"Renaissance Outbreak in Oakland?" – by Georgia I. Hesse

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BATW Weekend in Oakland, Jack London Square ©Karen Misuraca
BATW Weekend in Oakland, Jack London Square ©Karen Misuraca

There’s a new “there there” in Oakland, and it isn’t Gertrude Stein’s.
Associate member Mollie (the Mover) Blaisdell, with the energetic assistance of Visit Oakland’s Kim Bardakian and Lindsay Wright, staged  our November meeting in what once was called “the Detroit of the West.” They showed off so many sparkling sites that on my way home to San Francisco via BART and Muni, I decided a more contemporary soubriquet might be Boomtown by the Bay.
(For news on the meeting itself, check out Karen Misuraca’s always-accurate notes.)
BATW birds who signed up early for the usual three- or four-hour meeting delighted in a two-night, three-day dawdle. (Hosts who invited us to feel at home were the Oakland Marriott City Center and the Waterfront on Jack London Square, a Joie de Vivre inn.)
Renaissance became reality beginning Friday at 4:30 p.m. when buses (so much more efficient than chariots) arrived at our inns to transport us to the reworked, reimagined, and – as Quinn Delaney, chair of its board of trustees styles it – a re-envisioned Oakland Museum of California. Born back in the last century (1969, it was), the museum always has been a cornucopia of California art, history, and natural sciences. Since May 31, 2013, it has become a monument to contemporary museology: interactive, hands-on, with as much to do as there is to see: www.museumca.org.
Following a walk-through, vowing to return soon and to move through the galleries more slowly, we were introduced to the Blue Oak Beer Garden near the Koi Pond, transformed on Friday nights into a hip-hop happening, a block party from 5 to 9 p.m. Food trucks from Off the Grid (that granddaddy of gourmet mobile dining) lined up along 10th Street and offered an international tapestry of tastes: Korean, Peruvian, Vietnamese, Filipino, Thai; even fried chicken with doughnuts. Occasionally, I was told, a crème brûlée cart wheels by. We sipped California beer, wine, or even lemonade as, in the outdoor atrium, a band played, babies toddled, seniors shimmied or swayed. The atmosphere could charm a clod.
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Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland ©Lee Foster
Interior of Oakland Cathedral of Christ the Light ©Lee Foster

Saturday morning, following a visit to the popular coffee shop Farley’s East, we walked to the other jewel in Oakland’s new setting: the world’s newest Roman Catholic cathedral, the Cathedral of Christ the Light, which opened on Sept. 25, 2008, rising along the shore of Lake Merritt: www.ctlcathedral.org. It shelters the soul (and some of the substance) of the late, beloved Cathedral of St. Francis de Sales, shaken to its foundations by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. (On the same shore, Franciscan Fr. Juan Crespí celebrated the first Mass in the region in 1772.)
As one enters the bulging nave, particularly on a sunny day, his eyes are seized, almost physically, by the giant figure in the Omega window: a 58-foot-high image of Christ in Majesty adapted from the transept of Chartres Cathedral. I thought at first it was a huge projection on a great, glassy screen. It is not. It is not really there at all. It is an illusory image created by natural light entering through aluminum panels that have been laser-pierced with 94,000 holes. Like the earth, it goes dark at night.
Gradually, I began to notice other artistic wonders: a great vault 110 feet in height, composed of curved beams of Douglas fir that meet at the top to support the oculus, a ceiling-window that appears to float, admitting light that streams between 768 louvers. WOW!
Writer Matthew Alderman, reporting in a publication of the Institute for Sacred Architecture, doesn’t like Oakland’s new cathedral very much, saying it “disappoints,” and calling the “fascinating exercise in digital pyrotechnics,” as a result, “a bit sterile.”
“Can a truly successful modernistic church be built?” Alderman asks. Yep, I think so, and architect Craig W. Hartman of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill has designed it. Take one of the free, docent-guided tours offered every weekday at 1 p.m. (groups by reservation) and see what you think.
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Kayaking the Oakland Estuary ©Lee Foster
Kayaking the Oakland Estuary ©Lee Foster

A gondola cruise, with Lake Merritt as a Venetian stand-in, set a mellow mood for Saturday evening, followed by a fine dinner at Lake Châlet (same ownership as San Francisco’s Beach and Garden Châlets): (www.thelakechalet.com). We closed out the evening with music as smooth as the Rémy-Martin Cognac at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in Jack London Square.
An old-fashioned, down-home breakfast at Lakeshore Café sent Sunday off to a smashing start, followed by tours of the USS Potomac, the cutter that served Franklin Delano Roosevelt as Presidential Yacht but surprisingly severe treat from 1936 until his death in 1945: (www.usspotomac.org). It’s docked at Jack London Square within easy ambling distance of the weekend produce market.
Handcrafted pizza and a plentitude of persuasions followed outdoors at the Square’s The Forge (www.theforgepizza.com): Iowa cheese curds, crispy Brussels sprouts, fall fruit; the whole enchilada, as it were.
That fitted us out for a) kayak lessons on the Oakland estuary (www.calkayak.com); or b) a saunter through the seven-acre Lakeside Gardens (www.gardensatlakemerritt.org): California junipers that can live for a thousand years and suiseki stones that look like sea otters. Oh, the wonder of it all!
Gertrude’s there there may be long gone, but there’s a new one there. Did you know that at one time in 1880 the Stein family and Robert Louis Stevenson lived in the same Tubbs Hotel? Visit Oakland![/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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