Alliterated Elephantine Allotment

One person's trash is another's treasure trove in West Oakland.

For most of the year, the contents of the warehouse at 333 Lancaster Street, Oakland, lie dormant. A thin cardboard poster of Tom Selleck in scandalously revealing blue volleyball shorts watches over the dusty contents like a sentinel, ball in hand, waiting to visually assault anyone who disturbs the slumber of this unique warehouse collective.

This is not a collective in the same sense as the Cheese Board or REI. It is instead a collective accumulation of detritus, drifting doodads, and disinherited dreck. These are the leftovers from last year’s Oakland Museum White Elephant Sale. Alone and left to their own devices, these garage-sale refugees have nine months of the year to frolic and play, unmolested, in their dark warehouse holding pen. Old wigs dance jigs with long-lost baby toys while fishing poles cast their long, thin strands toward stoic books. When the light from above wanes at night, a hundred lamps cast their beams on folded rugs playing Life with salad bowls and tongs. Off in the distance, empty cribs slowly rock their charges to sleep: dozens of stuffed animals, Cabbage Patch Dolls, and naked Barbies.

Every January, this docile debris is jostled awake by a cavalcade of workers who organize, sticker, and display every last bit. Oaklanders have been bringing a fresh influx of stuff to the warehouse on an almost daily basis since the beginning of 2005, and in exchange for their disused junk, they’re allowed to rummage through the piles and shelves to find new treasures to replace the old.

Susan Rasmussen has worked in the housewares section of this sale for the past ten years, and nothing shocks her anymore. “Dennis Eckersley used to be where Tom Selleck is now,” she says. “He was sold recently, I think because he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. People donate all sorts of things. We even got live-capture mouse traps with the mice still in them; dead, of course.”

These months of aggregation finally pay off for the public this Saturday and Sunday. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the doors of this 96,000-square-foot facility will open and let loose the rapture of rummagers. Be you artist, collector, decorator, artificer, or simply a stingy stuff-stower, you’ll find bunches of booty with which to fill your gunnysacks.

As the clock ticks closer to 4 p.m. Sunday, the staff will start to make bargains. By the final hour, they’re handing out bags for a dollar and allowing scavengers to fill them up with all they can carry.

You can’t live in the East Bay without hearing someone rave about this sale. If you’ve heard the calling, and simply haven’t gotten around to going the past few years, clear your schedule and make the effort. The long-lost loot of Lancaster Street desperately needs homes, especially the neglected items that have become fixtures at the event. And if someone could see their way toward buying that Tom Selleck poster, it would make the whole experience that much more enjoyable. He’s been hanging up there for too long. Please, take him home.

There is no admission fee for the sale days. All proceeds from the sale go to support programs and exhibitions at the Oakland Museum of California. For recorded information, call 510-536-6800.


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