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Earlier this year, UC Berkeley researchers pronounced Temescal officially gentrified. At the center of the transformation is Sarita Waite, 51st and Telegraph’s unofficial developer. Waite is a landlord who–along with her partners–scooped up most of the properties on the east side of the block and shaped it with her own aesthetic.

By Robin Urevich

The Accidental Developer

The Transformation of Temescal

Today, Telegraph Avenue just south of 51st is a carefully planned mix of trendy shops and stylish eateries. But, just 30 years ago, it was a rough-around-the-edges collection of dusty shops and empty storefronts.

One woman – Sarita Waite – is largely responsible for the transformation that has made Temescal one of Oakland’s hottest neighborhoods. She and her partners haven’t built anything new, but they’ve remade the block – just as commercial developers would – by methodically buying up most of the buildings on the east side of the street, and making strategic choices about their uses.

Waite was a 30-something attorney in the late 1970’s when a friend suggested she and others go in on a couple of dilapidated Telegraph Avenue buildings.

She says the buildings themselves dictated both their current uses and their Italian flavor. Foodie havens Pizzaiolo and Dona Tomas offer outdoor seating on the site of grand hotel and beer garden that flourished in . In the same era, a tenant who was fittingly named Diva De Luca, sang arias for neighborhood fans in an apartment above the shops on Telegraph, and neighborhood wine cellars sprung up – even in the most modest bungalows.

In managing her properties, Waite says she has been guided by “a sense of beauty and harmony and special integrity.” But, she is also a tough businesswoman who, by 2006, had bought up nearly all of the buildings on the east side of Telegraph between 51st and 49th.

And she was picky. She rejected chain stores as tenants. At one point, she bought a corner building that was home to a pawn shop and check cashing center in hopes the tenants would move on. They did, but eventually re-established themselves across the street within eyeshot of her buildings.

Earlier this year, a group of UC Berkeley researchers pronounced Temescal officially gentrified. Waite’s properties stand as brick and mortar evidence of the neighborhood’s transformation, but they are only part of the story.

Temescal’s diversity, plentiful rental housing and proximity to public transit made the neighborhood ripe for gentrification, according to the Berkeley study. The question now is whether Temescal’s poorer residents will be edged out. UC Berkeley’s Karen Chapple, one of the Berkeley researchers, says that similar neighborhoods like San Francisco’s Noe Valley or Park Slope in Brooklyn eventually get too pricey for artists and working folks and lose the diversity that made them hip in the first place.

Temescal, however, just might beat the odds and stay diverse – because of the some of very types of establishments Waite has tried to keep out, Chappelle says. Both the Walgreen’s across the street from Waite’s buildings and Gevertz Jewelry and Pawn on the intersection’s Northwest corner are permanent anchors for the neighborhood’s working folks.