Noodling Around 

After nine years of financial wrangling, Oakland's Noodle Factory may finally have an enduring future as an art space.

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Nevertheless, Harrison is adamant about those conditions. "I'm probably impolitic about this, but these are not lifestyle apartments," she said. "These are not for accountants who think it would be cool to live in an artistic space." Nor is it a space for transient twentysomethings looking to find themselves. Harrison indicated that the newly reincarnated Noodle Factory will house a different demographic than the Sacred Land ravers, or the loose-knit collective of artists who lived there between 2004 and 2006, when the building entered its first phase of demolition. Up until then, the warehouse was not the kind of place where any stable working adult — even a countercultural working adult — would want to live.

Even during the interim period that followed Sacred Land, it was still one of the best after-hours spots in Oakland, home to a monthly queer dance party, the Living Room, the occasional hip-hop event, Club Nocturnal, a few popular spoken-word nights, and Leftist Lounge DJ benefits that would pack hundreds of people into what became an incredibly tight space. It was still a place where parties went well past 4 a.m. and the phrase "deodorant optional" gained new currency.

But those days are gone. "No offense intended to the people who made things happen — I actually thought some of the events were pretty cool — but I never envisioned the space as a party space or a rave space," Harrison said. However, residents will still have more latitude than they would in an average apartment complex. "Our idea is that people need space to make noise and do stuff that won't be appropriate in a nice residential neighborhood," she said. But she's no longer allowing the whole panoply of inappropriate things that existed during the Sacred Land Project years. Current Noodle Factory applicants represent a wide age range from people in their mid-twenties to folks in their early sixties, and Harrison is relieved that middle-age, mid-career artists represent the majority. "Frankly, in the beginning we were concerned about people in their early twenties," she said. "We wanted people who demonstrated a serious commitment."

In its current, newly resurrected state, the Noodle Factory is completely energy-efficient. The floors are concrete with radiant heat; solar panels on the roof provide roughly 75 percent of the electricity and hot water; the downstairs bathrooms are wheelchair-accessible; and there's even an elevator. The building is soundproofed well enough that when you gaze out the north side windows that overlook 26th Street, you'll see cars and trucks pottering up the road, but you won't hear them. The theater has a "floating floor," meaning a wood floor that's a little bouncy, so it can still be used as a dance studio. The patios will have native grasses and trees. It's located in a neighborhood that's still several years from what the average person would call "up-and-coming," given that the mezzanine balconies all provide panoramic views of truck yards and industrial buildings.

Nonetheless, a few promising new businesses recently cropped up in the area, among them the popular soul food restaurant Brown Sugar Kitchen. One major selling point of the Noodle Factory is that it will bring eleven new businesses to West Oakland, Winters said. Recent housing applicants included someone who runs a piano and vocal school, a couple that owned a small record label, and another couple that operated a jewelry-making business. He foresees a more utopian version of the lofts in Jack London Square (in this case, "work-live" instead of "live-work"), wherein each home amounts to a small cottage industry.

Ultimately, Northern California Land Trust will provide an alternative to conventional forms of development in West Oakland. Normally a project would come in and invest a whole bunch of money in the neighborhood with the intent of driving its value up, Winters explained. The upshot is that community residents end up getting priced out of their homes, and are forced to move. "In a neighborhood that's incredibly underinvested as a community you need to make some type of investment in it," Winters said. "The paradox is that when you make that investment, you end up driving the prices up. You end up hurting the people you were trying to help in the first place."

The land trust model tries to minimize the driving up of prices in an area. So far it's been implemented in sixteen Bay Area locations, including a property on Linden Street in West Oakland, where the land trust rehabbed two burnt-out Victorians to create four units of housing and a community garden. The trust currently has two additional properties in the predevelopment phase, and a long list of consulting projects. Winters lives in the Fairview Limited-Equity Housing Co-Op in South Berkeley, where residents share a washing machine and buy bulk food together.

Harrison is currently the note holder of the Noodle Factory, and sits on its advisory board. She lives in the 1,000-square-foot bottom of a South Berkeley duplex, and has no immediate plans to upgrade. She's still something of an idealist, but not the insouciant person she was nine years ago when she launched what would ultimately be a profit-losing operation. "For someone to be a successful artist in the Bay Area you really have to be self-interested and egocentric," Harrison said. "There really is not a lot of room for generosity. I can respect that focus, and people's commitment to getting their own work created and seen. But going into it I did not get that that was the case." She added: "Sorry to be Pollyanna, but to me it actually was surprising."

Looking at the whole thing in retrospect, Harrison said she now realizes that the "self-interest" component of the land trust — the idea that individual artists own their spaces, "but in a supported way" — is essential to the project's viability. In 1999, Harrison was seduced by a vision and not concerned about its execution. "When we were sitting around eating and talking and brainstorming and being visionaries, I didn't get that when push came to shove, people were not about the collective, they were only about their work," she said. In fact, it was a pretty rude awakening. It took nearly a decade for Harrison to realize her vision, and come to terms with the fact that her collective was really a fabrication — that she was the only one with any skin in the game. She may never recover her full investment in the Noodle Factory property — or any of it. For now, she's just happy to see it become somebody else's domain.


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