell was my favorite,” says Oakland native Gary Harden, 54, who went to nearly every game at Frank Youell Field with his father, James. “He had the ability to tiptoe that sideline. He would catch an out pass and hug the sideline. He was known for that.” (M.T.)
What kind of Oaklander are you? Tally up your points score and read on to find out.
You hold the key to Fairyland, a charter membership to the Y, and yeah, that’s your name in the Oakland Zoo brickyard. You go way back, back to the days when the Raiders ran amok at Frank Youell Field, the Oakland Oaks ruled the Pacific Coast League and Yoshi’s rocked Rockridge. What can we say? You Hella ❤ Oakland—it says it right there across your chest.
When it comes to Oaktown, you’re no novice, that’s for sure. You came into being on Pill Hill. You know that the best part of jury duty is the lunchtime sandwich from Ratto’s and that the only place to find a fishing pole at 2 a.m. is the Longs on 51st. You’ve got your Dibbles straight, and you know the difference between Casper’s and Kasper’s. Well done.
Sure, you’ve done your time in an urban loft, licked your fingers clean at the real Everett & Jones, mailed last-minute tax returns from the main post office and pictured AT-ATs trudging across an intergalactic battlefield while driving up Interstate 880, but in the grand scheme of things, you’re fairly new to the East Bay. Give it some time; you’ll get there.
Go Back to San Francisco
You’re one of those people who refers to San Francisco as “the city,” aren’t you? And you call yourself an Oaklander … a night at the Claremont, a drink at Heinhold’s and an Oliveto hog do not an Oaklander make. We suggest you head west and return to your old stomping grounds. (A.C.)