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Construction site at Broadway and West MacArthur

on November 23, 2009

At Broadway and West MacArthur, car engines whir and belch, stopping and starting according to a choreography determined by an orange-vested flagman. A street sweeper circles the intersection, picking up dust and debris from a massive construction site at the southeast corner. A yellow bulldozer, perched on Broadway’s asphalt median south of MacArthur, looks ready to pounce.

Kaiser Permanente, Oakland’s largest hospital, is extending its vast reach south across this intersection. Kaiser already has several buildings on the north side of West MacArthur, including a new parking garage on the intersection’s northwest corner. That garage’s metallic fire-escape stairs glisten as the sun catches them, and a monitor above the entrance displays in thick red letters the number of available parking spaces. This summer, McCarthy Construction razed the remnants of a dormant shopping center at this intersection’s southeast corner. During the next several years, Kaiser will build another parking garage and an additional hospital building there. The construction has already begun.

Take a bird’s-eye view of North Oakland —Berkeley to the north, Lake Merritt to the south, San Pablo Avenue to the west and Highway 13 to the east—and Broadway and West MacArthur starts to look like the heart of the region.  By 2020, Kaiser will have completed its renovations on three of the four corners of this intersection. The green of Mosswood Park will stay along the intersection’s western edge, but Kaiser has a building there, too, on the park’s southern edge, near the I-580 overpass. For all intents and purposes, Broadway and West MacArthur belongs to Kaiser. Here at the heart of North Oakland, you can certainly find a cardiologist if you need one.

The intense Northern California autumn sun gives the illusion that it’s warm enough to wear shorts in mid-November—and a handful of people do—but occasional gusts of wind put a chill in the bones. Beyond an eight-foot–tall blue partition at the intersection’s southeast corner, a chasm yawns where the defunct shopping center stood a few months ago.  A man named Oscar, driving one of McCarthy Construction’s huge semi supply trucks, says he’s unloading steel for the new garage’s foundation. A swarm of workers scurries down below. Two men in hard hats, wielding a thick ribbon of steel, look like ants carrying a morsel back to their hill.  From above, a foreman barks orders and uses his hands to direct a crane operator to deposit more steel at the bottom of this temporary, synthetic canyon.

A yellow R&B Equipment power shovel hoists vast quantities of dirt, swivels its metallic neck and deposits its payload into one of the huge mounds of earth surrounding the construction site.  The whole project makes this corner of North Oakland seem like a patient in one of Kaiser’s operating rooms.  Surgeons have made the incision. A team of specialists pokes, prods and inserts a new set of support structures.  Eventually somebody will suture the wound. Broadway and West MacArthur, as good as new, maybe better—that’s the hope, anyway.

It’s the culmination of a makeover that’s been going on in this part of Oakland for decades now. Broadway and West MacArthur, at the unofficial border between Auto Row and Pill Hill, has begun the latest stage of its evolution. This intersection used to be a showcase of Studabakers and Edsels. Now on Broadway, as with much of the America, health care has begun to supplant automobiles as the driving force in the economy.

The shift is complicated, of course. Kaiser is building a huge 10-story parking garage on the site , hardly the act of planners expecting the imminent demise of California’s car culture. And further south down Broadway, on the other side of the I-580 overpass, blue and white streamers dance in the wind above Honda of Oakland’s dealership. Japanese and German imports still do a strong business along the Broadway Auto Row, but America’s signature car company, Ford, moved off the row in recent years. Chrysler moved away, too. GM hangs on with a reduced presence. With Kaiser and Summit hospitals surrounding the Broadway and West MacArthur vicinity, you’ll find more operating rooms than showrooms in the neighborhood. Goodbye, Henry J. Ford. Hello, Henry J. Kaiser.

A quick survey of the pedestrians at Broadway and West MacArthur confirms health care’s growing influence. Many men and women wear the telltale white coats of the medical profession and shuffle efficiently between Kaiser’s office buildings and parking lots. Others have keys jangling in their pockets and laminated ID badges dangling from lanyards around their necks.  Elderly people disembark from the 51 bus on Broadway, moving slowly with the aid of walkers or friends, perhaps toward appointments in Kaiser’s Fabiola Building. Two women converse in Cantonese, the younger of the two breaking into English every so often. A mother and father banter in Spanish and they push their son in a stroller. And twice over the course of an hour, ambulance sirens pierce the cacophony of construction and traffic. With Kaiser’s neonatal units, emergency rooms and critical care facilities all nearby, life in North Oakland begins and ends at this corner of Pill Hill.


  1. mk on December 21, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    will you please have your community liason work w/ judy devries and/or whomever else is the appropriate contact to
    summary topics, decisions, status of Kaiser Thursday night meetings.

    and, please direct me to any site that Kaiser puts out with the same sort of on-going status/information.

    thank you.

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