Eye of the Beholder

I just noticed this plaque last week, after having walked past it dozens, if not hundreds, of times:

Eye of the Beholder

I took another photo from the same spot, looking in a different direction:


The plaque was placed where Interstate 580 crosses over Grand Avenue, creating a dark, imposing overpass that separates Lake Merritt and Lakeside Park from the 1926 Grand Lake Theater. It might be quaint that people were so jazzed about urban highways in the 60’s, were it not for the fact that these freeways drew and quartered the cores of many American cities, cleaving neighborhoods in two and allowing drivers to bypass Oakland on their way to and from San Francisco without ever having to see a city street, never mind interact with any of its citizens or businesses.

9 Responses to “Eye of the Beholder”

  1. eric says:

    Wow. What’s most amazing is not that they did it, not even that they liked it, but that they called it “beautiful.” In our country’s dark unconscious, there must have been some awareness of how deeply awful everything they were doing was, if only enough to prompt such ludicrous, such feverish (“jazzed,” maybe) denial. It reminds me of the Tom Swift book (circa 1963) about the “repelatron skyway” Tom builds over the “seething, bubbling swamp” of the African jungle. No one even has to take a shovel to the dirt; Tom just drops some “repelatron transmitters” (i.e. “midget atomic dynamos”) into the jungle every so often for supports, and then squirts the roadbed out of his helicopter’s butt. I don’t think even Tom, though, would have called it “most beautiful.”

  2. wordnerd says:

    Parade Magazine! I wonder if we could get a hold of the article with the tribute to your highway…The view from the highway is a lot better than the view of it.

  3. chris says:

    Since most of it is already sub-grade anyways, I’ve often dreamed of how cool a greenway on top of the 980 would be. Aside from the whole funding issue, it seems like an easy way to reconnect west oakland with downtown, create park space, and reduce noise pollution.

  4. dc says:

    That’s actually a good idea — maybe Barbara Lee can quietly slip $1 billion for that into the stimulus bill during conference. It would be like what Boston did after they submerged the expressway in the Big Dig (speaking of funding issues!), turning an eyesore into parkland and reconnecting Boston’s downtown to the North End and the waterfront.

    Your idea is a lot more practical than most of mine, which involve things like turning all our freeways into greenways, like what they’re doing with the Highline on Manhattan’s west side, but on a much grander scale. Instead of being used for cars, the highways could be a network of off-leash dog parks, jogging and biking paths, playgrounds, soccer fields, etc., with all the exit ramps used as public access. Realistic? No. Sensible? Probably not. Fun for me to fantasize about? Yes!

  5. Carol says:

    When I was in Boston in October I noticed that regardless of the submerged roads there were plenty of tall, shade-casting concrete ribbons (what a metaphor!) remaining. There is one interchange in Dallas where five levels of highway crisscross each other. From a distance it looks something like a sculpture or setting for a scifi film. Up close, for the uninitiated driver, it’s more like a game of lady and the tiger.

  6. dc says:

    If I didn’t think that freeways were so detrimental, then I could appreciate them more as sculpture. I’ve seen some photographs of freeway interchanges that are beautiful, if you can look at them purely in aesthetic terms. And I love driving long distances on the open road, which I suppose makes me a hypocrite, although I prefer to think of it as showing a certain Whitmanesque complexity (yeah, whatever).

  7. Andrew Krzemuski says:

    When the first freeways were built–the Pasadena, Arroyo Seco freeway just before WWII–they were not the behemoths they have become. That freeway stretched only from downtown LA to Pasadena, maybe 8 miles. Even the Hollywood freeway only stretched about ten miles from Hollywood to LA. The Pasadena Freeway is still quite a nice drive, and maybe when nit was new it was nicer.

  8. dc says:

    That’s the 110, right? I know that road pretty well, but I didn’t realize it was one of the first freeways. One reason it’s better than most highways is that it’s below grade, so the streets passing over it feel less disrupted, and it doesn’t dominate the surrounding neighborhoods the way elevated freeways do. The exits are pretty intense — I guess when it was built, they hadn’t yet realized that exits shouldn’t turn too sharply, so getting off some of those exits in Highland park requires good brakes and some nimble steering. Getting onto the 110 can be an adventure too, because there are no extra lanes for gaining speed before you have to merge into traffic…

  9. Colin says:

    They actually moved this plaque when they built Splashpad park. It was mounted in a rock that faced out towards the sidewalk, about 10′ away from where it is now. It’s an interesting monument.

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