West Oakland doesn’t always get a lot of love from the rest of the Bay Area. Once, it was the terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad and the heart of the town’s working class. But neglect by the city and county did not do right by the cluster of neighborhoods nearest the Bay Bridge during the 20th Century.
The LA Times laid it out in 2011:
Homes were razed and families displaced to make way for a postal distribution center. Freeways that promised connection to San Francisco instead surrounded the neighborhood, in effect isolating it.
In the late 1960s, construction of the Bay Area Rapid Transit's above-ground commuter track drove in a final, deafening nail, sending screeching trains along 7th Street from dawn to midnight.
Even though the powers that be have not always been kind to West Oakland, for thousands it’s still home, with longtime residents proud of its history and their roots there.
Given that, it’s about time more people see what’s beautiful in the neighborhood. The YouTube channel 91 Kilometers’s one-minute aerial video essay titled “West Oakland From The Sky,” published Wednesday, is a great place to start.
Dubbed a “pigeon’s eye view,” it’s clear from the outset—when pigeons do indeed fly in breathtaking formation over an untidy lot and buzz the artwork on the side of the East Bay Resources building on Willow Street—that this drone tour knows its stuff.
The downtrodden but still stately old Union Pacific train station on 16th Street is here, as are the towering, joyous figures of artists Karen Cusolito and Dan Das Mann’s old Burning Man piece Ecstasy.
Down below, neighbors mill about in a community garden. Even the screeching BART trains look almost tranquil from up here.
Critics will no doubt pick on the signs of neglect in the footage: cracks in the asphalt, rubbish in some lots, weathering on the side of historic buildings.
But comments running down the neighborhood are a dime a dozen. A revealing look at what’s beautiful in it, on the other hand, is priceless.
The 91 Kilometers channel last week added a similar survey of Jack London Square that’s just as good, and many candid Oakland images reside on the same user’s Instagram page.
- West Oakland From The Sky [YouTube]
- Before High Speed Rail, The Transcontinental Railroad [Curbed SF]
- Oakland’s Tribute To The Blues [LA Times]
- 91 Kilometers [Instagram]
- Ecstasy [Burning Man]