On every Oakland Urban Paths walk, we try to include some history, art, current events, and to hook up with people in the neighborhood whenever we can. On last Saturday’s walk, “Three Jellyfish, Two Creeks, One New Book”, we had all that and more. About 80 people joined us for an exploration of the Fruitvale district, led by OUP co-founder Paul Rosenbloom.
We started the walk at the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park. While the centerpiece is the home that Antonio Maria Peralta lived in with his family, Peralta Hacienda covers local history from the days of the Ohlone people to the present day and regularly hosts cultural events. It’s also part of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, a unit of the National Park Service.
We crossed the first of the two creeks, Peralta Creek, then headed down 35th Avenue to the Calvin Simmons Middle School. There Paul told us a bit about Oakland Symphony Orchestra director Calvin Simmons, who died tragically young just a few years into a promising career.
Across 35th and up Galindo Street, we came to the 3 jellyfish, part of a new art installation on the Carrington Steps. A few years ago, the steps were a dumping ground and an eyesore. The neighbors got together and cleaned them up, got a grant and created a beautiful mosaic, and got another grant and had Oakland muralist Dan Fontes create a colorful and unique staircase mural. Fontes is probably best known for murals around Oakland like the Giraphics murals under I-580. We heard from Fontes and Cynthia Elliot of Keep Oakland Beautiful about the whole process. Now local students and their parents happily use the stairway, and so far, the stairs are staying clean. (For whoever was wondering, the school beyond the top of the stairs is the Global Family Elementary School.)
Continuing our walk took us along part of Foothill Blvd., where we could see some of the results of the Fruitvale Alive! Community Transportation Plan that was completed in 2005. The streetscaping includes stamped intersections, colorful wayfinding signs, and more. Then it was on to the first of two city parks, the recently revamped Cesar Chavez Park, which includes a stretch of Peralta Creek. We walked near St. Elizabeth Church which was originally organized by German Catholics, but now the congregation is mostly Latino. Crossing Fruitvale Avenue took us to the next city park, Josie de la Cruz Park, named for a local community activist and home to the Carmen Flores Recreation Center. There we got our first glimpse of our second creek, Sausal Creek.
Then it was on the new book portion of our walk. We were a bit surprised to enter Austin Square Park along Sausal Creek by a different entrance than when we’d scouted the route before. We were quite surprised to find the approach required climbing down the hillside to the creek with the aid of a rope. But there we got to hear about the new bilingual children’s book, I Am Sausal Creek / Soy El Arroyo Sausal. We heard from the publisher, Josh Fowler of Nomadic Press, book illustrator Robert Trujillo, and author Melissa Reyes. When she was a teacher, she was told to teach Oakland history to young students, but found few age-appropriate resources, and the idea for the book was born. Reyes read from the book, which tells the story of Sausal Creek from the days of the Ohlone up to present times. It’s full of beautiful watercolor illustrations by Trujillo, and also has a section for parents and older children with a bit more detail about the history.
All around a great walk! Thanks to everyone who came out for the walk, to Paul for organizing and leading the walk, and new OUP volunteer Charlie for helping with the walk logistics. And thanks to Charlie, Noël and Tom for the photos. Be sure to check out Tom’s video at the end of this post.
Next month’s walk will be a more strenuous hike, from the Dimond district up to Skyline Blvd. with a return by bus. See more info here.
Some other notes: the 20th annual Creek to Bay Day is this Saturday, September 19th. This is a fun, free, family-friendly way to help make Oakland more beautiful and protect our local environment. There are work projects along Sausal Creek, Peralta Creek, and all the other creeks that flow through Oakland to the bay. Find a project near you and see more info here.
Sunday, September 20th is the 3rd annual Love Our Lake Day. Some of the streets around Lake Merritt will be closed to vehicle traffic, so people can walk, run, cycle and dance in the streets with a variety of events. I’ll be leading a special walk at Lake Merritt — see more info here.
Speaking of the creeks, check out the Guide to San Francisco Bay Area Creeks on the Oakland Museum of California website. There’s online info and a printed version of the map, too.
To make sure we had enough time for the book event, we skipped part of our route that included seeing the Cohen-Bray House. The home was built by Julia Moses and Watson A. Bray as a wedding present for their daughter Emma, who married attorney Alfred H. Cohen on February 28, 1884. The sprawling Bray family estate was across the street, and while it’s gone, the Cohen-Bray House is an elegant reminder of times past. Tours are available by appointment.
We also didn’t have time to talk about Patten University near Peralta Hacienda. It was founded by evangelical Dr. Bebe H. Patten as the Oakland Bible Institute, after the Pattens led a revival at the Oakland Auditorium that went on for 19 weeks and had as many as 5,000 people a night.