In contrast to Uptown and the Jack London area, Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood isn’t really a shoe-in for redevelopment. If anything, it’s better known for venerable institutions like King’s Boxing Gym, the recreation center where Super Middleweight champion Andre Ward used to punch Everlast bags, or EastSide Cultural Center, the art gallery and performance space that hosts documentary screenings, book fairs, spoken-word nights, and jazz performances by everyone from saxophonist David Murray to poet Amiri Baraka.
But that’s not to say Fruitvale hasn’t transformed over the past few years. Perhaps the most exciting development is the bi-weekly Fruitvale Farmers’ Market (3411 E. 12th St., near the BART station), which features locally grown produce, crafts, live music, and an amazing churro stand, for those who like sugary delicacies. Sponsored by The Unity Council, the market also provides healthy food for low-income residents, via programs like EBT and WIC.
And speak of savory food, Casa Jimenez Family Restaurant & Art Gallery (4345 International Blvd.) just opened, as an extension of family’s popular taco truck. Whereas the truck specialized in cheap, economical tacos, pupusas, rellenos, burritos, and tortas (always served on fresh baked bread), the restaurant is known for its chimichanga. Another restaurant that always deserves mention is La Estrellita Cafe (446 E. 12th St., 510-465-7188), which has been around for years, but which recently revamped its events calendar to include house music DJ dance parties, salsa nights, and Charlie Ballard’s Hella Gay comedy show. Owner Jose Macias is willing to take risks with entertainment lineups, and, as a result, he appeals to a wide swath of the local population.
If you care to venture farther into East Oakland, you’ll eventually hit NIMBY art space (8410 Amelia St., 510-633-0506 NIMBYSpace.org), a warehouse that relocated from its old West Oakland location in 2009. It hosts gigantic blowout parties, fight nights, art installations, pyrotechnic sculptures, and workshops. Many of the tenants are welders or metalworkers who make or fix just about anything, and who are happy to bring “art” back into the craft realm. Farther down lies the now-endangered East Oakland Boxing Association (816 98th Ave., 510-430-8056, EOBA.org), which has long provided after-school workshops for kids. And that’s not to mention the nexus of galleries and art spaces in nearby Jingletown, where even the loft apartments are decorated in mosaic tiles.
It’s only natural that an area as richly textured and densely populated as Fruitvale would have some amazing large-scale community events, too, from the Malcolm X Jazz Festival, which happens in San Antonio Park every summer, to the annual Día de los Muertos Parade. The neighborhood is reputed to be the city’s most racially diverse area, and as such, it’s possibly the best place to experience the panoply that is Oakland.