Thursday, August 11, 2011

walking tour: City Center

city hall

Wednesday I went on the City Center downtown walking tour. I was pleasantly surprised to see Annalee Allen herself ready to lead the tour. Also on the tour was C.M. Wilson of OakSnap. (We didn't recognize each other at first, but it's been several years since we last met in person.) There were about 16 of us altogether. Special shout-out to new Oakland resident [C,K]atherine! She and her fiancé moved to Oakland 2 months ago, and she was exploring Oakland via the walking tour.

The City Center tour was more focused on architecture than some of the other tours, and in particular on city hall. It's not surprising, because it is an amazing building and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Construction began in 1911 and finished in 1914, and at the time it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi and the first high-rise government building in the U.S. It's in the Beaux-Arts style, and is an impressive, lovely part of the Oakland skyline. It was part of the wider City Beautiful movement, under the tenure of then mayor Frank Mott. If you've never been there for a council meeting or the like, the wider base contains the mayor and city council offices, as well as various meeting chambers. The upper tower contains offices, and a jail on the 12th floor that's been unused since the 1960's.

But that almost went away in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Although the building was constructed after its predecessor was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, it didn't fare well in 1989. The building was red-tagged, and was in danger of being destroyed. With some help from FEMA and a lot of work, the building was retrofitted to be earthquake-resistant. Steel beams were added to reinforce the structure, and the entire building was placed on base isolators. As a result, the entire building can move up to 20 inches in an earthquake to protect the inhabitants.

rotunda dome

We also went into the Rotunda building, which formerly housed Kahn's department store. If you haven't been inside, you really, really need to go. It features an amazing glass dome, of the sort they "just don't make anymore".

We also checked out the Lionel J. Wilson building, modeled after the flatiron building in New York, the Tribune tower, the Clorox building and others before ending up at City Center. We got a bit of history on the rise and fall and re-rise of shopping in Oakland, brought on by a variety of things including the rise of the automobile, the building of the Bay Bridge, the construction of BART, and other factors. We finished the tour in the City Center plaza, where they were setting up for the weekly free Wednesday concert. Definitely worth taking the tour to get the scoop on some of the downtown architecture and history behind it.

more pictures:
Oakland City Center walking tour


OakSnap said...

Love your recap. Have you shared this with Annalee? DTO Walking tours are on FB and Twitter.

Gene said...

Thanks! I don't recall whether I sent this tour to Annalee or not -- feel free to pass the link along :-)