Circling Jack London Square
The First Friday art walk in Oakland, California — known as Oakland Art Murmur — is a chance for galleries throughout the city, from uptown to downtown to Jingletown, to throw open their doors for an art-loving public. Current shows of note include Kurt Fishback’s “51 Portraits of Women Artists” through July 18 at Transmission Gallery in West Oakland and Chicago-based painter and textile artist Samantha Bittman’s “Material Data” through July 4 at Johansson Projects. The Friday commute is a killer for Orange County residents though, so luckily there’s a much more leisurely “art stroll” that takes place on Saturday mornings. Here’s how to make the most of it.
10:30 p.m. Leave Anaheim by bus.
6 a.m. Arrive at the West Oakland BART Station, ill-prepared for the cold wind blowing off the San Francisco Bay. In short sleeves, walk 30 minutes to Jack London Square, following Mandela Parkway south to Third Street, under the Nimitz Freeway and past the Port of Oakland.
7 a.m. Arrive on the waterfront. Shivering from the cold in a gray and still-slumbering Jack London Square, be reminded of the short story “To Build a Fire.”
7:05 a.m. Decide not to.
8 a.m. Wander through the functioning produce district, with workers loading and unloading vegetables along Franklin Street, to the lovingly-gentrified 1920s-era commercial buildings of the Warehouse District. Formerly the west coast warehouses for the likes of American Bag and Cincinnati-based C.L. Greeno Co. (“manufacturer of the highest quality steel furniture springs available”), these buildings are now home to yoga studios, artist workspaces and residential lofts.
9 a.m. For breakfast, try Bette’s Oceanview Diner up in Berkeley, but finding that the wait is too long, go instead to Berkeley Bowl West on Heinz Avenue — chock-full of dozens of varieties of apples, pears and apple pears, not to mention mushrooms, radicchio, Honduran okra, fiddlehead ferns and five hundred varieties of beer. Eat at The Café at Berkeley Bowl West: good food, locally-sourced, with little or no delay.
10 a.m. Walk across the street to Kala Art Institute (pronounced with an emphasis on the second syllable, from a Sanksrit word for art). Founded in 1974, the gallery and studio is contained in a former Heinz factory, the ironwork railings still painted ketchup red. Among the image-making processes made available to artists and students alike are etching, letterpress, screen printing and a darkroom for photography. Be given a tour by artist-in-residence and Orange Coast College professor emeritus Donna Westerman.
1 p.m. Leaving Berkeley, make your way south on San Pablo Avenue to Oakland’s 25th Street Arts District, formerly the automobile mechanics district, and prior to that the horse stable district. The landscape now gives way to art galleries, including Vessel (housed in a 1906 former stable), and an assortment of smaller spaces such as Photo, Manna Gallery, Roscoe Ceramic Gallery and Slate Contemporary.
3 p.m. Returning to the Warehouse District, do a visit of Fourth Street Studios in the old C.L. Greeno Co. warehouse. Take the vintage commercial elevator up to the third floor, where Brandy Eiger works in encaustic and mixed media and Donna Westerman uses her space to plan woodcuts to be printed at Kala, inspired by weather patterns in the natural landscape.
4 p.m. Order a ginger molasses cookie with a dusting of sugar and a cup of Samovar green tea at the 300 Webster Street location of Blue Bottle Coffee, a tech-world favorite which has just received another inexplicable $25 million dollar round of financing from Twitter and Instagram founders, Google Ventures and Morgan Stanley bankers. Savor the bite of the ginger.
5 p.m. Step down into Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon with its slanting bar at 48 Webster Street, established in 1883 and frequented by Jack London (among other writers), who notes in his autobiographical novel John Barleycorn: “I went to see Johnny Heinhold in the Last Chance, and I went to borrow money … Saloon-keepers are notoriously good fellows.”
6 p.m. Having borrowed ten dollars, check in to one of various inns with the writer’s name on it. The woman behind the counter at the Jack London Inn (444 Embarcadero, from $89.99), with its space age signage, tells you “This used to be nice.” Note the (allegedly) autographed photo of Jack London on the wall that says “Thanks for a wonderful stay. Really enjoyed the trains” — which pass by at all hours on the street below, whistles blaring.
9 a.m. For breakfast, call ahead for a space at Chop Bar at 247 Fourth Street. 250,000 pounds of coffee used to be roasted in the basement of this 1926 building annually; now there are lofts upstairs and a walk-up coffee window next to the restaurant. Along with your beverage of choice, order French toast on locally-made Firebrand challah bread, with apples, candied walnuts and whipped cream.
12 p.m. Fully sated, walk over to the year-round Farmer’s Market at Water Street and Franklin, on the waterfront of Jack London Square. Buy organic produce, listen to street musicians or have a local poet compose a poem about Oakland, typed out on a Smith-Corona typewriter and concluding with the observation that:
[…] some- how a cohesive community fills the space in a place like oakland.