What are you guys doing this weekend?

If your plans don’t involve stopping by the opening weekend festivities at the newly re-opened Oakland Museum, OMG, change them right now!

I always liked the Oakland Museum. Before it closed, I used to enjoy visiting the gardens on a semi-regular basis, and not infrequently go there to pick up lunch, since it was the only place anywhere near where I work you could find even remotely edible food. So I’ve really missed the Museum since it closed at the end of last summer. Whenever they had a special exhibit, I would try to make sure I went to see it, and I think I managed to catch most of them since I’ve lived here. And for the most part, found them really enjoyable. I recall particularly loving the ones about California fashion and Henry J. Kaiser.

Anyway, despite being fond of the Museum, I never used to spend that much time with their permanent collection, and in general I found their galleries kind of drab and unengaging. So of course I was delighted at the prospect of the renovation, even though it meant I would have nowhere to go get a decent lunch for nine months.

So I went to check it out last night, and O.M.G.! I don’t know what I was expecting from the remodel, but it certainly wasn’t as cool as this. It was amazing.

The whole place in general just feels, I don’t know, bigger. The way everything is laid out now makes it feel like there’s more there than there used to be, but also that it’s more open and spacious, which I know sounds weird, but is somehow true. And there are all these delightful surprises around, like, every corner. Like the gold wall below.

Oakland Museum Gold Art

I went to this media event for the museum renovation last December. Over lunch, they gave this long presentation about how they were all about making the museum interactive and making the visitor part of the experience and not making it like a traditional museum at all. At the time, I thought it all sounded really cool and exciting, but then couldn’t really picture what that would actually mean or what they were talking about.

They did give us a little tour of the art gallery under construction, but it was so under construction at that point that I had a hard time really imagining what it was really going to look like when it was all finished. So during that tour, they showed us this one example of their new interactive features, which wasn’t all finished at the time but I thought sounded cool, and it was this wall of self-portraits, with a little computer drawing pad next to it where you’re supposed to draw your own self-portrait and then all the pictures people drew of themselves cycle through and become part of the exhibit. How cool is that?

Oakland Museum Self-Portrait Art

And there are tons of cushy seating areas all over the place too, which I think is kind of neat, just encouraging people to lounge and hang out around the art. The painting below has these really nice lounge chairs in front of it, and they come with headphones that when you play them, take you through this exercise to help you connect with the painting. The message at the beginning said the exercise would take eight minutes, but my dates were too impatient to let me go through the whole thing, and I got called away pretty close to the beginning, while the message on the headphones was telling me to focus on my breathing. So sadly, I didn’t get the opportunity to connect with this painting last night. But I’m sure I’ll be back.

Oakland Museum Art

Oh! This one was neat. Again, there are headphones, which I think are a little bit of false advertising. It says “listen to people’s conversations about whether or not things are art” or something like that, but the way it was phrased, I thought it was like, I don’t know, recordings of actual funny conversations people had in the museum that they recorded or something. I mean, I realize that would be kind of creepy, but still, the scripted (and poorly delivered) conversation on that they played for you was pretty weak. However, this little section was still wicked cool. You get to take little tickets and vote on each of the items whether or not they are art.

Oakland Museum Is it Art?

I got it wrong.

Here’s a view of Lake Merritt from the gardens. How amazing is that going to look when the 12th Street Bridge project is all finished? OMG.

Oakland Museum Lake Merritt View

So, as much fun as I had in the art gallery, I have to admit that I’m not actually much of an art person. Or really an art person at all. I love history, though, and I love history museums, so I was like, salivating all day yesterday at the prospect of getting to go after work and see what they’d done with the history gallery. Sadly, our time there was kind of rushed because they were about to close.

But from what we were able to see, it is super, super cool — even cooler than what they’ve done with the art. There are just neat little surprises every which way you turn, and all sorts of boxes and drawers and chests and stuff to open and find neat new treats inside. I loved this wall about the Europeans coming to California on their big ships, although the waves out the little window made me kind of dizzy after a while.

Oakland Museum History Exhibit

And just like they promised during that presentation in December, they really do have all sorts of ways they encourage people to participate with the exhibits.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into the room was the bulletin board, and a note on it that said something like “The new Oakland Museum is awesome!”. And I thought that was so great, and I knew I had to take a picture of it. But then I walked into it more, and I saw that it was even cooler than I had thought. The sign above the desk explained that they used to take naturalists on the the ships so they could draw pictures of the new species they encountered. So I guess it was supposed to be, like, the naturalist’s desk. And they had paper and pencils and this bulletin board, and I looked at the bulletin board again, and I saw that most people had not written notes like the one that had caught my attention at first, but drawn pictures of birds. Like the ship naturalists! It was really neat.

Oakland Museum History Exhibit

So of course I just had to draw one of my own. I tried to think of something an explorer would find in California, so I decided I would draw a wolf. It didn’t end up looking like a wolf at all, I’m afraid. Or like anything. I mean, maybe a cross between a badly drawn owl and dog and fox. Really badly drawn. I can’t draw anything. And even if I could, I am not sure exactly what a wolf looks like. But I thought the idea was just so neat I had to play along.

Here is my favorite of the pictures people had drawn. If you can’t read it, the note says “I saw this in my garden this morning. What is it?” Hahaha!

Oakland Museum Dinosaur

They had a great little exhibit about the Gold Rush. Part of it was you could look at different careers and see how much they paid during the Gold Rush. Then they had a calculator and a formula so you could see how much this job would pay now. I picked one up and it was for a cook. This was interesting to me because I used to be a cook. It said that in the Gold Rush, a cook for the miners would earn like $450 a week. I was shocked! Forget multiplying it by 28 or whatever, that’s like how much I used to make like five years ago cooking at a Michelin starred restaurant! OMG.

Also in the Gold Rush section, they had this like tree stump that instructed you to sit on it and when you did, it was like you were in a photo booth. Which made me want to take a picture. Which I did, of das88. He said I could use it on the blog, but only if I made it sepiatone. So I did. Say hi!

Oakland Museum Photo Booth

There was so much cool stuff going on all over the history gallery, and we really did just have to completely dash through it, which was a little sad. But also made me very excited about going back, because there are so many cool toys to play with. They’ve got this one like, electronic map table that you can touch and go over with a computer magnifying glass and move pictures all around — okay, I’m going to stop trying to explain that one because I know what I’m saying is making no sense. But trust me, it’s like straight out of CSI.

And in several different spots in the history gallery, they invite visitors to share their experience of California. Like, they’ll have a wall that asks “What do you remember about these years?” and in front of it index cards and tape and pencils. The wall in the photo below is a big long timeline, and it asks visitors to write on a post-it note what they think was the most important thing that happened since 1975 and put it up on the wall in the spot for the year it happened.

I loved looking at all the different kinds of responses people had for this. I thought the photo below captured the kind of mix pretty well. There was another note right below the Prop 13 one that was like “My daughter was born and has brought joy to my life every single day ever since” or something like that.

Oakland Museum Post-It Wall

Here’s another of their cool little photo booth stations. This one has a bunch of labels that you can pick and hold in front of yourself, like you’re an exhibit too. All the choices were pretty cute. I was pretty amused by the ones dto510 and das88 picked.

Oakland Museum Photo Booth

Okay, enough of my photos. But I hope you get the idea. The new Oakland Museum is wicked cool. They have done an incredible job with their renovation, and I cannot wait to go back. Not only can I not wait to go back, but I can’t wait to take other people there too. I am so dragging both my little sisters there when they come visit me this summer, even though they will totally bitch and whine about how museums are boring and they want to go to Union Square instead, because I know that once they get there, they are going to flip out over how cool it is and they’re going to have a great time and won’t be able to stop talking about it.

So, in conclusion, go to the Museum. It’s awesome. As I’m sure you’ve heard, they are going to open for 31 straight hours this weekend to celebrate the re-opening, and they’re going to have all sorts of crazy events, and they’re trying to make #CALIFORNIA a trending topic on twitter on Saturday night, and it is all going to be free all weekend. But of course if you don’t want to brave the crowds, you just go and check it out next week or something. They’re open until 8 on both Thursdays and Fridays!

And, of course, you can always become a member of the museum, and then you can go visit anytime you want, as much as you want, for free.

Oh, and for higher quality pictures and some great information about the renovation, check out the excellent story about the reopening from last weekend’s Trib.

26 thoughts on “OMG. OMG. New OMCA is AWESOME!

  1. Patrick M. Mitchell

    OMCA has always had great special exhibits. I CAN’T WAIT to go Saturday night! Thanks for the awesome post.

  2. Dave C.

    Does everything in the redesigned museum try so hard to be interactive, or are those just the exhibits that you chose to highlight? I don’t mind that sort of thing in moderation, but sometimes I just want to look at a painting, without being told to put on headphones and do breathing exercises.

    I’ll reserve judgment until I visit, but personally, it all sounds slightly annoying. Sit on this stump to turn on a light! Put on these headphones and listen to a fake conversation about the definition of art! Pretend you are on Sir Francis Drake’s ship and try to avoid dying of scurvy! Light yourself on fire and see what it felt like to be burned to death in the 1906 earthquake!

    I liked the museum as it was, and I suspect that I will end up liking it even more now, but I have to admit that some of the previews I’m reading are making me nervous.

  3. Navigator

    I’ve always loved the Oakland Museum. I can’t wait to take the family today.

  4. Russ


    I saw your piece in the Naturalist section around noon! I must have missed you by just a few seconds.

  5. Livegreen

    I’m happy to have our museum back and looking forward to it. I hope they do many excellent high caliber guest exhibits and differentiate themselves from traditional SF. Not just to b different but to bring in& blow the mind, while still being warm and open. I look forward to going…

  6. Navigator

    I went yesterday with the family. The place is amazing. The History Gallery is absolutely awesome and the roof garden with the beautiful views of Lake Merritt and Oakland’s hills are not to be missed.

    The museum was fantastic but the streets around the place leave a lot to be desired. We have 62 million for the renovation of the museum, but we can’t come up with a few bucks to steam clean the gum filled sidewalks, paint over graffiti on trash containers, and make sure the streets are free of litter?

    After the Museum visit we had dinner on Lakeshore before heading for the Grand Lake to see Avatar in 3D for 5 bucks. It’s the same story on Lakeshore. We have newspaper and litter flying around in front of Starbucks and no one gives a damn. We have cracked and gum filled sidewalks, graffiti on broken newspaper racks, light standards, signs, etc. We also had to cross in front of the vacant Kwick Way lot. This place is an absolute embarrassment and an eyesore. We have broken windows, graffiti and litter pilled up on the side of the building. I’m amazed that Oakland officials allow these conditions, on what is supposed to be one of Oakland’s trendier commercial areas. I went from a first rate world class museum to third world conditions in a span of a few minutes.

    Who ever is responsible for the appalling neglect outside the Oakland Museum and on the Lakeshore/Grand Ave shopping district, needs t o get on the ball. What I saw is inexcusable and I’m bringing my camera next time. Oakland deserves better than this.

  7. Patrick M. Mitchell

    I have to agree with Nav on this one. The Museum is FREAKING AMAZING! – and what a depressing let down when you view the area surrounding it. It’s just embarrassing. I enticed my friends from SF over and I felt like I had to keep them occupied in a vain attempt to avert their attention away from the filth. First impressions are everything – and our city clearly does not care.

    Still not going to vote yes on the parcel tax, though. The problem is one of spending, not revenue.

  8. Quercki

    You guys never went to any museums in SF, did you? They have dirty sidewalks too.

    The Oakland Museum is great. They kept all my favorites and added more things.

    I particularly enjoyed the juke box and dance floor–yes we danced! And the bear skull next to the bear hunt picture.

  9. Ken

    JBair nice tag!

    It was great last night dancing during the bhangra set. This morning was more subdued and you realize it’s just less cluttered, less dusty, than before. The only ‘local celeb’ i saw was Zennie… which was funny since i’ve always seen his talking head but never in person. One of my friends lives across the street so we had a good time drinking it up before heading over for bhangra.

    ABO reader alert- COO budget is now a cool $600MM. We lost $400MM somewheres.

    Did anyone else jot a note in the books for that yosemite painting in V’s 3rd pic from the top here? I wish OMCA was larger but it’s pretty okay. Hope they have night time events like CAS does.

    Finally!–something in Oakland to do besides DRINK, jog and head bob. =)

  10. Andrew

    My wife and I went to the members’ preview on Thursday and loved the new stuff. At first I spotted all this interactive-y stuff that Dave C. is leery of, but then after a few minutes I just ignored it and had the experience that I wanted. It makes me happy that V. responded so well to it.

    I thought the old museum was cool, and it was, and the new museum is cool in a new way. There’s something to be said for renovating every 40 years.

    Navigator, come on, cities in America are all dirty. Only disneyland is not dirty, and that’s why it’s so weird.

  11. Naomi Schiff

    Went over to OMCA today, ran into our next door neighbors there, and many other happy people. We were thrilled at the turnout and enthusiasm–the place was packed today, with very engaged kids of many ages. The exhibits look good! The new entry worked out fine. We owe Lori Fogarty and all the contributors a big thank you for having gotten this huge effort together.

    Re: surrounding streets. The contractors are about to start the fabulous and major reconstruction of 12th Street. It ought to improve the whole area quite a lot, once we get through 18 month construction phase. We’re hoping that the museum will be able to open a back corner entrance that aligns with a crosswalk to the lake. The groundbreaking event is 2 pm on May 6, at 12th and Lakeshore (east end of the project that is about to begin). I noticed that the contractors have already started spraypainting cryptic marks on the pavement of the soon-to-be-former Frickstad Viaduct.

    In the meantime, let’s all keep picking up trash. That happens to be something that we can help with. I always carry a trash bag of some kind with me, and I invite everyone to do the same. It is amazing what a difference it makes. Since trash attracts trash, when you start picking it up, less accumulates.

  12. Jay Shaw

    I used to love this museum . I visited on Saturday, and I have to say that I was appalled at what has been done to it. So much of what I loved about this museum has been damaged or destroyed!

    Kevin Roche’s Oakland museum was a work of art that garnered national attention when it opened. It’s now a work of art that has been vandalized.

    The museum is an official city landmark. Why wasn’t our Landmarks Board able to
    protect this venerable building from a tacky redesign and wholly inappropriate additions?

  13. PRE

    I simply can’t wait to get over to the OMCA as soon as I can! And 18 months for the 12th St dam to be finished will fly by.

    Regarding dirty streets – sadly of the five places I’ve lived for any extended time in the US, California is by far the worst – the Bay Area is the worst of Cali, and (it pains me to say) Oakie is the worst of the Bay Area.

    It doesn’t help when the city government can’t keep a median anywhere in the city up to what people in Walnut Creek expect as a matter of course, but there are plenty of people in this town who clearly have no stake in the fate of Oakland.

  14. Daniel Schulman


    As a member of the Landmarks Board, I can assure that we did review the museum redesign as well as take public input from interested members of the community and organizations. In addition, the Landmarks Board had a subcommittee that met with the project team several times and reviewed plans down to the level of colors, materials, external lighting, etc.

    Preserving the integrity of the structure the was of prime importance. For example, many of the wall additions use a fairly novel pin-based hanging system that allows for the wall decor to be modified or removed without permanently marring the underlying concrete.

    Since I was not personally on the museum subcommittee, I cannot offer you much more detail of what transpired. However, if you are interested I can probably point you toward meeting minutes and KTOP can make available the videotape of Landmarks Board meetings when the museum was discussed.

  15. Navigator


    The improvements on 12th Street will definitely help the area around the Oakland Museum. However, the area where the traffic from Lakeshore will be diverted to when the 12th Street improvements are complete is 1st Avenue. That’s a very blighted street. Now, instead of a great view of Lake Merritt as traffic feeds onto 12th Street from Lakeshore, drivers will have a view of three solid blocks of heavy duty blight. The area around 1st Ave needs a major face lift.

    Also, my criticism is out of concern for the city of Oakland. Oaklanders shouldn’t have to settle for these conditions. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to every major city in the United States and a few abroad. I know what pleasant well maintained cities are suppose to look like. What I saw on Lakeshore and Grand Avenue was depressing. We have these wonderful icons in Oakland like the Oakland Museum and the Grand Lake Theater and we surround them with dirty gum filled sidewalks, litter, graffiti and a general benign neglect. Maybe most people in Oakland have experienced these conditions for so long, that they think this is normal. Believe me, it’s not. Someone needs to be held accountable for this blight. Why is Kwik Way allowed to exist in that blighted form? There’s no excuse for that.

  16. Navigator

    And one more thing, When is Lake Chalet going to get rid of those hideous red and orange barricades. I was under the impression that Measure DD was to eliminate blight and beautify the area. We improved the landscaping and paths only to have these hideous barriers in one of the most prominent streets in Oakland. Let’s put up some decorative chains to separate the “sidewalk” parking from the walking and jogging paths. Let’s get rid of those hideous barricades.

  17. Jay Shaw


    The Landmarks Board may have spent a great deal of time with the details of the museum redesign. I maintain that if they care at all about the cause of preservation that they did an exceptionally poor job. Much of Roche’s original concept has been compromised.
    Perhaps, as you indicate, the underlying integrity of the structure has been maintained. And perhaps, in another forty years or so, museum officials will see the wisdom of restoring the place to something of its original condition. However,as I’m 55, I doubt I’l live to see it.

  18. Jay Shaw


    A few specifics:
    Let’s start with the (once) magnificent, welcoming Tenth St. main entrance — now, apparently, no longer an entrance at all, unless one is part of a school tour group. Then let’s move to the “backstairs” on Oak St. — the new main entry with its recent unfortunate appendages. Next we move to the third level ”add-ons” that have usurped garden terraces. Now take a look at those mirror glass additions that block the once fine views of the downtown skyline from the uppermost level of the gardens.

  19. Pat Kernighan

    @ Navigator re: the ugly orange barricades in front of Lake Chalet: Staff has been promising the installation of the permanent metal railing for months, so I wrote to Lyle Oehler, project mgr and got this reply today:

    “According to the contractor, the rails have been fabricated and are having the black powdercoat finish applied. The finish will be the same process and color as the benches in the park. Installation of the rails is scheduled to begin on Monday, May 17th and construction is expected to last between one and two weeks.

    Installing the rail has taken longer than any of us had envisioned. The following is an explanation of the delay:

    1. The rail is a retrofit and we went through a lengthy design analysis phase to arrive at the best solution. We needed to develop a design that relates to the existing features on the site and can be constructed with a minimum of interruption to the restaurant operations and inconvenience to the public.

    2. Since we are at the end of the project and are very low on funding, we tried to develop the design in the most cost effective manner. Our approach was to work directly with McGuire and Hester’s metal work subcontractor and utilize the subcontractor’s structural engineer. The subcontractor changed structural engineers before the design was complete and then the new structural engineer used the wrong design criteria for anchoring the rail to the permeable concrete. Recycling the design took additional time.

    At any rate, we are reasonably confident that the rail will be installed before the Memorial Day weekend and we can say goodbye to Legoland.”

  20. livegreen

    Ah, isn’t it nice when a responsive CCM communicates to us a detailed explanation from Staff? That certainly takes away both the guesswork & the suspicions that unanswered questions compound.

    It would also be nice if such info were available through the City of Oakland website, in an easy-to-navigate topical format. Maybe a project for better economic times?

  21. Navigator


    Thanks for the response. That’s great news I’m very glad to hear that. I’m hoping the rail is aesthetically pleasing. I was thinking more in the lines of decorative poles with a heavy duty decorative chain, but an aesthetically pleasing rail will also do the job and make the area much more inviting.

    Pat, I’m also wondering what’s going on with the blighted Kwik Way site next to the Grand Lake Theater. The site is an eyesore and a terrible blight on the area. Personally, I take the neglect by the owner of that site as an affront to Oakland and to every citizen in the city. This neglect tells me that the owner of this property thinks very little of this city and believes that he can get away with having a property covered with graffiti, broken windows, and trash pilled up, in a very prominent area of the city because this is Oakland. I’ve never seen a property in that condition in Walnut Creek. I’ll surmise that the owner is not an Oakland resident. If the owner is indeed an Oakland resident, the City of Oakland needs to put a lien on his personal residence until the blighted conditions on the Kwik Way property are resolved.

    I don’t understand how we can allow a property in such a blighted condition between two major streets like Lakeshore and Grand. Also, the Grand Lake Theater sits just around the corner from this blight.

    What’s being done to address this issue? Thanks again.

  22. Naomi Schiff

    I think the Hahn family owns this property, along with quite a lot of other Oakland property. I think they still own the B of A (lease till 2026?) and the Serenader.

  23. Navigator

    The Hahn family needs to be sued. We don’t need more slumlords in Oakland reducing property values in the city because they choose to ignore their responsibility to maintain a property to a reasonable manner in a prominent area of the city.

  24. dto510

    A Rockridge restaurant was in negotiations to take over the Kwik Way two months ago, I don’t know what has happened since.