The neighborhood's boundaries have changed substantially over time and have often been considered different by different groups of people. The modern neighborhood's western bound is generally considered to be the Grove-Shafter Freeway (State Route 24,), due to the visual divide of the elevated freeway. However, some consider Martin Luther King Jr. Way to be the western border. The eastern bound is generally considered to be Broadway. The northern bound is generally considered to be either 55th or 51st Street, and the southern bound to be either 36th or 40th Street. (Temescal's boundaries have shifted substantially over time, affected especially by the construction of freeways. Temescal's boundaries have never been set in stone, and perceptions of what they are differ significantly across communities.)
Temescal is primarily a residential neighborhood. Most of the houses in Temescal are early twentieth century bungalows along tree-lined streets. There are also many multi-family homes and mid-size apartment complexes interspersed throughout the neighborhood.
Temescal was an Italian-American neighborhood until the late 1960s. Temescal saw many changes in demographics in the past 10 years as new developments and upscale shopping and restaurants entered the neighborhood. Large numbers of young couples with children moved to Temescal as the real estate prices in nearby Rockridge grew too expensive for middle-class families. People of different racial and economic backgrounds live side-by-side in the neighborhood. Temescal is a diverse neighborhood with concentrations of Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants.
The commercial heart of Temescal is Telegraph Avenue, between the MacArthur BART Station and 51st Street. This area is known locally as the home to popular restaurants, such as Tara's Organic Ice Cream, Doña Tomás, Lanesplitters, Pizzaiolo, Aunt Mary's, Bakesale Betty, Burma Superstar, Blackwater Station, and The Mixing Bowl.
Another commercial zone runs along 40th St, between Broadway and Telegraph. This area includes a mixture of food service and retail, including Hog's Apothecary, Homeroom, Manifesto, 1-2-3-4 Go Records, and Subrosa Coffee.
There are many Ethiopian restaurants here, especially on Telegraph north of 51st St. There are also many Korean establishments along Telegraph Ave. Temescal Farmers' Market, begun in 2006, is held on Sundays in the parking lot of the Department of Motor Vehicles facility on Claremont Ave. Mama's Royal Cafe, locally famous for breakfast, is located on Broadway, near the border of Temescal and the Piedmont Avenue neighborhood.
Studio One, located on 45th Street, is home to art classes and workshops. Counter Culture Labs is a public laboratory and hackerspace located in the Temescal neighborhood. Royal Nonesuch Gallery is an artist run art and event space located on Telegraph and 43rd. Temescal Pool, located next door, is open to the public. The neighborhood is also home to several public and private schools, including Park Day School and the architectural landmark Oakland Technical High School on Broadway.
Temescal was originally a separate village that had built up around the estate of Vicente Peralta, which was located near the modern intersections of Telegraph Avenue and Claremont Boulevard. (Vicente's estate was part of the larger Peralta Grant that spanned 44,800 acres of land in the East Bay.) In 1897, the residents of Temescal voted to join the City of Oakland in an effort to gain access to higher quality public schools and police services. At the time that the City of Oakland annexed Temescal, Temescal was considered to consist of all land north of 36th Street (the northern bound of the City of Oakland at the time) between the Emeryville city limit to the west and Broadway to the east.
The word temescal derives from the word temescalli, which means "sweat house" in the Nahuatl language of the Mexica ("Aztec") people of Mexico. It is surmised that the Peraltas or perhaps one of their ranch hands (vaqueros) had seen local indigenous (Ohlone) structures along the creek similar to those in other parts of New Spain which were called temescalli.
Temescal has long been an important junction of several principal thoroughfares: Telegraph, Claremont, and Shattuck Avenues, and 51st Street.
The earliest telegraph wire from Oakland to Sacramento went through the area, up Claremont Avenue and over the hills at Claremont Canyon. Temescal was the site of agriculture, cattle grazing and greenhouses when, in the 1890s, an opera house was built in parkland north of the creek crossing at 51st street. The area grew and was developed into Idora Park, the earliest "trolley park" in the East Bay. In 1929 the amusement park was closed and was razed in 1930. A plan to build mid-rise apartment blocks called the Midtown District fell through, and a tract of storybook houses was built on the site between 1930 and 1934. It is reported to be the first development in the American west with underground utilities.
Until the early 20th century, a wide wooden bridge spanned Temescal Creek, carrying both road (Telegraph Avenue) and railroad tracks.
The horsecar line to the University of California along today's Telegraph Avenue (then called Humboldt Avenue in Oakland and Choate in Berkeley) operated out of a horse barn at 51st and Telegraph. When the horsecar was replaced by electric streetcars, the horse barn was replaced by a carbarn. The carbarn became the Western Carhouse of the Key System's streetcar division, the East Bay Street Railways. When the streetcars ceased operation in 1948, the car barn was remodeled to become Vern's market. Vern's closed in the 1970s and the building sat vacant for years. Eventually it was demolished and replaced by a strip mall, including a Walgreens store.
Temescal is home to one of the few tool-lending libraries in the Bay Area—indeed, in the U.S. (The Berkeley Public Library also has a tool-lending library at their nearby South Branch.) The Temescal branch of the Oakland Public Library operates this facility, which lends tools, free of charge, to library patrons for repairs and home-improvement projects. The Tool Lending Library also has instructional materials (books, videos, etc.) and gives "how-to" workshops.Temescal News & Views ("Published by Temescal Neighbors Together with the support of Temescal merchants"); bimonthly newsletter.