Lake Merritt Lodge


                           THE LAKE MERRITT LODGE IN OAKLAND, CA. 

The Lake Merritt Lodge in Oakland, CA., overlooking Lake Merritt, is now the Historic Lake Merritt Lodge. For over a hundred years, it has housed thousands, from all walks of life, and from all over the world. It was once a dormitory for the Y.W.C.A., and is now a 92-room residence for the Homeless. 

My stay on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, lasting over three years, had come to an end, and it was time to go. I traded my Triumph TR3, and motorcycle, for an old Volkswagen van to move me and my stuff away. I headed south to Louisiana, to see family, then to Houston, staying with my sister until I got my own place.  

Working for a freight company, my weighed down old van gave up the ghost on Interstate 35 north of Houston. I was hitchhiking again.  

I moved a couple more times. I was in a good band called Full Steam. It broke up. Things were not going well. There is a line in a song, sung by Willie Nelson and Bonnie Raitt - “You see how all the pieces fit as you watch them fall apart.”. That pretty much summed it up. 

I hooked up with a company that transported vehicles throughout the states. In my case, I drove a second car to L.A. for a family that had moved from Houston. They paid expenses. I headed west with what I had - a little money, my guitar, and a few clothes. 

I was back in California after almost four years. I was looking for a place to settle down for a while after having moved several times in a few months, watching more of my belongings go by the wayside each time I moved. I still shake my head about that whole stretch of time. 

It is interesting how things happen when flying by the seat of your pants. I stayed a few days in Hollywood with a friend and her two young daughters, whom I’d met back on Cape Cod. They had just moved from the Cape. This was only temporary, at best. 

Then, another friend of mine, whom I’d met in Houston, offered me a place to stay for a while at her place up in Oakland. She was a student at the California Arts College in Berkeley. It was the best option I had at the time, and though I wasn’t too sure about it, I was grateful. She drove down to pick me up, and soon I was in Oakland. 


At her school, I saw a help-wanted ad on a bulletin board for the Lake Merritt Lodge. I went to check it out, got the job, and moved in that day. I was now the Janitor, in return for room and board - two meals and a room.

After a month of cleaning bathrooms, and painting rentals, I asked for money. I got the raise, and with no expenses, I was doing well. I got a motorcycle. 

I was there almost three years. I moved from janitor, to the breakfast crew, to a managerial position. Then an ownership change also signaled my time to be moving on. I got a job as lifeguard at a private pool up on Skyline in the East Bay Hills. 

The Lodge was an interesting place, with temporary, and long-term rentals. It had over a hundred rooms, and communal bathrooms on each floor. People from all walks of life, and all over the globe lived there.

We had Section 8 folks, traveling businessmen and women, widows and widowers, business owners, students, entrepreneurs, artists, writers, and musicians. Cooked meals and no maintenance were what drew them in. 

It was a time when the state mental institutions were being closed. We received a number of their patients at our door. They needed help beyond what the Lodge could do for them, yet, here they were. 

On one occasion, I was showing the pool to a new tenant, when a fellow climbed out of his third-floor window and jumped. He barely missed the concrete deck, belly-flopping into the pool a few feet in front of me. I pulled him out.

The ambulance soon arrived and took him away. He was back in a few days, with four broken ribs, and a resupply of his medications. A few days later, he just disappeared, and we saw him no more. 

Remember the mass killings at the Jim Jones Temple in Guyana? One of his higher-up officers, along with a bodyguard, stayed at the Lodge for a week. It was rumored that he had turned State’s evidence in law suits against the Temple. He was supposedly there in Guyana at the time, and got out somehow. 

The top floor of the Lodge was a large open room set up barracks style, housing about thirty young Iranian men training to be pilots. They were bused off each morning to the South Field (Amelia Earhart took off from here on here attempted around the world flight) of the Oakland International Airport to a flying school.

The Iranian Hostage Crisis happened during this time. They tended to stay to themselves, and though there were tensions, there were no problems. Soon thereafter, they were gone. 

We, who worked at the Lodge, knew when students, usually foreign, would arrive as reservations had been made, and we looked forward to them. They were fun and outgoing. We had a number of Japanese staying with us.  

One such student arrived one evening and was sitting at a table in the dining room. She was looking down at some paperwork. I walked in and around her table without her taking notice. Her hair covered much of her face.   

The next morning, as I was dishing out the breakfast meal, she stepped up next in line, and through her big smile our eyes met, and time stopped. If there is love at first sight, there it was. So began our story together.

Shino (Shinobu) stayed a year with me, then had to return to Japan for a year, then she came back. Nine months later, we were married in an apple orchard, somewhere near the town of Sebastopol, in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco. We drove off on my motorcycle. 

During this time, I was in a rock opera musical called The X-Isles. We performed regularly at the Mabuhay Gardens on Broadway in San Francisco. The musical’s author, Jim Sheer, was also a pastor, and he married us.   

It was from the Lodge that we took our two-week ride through the Southwest 4 Corners Region.  

All said, The Lake Merritt Lodge was very good to me. 


Top photo credit: SocketSite 

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