Tice, left, and Tim Doherty, right, both from
Boston, Mass., and Chris Burns, center left, with
Ruth Blaisdell, of Oakland, Calif. gather by the
fire pit at Plank in Jack London Square in Oakland,
Calif., on Jan. 21, 2015.
years, Jack London Square on the Oakland waterfront
embodied the stubborn challenges of urban redevelopment.
Money and time were spent on revitalizing this strip of
businesses lining the estuary but with little to show for
the effort other than a few lonely eateries, gift shops
and empty walkways.
Oakland now swept up in the Bay Area tech resurgence, Jack
London has finally become the hip, overflowing destination
that city planners long had hoped it would be. Even better
for Sacramento-area residents, the square requires just a
2-hour, 20-minute Capitol Corridor train ride from
Sacramento Valley station, which these days might be
quicker than fighting traffic on Interstate 80 and then
much in the Bay Area these days, Jack London and its
surrounding blocks center around food. Gone is the El
Torito that long served salty tortilla chips and fajitas
on the ground floor of the long building stretching
between Franklin and Webster streets. Now, trendy crowds
fill state-of-the-art establishments such as the
pan-American restaurant Bocanova (55 Webster St.,
510-444-1233) and Haven (44 Webster St., 510-663-4440)
with its prix fixe menus and craft cocktails.
to the south of the building is the beloved Heinold’s
First and Last Chance Saloon (48 Webster St.,
510-839-6761), which has been slinging drinks in the same
small wooden shack since 1883.
square’s center of gravity is Plank (98 Broadway,
510-817-0980), the giant arcade/games parlor/bowling alley
in the building long housing a struggling Barnes &
Noble bookstore. This hugely popular spot has in some ways
become a victim of its own success, with the crowds and
noise at times injecting just too intense a dose of
tech-bro revelry. Still, in its quieter moments, the patio
provides a tranquil, sunny place to grab a bite and drink
before going inside and blowing away virtual zombies.
thing has stayed the same since the square’s
underachieving days. Step away from the charcuterie, bocce
and IPAs, and head for the water. A seagull or two will
swoop over the bronze statue of writer Jack London frozen
in oratorical fervor. Turn a corner, and the hunched
cranes of the Port of Oakland line the shoreline, and San
Francisco emerges on the horizon across the bay.
wind and spray are what have drawn people to Jack London
Square for decades. And that scene will continue to soothe
those folks stepping out onto the square for a lungful of
ocean air for years to come.