Oakland’s Victory Siren Comes To Life

While there were a few hundred Chrysler Air Raid Sirens installed during the Cold War, only one has been actively used for performance art these days – and it’s from Oakland.

After Jack Schroll rescued this monster siren from Woodminster Amphitheater in 2007, it was first used in a Burning Man Festival project!  As part of Crude Awakening, created by Oaklanders Dan Das Mann and Karen Cusolito, the siren called people to worship at the oil derrick’s altar.

Crude Awakening - Air Siren

Click on the video and see the whole story unfold.  At first, the steel people are doing what comes naturally and actively worshipping their oil god.

Crude Awakening - Worshippers

Eventually their false god consumes its very last oil, as represented by the fireball.  Afterwards, the worshippers are able to return to and respect nature again.  (From attendees, we heard this felt like an apocalyptic scene.)

Crude Awakening - Explosion

Beyond Crude Awakening, the Oakland Victory Siren has been used in other performances.  There was another great Dan Das Mann show on the water – watch this Sausalito Burn Boat video complete with the siren, fire bursts, tesla coils and music.  For a front-row seat, here is the siren blasting away on the boat.  (Yes, it’s really that loud.)

The siren’s made appearances in the Bay Area each year.  It’s been down in Half Moon Bay, at the Pacific Coast Dream Machines show, and wheeled out for inspection at the Alameda County Fair as well.  What an interesting Cold War relic and legacy to see up close.

More info:   Learn all about the Chrysler Air Raid Sirens and how one devoted Oaklander rescued and refurbished this Oakland blaster – Oakland’s Victory Siren Gets Saved.

Oakland’s Victory Siren Gets Saved

In the Oakland Hills, we were sitting on a Cold War relic that had been ignored for decades – until it was rediscovered and used by Oakland performance artists.  The story begins with a Chrysler Air Raid Siren, which was dusted off and lovingly saved for posterity by Oaklander Jack Schroll.

“I could not let this piece of history go to the scrap pile,” Schroll explained.  “I have made a good living in Oakland for the last 33 years and I feel this is a small something to give back.  I will never sell the siren.”

Chrysler Air Raid Siren

Run For Cover

Remember fall out shelters?  After World War II, Americans were drilled in how they should respond to missiles and other enemy threats while at home, work or school.  You were supposed to duck and run for cover when you heard the dreaded siren.  (Don’t worry, it was before my time too.)

Around the country, there were a series of alert systems set up to communicate with citizens.  You probably know about the “emergency alert” tests conducted by TV and radio stations.  In addition, extremely loud air raid sirens were installed to let everyone know something was, well, very wrong.

History Of Victory Sirens

Chrysler manufactured many of these long-distance horns, including one model that put out 138 decibels and produced 30,000 watts of power.  They only delivered a few hundred of these monsters, between 1952 to 1957.  Of course, the sirens were tested regularly and maybe helped deflect Americans’ fears.

One siren could be heard four to five miles away.  The siren operator also could be remote, since he was able to turn it on or off by “high tech” telephone.  According to Victory Siren, “the loudness of this siren is unmatched by any other warning device ever sold, ever.  It’s also considerably louder than the largest steam whistle or horn.”

Our Woodminster Siren

Our local Chrysler had been perched atop the Woodminster Amphitheater, in Joaquin Miller Park.  After years of neglect, Oaklander Jack Schroll decided it was worth saving.  Schroll had to battle the City of Oakland, but his mission was a roaring success.

There were actually five documented sirens in Oakland, including two that still existed on Lafayette School and Woodminster Amphitheater roofs.  The Woodminster siren seemed to be in very good shape, in a protected spot for decades.  Years of summer theater-goers had no clue it was there, but Jack knew otherwise.

Schroll first submitted approvals for restoring both sirens and spent nearly two years wrestling his request through the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board.  In April 2007, the Preservation Board granted their unanimous approval  (see PDF).  The Oakland Unified School District and City of Oakland later gave their thumbs-up, since the sirens were owned by those entities.

Siren Extrication Begins

Now that Jack had the rights, extrication and refurbishment presented the next hurdles.  I was able to reach him a while back, and asked about the steps involved:

It was a matter of preparing the proper documents.  I had to send a copy of the crane operators license to the City Attorney’s office along with proof of insurance.  This was a little tricky as everything really had to happen at the same time.  The City issued a permit to remove property on a given date.  I had to coordinate with the Public Works Dept and the City Attorney’s office.  There were a few snags and I must give credit to the City Attorney.  They actually stayed late on a Friday night so we could proceed on Saturday.  This was done mid May.

Once we had the [Landmark Approval] letter in hand, we contacted Skyscraper Cranes of SF.  They did a site survey and gave me an estimate.  I approved the estimate and we set a date.  Although the Siren weighs only 6000 pounds, it took a 75 ton crane to remove it.  This was due to the fact we had to reach over some tall trees to hook on to it.  It took myself and my crew about three hours to remove the wiring and unbolt it from the roof.

We set it down on a trailer and took it to my shop.  Like a kid with a new toy, we began that day inspecting it.  On eBay, I found an original owners manual for the siren.  What are the chances of that?  We found the siren was intact, but the engine had serious damage due to the freeze in the Oakland Hills in the early 70’s.  We had to repair the block and replace the cylinder heads.  We then found a replacement fluid drive as the existing unit was not serviceable.

The Siren Works

In just two short months, Jack Schroll did his very first “run up” of the siren on July 4, 2007.   The siren debuted later that summer to a huge audience, and has been part of the performance art scene ever since.

Schroll continues to make sure all the mechanical aspects of the siren work well, and has plans to work on the outside cosmetics too.  But it’s all about that sound, that remarkable siren blast.

More info:   Find out where the Oakland Victory Siren has appeared, it will surprise you –  Oakland’s Victory Siren Comes To Life.

Budget Matter: Keep Park Rangers Alive

Another budget head-shaker?  It sure looks like the Oakland Park Rangers will die, following their slow fade over the past few years.

The Friends of Oakland Rangers have been keeping up with the budgeting travails of the proud lone rangers.  There are three positions and two are currently filled.  According to Mayor Ron Dellums’ budget plan, all the positions will vanish and the Oakland Police pick up the slack.

Friends of Oakland Park Rangers

From now through July 1st, the two rangers are supposed to cover West and East Oakland.  Oddly enough, they are not supposed to focus on the central part of the city – where the largest parks are located like Dimond, Lakeside and Joaquin Miller.  The ranger station at Joaquin Miller is officially closed as well.

The Friends of Oakland Rangers are strongly advocating the City Council to keep the ranger station, fund the three ranger positions, and shift the group to Parks and Recreation.  (The rangers used to be part of the Parks department until 1992, when the Police department took ’em over.)

We’re gonna have a serious mess on our hands and will settle for something.  Even scaled back, the current rangers have been responsive and aware of what’s happening in the parks.  Now the full range of park problems will go unnoticed.  Care for an out-of-control bonfire, on a windy day?

Budget Matter: Keep CORE Alive

This Oakland budget cycle is pretty nasty, and the metaphor that comes to mind is getting blood from a stone.  One head shaker for all Oaklanders should be our CORE program, which stands for Citizens of Oakland Respond to Emergencies.

With the first responders getting hit in the Fire Department, it seems even more important to keep our CORE program live.  As you likely know, CORE trains citizens to help themselves.  Further, we are talking about a rounding error for the City of Oakland.

Oakland CORE

Who is behind the scenes?  The CORE program is essentially run by the Emergency Planning Coordinator, Kaity Booth.  Many folks have communicated with Oakland City Council members already, and there are plans afoot to speak up at tonight’s council meeting.  Even at this late stage, I think it’s worth sharing how one volunteer feels:

We are now organized, we are now focused and we now have the knowledge and confidence to effectively take care of ourselves, our families, our neighbors and our fellow Oakland citizens WHEN (not if) disaster strikes as first responders.

Oakland has a winning program in CORE and a real jewel in Kaity Booth.  As one of the recent graduates of the CORE program, I have seen Kaity in action.  She is knowledgeable, organized, supportive of the participants and her colleagues, articulate and 100% responsive.  She is the glue that holds all the great pieces of this program together.

I am impressed enough with her leadership and the CORE program that I have already volunteered as a victim and have indicated my interest to lend my training expertise to the program.

It’s a tough time, and every interest group is going to try to “save” their special areas.  The CORE program seems like a low-cost insurance policy which supports neighborhoods and blocks – plus contributes to overall civility.

June 5th Update:  Kaity Booth and her emergency planning coordinator position will not be cut by the City of Oakland.  Also the Fire Department will have some firefighters offering additional training around our city.

Why Live In Montclair?

As a local blog, we get to see the search terms that people use to find us and they reveal many interests.  Someone visited Today in Montclair yesterday, after googling:  Why live in Montclair?

I’m imagining that this searcher is deciding to move to Montclair Village, because it seems like a strange thing for a current villager to search online.

Oakland Berkeley Hills Deer

For all you wanna-be Montclarions, you need to hear from us (and not your realtors).  Here are some of the pros and cons of our place:

Montclair Pros:

  • Still has folks who have been here forever
  • Still aspires to Berkeley intellectualism
  • Still feels like a village, but has a canine mayor
  • Still has a dress code of sweats and t-shirts
  • Still lets driven people hide in plain sight

Montclair Cons:

  • Not where hipsters mingle or thrive, like in SF or DTO
  • Not a normal family spot with garage, flat lawn and 2.5 kids
  • Not immune from city ills, as you need to lock up
  • Not quite the city, as wild animals may eat your cats
  • Not well known like Peninsula or Contra Costa suburbs

Recently I went to an Oakland blogger meet-up which attracted everyone who writes about our faire city.  I still felt a little cowered by the cool factor, but was welcomed to the fray – and think that’s really the reason for being here.

Save Our Live Oaks

We live in Oakland, after all.  The Oaks are a symbol of our area, and one of the true natives surviving in Montclair and the hills.

We could end up losing these natives, according to a trained botanist who lives in town.  It turns out that many Oaks are stressed and need a bit of calcium to stay healthy.  To get started, here’s the preventative treatment for trees on your property.

Oak in Oakland

What are we preventing?

Sudden Oak Death, which can strike when a fungus (p. ramorum) runs amuck.  Threats come from ecosystem problems including a “loss of food sources for wildlife, a change in fire frequency or intensity, and decreased water quality due to an increase in exposed soil surfaces.”

Yes, there’s a threat from fire changes.  When Oaks live in a natural environment, they are able to control this fungus due to fires.  The ashes then become a source of phosphorus and calcium. Yet we live in a place where fire suppression is a top priority.

How can you help?

There are several ways to make a difference, by monitoring nearby oaks and identifying if they have problems.  If you are lucky enough to have oaks on your own property, consider feeding them a bit of calcium.  Also make sure their root systems aren’t disrupted or upset by nearby construction.

Take the time to read through “more info” below, since UC Berkeley has incredible resources devoted to Sudden Oak Death.  It hasn’t hit our area yet, but it can be devastating and quickly wipe us out.  Marin has suffered already, and we can learn from experience.

More info:   Homeowner’s GuideTreatment VideoOak Mortality Task ForceAlameda Specialists

Our Picks For Mother’s Day

For many families, Mother’s Day represents another opportunity to cherish the maternal line. It’s a reason to buy cards and gifts, and go out for a good meal. Sometimes kids attempt to take care of their mothers as well.

While mothers appreciate all the family attention, we had an inkling that this special day could be even better. Through our ultra-secret poll, we asked Montclair moms what they would like to do most – if only for that day.

Peaceful Desert Rocks

Mother’s Day 2009: Top Ten Plans

  1. Visit a peaceful desert, without the family
  2. Get together with friends and eat tapas
  3. Shut down chauffeur services for parents and kids
  4. Go to a yoga retreat up north
  5. Catch up on my work and work emails
  6. Visit three museums, on free access day
  7. Hit the theater for chick flicks sans guilt
  8. Sleep without interruptions
  9. Devour all the candy delivered to me
  10. Obsess about my kids anyway

Having said all that, you don’t have to suffer this weekend with your loved ones.  Around here, you can keep things low-key by taking the family to the Chabot Space & Science Center, where Sunday admission is free from 11am-5pm.  Plan on eating brunch at their Celestial Cafe, from 11am-2pm – for a reasonable $8/mom and $10/others.

New moms and moms-to-be can also check out the Best from Belly to Baby Fair on Saturday, from 10am-5pm.  The Tulip Grove is luring all comers with offers of free food and massages, over on Antioch Court.  Or if you are so inclined, then indulge in a mini-mommy makeover too.

Have a great weekend, wherever you end up chilling out.