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My Kind of Town

Look for empty-nester Alice Lewis' take on Island life every other week on Alameda Patch.

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. 

L.J. Cranmer September 08, 2010 at 05:38 PM
This is the kind of great writing that makes me want to move to Alameda! congratulations on a successful launch! lj
Tori Bray September 08, 2010 at 06:38 PM
Sweet Home Alameda, thanks Alice for sharing!
Barbara Johnson September 08, 2010 at 06:52 PM
Nicely done, Alice! We came across the bay from San Francisco too (after 4 generations.) It was hard at the time but Alameda is our home sweet home now.
Lori Sinclair September 08, 2010 at 09:34 PM
What a wonderful, warm story! Thank you for a big smile - this is a wonderful part of the planet.
Kate Quick September 08, 2010 at 10:09 PM
Great job, Alice! John and I already love you, but you can WRITE, girl!
Julianna September 08, 2010 at 11:02 PM
Congratulations! We are so proud of you. A wonderful article about a great family. Wish we could be there with you. Awsome! as Shealynn would say.
Kathleen Fennelly September 08, 2010 at 11:13 PM
Nice to see your smiling face here with your own column. Keep it coming!
Barbara Mooney September 09, 2010 at 01:15 AM
Alice, you have been my friend for years but I very rarely read something written by you. This is so truly the real you I could almost hear you reading it. So exciting to read you often!!!
Laurie Wagner September 09, 2010 at 01:48 AM
Alice...I'm making a pear martini in your honor. YOU ROCK BABY! Can't wait to read more Alice.
Wayne Dominguez September 09, 2010 at 03:27 AM
Alice.. is this a toe in the water for a book? I hope so...Congrats
Sally Damsen September 09, 2010 at 04:40 PM
Alice, You are not only a gifted writer, but a wonderful neighbor. Coincidences being what they are, we lived right next door to your home on Burbank St, but moved to Bay St. before you bought your "fixer upper"! Congratulations on your column! Sally Damsen
Ann Weiss September 09, 2010 at 09:01 PM
Alice, I am one of the six children that grew up in 1128 Bay St.. All of us have been so happy to hear how much you and your family have loved the home. We have very special memories of living there and growing up on Bay St. Memories that won't ever be forgotten. Beautifully written story and thanks for mentioning our 91 year old father. He is a real sweetheart! Ann Keltner Weiss
Patsy Baer September 12, 2010 at 02:31 AM
Hi Alice I love your column. I can not wait until your next! Congrats on the job!! How is the job going? So you are going to write about things in life? Love, Mia from my grandmas computer
Jean Abbe September 13, 2010 at 09:37 PM
I grew up in Berkeley and had never set foot in Alameda. Then in 1982 the Navy sent Bob to the Oakland Naval Hospital and we got housing on the Naval Air Station. We fell in love with the island city and eventually bought a home here, where we stayed after he retired. Our daughters love it too and now live here with their husbands and their daughters. After a lifetime of moving all around the USA it is great to have such a wonderful place to call home. Jean Abbe, Hawthorne Street
Steve Morton September 14, 2010 at 04:02 PM
'Alameda Alice' gallops a white horse down the leafy avenues of the most civilized island in the Bay. She is fixing to write, folks, so stand back, take a spot with a good vantage point and, get ready to have some fun! I know she will....
kevin chan September 15, 2010 at 01:43 AM
My story is similar, fall in love with Alameda as a teenager, never left after I moved here after college. Small town feeling still here since 1975. Go Alice
Kimberly September 22, 2010 at 04:56 PM
Growing up in San Francisco you knew that if you left it would only be to Marin or the Peninsula.The East Bay was not a choice. As you said, the Bay bridge was only used to go to Tahoe. Well, how lucky we are that we broke that code. I now live on a block where my neighbor will pick up my kids from school if they are sick. My garbage cans are rolled to the end of my driveway magically. A glass of wine is shared on a Wednesday night for no particular reason. I could go on and on. Now I never leave the island.
Nancy Taylor September 28, 2010 at 04:32 AM
You are the cutest thing, A.! I, too, can see you and Si on your "date night" at the Tiki spot. Here's to many more charming stories, and oh yes my vote is definitely Meg Ryan to play you. She should be so fortunate!
MAYRA OSORIO October 07, 2010 at 10:51 PM
Loved-Loved-Loved this article!!! I love Alameda as well {althought I don't have the privlige to live here} I can relate to the awesomeness of the ISLAND and it's people which includes you Ms. Alice. Don't forget about me when you hit it BIG!! Congrats!!
Alice Lewis October 07, 2010 at 11:05 PM
You're in the Oscar speech, Mayra! Not sure I'll make it onto The Oprah set, now that she's retiring... (sigh). Thanks for your kind words.
Sherry June 20, 2012 at 10:03 AM
Loved your article Alice! I was born & raised in Alameda, lived there the first 40 years of my life and spent 7 years at 1419 & 1421 Bay St.....great town!!
Alice Lewis June 20, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Sherry - Thank you! That was my first column for Patch. Such a treat to have you read it and post a sweet comment. ...and yes, it IS a great town!

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