“Taylor’s Drive-In, Oakland,” write Lee Otis. I’m guessing it’s not serving burgers these days, cheap or otherwise, but I can’t say for sure. In any case, the beautiful images above and below, from MLK in Oakland, appear in two excellent sets by Lee Otis: Decay, and Oakland. Both are worth exploring.
Mr. Otis, who lives a few blocks from Oakland’s MLK, also happens to have served as a TA recently for a class on cultural landscape history, part of which focused on Oakland. He generously shares these these quite interesting and informative thoughts:
Martin Luther King Jr. Way (formerly Grove Street) is today one of the main thoroughfares connecting the cities of Oakland and Berkeley on the eastern shores of the San Francisco Bay, a role that it has played for over a century. Like many of the other large streets in the area, the Oakland MLK saw its first major developments in the late 19th century as a streetcar line leading from downtown Oakland to the workers’ subdivisions that were springing up between Oakland and Berkeley. In fact the Grove Street Line was the first electric trolley line to connect the two cities, beginning in 1891. The remnants of historical workers’ cottages and streetcar-era commercial districts can been seen in many places along MLK Jr. Way.
Today, MLK Way is still dominated by transportation, as the much of the street lies in the shadow of elevated freeways and Bay Area Rapid Transit tracks. The construction of the freeway and BART tracks effectively severed the North Oakland stretch of MLK from the rest of the former Temescal neighborhood of which it was once a part. The street itself is as wide as six lanes in places, but the majority of the traffic is now bound for freeway onramps rather than local businesses. And the increased speed of traffic through the area has phased out many mom-and-pop stores and other small enterprises.
Despite these challenges, MLK in Oakland remains an important connector between downtown Oakland and the city’s northern neighborhoods. Many new businesses are taking advantage of the shifting patterns of traffic and population along the route. Several neighborhoods, such as the Lorin District on the Oakland-Berkeley border, are working together to create strong community bonds, and the area is home to many cultural landmarks such as the Black Repertory Theater. Overall, the neighborhoods along MLK in Oakland serve as examples of the friction between local communities and outside political and economic forces, much of which is manifested in the everday landscapes of the
“Founded by an Italian immigrant in the 1940s, the building is today home to a cabinetry shop and artists’ studios.”