News & Views from 465 California Street

East Bay Diary

Clint Reilly
Dec
8
2009

I recently paid a visit to the Oakland Museum just before it closed for renovation. I made the trip to view an exhibit by Squeak Carnwath, a highly regarded local artist of national renown.

Squeak’s work has had special significance for my family ever since I gave my wife one of her paintings to mark the birth of our youngest daughter. Titled “Thank You,” the work of art perfectly expressed our elation and gratitude at this special time.

My time at the museum took me on an unexpected detour down memory lane.

I remembered my mother praising the innovative design of the new Oakland Museum after she visited the complex when it opened in 1969.

As a young kid, I took the AC Transit bus from our family home in San Leandro to the Oakland Library near Lake Merritt just blocks away. I spent many afternoons combing the stacks and burying myself in books I never knew existed.

Not far away, at Frank Youell Field, I got my first glimpse of a young Al Davis pacing the sidelines as the coach of the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders would later move to the Oakland Coliseum in 1966.

A student of Coach Sid Gillman – father of the long ball – Davis believed in having his quarterback throw bombs. He was coach of the year in 1963 – 46 years ago – and he built a blue collar culture that fit the East Bay’s up-from-the-bootstraps fans.

But when it came to kids’ sports, I spent virtually my entire youth at gyms with names like St. Lawrence O’Toole, St. Bede, St. Elizabeth or St. Mary’s. CYO sports were all the entertainment our families could afford.

We rode to games stuffed in the back of pickup trucks. And we wanted ferociously to win not just the game but also the title.

The Sabatte family’s Berkeley Farms Creamery – with its main bottling plant on San Pablo Avenue – was a premier family-owned business. My dad drove a milk truck out of this plant six days a week to his route in the Berkeley hills.

One of my first jobs as a teenager was in the plant, feeding milk cartons onto the assembly line that packaged gallons of milk. I never really saw men going to work in suits and ties – only white pants and shirts at the milk plant or other working uniforms.

Farther up San Pablo, just across the Berkeley border near Ashby Avenue, my grandmother owned an apartment next to the house where my mother had grown up.

The quiet street was completely integrated with white and black families alternating between every home. I stayed with my grandmother on numerous weekends as a young boy, and my friends there were African American.

For many years I didn’t think about the fact that when I returned home to San Leandro – the city bordering Oakland to the south – there was not a single black child in my school or anywhere in the city.

I was too young then to understand that San Leandro had a “no blacks” policy in those years.

One day, as a student at Dayton Elementary School in San Leandro, I witnessed an African American mother and father bring their child to school. Within days, the child was gone and I finally began to wonder.

I am grateful for my East Bay boyhood. It was not a perfect world but it taught me important lessons that would stick with me for the rest of my life.

For instance, the work of another prominent Bay Area artist comes to mind.

Jay DeFeo taught at Mills College and produced one of the Bay Area’s most renowned paintings, “The Rose,” now owned by the Whitney Museum of Art in New York.

I have a DeFeo sculpture from 1959 that is her high heel worn on her wedding day with a miniature American flag planted inside and flying over the edge.

Old Glory firmly planted in a shoe is a remarkably apt metaphor for the East Bay of the 50s and 60s where I grew up.

Comments (5)

  • Hello Clint ….

    I read your ‘East Bay Diary’ in the Contra Costa Times today. While I’m
    about 5 years older than you, it almost seemed liked we crossed one
    another’s path in the East Bay neighborhoods.

    I grew up on Haskell St in Berkeley (a 2 block street that is right on the
    Oakland / Berkeley line and intersects with San Pablo Avenue) and two
    blocks from Ashby & San Pablo.

    You mention the famed Berkeley Farms Creamery in Emeryville. Even though
    I lived in Berkeley I went to elementary school (Anna Yates) 3 blocks away
    from the Creamery in Emeryville (K-6).

    I then went to St. Mary’s College High School (grammar School) in
    Berkeley. I then continued on in the High School through graduation.

    The high school was full of the Sabatte family going back decades. One
    from the family (Gary) was a classmate of mine all through HS and I ran into
    him at a recent St Mary’s College Basketball game. Our family moved to
    Lafayette during my junior year & we commuted together into Berkeley. Great
    family for their support of the high school.

    But it was your comments about the “diversity” (my word) in my
    neighborhood. In point of fact, our family was probably minorities during the
    1940s &
    1950s …. but not an issue. Sleep-overs went both ways and was a
    non-issue. My best friends were black. I didn’t really identify with
    discrimination until I went to college in Arizona in the early 1960s !!

    So, I guess I received my ‘social’ education growing up in Berkeley and a
    good part of the rest of my education in college.

    Not sure where that apartment building was, but there was one we had
    visited on Carrison St, one block away. I had a buddy there named Dennis and
    another named Pete Stone. It was at the SE Corner of Carrison & San Pablo,
    Berkeley.

    Oh well, gave me a moment to reflect on some times gone by.

    All the best ……..
    Bob S.

    Posted by: Bob S. | December 9th, 2009 at 10:01 am

  • Mr. Reilly:

    I enjoy reading your weekly column. I did not realize you were an
    East Bay product! I live in San Mateo now, but grew up in 0akland. I also
    played CYO for St. Jarlath’s. It was nice to go back in time – I do remember
    San Leandro being a “white only” town!! Keep up the good work!

    R. Grialou

    Posted by: R. Grialou | December 9th, 2009 at 10:02 am

  • Hello Clint:

    You must have received many comments on growing up in San Leandro. My wife, myself
    and three sons lived on Sequoyah Road in Oakland during the seventies. Banking,
    shopping and church activities were oriented toward San Leandro. Then, it was
    great “home-town”. Most of our closest friends lived there.

    Al James, a great old guy, San Leandro icon and clockmaker lived near Duffys Ice
    Cream Shop. Remember that? And did you know him? He bought a war surplus light
    plane at the age of 17, had it delivered to a remote pasture and taught himself how
    to fly!

    His life and times in S. L. would be grist for a great biography. (He owned a auto
    repair shop on Mac Aurther and was gained a lot of recognition locally as a race
    driver). Too bad he’s not around for an interview.

    Reid M.

    Posted by: Reid M. | December 9th, 2009 at 10:03 am

  • Clint,

    A quick note to let you know how much I enjoyed reading your recent
    PSA: East Bay Diary. From my own CYO days at St. Joseph’s to
    experiencing the early civil rights movement at a rally in Alameda’s
    West End projects, your diary gave me pause to reflect on our similar
    experiences growing up in the East Bay.

    I remember the gyms you mention and the excited anticipation of
    playing organized basketball each Saturday. Remember those horribly
    short satin uniform trunks? Today, I coach my youngest son’s CYO team.
    Fortunately, the uniforms have improved greatly!

    I also vividly recall holding hands with an African American boy about
    my age as we joined the crowd gathered at Makasar Village. We sang
    what became the civil right’s anthem: We Shall Overcome. To this day,
    I can still feel the warmth of that little hand in mine. To my mind,
    there was no color barrier… just two new friends. I am grateful that
    my parents had the foresight to bring me along that day.

    Thank you for sharing your memories. Wishing you and yours a blessed
    Christmas.

    Kin

    Posted by: Kin | December 9th, 2009 at 10:04 am

  • Your time period was later than mine since I grew up in Oakland in the 30′s (born in
    Los Angeles).

    I remember well what the Bay Area was like. I sold three different newspapers (The
    Call Bulletin, Oakland Tribune and The Post Enquirer) when I was 9 years old at the
    Old Courthouse at 5th and Broadway, sold there until the new Courthouse next to Lake
    Merritt was completed and I was asked to sell my newspapers (inside by the
    elevators) by the people who were then working there. Sold them there until I
    graduated from Oakland Tech when volunteered to serve in the US Army (through the
    war with Pattons Third Army). I later again voluteered to serve in the Korean War at
    the end leaving as a Captain.

    During my youth I lived insequence at 3rd and Castro, third and Jackson and lastly
    at 9th and Castro Streets (except for my Army Time).

    Financially poor as we were, I have many happy memories about living in Oakland and
    miss the family life that existed then (where unlocked doors were the fashion ) our
    things left outdoors were always brought to our door by neighbors, people were
    generous and kind and families shared everything etc.

    Many of my relatives (my Sister, three brothers and their families plus married
    relatives) lived in East Oakland, Castro Valley and San Leandro after growing up
    or when my four cousins and my three Brothers returned from serving during WW II.

    My older Brothers and three cousins fought in the Golden Glove Tournaments and some
    earned Championships.

    I could go on and on but I felt that this E-Mail would be of interest to you.

    Perhaps we may some day meet for lunch or dinner and talk about the good times?

    Sincerely,

    J. John C>

    Posted by: J. John C. | December 14th, 2009 at 10:00 am

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