West Oakland Ride

loma prieta memorial

On the second half of my bike ride through West Oakland yesterday I made a short visit to the Loma Prieta Earthquake memorial park. The park pays respect to the residents of the neighborhood who risked their lives to scramble up onto the collapsed double deck Cypress Structure to rescue strangers trapped by the fallen freeway. Imprinted in the concrete are remembrances of the rickety ladders, some attached end to end with duct tape to make them long enough to reach the crushed cars. I had a quiet moment and recalled that day. (I was stuck in San Francisco after the quake — the Bay Bridge was partially broken — so I worked all night at KFRC until I found a way home via Marin County the next day.) Being in the park made me a little weepy. I hadn’t thought about the Cypress Structure in a long time. Despite the efforts of all those brave neighbors, 42 people died in the collapsed viaduct in 1989.

I crossed over Interstate 980 on 14th Street. On the southwest corner of of 14th and Castro Streets sits the First Unitarian Church, an attractive stone and brick building. As I passed the church it triggered another memory. I recalled that the original location of First Lutheran Church in Oakland was somewhere in this neighborhood (before it moved to the location where Anna and I got married). I stopped and called my dad. He told me the church was on Martin Luther King, just north of 14th Street. Sure enough, on the corner of 16th and MLK sits the Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church. That congregation purchased the building from First Lutheran in the late 1950s. The church building is fenced and I didn’t check to see if the gate was unlocked, but from the outside the building looks well kept. I don’t know if this is what the building looked like when it was First Lutheran, but it’s a nice, simple looking building.

The last stop on my ride was the Tribune Tower for an espresso at Modern Coffee. Robert described my bean options — The Sermon by Verve and the Ecco Espresso. I decided to try a shot of each. The Sermon had a bright blueberry flavor. The Ecco had a restrained carmel flavor. Both were good, but I’m finding myself really appreciating the beans from Verve.

It was a good ride. Removing the freeway that collapsed in the 1989 earthquake has renewed a relationship between two neighborhoods that had lost contact with one another. I encountered at least 9 or 10 people while riding around. Most smiled and said “hi.” Some seemed curious about the guy stopping to take pictures of old houses and the crumbling train station, but no one tried to make me feel like an interloper in a neighborhood where I didn’t belong. It’s interesting that the destructive power of the earthquake may have helped to clear an atherosclerotic connection between two parts of this town. Riding in West Oakland I felt welcomed. Like a neighbor.

Pilgrim Resttribune tower

Wednesday February 3, 2010 — Mark — living history


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