At the corner of Telegraph and Alcatraz avenues, two painted utility boxes welcome passersby to the Temescal district. The murals were painted earlier this year by local artist Eduardo Valadez, who collaborated with with Aaron Hansen, a visiting artist from Southern California.
The murals depict a vacant railway set against a background of towering crystals. Above the jewels, decorative starbusts erupt in a sunset sky and the words “Welcome to Temescal!” flow in a cursive script from one box to the other.
“To me, Temescal is one of those neighborhoods that has so much history that’s not very well known,” said Valadez.
The vacant rails are a reference to both the old Key System electric railway that used to run up Telegraph, and to the roller coasters of Idora Park, an amusement park founded in 1903 that operated on 17.5 acres between 56th and 58th street until it was demolished in 1929. As for the crystals, “they’re sort of like a play on words,” said Valadez, “on Temescal being a hidden gem of Oakland.”
"I thought they were buildings," said Shifra de Benedictis-Kessner, executive director of the Temescal Telegraph Improvement District. The organization contracted Valadez to repaint several utility boxes along Telegraph Avenue as part of district beautification and branding. "But I could see them as crystals," she said. "That’s the beauty of art, everyone has their own interpretation."
The same, presumably, applies to neighborhood boundaries.
Temescal may be one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, but where exactly it begins and ends is up for debate.
Many Oaklanders understand the neighborhood as somewhat squarish in shape, bounded by Martin Luther King Boulevard on the west to Broadway in the east, and from 40th street to 51st, a view reflected by Google. But by this reckoning, Temescal is only .6 miles long, which would place the Alcatraz Avenue murals nearly a full mile from the neighborhood’s northernmost border.
“Neighborhood boundaries are fluid and are culturally created,” said de Benedictis-Kessner. The TTBID defines Temescal as an elongated business corridor that unfolds along Telegraph Avenue, book-ended by Macarthur Boulevard in the south and Woolsey Street to the north.
“We consider all the adjoining neighborhoods to be part of and to be stakeholders in the Telegraph Temescal Business Improvement District," she said.
While street banners and trash bins claim large portions of Telegraph from MacArthur to the Berkeley border as part of the business improvement district, the welcome message on the utility box implies entrance to a neighborhood, and not all agree that Temescal starts at Alcatraz.
“This is Bushrod,” said Doug Alexander.
Alexander was renovating his home on 63rd street between Telegraph Avenue and Racine Street, two blocks south of the murals, when he stopped to talk to Hoodline. “It’s named after the park,” he said, indicating nearby Bushrod Park.
Alexander isn’t bothered by the murals, shrugging it off as a try-hard attempt at trendiness. “People want to be associated with what’s hip and cool, and Temescal is kind of the ‘it’ neighborhood right now," he said. "So real estate agents might want to call this ‘Upper Temescal’, but it’s Bushrod.”
Bushrod's own borders are even less certain than Temescal's. The microhood doesn't have its own business or neighborhood association to give it definition, though along with the TTBID, the East Lorin Neighborhood Association and Dover Street Neighborhood Group both claim portions of Bushrod.
Despite being named the hottest neighborhood of 2017 by real estate website Redfin, Bushrod is frequently overshadowed by its bigger, flashier neighbors.
Even residents seem inclined to claim they live somewhere else, said Alexander. “Go a block the other side of Telegraph, and people call it ‘Lower Rockridge'."