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Oakland's Architectural Gems: From Victorian to Craftsman & Beyond


Valerie Garry of the Oakland Heritage Alliance was kind enough to write an introduction to Oakland's architecture with a special emphasis on its great Arts & Crafts properties just for us. In addition, she's included a number of images in addition to the Glendale house (pictured), all of which are available for view in a special Flickr album. Please forward additional photos of interesting Oakland buildings to us for inclusion in this set.

The Oakland Heritage Alliance - a stalwart organization of grass-roots preservationists - celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2005 and what a quarter century it has been.  In 1980, seven people with an ambitious goal scraped together a $150 to get the organization rolling. Their goal: to stem the tide (at times a Tsunami) of urban renewal projects that were paving over, plowing under, and otherwise obliterating at an alarming rate some of Oakland's precious historic architectural fabric. Whole blocks of Victorians had already been lost. Many of downtown Oakland's handsome early 20th century commercial buildings were knocked down to make way for dreary paved expanses of parking lots. Even the masterpieces, such as Bernard Maybeck's magnificent Packard Showroom by the shores of Lake Merritt, were demolished.  Armed with a fierce determination to protect the precious historic, architectural and cultural legacy of Oakland, the small group began to throw their energy and time into preservation action.

Oakland Heritage Alliance has now grown into an organization of close to a 1000 members. Although the battle to save irreplaceable old buildings continues, the organization has logged an impressive list of historically significant architecture, cultural assets, and unique green spaces, that it has helped save and restore. There is Oakland City Hall, a magnificent Beaux-Arts skyscraper that was nearly demolished because of damage it suffered during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. The Fox Oakland Theater, with its exotic blend of Indian, Moorish, Medieval and Baghdadian styles, which one writer dubbed "one part Arab and three parts Hollywood hokum," narrowly escaped becoming a parking lot.

One of Oakland's most distinctive Art Deco buildings, the Floral Depot, with its brilliant cobalt blue and silver glazed terra cotta, was also almost demolished. Now completely restored to its lustrous beauty, it is about to become a stylish restaurant. OHA fought to save Old Merritt College, a rare surviving example of early 20th century California school architecture modeled on California missions, nearly razed to make way for a shopping center. The building is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The list goes on and on.

Oakland has some of the most architecturally varied and distinctive residential neighborhoods in the Bay Area. Its architectural heritage includes Art Deco, Victorian, Beaux Arts, and period revivals (Italian Renaissance, Spanish Eclectic, and English cottage), Stick Eastlake and colonial revival. And in the gently rolling hills of Oakland are a seemingly infinite variety of Craftsman homes-charming, rustic, whimsical, modest and grand -many built to provide homes for San Franciscans who moved to the East Bay after the 1906 earthquake, or who sought a sunny summer place to escape the foggy city by the Bay.  There is the exotic Jesse Matteson house, or Sunset House, in the Fruitvale neighborhood. Built in 1905, one writer described it as a cross between a Japanese Bungalow and a Viking ship. There is Bernard Maybeck's elegant and incomparable Guy Hyde Chick house (1913), which, remarkably, survived the 1991 Oakland Hills fire; there is Julia Morgan's remarkable YWCA building in downtown Oakland; homes by John Hudson Thomas; and Storybook style homes with witch's cap turrets by Carr Jones.


On Sunday, October 15, the Oakland Heritage Alliance will present a house tour of homes in one of Oakland's most vibrant and historic areas - the Temescal neighborhood. The tour will be from 1-5:30 p.m. Among the houses featured on the tour will be a 1903 Classic Revival house that incorporates a water tower and a c. 1900 house transformed into a mid-century modern house. A 1910 stucco bungalow on the tour features an unusual collection of antiques such as Chinese cinnabar, antique Chinese children's hats, beaded handbags, Victorian lace dresses, black paper dolls, and 19th century ruby Bavarian glass. The tour will also include an 1880 two-story Italianate, as well as an Eastlake and Arts and Crafts bungalow, both undergoing extensive renovation.

The house tour is self-guided and easy to walk. The starting point for the tour is in front of Acorn Kitchen and Bath, 4640 Telegraph Avenue. Proceeds from the tour benefit the Oakland Heritage Alliance. Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 the day of the tour, and $25 for OHA members and include a reception with refreshments. OHA is looking for volunteers to help with the tour and all volunteers will receive complimentary admission to the tour. Contact 510.763.9218 for information or to make reservations, email [email protected], or visit

Valerie Garry, MS Historic Preservation
Vice President, Oakland Heritage Alliance

for more information: Oakland Heritage Alliance is a non-profit membership organization that advocates the protection, preservation, and revitalization of Oakland's architectural, historic, cultural and natural resources though education and action.

For 2006 summer walking tour and fall house tour information, contact: Oakland Heritage Alliance: 446 17th Street, Suite 301 / Oakland, CA 94612, or send us email or call 510.763.9218.