I recently wrote an article for the SF Chronicle about a local architect building out "transitional" neighborhoods in Oakland, including Dogtown in West Oakland, and I had the chance to talk many residents about what it's really like to live there. The story ended up being very complex, taking a month to complete with interviews of around 30 people and days in the public library. The architect Matthew Baran works with developers re-modeling Victorians and building very modern homes on the double lots behind. The houses generally sell within two weeks for between $500,000 and $1million.
|After: Backyard, 59th Street in N. Oakland. Photos: BaranStudio|
|Before: 59th street|
|After: Dining room, 59th Street|
|Before: Dining room|
|Hannah Street, Dogtown|
|Willow Street, inside|
|Louise St, Dogtown|
|Inside Louise St.|
|The views from Louise St|
Many of the residents I spoke to said they were very proud of the award-winning new homes in Dogtown and they love to surprise friends with a tour of the area. One person added thought that some new residents really wanted to be living up the hill in Rockridge and they're bit bitter they've ended up in Dogtown.
Some of the houses are perfect; story-book Victorians surrounded by Sycamores and fruit trees and pristine cars parked out the front. On one fall day I saw a family hanging out Halloween decorations, their neighbours watering the succulents in their galvanised iron window boxes, a Grandma eating chocolate cake on her porch, a couple of teen girls in their Sunday-best walking home from church and two Steampunk guys fixing their car. But some of the other houses were run-down and at the ends of the roads were tags on the fences and spilled garbage.
There is a tension between new and old residents - one resident says he was burgled four times in his first year but he hasn't been touched in the last six years. He's annoyed by new residents who complain about gun shots when it's just a few firecrackers and a Norteno band on Friday nights at neighborhood parties.
One long-time West Oakland African American grandmother says new residents have complained about the joyful noises coming from their church and have called the police on their young men who are simply talking and laughing in the street.
Another resident says she goes back and forth about wanting to move out but makes sure she says "Hi" to everyone "even the guy who sells drugs at the end of our road."
For sure a sense of optimism and tolerance is key: you need to appreciate the urban views out the window including the massive billboard I mentioned, lately featuring a blonde Beyonce her in her blue shorts and white sweater. One Dogtown resident told me every night she says goodnight to the large lit-up "E" for "Emeryville" sign that glows over the motorway: "People value the Hollywood sign but I love this E just as much"