Wednesday, May 18, 2011

walking tour of Uptown

Paramount Theatre

This morning I took another Oakland walking tour, this time of Uptown. As with Downtown, there's some disagreement about the exact boundaries, but I think of it as below Grand, east of San Pablo, and what's not part of Downtown or one of the other parts of the DTO over to Lake Merritt. My non-definitive bounds can be viewed on the neighborhoods map. And the tour is about Oakland history with a focus on Art Deco, not an exact area, so we were into Downtown a little on the tour, too.

Anyway, on to the tour. I loved it. It helps that the tour is of one of the most vibrant areas of Oakland, and it focuses on Art Deco style, which I generally love. We started in front of the Paramount Theatre, which was completed in 1931, and exemplifies Art Deco design. As happens all too often, the building had fallen into disrepair, but the Oakland Symphony Orchestra Association bought it and had it authentically restored in 1973 (as our guide said, "before restoration was in"). It features beautiful murals, an awesome sign (especially when it's lit up in the evening), and more. The building is worth a post of its own or 3; they have tours monthly, so I'll probably do that at some point. I talked with my mother-in-law this evening, and she remembers being taken to see "The Wizard of Oz" by Mrs. Truitt (of Truitt and White Lumber fame) at the Paramount in 1939.

I.Magnin building

Nearby is the I. Magnin building. Once a high-end department store, it now houses offices and Cafe Madrid. Besides the remarkable green color, it's also notable for the terracotta facade. Above and below the windows are remarkably intricate panels, and the subway-style tiles in between give the appearance of large bricks.

window flashing

Across the street is now the Sears building, but was originally an H.C. Capwell's department store. An earth-toned brick building completed in 1929, it was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. To get back into business quickly, they covered the brick with an ugly concrete shell, but they did leave many of the details intact. Our guide pointed out the special metal window flashing, which at the time revolutionized storefront windows. (I can't find the reference to the name, but it was a company in Kansas.) In another bit of personal connection, the first job my mother-in-law had out of college was H.C. Capwell's in the early 1950s. They had a strict dress code for employees, and had 'secret shoppers' who would both help make the store look busier and keep an eye out for shoplifters.

Then it was around the corner to the building that the Uptown Club and Flora share. More amazing terracotta, this time blue, and with metallic silver finials. The new-but-great sign at the Uptown was partly funded by a program to restore and compliment facades in historical Oakland buildings. This same program helped remove the facades on the Columbia Outfitting building and the Bibliomania building across from the Fox.

Fox Theater

Reflected in the windows of Flora is the also amazing, also worthy-of-a-blog-post-of-its-own Fox Theater. The Fox was completed in 1928, and lasted as a movie palace until 1966. It deteriorated after that, but in 1978 Erma and Mario DeLucchi bought the property in hopes of restoring it and saving it from the fate of San Francisco's Fox Theater, which had been demolished in 1963. The couple had gone on Saturday night dates at the Oakland Fox as high school sweethearts in the early 1930s. A nice connection was that the husband of one of the people on the tour had worked on the restoration, helping restore and blend with the terrazzo flooring at the entrance.

Then it was past more amazing buildings, the newly restored Art Deco clock on Broadway, past the new Oaksterdam mural, and to the remarkable Howden Building, home to various shops, offices, and the Spice Monkey restaurant.

Kaiser Center garden

At this point, it would have been a great tour already. But then it was over to Snow Park near Lake Merritt, to see remnants of former estates, including one owned by A. Schilling, of Schilling Spices (bought out later by McCormick.) Then through Snow Park to the Kaiser Center, where the Oakland Indie Awards were just held. More than half the of the people on today's tour were Oakland residents, but most of them had never seen that beautiful space. We then worked our way back over to the Paramount to complete the tour, but I continued wandering around to take more pictures on this gorgeous Oakland day.

More pictures in my Oakland Uptown walking tour album.

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