Archive for the ‘oakland soil’ Category

West Oakland topography

10 March 2013

West Oakland has always been flat and easy to build on, whether it was for factories like the old Shredded Wheat plant built in 1915 (still operating as California Cereal Products) . . .

defremeryview

or for the middle-class Victorian homes that are West Oakland’s pride. It takes a lot of walking around to note the subtleties of the landscape. Except around Raimondi Park, the area was never a coastal marsh but was slightly elevated sand dunes, the same Merritt Sand that underlies downtown. In the Ralph Bunche neighborhood, north of 18th Street between Market and Adeline, the homes perch above the street, not by much but consistently.

ralphbunche1

Even century-old homes sit up the same way as the newest places. Presumably the streets were dug down, but maybe the lots were piled up too. Perhaps flooding was a concern, and all the earth-moving created more desirable lots here. Only a historian with intimate local knowledge could say.

ralphbunche2

If you look north along any of these streets (Chestnut, Linden, Filbert, Myrtle), you’ll see the land sink at Grand Avenue where the Merritt Sand leaves off.

The I-980 swath

1 March 2013

980swath

Interstate 980 is a huge convenience for drivers. I appreciate it every time I drive around town. But its construction was a major injury to Oakland’s neighborhood fabric, splitting West Oakland from downtown harshly and irrevocably. Every time I walk over 980, as here on the 14th Street overcrossing, I ask, Did they really need to hack out all this space for the freeway? Farther north, where the road becomes route 24, it’s narrower and they left a fringe of homes on Martin Luther King bordering the highway. But on 980, the excavation took out a full city block between Castro and Brush streets.

Maybe the difference was the sand. I-980 is built in the Merritt Sand, which underlies downtown and West Oakland up as far as Grand Avenue. The ancient dune sands probably can’t sustain a steep slope on the sides of the freeway. And the builders had to dig deep to make room for the overcrossings—most of the other freeways are not below grade. A narrower roadway, with tall vertical soundwalls on either side (like the new part of the Nimitz farther west in Bay mud), would not be as safe during earthquake shaking, and without room for the vegetation it would be a dreary place indeed. Bad as it is, it could have been worse.


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