Tonight I read over at the Urban Art Gallery in Oakland. It was for an Art for Autism Benefit - and it was cool. Good crowd, poems, art, cheese, wine, etc. aranyamei
came with. She is the awesome.
Now I used to live in West Oakland and honestly love it quite a lot. I am protective of it - of how wonderful it was and how family and generations of people living there and I saw my old apt again and the house looks the same and good old Eloise is still living upstairs and a lot of it is still just what I remember. And there are other good parts that are new. The shoreline park finally got finished. The messed up pothole heaven of 8th Street got fixed. But folks. Other things broke my heart. I saw old Victorians in ruins like I haven't seen since I was last in the ruined West Canfield area of Detroit. With gorgeous facade husks and burned out interiors without even a roof to their centuries old credit. Some of them in West Oakland had been like that since I lived there. Some were more newly ravaged. And in sharp contrast are the shiny expensive gated loft / condos. It felt like they were shining with a promise of what the residents can't have. They hulked above the other neighborhood architecture and stood out like sore thumbs, Mandela Gateway, standing next to the new projects and the old victorians and the legacy of a neighborhood in their wake.
Ah but really - the biggest part of the upset isn't about lofts. It's about loss. I tried to go to my favorite store ever. In the world. Cooper Bros. A charming awesome teeny tiny store attached to a huge yellow house where Fred Cooper would fresh roast peanuts daily, sell veggies that he got weekly from local farms and sell sodas out of old school ice chests from the 50's.
Cooper used to sell me my american spirits and give me free lettuce for my dragon (iguana). He loved to talk and tell me stories and as about the iguana and how i was doing over on 12th St up there and he was the awesome. Whenever I was in the neighborhood I tried to come by and buy something jsut to say hi again. The past few times - the store has been closed, but that was usual, it seemed sometimes like he opened when it was good for him so I didn't think too much of it.
Today the house was falling apart. With a chain link fence all around and the store boarded up. I got home and googled and Fred is gone. With him a neighborhood loses a whole lotta heart. I am so so sad. It's slightly possible that the house is being rennovated and just looked bad since Fred started Historical Landmark processes for the house and store in 2003, and the site was approved to move forward. Maybe someone is making it what it once was?
Here's what they wrote in the Oakland Tribune. He passed away in 2004.
OAKLAND -- Through good times or bad, fair or foul weather, South Prescott neighbors could always count on Fred Cooper to dispense fresh produce, warm peanuts and good conversation from his ramshackle corner store at Eighth and Center streets.
But "Coop's" corner is strangely silent since Freddie Lee Cooper Sr., or "Coop," as most everyone knew him, died July 25. His passing has left an unfillable void in the neighborhood.
"Cooper was a very dear friend of mine ... I miss him terribly," said David Carter, who lives in the South Prescott area of West Oakland, near the BART station.
Carter gathered with a few other neighbors at Cooper Brothers Market nearly every Friday for the past five years. It turned into a social hour, with the friends talking about politics, community concerns, sports, world events and whatever was on the front page that day.
"For me, being somewhat sentimental, it's the passing of an era," Carter said. "I got to tell you, it was like the old 1950s neighborhood where everybody knew everybody. That's where I met my neighbors ... now I don't even know who my neighbor is."
Coop was tall, with a broad face and big hands. He would often stand on the corner, dressed in his trademark blue coveralls, apron and roll-up hat, greeting neighbors and passersby with a warm smile, inviting them to stop and chat or peruse the array of fresh vegetables on display outside the market. He would travel to Brentwood or the San Joaquin Valley every Monday to buy his produce,direct from the farmers.
Carter said he first saw Cooper at a community meeting, where he didn't say much, but what he said made an impression.
"I was a newbie (to the neighborhood), and he was real quiet," Carter said. "But he said a few things that kind of impressed me. He had what you call gravitas. I thought, 'I like this guy.' Then I heard he had a vegetable stand, and I went by and we just clicked."
Coop was Carter's portal to people of West Oakland who might not otherwise give him the time of day. As long as he said, "Coop sent me, I'm his buddy," he was OK.
"He had a dossier on everybody, in his head. If you had lived there for over 10 years and had been by his place, he remembered," Carter said. "(Mayor) Jerry Brown stopped in one time and said, 'What's going on, Coop?' and Coop said, 'I'm paying you to tell me.'"
Cooper's funeral in East Oakland was filled with friends and family. But there are still members of the community who are just learning of his death, probably because his store had been closed while the street was torn up for construction. Then again, Cooper wasn't one to complain.
"It's so sad, I didn't know," said Oakland City Councilmember Nancy Nadel. "I first met him when I was working in San Francisco and I parked my car (near his store) and he watched out for me and we became friends."
He also helped get her elected to her first public office, the East Bay Municipal Utility District board, by putting her sign in his yard. He would come to her house with a little bag of potatoes or oranges, "out of the blue," Nadel recalled.
Dorothy Jenkins, church secretary with Zion First Church of God across the street from Cooper's house and store, said he was always doing nice things, making small, unexpected gestures of kindness for people. She first met him in 2000, when he offered her some roasted peanuts in the shell.
Cooper was a faithful member of the church, and his name is on the cornerstone, which made some chuckle because they only saw him in his coveralls, Jenkins said. But he would always dress for church.
"He would be so dapper with his suit on, and he would say, 'Sister Jenkins, my mother said you need to give God some of your time,'" Jenkins recalled. "He would be so cute, holding that little hat.
"When word spread (of his death), people were very hurt," she said.
Freddie Lee Cooper was a native of Red Bird, Okla. He followed his sister west in 1955, right out of high school. He was drafted a few years later, and served in the Army in both Fort Collins, Colo., and Fort Hood, Texas. He returned to Oakland in 1960.
Cooper and brother Sidney bought the large Victorian rooming house and corner store in 1962. They started out selling potatoes and onions, but by the time the store closed, you could find just about anything inside, from milk to its signature "Cooper's Hogs Head Cheese."
Mr. Cooper is survived by his wife, Mary Cooper, of Oakland.
Etta Jones and her husband and children moved to Oakland 35 years ago from Houston. She said Cooper kept a nice store, and she would often stop in to buy a few items. Seventh Street still had a number of thriving businesses and clubs, and Cooper knew everybody, old and new, she said.
"I'd go there and shop and do a little yakking," she said.
Business dropped off after the Westwood Gardens apartment building across the street was torn down. And once the city started tearing up Eighth Street to make new sidewalks and bike lanes and install lights and plant trees, Cooper closed the store, most thought temporarily.
Jenkins said he would have loved to see how nice the street looked now.
"I wish Mr. Cooper could have seen this, the trees and all of that, but he's in a better place now, no pain, no suffering," she said.
"It's really sad, but he was at peace with God; he had got his soul right," she said.