Also known as Oaklandish
Hot summer days and cold grey winters had been the backdrop to my childhood; both of which I begrudgingly accepted, having had no choice. My parents had settled in Sacramento early in their marriage when the town was still relatively small, and both their family and the Sacramento valley grew in concert. By the time I graduated high school, Sacramento spread in all directions and I couldn’t wait to leave. I headed to Los Angeles, and a few years later, spent time waiting tables in Big Sur and Santa Cruz. It wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco in my mid-twenties that I felt as if I’d truly found my “home.” I loved everything about the city, except perhaps, the high cost of living there, but the sparkling views as you crested the hills and the dramatic skyline more than made up for it, and if the price you paid for such exquisite beauty was foggy summers, so be it.
I met my future husband in San Francisco, got married there, adopted the first of many puppies, jogged through the Presidio and Lands End, started a family, and began renovating houses. My boys and I spent whole afternoons at the Natural History and Discovery Museums, Baker’s Beach, and the Zoo, while I scraped away layers of wallpaper at night. I made friends with other mothers in the playground near our home and together, we formed a sorority of sisters, trading our kids back and forth. The boys started preschool in turn, followed by private elementary school. Our plan was to stay in our beloved “City by the Bay,” until we came to the stark realization that our budget wouldn’t cover their projected college costs if we didn’t make a dramatic change – and soon. So like many of our friends before us, we began to hunt for a home outside the city in earnest.
As we’d been driving to Marin for the boys’ swim lessons for years, I assumed we’d head over the Golden Gate Bridge to public schools in the North Bay, but when a friend invited me to the Harvest Festival in Piedmont – a community I’d never heard of previously – I became immediately enchanted with this picturesque hamlet offering manicured parks, shady tree-lined streets, charming storybook homes, and top-rated public schools. The kids walked or bicycled everywhere and memories of my own sunny childhood, which included neighborhood games of “hide-n-seek” and a sprint to the ice cream truck, began to call. It didn’t hurt that the East Bay was far more affordable than Marin and more eclectic in style and manner as well.
Being single in the city had been a blast, but being a parent in San Francisco had had its drawbacks; I missed the first half of my childrens’ soccer matches and baseball games while circling the streets looking for parking. I resented the expensive private-school tuition that had kept us in the same dented van for a decade and limited our travel plans to rented cabins in Tahoe or Santa Cruz. I hated the lack of privacy, had little patience for the traffic and congestion, and eventually grew weary of the frigid summers that required hoodies and winter coats.
In contrast, the East Bay offered nearly perfect year-round weather, was home to a well-educated and diverse population, and housed a world-renown university that attracted intellectuals from across the globe, and Piedmont boasted a highly-coveted public school system with a 98% matriculation rate. Cliff and I quickly switched gears and within a few months had sold our home in the Richmond District and traded up to a property with loads of potential on a sprawling lot in Piedmont. And while the home prices there didn’t exactly qualify as “affordable housing,” they were far more affordable than their “like-kind” neighborhoods in the North and South Bays. In short, Piedmont offered tremendous values that were a far cry from the home prices in San Francisco. Moreover, it was surrounded by the city of Oakland, a thriving metropolis that was just 12 minutes to downtown San Francisco, and cultivated a progressive political attitude, no doubt influenced by its Berkeley neighbor next door.
Moreover, because the vast majority of Piedmont residents sent their children to the local public schools, there was an ingrained set of values that bonded the community as a whole, whether or not the household had school-age children in attendance. As a result of the move, my kids enjoyed a newfound independence, movie nights in the park, 4th of July parades, block parties, trick-or-treating through the neighborhood, and an excellent public school education. They walked to school with their friends, they joined sports teams and signed up for summer camps, and they grew up alongside a community of supportive and involved families and individuals, and by and large, we knew them all.
But the unexpected surprise was what Oakland had to offer beyond the obvious. Oakland lived “diversity” in a way that San Francisco strived for, but could rarely deliver due to the huge disparity in wealth and income. The Oakland Hills integrated one of the largest urban park systems in the United States featuring more than 1200 miles of hiking, biking, and dog-walking trails, and the entire East Bay supported a vibrant arts and theater community that included the Speaker Series at the historic Paramount Theater, lively festivals at Lake Merritt, the Berkeley Symphony, the Oakland Ballet, and live concert and theater performances. Celebrated chefs had found their way to Oakland opening restaurants and eateries throughout the city and the Oakland Museum hosted a weekly “Off the Grid” evening every Friday, while the “Art Walk” attracted thousands of young people each month. Farmers’ Markets and outdoor beer gardens cropped up in nearly every neighborhood and the weather made it easy to embrace these offerings virtually year-round. Additionally, Children\’s Hospital, Kaiser Hospital, and Stanford Medical Center all had world-class facilities within blocks of each other. Oakland was dubbed “The New Brooklyn” for good reason, and indeed, it earned its title, attracting hip, tech professionals fleeing the city and yearning for open spaces.
During my family’s 17 years in the East Bay, I’ve watched Oakland evolve and grow. I’ve seen developers begin to transform its downtown, the west side and Jack London Square. I’ve seen international companies move over the bridge bringing their workforce with them. I’ve seen families pull up stakes and relocate, just as we did nearly two decades ago. I’ve explored the hills and discovered extraordinary vistas and valleys, and I’ve watched demonstrators take to the streets to declare their overdue rights and make their voices heard. In that time, both my boys have graduated from high school, gone off to college, lived in other cities, started careers, and have come home while working and waiting out the pandemic. Along the way, we sold our Piedmont property and moved next door to Crocker Highland to make room for Cliff’s mom, who at 94, still lives fairly independently in the garden apartment we built for her below. At the center of everything, every choice, every celebration, and every transition, was the concept of “home.”
What the future brings is anybody’s guess, but I’m certain that Oakland will continue to grow in meaningful and inclusive ways that brings out its best ideals and pushes the city ever forward. I’m hopeful that Oakland will maintain the diversity that makes it endlessly interesting and invites everyone to celebrate their differences. I’m pleased that Oakland and Piedmont are indelible tattoos in my sons’ lives and part of their physical fabric forever, and I’ve definitely, and undeniably, adopted the East Bay as my home; grateful in more ways than I can count for all the riches it has provided to both me and my family.
About the Author – Oakland Real Estate Agent Julie Gardner
I am a wife, a mother, a COMPASS Realtor, a community volunteer, a philanthropist, a comic at heart, a weekend athlete, a flea-market junkie,
a serial renovator, a weekly blogger, a “before-and-after” specialist, and a prolific chocolate-chip cookie baker.
I enjoy a good book, a fabulous “find,” an undiscovered treasure, and a long walk in the hills – often with my dog in tow.
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