Why are there mysterious gnomes all over Oakland?

Did you know Oakland is home to a mysterious colony of gnomes? They’re all over the city and no one quite knows how they got there. 

The legend goes that a handful of Oakland residents were strolling along the eastern shore of Lake Merritt in 2012 when they spotted a few gnome paintings at the base of some wooden utility poles. According to the Mercury News, people found the gnomes quite adorable, but no one gave them much of a second thought.

Then, more gnomes arrived. First, a group was spotted in Jack London Square. Then, a collection of gnomes was sighted in Adams Point. From there, the interest in these enigmatic creatures only blossomed as residents shared photos online. At one point, 2,300 gnomes wearing little boots and little red hats were in the city.

Photo by Graff Hunter / Courtesy of Streetart SF

One resident told the Mercury News about a lone gnome near his home on Brooklyn Avenue. There’s a cup near the gnome, and people stop by to pour beer into it to keep the little guy feeling cheery.

While many Oakland residents loved the mystery and whimsy that surrounded these creatures, PG&E wasn’t as thrilled, according to SF Gate. The company owns most of the utility poles on which the gnome paintings are showing up. A public uproar followed at the thought of the adorable gnomes being painted over and PG&E relented, agreeing to let the gnomes stay. As for the artist responsible for all the gnomes in Oakland, legend has it that he or she wishes to remain anonymous. 

Today, gnome-hunting in Oakland is still a fun way to spend an afternoon. Near Jack London Square, you can spot several gnomes hanging out on the 200 block of Fourth Street. In Adams Point, you’ll find a small colony loitering on Perkins Street between Van Buren and Palm Avenues. On the eastern side of the lake, there’s another cluster along MacArthur Boulevard. There are even locator maps online to help you find the little guys faster.

It’s worth noting that some of the gnomes have disappeared over the years, so the maps may not be accurate. While a rational person might claim that they’ve been removed, perhaps the gnomes have simply left to set up roots in a different city.

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