This is it. We're moving.
As of May 20, the Oakland Tribune will no longer be at the historic Tribune building and tower in downtown Oakland. No longer steps from City Hall and the courts and the cops, the county offices, the state and federal buildings, and the brand-new Peet's that just opened. What timing.
Instead, reporters, photographers and some advertising folks will scoop up their things and move to a single upper floor of the surely-perfectly-fine-but-lackluster office building on Oakport Street across the freeway from the Oracle Arena, because there's so much news constantly breaking at Wal-Mart and Coliseum Lexus.
The 11-foot neon "TRIBUNE" letters will remain on the tower -- it's a historic landmark, so they have to keep it that way. But we won't be downtown, which, if you didn't know, has only been the case once before in the Tribune's 133-year past -- from 1992 to 2000, we took a break out by the waterfront at Jack London Square.
But this time
Our fate is a corporate-level fait accompli, and we accept it. The times are changing, and there will surely be some positive things about the move as far our delicate aesthetic sensibilities go. The new building is very nice. It smells of new carpet, and we won't have to press buttons of competing elevators to see which comes first, much less hold a fire door open with one foot while doing it.
We will finally be free of the Parking Lot of Doom in which a 20-point turn is required to get out of a space, and broken automobile glass crunches under tires. It will indeed be a pleasant change not to step over a puddle of urine at the side entrance to the Trib building every morning. And we certainly won't miss having the heat go on in the summer and off in the winter.
Yet the benefits don't preclude that wistful feeling when one forsakes the old for the new -- no matter how quirky and eccentric and sometimes even gross the old may be, it shall be remembered with nostalgia by those who depart. That's because this building holds history -- of the journalistic, Oakland and personal kind.
Here's some deep background: The Oakland Tribune has been located in the downtown area since it started publishing in 1874 as the Oakland Daily Tribune. In the early years, it shifted to at least seven different buildings in a five-block radius. Then in 1918, it settled at the present site, the six-story brick structure at 13th and Franklin, which was originally a Breuner's furniture store.
The adjacent 310-foot, 20-story tower was built in 1923 -- designed to resemble the bell tower at St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, Italy -- and Trib operations filled the entire block, with enormous presses housed on the 12th Street side.
The paper has seen various regimes -- the Knowland family ran the show for about 60 years, then Bob Maynard took over in the 1980s. ANG Newspapers bought it in 1992, and with the recent merger with the Contra Costa Times and the Mercury News, it's now called BANG, the Bay Area News Group.
From our downtown vantage point, great news stories have come and gone, punctuated by Pulitzers along the way. Great journalists. The occasional Gonzo, but mostly just devoted, tenacious, work-a-day newshounds. Dramatic earthquakes and fires have been covered with aplomb, as have planning commission meetings and rainy days. Infamous politicians and famous movie stars have visited. Even the great Harry Houdini once dangled from the tower in a straitjacket and, not surprisingly, nimbly got loose. Suspects have surrendered here, and didn't get loose. There's often a protest out front. We've had death threats. Terrorism scares.
During the years, three hard-bitten newsmen died at their desks -- one as recently as 2002 when we lost our dear Jim Jennings -- and they wouldn't have had it any other way. The ultimate deadline, you know. One baby was born in the fourth-floor ladies' room in 1973. And the story goes that our very own street-wise police reporter, Harry Harris (think Dirty Harry with a notebook), was conceived in the Tribune tower when his dad worked here as a photographer sometime mid-last century, and the rest is Harristory.
Even those here fewer years feel fondly for this place. One reporter said his son loves coming to visit him here. The boy calls it his dad's "castle."
I started working at the Tribune when we were over at Jack London, and when we moved back downtown (as renters rather than owners this time), a co-worker and I explored the building top to bottom, venturing to its hair-raising depths and jaw-dropping heights, and feeling much like intrepid Nancy Drews ourselves.
We wriggled through shadowy shafts and narrow concrete stairwells, up into the tower's rafters where there's a huge old water tank. We felt small out on the balcony behind the giant letters. Sources close to our investigation say there was a radio station up there in the early days (KLX), and a 500,000 candle-power searchlight once beamed from the tip of the tower. There was a Civil Defense siren in the 1950s, and now an electronic carillon that chimes the time. On top of the six-story side, there used to be a roof garden and lunchroom. Those are long gone. And somehow a woman named Mary Jesus got up there a couple of years ago and jumped off.
We also ventured down to the deep, throat-like passageways of the creepy basement and even creepier sub-basement, which could surely serve as a site for a Hitchcock flick. Tracks are embedded in the concrete floor where they used to deliver the huge rolls of newsprint.
If you listen hard, there's the faint echo of ancient typewriters chattering on eternally, like crickets on a summer night. You can almost smell the cigarette smoke from the old days, taste the bourbon concealed with everyone's knowledge and approval in various bottom desk drawers, hear the presses that once rolled, shook the earth and rattled City Hall.
Yes, somewhere in the Tribune's foundation burns a small flame at the shrine of truth, justice and the Fourth Estate. But the pipe that burst a couple months ago and flooded the basement may have put it out.
As to our daily lives, there's much to miss in the surrounding urban environment. A too-big-for-your-mouth turkey sandwich at Ratto's. The farmers market on Friday mornings. Being able to walk to cuisine from just about any country -- China, Japan, Vietnam, Italy, Mexico, India.
We'll miss Darnell, the nice security guard who fends off fiends and jokes about the weather. And Enrique at Crema, who makes smiley faces in a mocha's foam. Oh, and the best cookie ever (the black-and-white cookie, warmed up) at It's a Grind. There's always the buffed guy who crosses the street in his underwear.
"When I saw him earlier, he was wearing nothin' but sunshine," Darnell said after a recent sighting.
There's the daily suspense, anticipating what splendid, colorful, over-the-top, coordinated outfit will be worn by Milt, the man who holds court on the corner by Burger King, and calls out "Keep that pretty smile!" to every passing person of the female persuasion.
Off the record, I'm one of those freaky people in the world who actually likes moving, as long as it's a positive change. It's fun to clean out the old, and decorate the new.
But in this case, it will truly be tough to say goodbye. To drive downtown for a story and not be able to go in the building that will still say "TRIBUNE" on top. Couldn't we have just sold the naming rights? It could have been Jet Blue's Oakland Tribune. Or The Oakland Tribune, presented by Pepsi.
Well, life will go on, and so will the news. If nothing else, the new building has a great view. You can see the Tribune tower. You know. Over "There."
Contact Angela Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org.