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Living in Jack London Square, Oakland, CA

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July 2003

My wife and I and our 21-month-old son are moving to Oakland from our beloved New York City in a couple of months. We are planning on buying a place that we really like in the Jack London Square area. We are concerned, however, about resources in that neighborhood for families. Does anyone living near there have any info on nearby playgrounds, children's clothing stores (other than babygap!) or food markets (we have heard about the Sunday farmer's market)? What is the best takeout? Good record stores or independent bookstores? Any advice or perceptions are appreciated. Greg


I would not personally locate my family in the Jack London Square area. It is very retail/tourist oriented, not much -- if any -- of a residential community, and adjacent to some unsafe areas. In fact, there are only a few blocks where I would feel comfortable walking around at night, particularly with a small child (and I grew up in Manhattan).

There are some lovely parts of Oakland that are great for families -- resources, kids, convenient to transportation, etc. Rockridge, Montclair, Glenview, Piedmont, some parts of the Lake Merritt area, some parts of North Oakland, to name a few. I particularly like Rockridge a great deal, but I would consider any of the above before the JL Square area. Dan


we live in a different part of Oakland with our 22-month old daughter, who was born in NYC. you will probably have to travel a bit, but not far, for great places to play, shop, etc. I bet your son would love MOCHA - art studio for toddlers - in downtown Oakland. anyway, feel free to email me then I can send you my number and we can talk about all the great things to do out here. you're going to love the weather when you discovery that you can take your toddler out pretty much every day. best of luck with your move. miss_ioana
Welcome to Jack London Square (soon)! It's a good urban neighborhood that's getting better, and you'll find many things to remind you of NYC (my husband is from Manhattan and we own a loft largely because he always wanted one while growing up). We've lived here 4 years and watched the place change (and property values increase) a lot.

We have a 16 month old daughter and we're starting to see a few other strollers (which can be challenging with the lack of sidewalks), so it can be done. It's not really a family- friendly environment, though, aside from the Square itself and the Sunday Farmer's Market. The nearest green spaces are the field next to the Ferry dock in the Square and the Estuary Park soccer field, but for playgrounds we go to Lake Merritt and Piedmont Park.

The Square has a lot of chain restaurants, we get the pizza special as takeout from Pizzeria Unos and occasionally Hahn's Hibachi, but pretty much avoid the rest. There's a nice Chilean restaurant named Chalaca on Broadway that is family-friendly. The best BBQ is from Everett & Jones, Vietnamese from Le Cheval (family-friendly), vegan from New World Vegetarian. There are a ton of little Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean places just blocks away in Chinatown. We drive to Grand Avenue and Lakeshore for Thai, a great brunch and dinner place called Meze (family- friendly) hot dogs, burritos and Noah's bagels. We used to go there all the time because the closest Blockbusters is on Lakeshore, but now we're happy Netflicks customers.

Shopping is kind of hit and miss, the closest pharmacy (Long's) and regular grocery store (Albertson's) are in Alameda (about 5 minutes through the tunnel), but there's a commercial grocery outlet on Oak for emergencies (you did need a quart of half & half, right?). We get our food/diapers/etc. from a mix of Sunday Farmer's Market, Albertson's, the JLS BevMo & Cost Plus, and Costco (San Leandro), and do our other shopping in Rockridge, Piedmont and Berkeley.

For the yuppie essentials, we go to College Ave. in Rockridge (Market Hall, lots of cool stores and restaurants...and the twin Meccas of parents: Cotton & Company and Rockridge Kids), and 4th Street in Berkeley (Pasta Shop, Hear Music, Builder's Booksource, Crate & Barrel outlet, lots of other great stores, Bette's and...Cody's!)

Please feel free to contact me if you have more questions, and let us know when you're coming so we can introduce you to the neighborhood.

Jenna


I don't live in the Jack London Square area but I'm pretty knowledgeable about East Bay communities and real estate ever since my wife and I bought a home in the Berkeley hills area 1 year ago. It's become sort of a hobby for me--to follow how various neighborhoods are developing and changing in the Bay Area. Anyway, being from NYC myself, I can see why Jack London Square Area would be appealling. I believe this area is the closest thing in the East Bay to Soho/downtown NYC and there is a lot of potential both in terms of quality of life and real estate value. However, it is still ''an up and coming neighborhood'' without many of the conveniences you seem to want. I think it will take another 2-3 years before a critical mass of nice independent stores open in that area. The closest neighborhood with a nice commercial district is the Piedmont St area, a 5-10 min drive. That being said, if I were 5 years younger and without a newborn, I would strongly consider buying in Jack London myself. I would also strongly consider new condo's and lofts just opening in Emeryville or areas in West Berkeley around 4th St. in Berkeley. The latter area especially may have more of the commercial areas you are looking for, but any area of Berkeley will be at least 10-20% more expensive than Jack London Square. Another thing to consider about Jack London Square is that an active train track run right through the neighborhood and I believe very noisy trains run at various hours of the evening. sfnewyorker
I do not live in the Jack London Square neighborhood, but I have work there for the past 4 years(and I was born and raised in NYC). We sure considered living there as I was originally attracted to the kind of funky, under-developed desolate atmosphere. There isn't a lot going on down there yet. Very limited basic services -- I don't think Chinatown is going to do it for you. I surveyed several day cares in the area and was not impressed. Not really the right kind of open space for a child. I advise that you look elsewhere (Lake Merritt). Leslie
I really disagree with the folks who said they didn't think that JLS was a good place for family.

Yes, Piedmont is a more family-oriented place, but if you want diversity and urban energy, JLS is a great place to live. There are a lot of families raising our children here and none of us feel that we are doing so in an unsafe or inappropriate environment.

We frequently walk the estuary promenade with our toddler (and many neighbors) to watch the sunset over San Francisco and never feel unsafe when we do so.

We also walk home from BART late at night and not once in 4 years, even when it was a much less gentrified area, even when I've walked home alone (and I'm not a large person) I have never had a problem.

People park expensive cars on the street (with luxury lofts going for $600-800k+, we see a lot of Mercedes, BMWs and Landrovers), and yet they survive the night with windows and contents intact.

I mentioned your post to my neighbor last night and she said ''Did you tell him about Bed Bath and Beyond? MOCHA? (the museum of children's art) Or the kid's specials at the Old Spaghetti Factory? Or the nice firemen at the station who let kids climb on their trucks? And the trains?''

(Our kid loves watching the trains, which indeed can be loud when close up. It took about a week to stop noticing the occasional horn. Now I find it sort of comforting, like foghorns, but while we live barely a block away from the station, we don't face the tracks. Our neighbors who do say it isn't a problem, but they don't have a napping toddler, either.)

I suspect that the people who think there isn't much residential here haven't visited since Mayor Brown (who lives around the corner from me) incented so many developers to site their buildings here.

In the last 2 years, we've seen over a thousand new residents (of a wonderful variety of genders and economic, racial, ethnic, and educational backgrounds) fill the new Allegro buildings, and several new loft developments are complete (New Market lofts in the old Safeway building, the Phoenix lofts, and the massive new Sierra Lofts building where a friend of ours bought recently come immedately to mind) with several more on the way.

Every warehouse owner has had multiple offers to sell their buildings for loft developments, and many have succumbed. So many so that 2 years ago we did a lot of work to get the district designated a historical district to make sure we don't lose the character of the area entirely.

As a member of the Jack London Square Neighborhood Association, I know that we have so many new residents and businesses that we've established a Parking Committee to develop a plan for dealing with all of the cars.

The days when we were funky and desolate have taken on the glow of nostalgia as many of the artists are being pushed out by higher rents (except for Squeak Carnwrath, who owns her building), and we reminisce about the good old days when there wasn't even decent coffee in the area. If it is a measure of services, we now have at least SIX espresso places within a five minute walk of our loft.

It would be great to walk to a store like the Pasta Shop, and the Port (the major landlord in the area) has been talking to Andronico's about putting a grocery store here.

So, yes, we don't have a playground, and some blocks don't have sidewalks. But we are very happy here, and feel very comfortable here. I don't think many of the posters who had negative things to say about the area have lived here, so they don't know how great it is.

I do live here, I'm raising my fabulous kid safely here and I love the area. Even the local elementary school (Lincoln) gets good scores and I'm hoping my daughter will pick up some Chinese.
Jenna, defending my 'hood


We lived in the JLS neighborhood until about 8 months ago when our baby was born. Mostly we moved because the space we had was too much of a hassle to live in with a baby. We loved it when we were child-free... Great places to eat(albeit a lot of chains), good clubs, music and a fun urban vibe.

When we had our baby a bunch of things came up that we couldn't have predicted. For example: We lived in a no-elevator building on the second floor. Getting the stroller up there was a total hassle, so we left it at the bottom of the stairs. Which meant that we had to drag everything downstairs to the stroller. And then it got stolen from there, which really bummed us.

Then there was the laundry problem. We didn't have a washer and dryer in our apartment. No big deal when you don't have kids, but a big huge deal when you do. We never found a convenient laundromat, but perhaps we just weren't creative enough.

Grocery shopping was another huge hassle. We always ended up driving to Alameda to go grocery shopping, which when you are a one car family is a pain in the neck. We never found a ''walk to'' place that had things like milk and diapers. We got some delivery from Safeway.com, so I guess if you were a much better planner than I apparently am, you'd be OK.

Then the incident that ended up making me feel unsafe: We were walking outside, at around 9:15 with our baby and there was a big fight in front of one of the clubs, and we saw guns being brandished. I know that happens everywhere, but it happened to us here, so it made me really uncomfortable about the neighborhood.

We also never found good daycare in our neighborhood, so we ended up driving across town for childcare, which wasn't my favorite thing to do.

The good things: Barnes and Noble has a great place for crawling babies to crawl around in, neighbors were always very friendly, the farmer's market was a ton of fun, we loved walking by the water.

I think, though, if you had a lot more money than we did it might be great. We live in Temescal now, and it's working a lot better for us.

Good Luck in your decision. Anon


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