It is a most unlikely piece of public art, a generous slice of watermelon, just lying there on the shoreline of San Leandro Bay, lapped by the tidal waters. Sometimes it is nearly submerged. Other times, it is perched high and dry above the bay.
Painted on a large half-round piece of concrete that was dumped there to bolster the shoreline sometime after World War II, the watermelon rock has been a fixture on the waterway between the Oakland International Airport and Alameda for at least 30 years now.
It’s a folksy reminder that you’re almost home to Alameda, if you’re coming back from Costco or San Leandro. Kids like to make a game of it: Who’s the first in the car to spot the watermelon rock?
But the rock is a mystery, too. Who painted it? Who has repainted it over the past three decades? Why don’t you ever see anyone in the act of painting it? And why a watermelon, for Pete’s sake?
Joan Suzio, supervisor of the East Bay Regional Park District’s Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline Park, which includes the watermelon rock, laughs when she is asked about it.
“I actually don’t know who painted it,” she says. “I never see anybody out there.”
The artists at Frank Bette Center for the Arts have a similar reaction. “We’re stumped,” says one. “Big mystery.”
Some remember that the watermelon rock was once accompanied by the Swiss cheese rock, a rock painted to look like—you guessed it—Swiss cheese. That rock, however, disappeared during the widening of Doolittle Drive several years ago.
The watermelon rock has its naysayers, however. Last summer, someone called Suzio to complain that it looked like garbage and marred the beauty of the shoreline. Suzio refused to remove it, and soon after, she noticed the rock had been painted black.
That could have been the end of the story, but it’s not. Within days, the rock had been repainted as a lovely orange wedge (or lemon wedge, some people thought). Drivers on Doolittle Drive noted the change in fruit, smiled to think the watermelon rock was now a citrus rock and kept going.
But that’s not the end of the story, either.
Within days of being painted as an orange (or lemon) wedge, the rock showed up one morning sporting its historic colors: red fruit, black seeds and a blackish-greenish rind. The watermelon rock was back.
And as far as Suzio is concerned, the watermelon rock stays. “It’s part of the shoreline. I wouldn’t undo it. It just speaks to the past.”
—By Mary McInerney
As a touring guitar player, Scott Hay, 28, would always have to find a new job when he returned home after gigs on the road. When his roommate offered to sell him a hand-operated button machine for $100, he saw an opportunity to work for himself and bought it.
Six years later, Hay’s button manufacturing company, One Inch Round, has grown from one to six employees, and like him, many are musicians or artists. So if employees need time off to tour with their band, their job will still be there when they get back.
Hay’s original hand press has long since been replaced with automated machines. Every button is made on-site in Alameda from materials made in the United States, and the company manufactures and ships globally close to two million buttons a year.
When Hay, who grew up in Walnut Creek and Emeryville, first started his business in 2000, other manufacturers avoided making the 1-inch button, because its small size required that its pin be manually inserted, requiring an extra step of labor. But the 1-inch size was popular with touring bands and their fans, so Hay decided to create a niche. He named his company One Inch Round, because that was the only size button he made at first. Now, he sells buttons in a variety of sizes, but the 1-inch size—seen on jackets and messenger bags the world over—is still his biggest seller.
Hay learned his business skills on the job. After dropping out of high school, he worked for a Bay Area offset printer called Punks with Presses and later got a job with Cinder Block in Oakland making screen-printed T-shirts for bands.
Although the core of Hay’s business is the arts community, the company also makes buttons for local elections, nonprofits and individuals. “I’ll do stuff for Green Day, and I’ll do stuff for a grandmother whose grandson is having his first day of kindergarten,” Hay says.
Using the company’s Web site, customers can design their own buttons online, which is as easy as filling out a form. If shoppers still need help, one of the company’s designers can be hired for a small fee.
One Inch Round buttons start at about $30 for 50 buttons and go up from there depending on the design, size and number of buttons ordered. To order, go to www.oneinchround.com.
—By Ellen Keohane
TAKE FIVE with STAN BUNGER
Favorite Hot Spots
1. Bay farm island bike bridge
As an avid cyclist, the Bay Farm Island Bike Bridge is one of my favorite spots in town. It makes traveling to and from the main Island and Harbor Bay so easy. And the view is a bonus. Seeing the water, San Francisco, the hills and especially the pelicans, is pretty spectacular. Riding over the main bridge used to be like riding over a cheese grater—what an improvement.
2. 25 mph speed limit
To me, the 25 mph speed limit in Alameda is a hot idea. I love the fact that
everyone is forced to slow down because of the speed limit. I think there’s something so sane about it; slowing down really improves our quality of life. I also appreciate a police department that actually enforces the limit. As a motorist, a walker and a cyclist, I think it’s super.
3. La Piñata and Tucker’s Ice Cream
Every Friday night, my wife and I, with a rotating cast of family and friends, can be found first at La Piñata and then at Tucker’s. For us, the two places are inseparable. The ideal evening begins with a Top Shelf Margarita (rocks, with salt) and ends with either the Rosenblum Zin or Tiger’s Tail ice cream. That’s what I call a perfect Friday night.
4. ARPD SUMMER CAMPS
The hottest program in town is the Alameda Recreation and Parks summer camps. When our kids were younger, every summer my wife and I sat through countless skits at both Crab Cove and Trail’s End (at Redwood Regional Park). Later, when my daughter became a leader, we got to keep attending the camp shows. We know all the jokes, all the punch lines, all the songs. Even though my daughter is no longer a leader, I think my wife and I might still go to the skit nights. Summer just wouldn’t be the same without it.
5. Alameda free library
It was an incredible honor to be the emcee for the opening of our new Alameda Free Library—a definite choice spot. I’m so impressed with everything about (the main branch). I’ve already picked out my spot on the second floor by a bay window where I plan to sit regularly with a book. I hope to spend my golden years there, too.
—By Gina Jaber