Melrose Carries On
From boots and soccer cleats to edgy arts, this ’hood stars noticeable cultural influences.
Find boots galore at El Charro.
Photos by Pat Mazzera
If you went to International Boulevard and High Street and peeked over a tall wooden fence 100 years ago, the curious brown eyes of an ostrich likely would have greeted you. The Golden State Ostrich Farm operated there in the Melrose neighborhood—which runs along International roughly from High Street to 54th Avenue—with as many as 75 birds whose feathers were sold to women’s hat-makers. The ostriches are gone, replaced by a taco truck, a clear indicator of change. With strong Latin-American and African-American cultural influences, Melrose is a neighborhood where pupusas and ribs are sold side by side.
If you’re planning on doing some boot scooting at Overland, Oakland’s country-and-western bar, first you’ll need to get dudded up. El Charro Western Wear is a small shop with a big selection, offering cowboy hats, spangled Western shirts, tooled leather belts, and boots for every occasion. Whether you’re looking for something steel-toed to get the job done, or you think white ostrich-skin boots would complete your urban cowboy ensemble, El Charro will turn you from city slicker to country kicker.
4730 International Blvd., 510-479-7101.
But not everyone appreciates a bejeweled toe on an exquisite pair of boots. Some prefer shoes they can really move in. Soccer Mania is a one-stop shop for jerseys, cleats, athletic wear, accessories, balls, and more. It caters to a wide audience, with jerseys for adults and children from teams across the globe and across the city.
4730 International Blvd., 510-532-2524.
Corazon del Pueblo.
Stepping into Corazon del Pueblo is like entering another world. This surprisingly large and colorful store is packed full of Mexican imports: pottery, Oaxacan animal sculptures, ollas, dolls, Frida Kahlo collectibles, jewelry, Virgin of Guadalupe devotional items, Mexican dresses, guayabera shirts, fabric—even Pedro Infante paper dolls. And before you build your Dia de los Muertos altar this year, head to Corazon del Pueblo for sugar skull molds, papel picado, candles, and skeleton statues. It’s easier than a trip to Tijuana!
4814 International Blvd., 510-532-6733.
At 100 years old, the Melrose Branch Library is one of six Carnegie libraries in Oakland. The Classic Revival building is composed of two rectangles with a rotunda and features a lovely marble foyer. This branch is known for its African-American fiction and Spanish language books and offers an array of community programs, including A Beautiful Mess/Desorden Magnifico, an after-school art class that encourages creativity, exploration, and lots of mess.
4805 Foothill Blvd., 510-535-5623, OaklandLibrary.org.
Housed in an old iron factory, Inferno Gallery takes its name from the burning fires that once lived within the building’s walls. Inferno is part of the larger Vulcan Studios and Vulcan Lofts complex, a loose affiliation of artists, performers, musicians, and creative workers who’ve been living and working in the space since the early ’90s. The gallery’s aesthetic favors eccentric art. Inferno provides acquisition, restoration, and appraisal services, commissions, and period reproductions. Upcoming exhibitions include Raw Intentions: New Works by Silvie Lukacova (check the website for dates and hours).
4401 San Leandro St., #50, 510-798-7637, InfernoGallery.com.
Are you a displaced Southerner craving an oyster po’boy and a steaming bowl of gumbo? Or just a Left Coaster who appreciates good food? Big Momma’s Kitchen offers Southern-style soul food in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. All the meat is halal, meaning it is permissible by Islamic law. Stop by on your way in to the Raiders game for smothered turkey wings and buttered cornbread—two things you won’t find at the Coliseum.
4929 International Blvd. 510-479-1122, BigMommasKitch.com.
Just down the street, Chapinlandia Bakery serves up Guatemalan treats at affordable prices, fresh-brewed coffee, and atole—a warm, masa-based Mesoamerican beverage. Chapinlandia offers fresh breakfast tortas everyday, specialty cakes, Guatemalan pan dulces like conchas and empanadas de pina, fresh juices—including tamarind and guava—and dozens of cookies decorated in popular characters like SpongeBob and Batman.
4737 International Blvd., 510-533-5047, ChapinlandiaBakery.com.
No trip to Melrose would be complete without sampling the local taco truck eats. Whether it’s the carne asada tacos at El Taco Zamorano or the al pastor burrito at Tacos Guadalajara, you’ll go home fuller and happier.
El Taco Zamorano: 4800 International Blvd., Tacos Guadalajara: 44th Avenue and International Boulevard.
Published online on June 13, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.