Gertrude Stein said this about Oakland; “There’s nothing there – there!”
Soon, the Oakland Produce Market will be no more, along with it’s old waterfront. I was the Last Witness of how it used to be. In the photo above, an anonymous artist in a loft posts a message in the window of an old factory.
I was twenty three when I lived in the Sunrise Boat Harbor that was located where sit the first giant cranes when you enter the Oakland Esturary. They filled in the little harbor, where I also lived in a houseboat with my sister Christine’s best friend, Sue Villiani.
The Oakland produce market, whose circa-1915 buildings are purported to be among the oldest in the nation still selling wholesale fruit and vegetables, is still relied on by East Bay restaurants and grocers.
But the market, a 5-acre warren of wood and wire-mesh structures one block north of Jack London Square, has been preserved more by default than design – and its future increasingly is in doubt.
After decades of scuttled plans for the wholesalers to move to a bigger and more modern home, the city of Oakland says it would like space for a new produce center in a proposed development at the Oakland Army Base.
But there is no plan to make room for the vendors anytime soon, the rents are likely to be too high for many merchants, and most of them believe that the prospect is no more realistic than previous ones.
Some critics blame the city for not working harder over the years to find a new home for one of Oakland’s oldest businesses, which in recent years has employed as many as 200 workers and brought in millions of dollars but has long been hampered by antiquated facilities and narrow city streets.
Others point the finger at the merchants. Their inability to reach consensus on earlier opportunities to move has left them stuck in their dilapidated digs, some say.
“We all wanted to move out of here 10 or 15 years ago, but the city was never organized enough to get it done,” said Van Lam, who has owned West Coast Produce on Franklin Street since 1997. “As time has passed, faces (of merchants) have changed and it’s been hard to get any unity.”
Gertrude Stein, the youngest of a family of five children, was born on February 3, 1874, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (merged with Pittsburgh in 1907) to well-educated German Jewish parents, Daniel and Amelia Stein. Her father was a railroad executive whose investments in streetcar lines and real estate made the family wealthy.
When Gertrude was three years old, the Steins relocated for business reasons to Vienna and then Paris. They returned to America in 1878, settling in Oakland, California, where Stein attended First Hebrew Congregation of Oakland’s Sabbath school.
Her mother died in 1888, and her father in 1891. Michael, her eldest brother, took over the family business holdings. He arranged for Gertrude, and another sister Bertha, to live with their mother’s family in Baltimore after the deaths of their parents. In 1892 she lived with her uncle David Bachrach.
It was in Baltimore that Gertrude met Claribel Cone and Etta Cone, who held Saturday evening salons which Gertrude would later emulate in Paris, who shared an appreciation for art and conversation about it, and who modeled a domestic division of labor that Gertrude was later to replicate in her relationship with Alice B. Toklas.
Stein attended Radcliffe College from 1893 to 1897, and was a student of psychologist William James. With James’s supervision, Stein and another student named Leon Mendez Solomons performed experiments on Normal Motor Automatism, a phenomenon hypothesized to occur in people when their attention is divided between two simultaneous intelligent activities, like writing and speaking.
These experiments yielded examples of writing that appeared to represent “stream of consciousness,” a psychological theory often attributed to James, which became the term used to describe the style of modernist authors like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. In 1934, behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner in fact interpreted Stein’s notoriously difficult poem, Tender Buttons, as an example of the “normal motor automatism” Stein had written about for the experiment at Radcliffe.
According to a letter Stein wrote during the 1930s, however, she had never really accepted the theory of automatic writing, explaining: “there can be automatic movements, but not automatic writing. Writing for the normal person is too complicated an activity to be indulged in automatically.”
At Radcliffe, she began a lifelong friendship with Mabel Foote Weeks, whose correspondence traces much of the progression of Gertrude’s life. In 1897, Gertrude spent the summer in Woods Hole, Massachusetts studying embryology at the Marine Biological Laboratory, succeeded by two years at Johns Hopkins Medical School. In 1901, she left Johns Hopkins without obtaining a degree.
In 1903 Gertrude moved to Paris, where she would spend the rest of her life. From 1903 to 1914 she lived there with her brother Leo Stein, an art critic. It was during this period that she became well-known