Getting high in four dimensions

Every now and then I like to climb parking structures. It feels like climbing trees felt when I was a kid. It’s also a lot like climbing hills to get an overview of the countryside. Parking structures are almost the only buildings in Oakland that the public can stand on top of. I like to climb them because adding that third dimension gives me a keener sense of where I am.

The Kaiser Permanente parking structure at 19th and Franklin Streets is almost unique in having a rooftop amenity — a little garden patio. It offers views of the bay and the hills, along with the buildings between. I was there the other day.


As it happens, I have photos from my last visit, in November 2005. The current drought must have prompted a redesign, because it used to be much more lush. The furniture was replaced, too.


Everything has changed, but it’s still the same place. That’s seeing the fourth dimension.

Toward the hills, you can see the Kaiser Center’s rooftop garden, a 3-acre cultivated wonderland on top of its parking structure. (Kaiser owns it, but public access to it was part of the bargain Kaiser made when the city allowed them to fill in part of Lake Merritt.)


You should pay it a visit. The plantings have been rejuvenated. And that’s the only other Oakland parking structure I know of with a rooftop amenity.

But back to the fourth dimension. It strikes me vividly as I view the Leamington Hotel building across the way, next to 1904 Franklin, both of them built in the 1920s.


What vast changes have come over us since that time!

The geologist carries this fourth-dimension awareness everywhere. The mere presence of a rock outcrop is a signal that once upon a time, that spot was a very different place — perhaps a deep sea basin far offshore, or a magma chamber miles underground. The configuration of a hillside may reflect environmental changes as drastic as the Ice Ages. All of this is there in plain sight, if you put in the work to understand the evidence.

So for me the natural Oakland primes me to see the built Oakland similarly. We have a fascinating four-dimensional cityscape that includes old things left old, old things turned new, and new things masquerading as old. It even has fossils. All deserve a closer look.

On the 1200 block of Harrison Street the King Building, in the back, looks old but has been refurbished while the structure in front looks like it needs a bit of rehab.


Elsewhere the way-new Oakland Hot Plate occupies the way-old Hotel Menlo/Empyrean Towers building, built in 1914. Note the ancient prism glass upper windows, designed to let in daylight without glare in the days before widespread electricity.


New (2000s) and old (1937) harmonize down in the warehouse district at 3rd Street near Jackson.


And a block of new apartments (2006) masquerades as an old manufacturing building at Jackson and 2nd Streets.


The past shines forth in the present everywhere you look. The present is a very thin veneer on a long history. This is the central concept of geology.

2 Responses to “Getting high in four dimensions”

  1. Deborah Bullock Says:

    Thanks – very interesting reading! Good to be reminded of the many beautiful old buildings In that area. The Kaiser rooftop garden was recently mentioned by John King in the Chronicle.

  2. The Park Explorer Says:

    Awesome post!

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