Back in San Francisco to complete shooting projects for architect David Baker. I drove up 101 through the city and headed directly for the Bay Bridge over to Oakland where I would be photographing a development called Tassafaronga Village. As I approached the bridge I snapped a view of the Clocktower, the location of Baker’s office and an early live/work loft project he designed, and on the left One Rincon Hill, a glitzy sixty story apartment tower that competes with the Transamerica Pyramid form dominance on the skyline of San Francisco.
I was spending the first night in Oakland because virtually all of San Francisco’s hotels were booked, and besides, it would give me a head start on my shoot in the morning. I decided to stay in the Jack London District on the waterfront of Oakland. It’s a schizophrenic place–on the one hand an authentic urban environment with converted loft buildings, wholesale produce market, and various watering holes and restaurants. On the other hand, it is the scene of an ill-conceived urban renewal project called Jack London Square, which emulated similar waterfront developments in other cities around the U.S. On the evening I arrived, Jack London Square felt rather desolate.
Across the street from my hotel was a bar called Beer Revolution with a deck out front full of young people who seemed to know that this was exactly the place to be. I felt out of place, so I skipped Beer Revolution and wandered around the neighborhood. I ended up a while later standing in front of the reconstructed cabin of Jack London–one of two, it seems, made partially from the original logs of his cabin in the Alaskan wilderness. It now sits stranded among rows of palm trees adjacent to Heinhold’s First and Last Chance, a bar frequented by London, in all its battered drunken sailor glory, marooned, as it were, in the midst of modern office buildings.
On the side of Heinhold’s is a mural dedicated to Jack London emblazoned with the quote, “The function of man is to live, not to exist.” Although I appreciate the effort to honor Oakland’s greatest writer, I am afraid that London’s memory exists in Jack London Square more than it lives.
A bit further on I stood astonished as two passenger trains and a freight lumbered down 1st Street horns blaring–cars and pedestrians apparently on their own with regard to safety. Scampering with alacrity across the street I began walking in front of the Jack London Cinema when my trained New York eye caught the familiar gray blur of a rat. I stopped dead in my tracks as the rather large critter crossed the sidewalk in front of me, scampered up the steps of the theater, and darted through the main lobby entrance. (Going to a movie I suppose.) Immediately, shrieks and screams burst from inside. At that point I decided I’d had enough of Jack London Square–for the present anyway–and made a beeline for my hotel.