Oakland’s Golden Gate neighborhood stretches from 53rd Street to the Oakland-Berkley border along San Pablo Ave. While Wikipedia informs me that the neighborhood had a happening past – it’s rumored that the Mai Tai was invented there – over time the area fell off many people’s radar and in 1998 it was declared blighted by the City of Oakland.
Early one Sunday morning when I first moved to the East Bay in 2007, I found myself out walking on the Golden Gate stretch of San Pablo Ave. and feeling apprehensive. This was shortly after a several high profile homicides had been reported in the area and the streets were eerily quiet. Many of the buildings were run down and storefronts stood empty. While my walk through the neighborhood and back was without incident that morning, I was in no hurry to return.
Almost six years have passed and last month I found myself walking from MacArthur BART to Emeryville – along San Pablo Ave in the Golden Gate. I hardly realized where I was – the neighborhood was very different than I had remembered. Signs of gentrification (hipster cafes, organic donuts, cupcakes, and art galleries) have sprung up and a few people were out and about on the warm, early spring afternoon.
Since I had some time on my hands, I stopped into the Golden Gate Branch of the Oakland Public Libraries which is dedicated to serving this diverse and changing neighborhood. The library was built in 1918 in the 20th Century Georgian Revival Architectural style and at the time of my visit was adorably flanked with spring bulbs in full bloom. Inside, the library houses a children’s section, an adult section, and even a small teen corner. It is also home to sizable African American, East Indian, and Jazz Collections.
When walking around, I almost missed the downstairs/basement space. The library’s computer lab is located downstairs and there is also a large community room and a shelf of free books ready to be borrowed by those without library cards. It’s a bit musty but downstairs seemed to be where many serious library users hung out.
Despite its small size, the Golden Gate branch was bustling when I visited (in the middle of the day on a weekday). Patrons of all ages and races and fashion sensibilities were reading, using technology, hanging out, and arguing with the librarians over unpaid fines. It was truly heartwarming to see a library built almost 100 years ago still being used by its neighborhood.
For more information about visiting the Golden Gate Branch of the Oakland Public Library visit their website at http://www.oaklandlibrary.org/locations/golden-gate-branch