Letters for the week of November 30-December 6, 2005 

Highrises at Jack London Square will destroy its human scale. Plus, this week, an eighth day of Calendar; next week a redesign.

"A Shadow Falls Over the Square," City of Warts, 11/9

Who in officialdom strives for quality?
Chris Thompson just misses the point of what's really at stake in the Jack London Square district, the birthplace of the East Bay. Historic preservation is key to any success here, but, under the doofus impression that it's all about cramming the area with more and more residents (and therefore giving concessions to development interests) the City of Oakland, ably abetted by the Port of Oakland, has managed to deny the area's history, particularly along Lower Broadway, to the point where almost all the significant structures here -- many dating back to well before the 1906 earthquake and fire and some even unto the Civil War -- are now so endangered that their demolition is likely just a matter of time.

That there is a Waterfront Warehouse District here at all is a tribute to the Jack London residents who had to fight City Hall every step of the way, and not the top-down planning honchos whose lip-service support for the so-called Estuary Policy Plan (just a document that developers reference whenever they need to get an entitlement to do precisely the opposite of what the Estuary Plan Advisory Committee envisioned) is surely the biggest joke in town -- now that Jacques Barzaghi is gone.

In contrast to the new buildings and the Anytown architecture slated to crop up at the Square, the unique stand of historic structures across Embarcadero, up Broadway, and extending several blocks east and west serves as the human-scale counterpoint necessary to the retail revitalization of the area. The building facades have been through so many renovations and '50s-style modernizing that it's difficult for most laypeople to gauge their value as an integral part of Oakland's history. And, yes, you can't stack a lot of lofts on top of the landmark (c. 1910) Western Pacific Station at 3rd and Washington, but look directly across the street at the Best Western Motel for a real wake-up preview of what the whole area is likely to look like when the wrecking ball finally cometh.

And where did all this blather originate about residents being the big enticement for retail? For the chain-store addict maybe, but Everett & Jones does just fine down here, thanks, because it's a specialty shop that (a) cares as much about its product as it does its clientele, and (b) it serves up originality to folks who prefer it. Seems to me that the Square was not all that long ago one of the most lively -- and fun -- destinations in the entire Bay Area -- and with nary a single resident for blocks in any direction. Could be that's because people are by nature drawn to the synergy of the marketplace and not because they happen to stumble out of bed every so often and need somewhere nearby for, say, an immediate fast-food fix?

Ask just about anyone to name all their favorite places at the Square thirty or forty years ago, and they'll not only do just that, they'll probably go on to name practically every last business here and who the owner was. Ask them what's down here now, and maybe you'll hear Scott's and Heinhold's Last Chance, but that's about it. Let's face it: The City of Oakland doesn't know doodly squat about retail development (seen any good ones lately?) or historic preservation either. The recent attempt to raze Oakland's iconic 9th Avenue Terminal (c. 1928), the last significant waterfront breakbulk facility in the East Bay, is as much a travesty as was the misguided dismantling of the Key System back in the '60s, both examples of city planning at its drop-dead worst.

But who in officialdom strives for quality these days? After they're all done "improving" Lower Broadway, they'll be coming next for Oakland's historic (c. 1916) Produce Market, the last of its kind west of the Mississippi. Maybe the Express ought to rethink who it might want to endorse for mayor in the upcoming election, or have you guys already bought totally into the New Jack City, antipreservationist mentality that's spinning our waterfront -- and, along with it, Oakland's personality -- into the void?
Steve Lowe, Oakland

In our November 23 review of the debut CD from the Oakland-based performer known as Street to Nowhere, we got the disc's name backward; it is Charmingly Awkward, not Awkwardly Charming. And our review of Madonna's latest was written by Joshua Rotter, not Alex P. Kellogg.

Next week, we'll be presenting This Week

Announcing Our New Calendar

Starting next week, Express readers will notice a new look in the middle of the paper. We've redesigned our Calendar section and given it a new name, This Week, as well as an improved, easier-to-navigate format. Beginning next issue, This Week will highlight selected East Bay events chronologically on a Thursday-through-Wednesday basis, with prominent graphics and our usual incisive commentary on the week's choices in arts and entertainment. The new format leaves one orphan day, Wednesday, December 7 - so we're including it in this week's Calendar section, which starts on page 30.

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