Extending as far as the eye could were white tents against bright sunny skies—along with Kettle Corn stands, giants slides and stages for acrobats—as Telegraph Avenue welcomed visitors during the ninth annual Temescal Street Fair on Sunday.
Residents and people from neighboring cities strolled the ten blocks to participate in rides on mini Ferris wheels, watch martial arts demonstrations, buy T-shirts from Oaklandish and eat chocolates from Hoopers and Korean barbeque made by community business owners.
For several, the fair was a new experience, but for others it was an annual tradition that has expanded and improved with each year. Susana Renaud and her husband live in Glenview and biked over to the fair. They have returned for the last three years because they look forward to the people and the activities, she said. “It’s local and Temescal is such a nice area,” Renaud said. “It’s a small town-ish thing and it just feels good.”
Neami Andemariam lives in Oakland and came to the fair for the first time with her husband and two children. “I didn’t think it would have so many things to do,” Andemariam said.
There is a lot of pride in how the neighborhood has changed, said Karen Hester, who has been a coordinator of the event since it began nine years ago. “Maybe its indicative of what is new and cutting-edge in Oakland–you know, food, music, and cultural arts. There is an incredible vitality that is artistic here,” Hester said.
“The vision was always there from the beginning that we were going to make it friendly to everybody in North Oakland, but in particular we are going to celebrate what makes Temescal unique,” she added.
Starting with the choo-choo train on 42nd Street to the rock-climbing wall on 51st Street, the area was filled with options for small children and teens. Woven in between the children’s activities were martial arts displays, flying yoga demonstrations and musical stages. Artists such as the 57th Street Gallery Youth Jazz Ensemble, a group of friends from various high schools who regularly play together, and Dan Chan the Magic Man performed on the kids’ stage. The Sharp Nune Band and the Blankly Impish Band played jazz standards at the center stage on 49thStreet.
Salvador Navarro has attended the event for the last three years, but this was the first year that he worked at it; he’d agreed to be the sound operator for the kids’ stage after his friend could not attend the event. “It’s nice to see all the people having fun, especially all the kids,” said Navarro, who had been adjusting the volume and checking the music cues as a band warmed up. “It’s a family event, so it’s beautiful to see all the families together.”
Nine years ago, Telegraph Avenue didn’t look anything like it looks does now, Hester said. “It was kind of blighted and there weren’t a lot of successful businesses,” Hester said. “There were a few who were the brave people who came in early. It’s really grown and changed over the years and improved.”
The idea for starting a street fair came from a community activist who asked Hester to participate because of her background in event organizing, she said. The Temescal Business Improvement District was formed a year later and the fair helped kick off that organization, becoming one of the main events organized by the members of the Business Improvement District. Several merchants got involved with planning the fair and running the Business Improvement District. They believed having the fair energized the merchants, Hester said.
“It was a way to develop the merchants businesses along Telegraph Avenue and establish it as a destination location and to show that businesses along Telegraph Avenue could be successful,” Hester said.
One of the highlights of Sunday’s fair was Joe MacCarthy’s booth. The toy designer, who works at LeapFrog during the day designing educational toys, is a conceptual artist by night. While sitting on his porch in the evening, he creates designs inspired by cars on Oakland streets, like images that resemble legs in strange footwear. He had a line of adults and children waiting to get inside his booth to view his bold and edgy designs. (His work can be found on his website JoeMaccarthy.com.)
The handmade ceramic tableware including vases, mugs and bowls created by Jennifer Fisher also appeared to draw a steady steam of visitors who want to touch each piece. She has a small studio in Berkeley and attends the street fairs as part of her full-time job. “My designs are really about touch,” Fisher said. “I like to make things that people want to pick up and really interact with.” An example would be two vases she made that are designed to work as one piece. (Her website is JFishDesigns.com.)
At the end of 52nd Street were several of the more popular attractions. The rock-climbing tower held the attention of both children and adults as parents watched in silence while their children made their way of the tower. Across the way from the rock climbing tower, the acrobatic group Connect performed handstands and climbed ropes with dramatic twists and turns that elicited gasps from the crowd.
The main stage at the edge of the fair captured a huge number of people who stopped to listen to the East Bay Church of Religious Science Choir. People sang along to the gospel music, danced a little and clapped their hands as one of the choir members waved at the audience and shouted her praises of God into the microphone. On this day this same space was also occupied by Chelle and Friends performing New Orleans-style funk that had the audience moving to the beat, and later the salsa group Rumbache had everyone including Hester on the dance floor moving to the beat.
“We showcase the diversity that is Temescal and that we want to maintain in Temescal,” Hester said. “It is just a very distinctive neighborhood.”
First-time visitor Dianne Durham the fair was successful in presenting the diversity that Hester and fair organizers were trying to achieve. She and friends came to town from Ukiah and heard about the fair once they arrived. “I love the book store,” Durham said gesturing at a display of African American books on display at Ashay By the Bay. “I love all of the cultural diversity that I miss so much living in Mendocino County. It’s good to be around so many people that are so varied and so different.”
Julie Stevens is the owner of 17 Jewels Salon & Spa, and has participated in the fair for seven years. This year, the fair’s dunk both was set up in front of her shop to raise money for Destiny Creative Arts Center in Oakland, an organization that runs violence prevention programs for kids and teens. There was a long line of people who waited to hand over a dollar in order to see neighborhood resident Hugo Yela fall into the tank repeatedly throughout the afternoon.
“It’s an amazing feeling out here,” Stevens said as she turned and looked at the crowd behind her before turning back to the dunk tank and gathering up several baseballs. “There’s no violence, people are not causing trouble. The youth are doing great stuff at our fair and in our community, so it’s a great vibe.”
“The idea of course is to get people back after the fair is over,” Hester said. “We want to bring new people to the neighborhood so they get to come and learn to love the neighborhood as much as those who have been living here a long time. Next year is our tenth anniversary. We haven’t decided what we will do, but we know it will represent Temescal and it will be truly spectacular.”