Oh the sleepy island town of Alameda. How many times did I skip into the McDonald’s on Central Avenue? First with my mommy and sister, before heading to Crab Cove to toss salty french fries at the seagulls. Then with my Washington school kindergarten teacher, pretty and perky Mrs. Okamoto. Single file we went into the fast food chain to tour the kitchen and the refrigerator room, ending with a happy meal surprise. No wonder I have a lifelong craving for fries.
What “city” wouldn’t be complete without commercialism? There was the South Shore shopping center with Woolworth, See’s candies, Walden books, Orange Julius and the cinema. There were the hot spots on the main thoroughfares. Ole’s waffle shop, the Buckhorn bar and Tucker’s ice-cream on the always lively Park Street. Croll’s pizza and Foster’s Freeze on the always quiet Central Avenue. The shut down Tillie’s diner and the Record Gallery on a street that needs a breathe of revitalization–Webster Street.
Then there’s the place that time forgot–the Alameda Naval Air Station–which ironically had led to much of the city’s development post-World War II. At least once a week, my family drove to the guard station. My dad would roll down the driver’s window of our green Vega and present his military ID. The base was abuzz with cars coming and going. It was a privilege to shop at the Navy Exchange or the Commissary since everything was tax-free.
In 1997, the same year I graduated from Berkeley, the station was closed. To be honest, I hadn’t thought about the base since I moved out of the home I grew up in. I no longer drove a Volvo. I no longer went to the Navy Exchange. An eerie 13 years after its closure, I crossed the Bay Bridge from San Francisco with my husband in the passenger seat home to Alameda. It’s a drive we do often to visit my parents, but this time we headed to the defunct Naval Air Station.
I couldn’t help voicing my surprise at the asphalt ghost town surrounded by chain link fences. I’d never seen it so…dead. Looping around along the bay, we entered the base and weaved our way through empty office barracks. A big sign loomed: Hangar One. There, very literally like the Phoenix rising, was a tonic of festive spirit. Killer views from wooden patio furniture. Friends and families laughing and smiling through their tastings. Refreshing vodkas infused with pear, lime, raspberry. Cow bell ringing when the staffers received tips.
The sips of vodka mellowed the shell shock of returning to a once vibrant community that had now vanished. Yet the fruits of labor are spawning a new era which can be distilled into a simple concept–opportunity, innovation, enterprise. Cheers!
Go visit. Hangar One Vodka and Rosenblum Cellars are making a name for themselves in the extremely competitive industry of wine and spirits. They are located near the North Entrance of the former Alameda Naval Air Station, now called Alameda Point.