A year after closing their downtown location, efforts to re-open House of Music in a new location have been challenged by community members.

House of Music was a club named after an album named after a store. Run by Tony! Toni! Toné! founder D’wayne Wiggins and promotor Yulanda Washington it was located on 14th and Harrison, in downtown Oakland. The club originally opened in 2011 and closed just a year later. In 2013, the owners went looking for a new place. 3000 MacArthur boulevard seemed to be perfect for them. Just down the street from the record shop that inspired that album, for decades the spot had been “Club Martinique”. It turned out that that club and its neighbors have a history.

According to local resident Kevin Li, who grew up in the area, Club Martinique had always been a problem for neighbors. On Friday and Saturday nights patrons would park their cars up and down residential streets adjacent to the club. Not only would they drink in their cars before going in, they would eat and drink some more after the club had closed. The gutters were cluttered with empty liquor bottles and fast food wrappers.

Li says of those past times,  “I couldn’t take it any more. I wrote letters to my council person and started attending the weekly or monthly meetings for the neighborhood and voiced my concern. They gave me the proper steps to do to make an impact in terms of getting people to notice the impact the blight was causing. ”

Li was headed to college soon, concerned that the problems would continue, and worried about his mother’s safety. So he started to go door-to-door, talking with neighbors and sharing what he had learned. Advisors suggested they should file complaints with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Li says that it was difficult for him to go against what he had learned growing up in the neighborhood. “You don’t want to invite trouble so you put your head down and go about your own business.” He says. But he knocked on doors and handed out the phone number. Eventually one neighbor helped out by designing a flyer. Then another and another joined the effort.

Reportedly, the people running the bar felt they were only responsible for or able to control patron behavior inside the bar. Local and state officials saw it differently and revoked Club Martinique’s Liquor License in late 2012.

Another neighbor, Kyle Winward, had continued the community vigilance around this location when Li went to college. Winward heard in 2013 that a new business was getting ready to occupy the old Martinique space…and was applying to appeal the suspension of the Liquor License. The building might be grandfathered because it still had the same owners, even though tenants had changed. The original liquor license fell under the terms of a conditional use permit.

Meanwhile, Yulonda Washington had founded House of Music in the tradition of African-American social clubs – private clubs for members to enjoy music and events while raising money for community benefit. According to Washington, House of Music has been in the MacArthur space for 8 months, renovating and getting ready to open. She says that she has been in the process of submitting multiple forms – to the state and the IRS for non-profit status, to clear building inspections, and for food and fire safety. She says the application to appeal the suspended Liquor License was an afterthought.

“We were not aware of it and then just received a letter from out of the blue from the owner that the city said the non-conforming status had lapsed. And we were like, ok, we’re not trying to do a bar anyways.” Washington says the owner of the property thought it was worth pursuing and so the House of Music went for the appeal. Then, they were told by city staff that Oakland never approves non-conforming status due to lapse of use.

“So we pulled out of it before the hearing. But they didn’t get the message,” she told Oakland Local.

Once he saw the appeal paperwork, Winward requested a record of all calls for service from OPD at the original House of Music location, 420 14th Street in downtown Oakland.

Alleged offenses ranged from someone throwing hot coffee (assault) to burglary and theft to disorderly nightclub and cabaret License infractions. Most concerning to him was an incident of forcible rape on an unconscious victim.

However, it’s difficult to tell from these records where at 420 14th street these incidents occurred.

At least one is labeled as taking place in the Golden Bull nightclub, which is located in the same building but not affiliated with the House of Music staff or management.

Washington says “We tried to kick it off at 14th and there were multiple tiers to that building and that business and not everyone was on the same page. Production studio. Business offices. Ballroom. Dance area. The people that were there before us were doing a lot of parties. Youth to youth. So a lot of problems that were related to that.”

Nevertheless, Winward attached the records to a paper petition and created an online version via the website Change.org. Each version received around 150 signatures. With over 60 other neighbors, he delivered both petitions to the appeal hearing in May. According to meeting minutes, the appeal was denied due to the lapse in use at the Macarthur location.

Both Winward and Li are glad to see that there has been a reduction in crime since the initial suspension of the Liquor License. Both say that they are thankful for the community growing as a result of the actions taken.

Li says, “If the lawmakers aren’t going to do it, somebody has to start. If you want it out then you have to do it yourself until they’re hearing your voice.”

Washington is still trying to wrap her head around the community response.

“They’re pointing a finger – the energy is more directed to the Martinque,’ she says. “We didn’t know the history that was behind all of that. I hear the stories about this space as well. It’s difficult to digest for us because we came in with an open heart to do something good for the community.”

According to her, there have been different reactions from different neighbors.

While some have driven by the space, yelling out ‘you don’t belong here’ others have joined the club.

In fact, she says most of the House of Music members are from an older demographic than the problematic Club Martinique patrons. “Most of the people who have come here for our membership, they live here. They’re walking up, not driving here. Retired adults that have been in this community.”

“There’ s people that I know that’s grown up similar to my background that’s left Oakland all together when they get a job. They don’t even want to hear about it.” said Li. He plans to return to Oakland when he graduates.

420 14th Street Police Incident Reports

5 Responses

  1. Eric K Arnold

    it’s “Tony, Toni, Toné,” not “Tone, Toné, Toni.”

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    The community has suffered from Club Martinique for a long time and it took a long time to get them out. Naturally, the residents are weary of a music club opening in that location which was trying to appeal the liquor license suspension. It is entirely possible that the community did not understand HOM’s gesture of pulling out of the appeal. However, the key issue here is a lack of communication between business owners and the community. There was no outreach from the business or property owner about what HOM was about left residents to draw their own conclusions. There needs to be engagement with the community to ensure misunderstandings and miscommunications do not inhibit positive growth for the city. If HOM would have reached out to the residents above 3000 MacArthur and pitched her idea to the community with open dialogue, there might’ve been a different outcome. Instead, it felt like a business was trying to sneak in there without the community noticing. It is critical to engage the community, especially in an area with such a deep history of blight caused by previous businesses.

    Reply
    • CB Smith-Dahl

      Anonymous, thank you for your comment. I’d be curious to know how readers think HOM should reach out to the community – or if the community should reach out to HOM?

      Reply
    • B. Djojonegoro

      Hi CB,

      Thanks for the nice summary of the situation. I just want to respond to your question coming from my perspective as a community member. Firstly, the location at 3000 MacArthur Blvd is not ideal for a business predicated on attracting after-hours customers, as it directly abuts a neighborhood and has no dedicated parking lot. Regardless of how courteous that business’ costumers are, some tension would be expected to develop based simply on increased traffic and parking on the neighborhood’s streets. As a comparison, there is a strip mall at 2800 MacArthur that has a parking lot. Secondly, as Anonymous stated, residents had such bad experiences for so long with Club Martinique that we may have been ready to believe the worst about the business. However, once again as Anonymous stated, there has been no communication from HOM to the community to disprove this belief. When neighbors attempted to chat with people directing construction/renovation work at the bar, they were rebuffed. The available information online was vague, which did not help HOM’s case with the community.

      I find Ms. Washington’s response a bit disingenuous; surely a responsible business owner would conduct a community outreach (something as simple as having chat sessions whenever she was there to supervise renovation) if her market research indicated that one was needed.

      Reply
  3. Anonymous

    I would say that HOM could have reached out to residents of the community, much in the same way the local community group reached out to everyone involved. By walking the neighborhood and actively engaging folks in dialog would have been a good start. Posting flyers on the front of the building notifying the local community of what they were doing would also have helped. Having lived within a stones throw of this location for 15 years, I can safely say that this community is a much better place now that Club Martinique is closed. I don’t want to go down that road again.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.