There was scarcely an Oakland when it was announced that the town would be the western terminus for the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s. In 1868, the Central Pacific constructed the Oakland Long Wharf at Oakland Point, the site of today’s Port of Oakland. The Central Pacific also established one of its largest rail yards and servicing facilities in West Oakland. A population of 1,543 in 1860 became 10,500 in 1870. Improvements to the salt water estuary and harbor followed and by 1880 Oakland was the second most important city in California and poised for explosive growth.
The town centered around Broadway in its beginnings, up to about 4th Street. With the 1870s and 1880s boom the downtown shifted northward for another eight blocks. The population of Oakland swelled in the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906 and downtown shifted again, anchored by the town’s first high-rises constructed along Broadway beginning at 12th Street. When the building boom ended with the Great Depression Oakland had grown from about 75,000 people to over a quarter million. There were automobile factories, machine shops, canneries, shipbuilding plants and lumberyards all humming along. The aggregate value of Oakland’s industrial output was multiplied five times between 1914 and 1927.
Our walking tour will explore where Oakland flourished in its boom years nearly a century ago. The area is sprinkled with architectural gems and we will start in a plaza just off Broadway dominated by a building that was the symbol for a forward-thinking Oakland a hundred years ago...
Oakland City Hall
1 Frank Ogawa Plaza
The New York-based architecture firm of Palmer & Hornbostel came out in 1910 to design Oakland a replacement seat of government to replace its predecessor that was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. Completed in 1914, Oakland’s fifth City Hall was the first high-rise government building in the United States and the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. Likened to a multi-layered wedding cake, the Beaux Arts structure is faced in white granite and terra cotta. The three-story bottom tier is where the mayor’s office and council chambers reside. A three-tiered, 36-cell jail and outdoor exercise yard for the inmates is located on the 12th floor, although it hasn’t been used since the 1960s. Poking out of the office tower is a 91-foot clock tower.
FACING CITY HALL, THE BUILDING TO YOUR RIGHT IS...
Plaza Building/DeDomenico Building
200 Frank Ogawa Plaza
This decorative brick building was constructed in 1914 at the same time as City Hall. It was seriously damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and, after seismic work was completed, the City of Oakland deeded the building to the East Bay Community Foundation for a nominal fee in 1999.
FACING CITY HALL, TURN LEFT AND WALK THROUGH THE PLAZA TO 14TH STREET. TURN LEFT AND WALK TO THE CORNER AT BROADWAY.
First National Bank Building/Broadway Building
1401 Broadway at northwest corner of 14th Street
The First National Bank of Oakland took its first deposits in 1874 and the following year was reorganized as one of only nine gold banks in the United States, banks that were permitted to redeem its notes for gold coin. The bank constructed this Beaux Arts flatiron building as a home in 1908; today it has been teamed the Lionel Wilson Building next door to house city administration personnel.
436 14th Street at northeast corner of Broadway
This 17-story Italian Renaissance skyscraper was constructed in 1926 for the Central Bank. It has landed on the National Register of Historic Places for “its architectural significance, including a distinctive façade, ornate lobby, common area use of marble and terrazzo flooring and wainscoting.”
TURN RIGHT ON BROADWAY.
Union Savings Bank
1300 Broadway at northeast corner of 13th Street
This is the first steel-framed skyscraper erected in Oakland, raised in 1903 on plans drawn by Walter J. Mathews. Like most of the buildings in Oakland from that time the tower was constructed with bricks crafted at the Remillard Brickyard on the south shore of Lake Merritt. Three brothers from Montreal, Canada, Peter, Hilaire and Edward, founded the brick factory in 1861.
The Clorox Building
This is a creation of César Pelli, who has infused urban landscapes across the globe with some of the world’s tallest buildings. Born in Argentina, Pelli came to the United States in 1952. This 330-foot skyscraper was completed in 1976 for the Oakland-based Clorox Company. Five businessmen invested $100 each to found America’s first commercial liquid bleach factory, the Electro-Alkaline Company, in 1913. Selling only a concentrated industrial strength bleach their first year the company racked up only $7,996 in sales and was on the verge of collapse. William Murray, an early investor, came on board as general manager and his wife Annie convinced him to produce less-concentrated bleach for home use and Clorox was on its way to becoming a household name.
Oakland Bank Building
1200 Broadway at northeast corner of 12th Street
The lower half of this Beaux Arts office building was constructed in 1929 for the Oakland Bank but it wasn’t known by that rubric long - the bank was swallowed up by Bank of America that year. The 18-story, 225-foot tower was a later addition.
TURN LEFT ON 12TH STREET. TURN LEFT ON FRANKLIN STREET.
409 13th Street at southwest corner of Franklin Street
The Oakland Tribune put out its first editions in 1874; it set up headquarters here on January 1, 1924. Its landmark building came about in stages once publisher Joseph R. Knowland, one time United States congressman, decided to move operations from the Golden West Hotel five blocks away. The six-story base had been built in 1907 as a Breuner furniture warehouse and showroom and upon this rose the exuberant clock tower designed by Edward T. Foulkes. Before the tower officially opened, in 1923 it received national attention when Harry Houdini was hung upside down in a straightjacket from the ninth floor. Onlookers barely had time to be amazed when Houdini freed himself and escaped in five seconds. The 305-foot tower has appeared on the Tribune masthead from the time it opened but the paper was forced to abandon its iconic offices after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
Financial Center Building
405 14th Street at southwest corner of Franklin Street
This landmark Art Deco tower was designed by local architect Walter Reed in 1930. Reed was born in Alameda, schooled in Berkeley and learned his architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in architecture.
TURN RIGHT ON 14TH STREET. TURN RIGHT ON WEBSTER STREET. TURN LEFT ON 13TH STREET.
260 13th Street, bounded by 14th, Alice and Harrison streets
It was front page news when architect Henry J. Hardenbergh traveled from New York City to Oakland to deliver the town its grandest hotel in 1907. Or it would have been if his train wasn’t 19 hours later and all the dignitaries awaiting him hadn’t gone home. Working from the offices of the San Francisco firm of Walter Danforth Bliss and William Baker Faville, who were responsible for many of that town’s most elegant buildings, Hardenbergh crafted a French Renaissance landmark that consumed an entire block. The central courtyard is lorded over by a pair of three-story cupolas with flagpoles flanking a classical colonnade. The Hotel Oakland went out of business during the Great Depression and was an army hospital until the great building was shuttered in the 1960s. After nearly two decades of vacancy it was revived as a residence and health center for the elderly.
Civic Center Post Office
201 13th Street between Alice and Jackson streets
For most of its massive building projects in the 1930s Depression era the federal government leaned on the stripped-down classicism of the Art Deco style. But for this block-swallowing federal building James A. Wetmore, Supervising Architect of the Treasury, shepherded a Neoclassical composition to completion in 1932.
TURN LEFT ON ALICE STREET AND CROSS 14TH STREET.
Women’s City Club
1426 Alice Street
Women got the right to vote in California in 1911, nearly a decade before national women’s suffrage. Thus empowered, there was a surge of women’s clubs organizing across the United States. Carl Warnecke and Chester Miller tapped Mediterranean influences for this clubhouse in 1928 that provided members with meeting space, swimming and tennis, and living quarters. The building also featured a theater that could seat around 500. It 1948 the building became a Moose Lodge and has since served as a residential hotel and arts center.
RETURN TO 14TH STREET AND TURN LEFT. TURN LEFT ON MADISON STREET.
Second Scottish Rite Cathedral
1433 Madison Street
This was the second temple for the Oakland Masons who organized in 1883. Their first, located three blocks west at Harrison Street was planned for dismantling and expansion in 1905 when the Earthquake of 1906 sent real estate prices and building costs soaring. Scaled down expectations brought the society here, into a Mission Revival gem designed by local architects Matthew O’Brien and Carl Werner.
RETURN TO 14TH STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Oakland Public Library
125 14th Street between Madison Street and Oak Street
The first books were lent in Oakland in 1878 and now materials are dispensed through 16 branches. The Main Library opened its doors in 1951. Lead architect Carl Warnecke and Chester Miller produced several libraries for the city and infused this clean-lined facade with geometrically patterned inset windows. The Canadian-born Warnecke went to night school to learn mechanical drawing and apprenticed in the shop of Arthur Brown who created several of San Francisco’s most admired civic buildings.
Rene C. Davidson County Courthouse
1221 Fallon Street at Oak Street
This is the fifth courthouse building to serve Alameda County, a make-work project during the Great Depression, replacing a spectacular multi-towered French Second Empire confection that was eventually torn down in 1950. Local architects William Corlett, Henry Minton, James Plachek, William Schirmer, and Carl Werner contributed an Art Deco design executed in California granite with terra cotta trim. The main facade actually faces on Lake Merritt so you will have to walk around to realize the architects’ vision. The lobby features marble murals fifteen feet high that trace the history of Alameda County.
TURN LEFT ON LAKESIDE DRIVE.
1426 Lakeside Drive
A stroll along Lake Merritt in the late 1800s would have passed block after block of ornate mansions like this one but today only the Camron-Stanford house remains. Samuel Merritt, respected San Francisco physician, 13th mayor of Oakland and developer of Lakeside Park built this handsome Italianate wooden structure in 1875. William Walker Camron, a Republican Party operative and deputy sheriff bought the house the next year. His wife Alice was heir to the 17,000-acre Rancho Los Meganos near present-day Brentwood that was created by John Marsh, a prominent doctor in the Pueblo de Los Angeles. Camron’s political misfortunes led the family to dispose of their lakefront villa in 1882. Josiah Stanford, pioneer California oilman and brother of Leland Stanford of Transcontinental Railroad and university fame, bought the house as a part-time residence in 1882. From 1907 until 1965 the house did duty as the Oakland Public Museum and now interprets the Oakland Victorian era as a house museum.
1520 Lakeside Drive
While mayor in 1868 Samuel Merritt dammed and cleaned up a tidal estuary formed by several creeks flowing into this area, picking up the tab for the project personally. At this location in 1909 a concrete pumping station was constructed to deliver salt water to the Oakland Fire Department. In 1913 architect Walter D. Reed gussied up the utilitarian structure and added two additional wings to be used as boathouses. The high pressure pumping station operated until 1955 and was then converted into Parks Department offices and, since 2009, a lakeside restaurant.
Oakland Scottish Rite Center
1547 Lakeside Drive
Carl Werner was getting to be an old hand at designing temples for the Scottish Rite Masonry whose expanding membership required increasingly larger facilities in its early years. Here he teamed with William Corlett to fashion a classically flavored building that caused the press to gush at its dedication in December 1927 that “it stands out as a gem excelled in beauty by no other structure of its kind on the Pacific Coast.” The entire facade of the concrete building, from the 42-foot columns to the delicate tracery around the entrance, is cast stone with stucco made of blended cement and granite chips.
TURN LEFT ON 17TH STREET.
150 17th Street at northwest corner of Madison Street
At a time when most of California was embracing Mission Revival and Spanish Art Deco styles, 47-year old theater owner Oliver Kehrlein approved the plans of Carl Warnecke and Chester Miller for this stylistic journey back to Tudor England. The use of clinker brick, natural stone and a terraced English garden all conspired to engage prospective tenants in 1929 with a 16th century English ambiance.
TURN RIGHT ON MADISON STREET AND HEAD BACK TOWARDS LAKE MERRITT.
Lake Merritt Hotel
1800 Madison Street
There were 29 residential hotels built in Oakland between 1927 and when the bottom fell out of the stock market in October of 1929 and this was the most expensive. The Mediterranean Art Deco design came from the pen of architect William Weeks, who created many such apartment buildings and 22 Carnegie libraries in California. The Terrace Room restaurant boasts a scenic mural of Lake Merritt by celebrated Oakland artist Andre Boratko. The grand structure by the lake narrowly dodged the wrecking ball in the 1980s and has been re-born as an independent-living residence for seniors.
TURN LEFT ON LAKESIDE DRIVE.
200 Lakeside Drive
Banker Charles Crocker was the money man behind the development of this 40-unit luxury apartment complex in 1921. Architect Willis Lowe designed the eight-story structure in an elegant Beaux Arts style. The Regillus helped set the standard for The Gold Coast that developed on the shores of Lake Merritt in the 1920s.
Snow Park/Schilling Garden
Lakeside Drive at southeast corner of Harrison Street
August Schilling and George Volkmann were the same age and immigrants from the same town in Germany, Bremen - although they didn’t know each other until Volkmann went to work as a shipping clerk for Schilling at Folger, Schilling & Company, purveyors of coffee, teas and spices. In 1881, when both men were 27, they started a new venture together. Schilling put up the lion’s share of the capital so the new firm carried his name but the two were partners for 53 years as dark red Schilling cans and boxes full of spices became fixtures in Western kitchens. Schilling’s estate was located here and although the mansion house was taken down to make way for multi-unit apartments his gardens were saved. Threatened by development, they are currently closed to the public behind an iron fence next to Snow Park, the site where naturalist Henry A. Snow established the Oakland Zoo in 1922.
244 Lakeside Drive
Stephen D. Bechtel propelled a family business into one of the world’s largest construction companies, famous for tackling mega-projects like the Hoover Dam and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. He financed this residential apartment building in 1924 with the assistance of Joseph Knowland, editor and publisher of the Oakland Tribune. Each floor featured only two apartments with no adjoining wall. Bechtel lived on the third floor for 62 years and Knowland’s family had units on two floors linked by a stairway. Look up to see a fanciful parapet with knights in armor protecting the roofline.
300 Lakeside Drive at 20th Street
New York-born Henry Kaiser began his working life as a photographer, running his own studio by the time he was 20, in 1902. He took his profits and moved to Washington state and started a paving company which was one of the first to use heavy construction machinery. In the 1930s Kaiser’s firm was the prime contractor on the Hoover Dam and the Bonneville Dam and the Grand Coulee Dam, the largest concrete structure in the world at the time. The industrialist constructed this curving 28-story as his corporation headquarters in 1960. Kaiser used the 28th floor of Oakland’s tallest building at the time as his residential penthouse. Rather than look down on a concrete roof, Kaiser had Theodore Osmundson of San Francisco build the first roof garden in the United States after World War II.
TURN LEFT ON 20TH STREET. TURN RIGHT ON BROADWAY.
Timothy Ludwig Pflueger was a leader in the development of Art Deco design in California and created some of the state’s most prominent skyscrapers and movie theaters in the 1920s and 1930s. Here in 1931 Pflueger designed the largest multi-purpose theater on the West Coast with seats for 3,476 patrons. Built during the Great Depression with a price tag of $3 million, the Paramount debuted on December 16, 1931 with a screening of The False Madonna and its stars in attendance. But the Paramount remained open scarcely six months before being sunk by operating costs estimated at $27,000 a week. The building was reconfigured solely as a movie palace after a year being dark and operated until 1970. The Paramount was one of the lucky ones, however, and has been renovated as a live event venue and home of the Oakland East Bay Symphony and the Oakland Ballet.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO THE CORNER OF 20TH STREET.
I. Magnin & Company Department Store
2001 Broadway at northwest corner of 20th Street
In the 1870s Isaac and Mary Ann Magnin arrived in San Francisco where Mary Ann went into business selling lotions and fashionable clothes for infants. Soon bridal wear and fancy imported European goods were added and as the company moved into the hands of a second generation the “I. Magnin” brand remained implanted in the realm of luxury. The chain expanded into hand-picked high-end hotels around California and opened this downtown Oakland store in 1930. Architect Charles Peter Weeks and engineer William Peyton Day, known for their elegant creations on San Francisco’s Nob Hill and elsewhere, designed a four-story Art Deco tour de force sheathed in eye-catching green terra cotta panels. The building would later be wrapped in black marble at ground level. I. Magnin remained until the 1990s and after a period of vacancy the space has been re-imagined as offices.
H.C. Capwell Department Store
1935-1975 Broadway between 20th Street and Telegraph Avenue
Harrison Cebert Capwell left Michigan to find work in San Francisco in the 1880s peddling merchandise. In 1889 he launched his own emporium called the Lace House in an 18-foot storefront in Oakland, dealing in “woolens and ribbons.” He found enough success to move to more spacious digs two years later and change the business name to H.C. Capwell Company. In 1929, the same year the founder died, Capwell’s moved into this space consuming an entire block and becoming the cornerstone of an upscale shopping district in Uptown Oakland. After the 1989 earthquake both the Capwell name and most of the decorative terra cotta were pulled down from the building. Today you can still see the cornice and Beaux Arts shell on the facade.
TURN RIGHT ON 20TH STREET AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO TELEGRAPH AVENUE. TURN LEFT.
Fox Oakland Theater
1807-1829 Telegraph Avenue
Charles Weeks and William Day turned to Middle Eastern influences to create this atmospheric theater with rich colors and generous helpings of gold leaf. When the Fox Theater opened in October 1928 an estimated crowd of 20,000 was on hand to gawk at the exotic domed showplace and take in the new “talkies.” The life arc of the Fox followed that of all downtown American movie palaces from its glory days in the 1930s through the dreary days of television and suburban flight. It closed in 1966, survived an arsonist’s torch in 1973 and, despite being derided as “the largest outdoor urinal in the world,” was saved from destruction by being named a city landmark in 1978. Salvation finally came when preservationists cleared the mushrooms growing in the floor and the 2,800-seat Fox Oakland Theater reopened in 2009.
Oakland Floral Depot
1900 Telegraph Avenue at northeast corner of 19th Street
Albert John Evers created this Art Deco landmark in 1931, covered with silver and cobalt blue glazed terra-cotta and awash in decorative chevrons. Evers used aluminum and brass to highlight the structure that is centered around an elaborately decorated corner tower. Scheduled to be demolished in the 1980s, this Oakland classic escaped and is now used to house a restaurant and bar.
TURN LEFT ON 19TH STREET AND CROSS BROADWAY TO FRANKLIN STREET.
Oakland Medical Building
1904 Franklin Street at northeast corner of 19th Street
This nine-story dark brick building with stone trim was raised in 1922 for doctors’ offices. The ground level has been modernized but look up to see Italianate detailing at the cornice and upper floor.
Leamington Hotel Building and Annex
1800-1826 Franklin Street at southeast corner of 19th Street
Houses and churches were Canadian-born architect William Weeks’ specialty after he moved to Oakland in the early 1890s but here he adapted the opulent Spanish Renaissance style into a high-rise hotel for J.K. Leaming in 1926. A stylistically sympathetic addition came along on Franklin Street in the 1940s to add more rooms but the owners drew a financial line in the sand when it came to the ornate window treatments. The Leamington remained a hotel until 1981 when it was converted into retail and office space.
TURN RIGHT ON FRANKLIN STREET.
First Church of Christ, Scientist
1701 Franklin Street at northwest corner of 17th Street
Ground was broken for this stone church in 1900, only 21 years after the founding of the Church of Christ, Scientist by Mary Baker Eddy in Boston. Architect Henry A. Schulze adapted the elements of master architect Henry Hobson Richardson (wide gables, brawny Romanesque arches) for the sanctuary that has served the congregation for over a century. Renowned for its original Tiffany stained glass windows, Schulze used Nevada lava stone over a granite base to fashion the building.
TURN LEFT ON 17TH STREET.
337 17th Street at southeast corner of Webster Street
Robert Howden was a stone carver in the Scottish Highlands before coming to the Bay Area and founding a tile business in 1893. In 1925 he retained the firm of McWethy & Greenleaf to build a new showroom for his Howden Tile Company. But Howden took care of the finishing touches himself. Then in his early sixties, Howden covered the entire exterior with tiles and terra cotta, using only the assistance of a tile setter and two helpers. Howden’s hands-on approach was also employed in the Santa Cruz Mountains where he erected a small castle reminiscent of his boyhood days in Scotland. Local hired help did the heavy lifting but Howden selected every stone which was hand-set. He also etched the glass windows in his castle.
TURN RIGHT ON WEBSTER STREET.
YWCA of Oakland
1515 Webster Street at northwest corner of 15th Street
This is a 1914 creation of Julia Morgan, California’s first registered female architect. Morgan, a San Francisco native, was a long-time friend of the Hearst family (she would design the Hearst castle at San Simeon) and the first woman to graduate with an architecture degree from the famous Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. She maintained a fruitful association with the California YWCA through the influence of Phoebe Apperson Hearst and was their go-to architect for facilities throughout the state. For Oakland, Morgan created a classical composition based on an Italian Renaissance palazzo and rendered in dark yellow brick. The president of the local YWCA board was Grace Merrian Fisher, a sorority sister of Morgan’s at the University of California, Berkeley. In her long career Julia Morgan designed over 700 buildings and in 2008 she was inducted into the California Hall of Fame.
327-349 15th Street at southeast corner of Webster Street
With a blend of modern plate glass windows and Middle Eastern ornamentation this narrow strip of property was occupied by the White Building in 1924. Upper floor bay windows provide some heft to its corner footprint.
TURN RIGHT ON 15TH STREET.
410 15th Street at southwest corner of Franklin Street
Benjamin Franklin Lickey and his wife Susan started Lincoln University, named for the 16th President of the United States, in 1919 to help veterans returning from World War I. The school was chartered in San Francisco in 1926 and moved to Oakland in 1999, occupying this Beaux Arts financial temple that was crafted by Maury Diggs in 1921.
AT BROADWAY TURN RIGHT. ON YOUR LEFT IS...
Rotunda Building/Kahn’s Department Store
1501 Broadway at southwest corner of 16th Street
Alameda-born Charles William Dickey spent most of his architectural career shuttling between the Bay Area and Honolulu, where his parents took the family when he was two years old in 1873. He designed this landmark downtown department store in 1912 around a multi-story atrium that was topped by a 120-foot high, coffered dome. Israel Kahn came out from New York to sell goods to gold rush miners and founded what was destined to become Oakland’s largest department store in 1879.
intersection of Telegraph Avenue and Broadway
This memorial fountain was donated by the children of James and Henrietta Latham in their parents’ memory in 1913. The Oakland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was part of the proceedings so the four large granite tubs at the base were used as watering stops for horses. The Lathams were midwesterners who met and married in Oakland in 1860. He was the brother of Milton S. Latham, a prominent California senator and sixth governor of the state. James was not as successful and died at sea in 1876. Henrietta remarried and became an early California watercolorist. She died in Paris in 1909, where this bronze monument was cast before being sent on boat to Oakland.
Federal Realty Building/Cathedral Building
1615 Broadway at Telegraph Avenue
When this iconic flatiron skyscraper was raised in 1914 the tallest building in the world, the Woolworth Building in New York City, was of Gothic Revival style. But there were no Gothic Revival skyscrapers west of the Mississippi River until Benjamin Geer McDougall designed this steel-framed building for the Federal Realty Company. McDougall, a San Francisco practitioner, drew his inspiration from the chateaux of the French countryside to create the town’s most showy high-rise. He dressed his 13-story tower in white terra-cotta and swathed its crown in romantic Gothic details.
ANGLE TO THE LEFT ON TELEGRAPH AVENUE TO THE CORNER OF 16TH STREET.
Latham Square Building
1611 Telegraph Avenue at northwest corner of 16th Street
This 15-story Neoclassical building with a U-shape for air circulation came from the pen of Maury Diggsin 1928. The versatile Diggs also designed the Fox Theater, San Quentin prison and Golden Gate Fields among other projects.
TURN LEFT ON 16TH STREET.
First Trust and Savings Bank/Westlake Building
350 Frank Ogawa Plaza
Llewellyn B. Dutton studied architecture and worked in Chicago from 1881 until 1903 before being sent to California to supervise work from the office of Daniel Burnham, one of the pioneers of the modern skyscraper. By 1906 Dutton was in practice on his own and this 141-foot, 11-story tower came from his shop in 1913. It conforms to the traditional practice of three-part skyscraper design in the image of a classical column with a base (the rusticated stone base), a shaft (the unadorned central stories) and a capital (the decorative cornice).
TURN LEFT AND WALK INTO FRANK OGAWA PLAZA TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.