Monday, July 10, 2017

Home Is Where the Heat Is

By C.J. Hirschfield

The decision to locate Children’s Fairyland in downtown Oakland was made long before my time here – in 1948, to be exact. Ever since we opened in 1950, being in the heart of the city has had its up and downsides. It certainly is never dull.

Last Friday was one of those not-dull days.

Early in the morning I was awakened by the sound of helicopters over my Adams Point neighborhood – the same neighborhood in which Fairyland lives. There was a fire a few blocks away from the park, at the site of a building that was to include market-rate apartments and retail shops.

The Valdez fire as seen from across Lake Merritt early on the morning of July 7.

As I write this, the cause of the fire has not been determined, but it looks suspicious. In the past 12 months, there have been three similar fires in the East Bay, including two at the same location on the Oakland-Emeryville border. Both of the Emeryville fires were set by an arsonist; there was widespread speculation, according to an East Bay Times report, that the culprit was “angry about the rapid and dramatic gentrification of sections of the East Bay, where long-time residents are being forced from their neighborhoods by rising rents.” Last week’s fire looks to me like the work of an anti-gentrifier as well.

Flames from the Valdez fire appear to shoot from the roof of the Cathedral of Christ the Light on Harrison near Grand. Photo: Dr. Eluem Blyden of Phytopod Vertical Home Gardens in Oakland.

I was at Fairyland at 7 a.m. to assess the situation. Ash—big chunks, in addition to fine powder—was everywhere. When it was determined sometime later that the fire was under control, our team went to work with a power blower and towels to prepare the park for opening.

I remembered an occasion a few years back when a crowd of protesters after dark made its way in our direction, vandalizing the nearby Whole Foods market. I was at the park at 11 p.m., ready to – I don’t know – protect Fairyland with our bubble swords? Thankfully the police showed up at that very moment, and the crowd dispersed.

Fire-scene tape near 23rd and Valdez streets.

Downtown Oakland also faces challenges with a homeless population that’s made up of folks with mental issues. We are familiar with all of the regulars.

The day before the most recent fire, I was chatting with Luann Luan Stauss, who owns the independent Laurel Book Store at 14th Street and Broadway. She made the decision to locate at downtown Oakland’s epicenter, and although she’s glad she did, it’s a mixed blessing for her as well.

Other friends of mine also chose to locate in the heart of downtown: Angela Tsay, owner of Oaklandish and its sister companies, all of which sell pride-filled Oakland products; Ke Norman, owner of the Nailphoria Day Spa; Kanitha Matoury, owner of the HowdenRestaurant & Bar (formerly Spice Monkey). It’s tough, especially when demonstrations lead to vandalism and crime in the area. But these women-owned businesses are committed to Oakland and its people.

Chalkboard at Ala Mar restaurant at 100 Grand Ave., near the fire scene.

I would suggest that you consider committing to them as well. Buy a book from Luann or a T-shirt from Angela; get a mani-pedi from Ke or your favorite seasoning from Kanitha’s new spice line.

If you’re looking for other ways to support Oakland, I suggest browsing through It’s a great website that offers a business directory and information about on entertainment and restaurants.

There’s no place like Oakland. Let’s try to keep our hearts—and our money—right here.
C.J. Hirschfield has served for 15 years as executive director of Children’s Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation of the nation’s first storybook theme park.


  1. Thank you CJ. I'd stand beside you and your bubble sword any day. Luan

    1. ...and you'd do it even though I misspelled your name (sorry!)--that's a friend! xoxo