A gift store on Park Street sells a T-shirt with the slogan, Where the hell is Alameda? Born and raised in San Francisco, I crossed the Bay Bridge only on the way to the Sierras, and every other year for the Cal/Stanford "Big Game." In 1977, I became a third generation Cal Bear, but I didn't discover Alameda until 1986.
Two days after I graduated from Cal, my husband, Josiah (Si), and I were married. Three years later, we had our first daughter and bought an 800-square-foot cottage near the Oakland Zoo.
Geraniums grew along a white picket fence in our front yard, charming green shutters hung on the windows, and a drug lookout sat on a bike at our corner.
At the time, Si worked for KASK Security installing alarm systems all over the Bay Area. He was occupationally paranoid and determined to live on a street with no bars on the windows.
One night he came home from a job in Alameda and said, "You need to see this town. It's amazing!" After a few Crab Cove picnics, we decided to look for a house on the Island.
With our daughter asleep in her carseat, one of us explored open houses while the other sat in the car. We found a craftsman fixer-upper on Burbank Street. It was a bargain. A rental property for years, the house was a poster child for deferred maintenance.
My parents warned us that it needed way too much work. My 98-year-old grandfather cautioned us not to purchase property so close to sea level, due to the melting polar ice caps. (Turns out Grandpa was a visionary…)
We ignored all the well-intentioned advice and bought the house.
The seller told us that during World War II our house was a whorehouse. Sailors knew where to go for a good time — the only house on the block with sycamore trees instead of palms.
Our bedroom wall lifted like a garage door. (I suppose the previous occupants could shove the bed out of the way or hide a visitor at a moment's notice.) There was a BB hole through the front window, plaster peeling from the living room ceiling and various critters residing throughout. But after countless weekends and evenings of do-it-yourself projects, it became a great house.
Another daughter later, we needed more space. I knew just where I wanted to live. Whenever family or friends visited us in Alameda, I would take them down Bay Street toward the lagoon and say, "Just look at this. Isn't Alameda amazing?" My brother remarked that it looked as if the Disney parade would be along any minute, and we had better stake out seats at the curb.
We bought our Bay Street home in 1997 from a widower who had lived there since 1959. He and his wife raised six children in the house. When we signed the final papers, his grown children stood with him and our family in the front hall, all of us crying. He pointed to a black antique chair by the front door. He said, "When my wife and I moved in, the neighbors chipped in to buy us that chair as a welcome gift. If you like it, you can keep it as a welcome gift from us."
That chair still sits right by our door, and the widower moved no further than across the street, and he waves to me when he sees me pull out of the driveway. I love our house, our neighbors and our town, and if I ever move again, I hope it's right nearby.