A fire earlier this month damaged a long-vacant historic building in downtown Oakland that had been associated with the women's movement in the 1920s.
The former Oakland Business and Professional Women's Club Building, at 1608 Webster St., was just down the block and across the street from another women's landmark -- the YWCA, designed by Julia Morgan.
The damaged structure was designed by the then-prominent firm Miller and Warnecke, with the ground breaking occurring exactly 88 years ago, on July 14, 1924. It was one of several female service and/or social fraternal groups organized throughout the state in the 1920s after women won the right to vote.
This particular club initially comprised approximately 300 members and was dedicated to promoting gender equality and better business practices. It is thought to be the first women's business social club to be organized west of the Mississippi.
Miller and Warnecke designed a Georgian Revival brick veneer building, reminiscent of 18th century row houses prevalent in Philadelphia. The narrow 50-foot-by-150-foot lot necessitated creating a presence on the street that was dignified yet self-effacing. A steep pitched slate roof with three dormer windows is another distinguishing feature.
Building plans show a dining room on the second level opening out to a terrace roof garden. There is also an assembly auditorium with a stage, designed for meetings, plays, and performances. One h noted performance was the premier concert in the 1930s of the WPA-sponsored so-called Oakland Colored Chorus, led by the respected African-American musicologist Elmer Keeton.
The club building appears to be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, both for its architectural distinction and also because its construction symbolizes the cooperative efforts of educated women in that era -- not only to promote community work like playgrounds, vaccinations and child care), but also gender-friendly practices in the business world as well.
In recent years the building has changed hands several times and had different uses, most recently serving as a home to a business college.
At a meeting of the Landmarks Board following the July 8 fire, board members requested that at their next meeting in August, code-compliance officials and the fire marshal provide additional information on what comes next. They also asked staff to locate the owner and acquaint him or her about possible assistance programs available for rehabilitation or restoration.
For more on the history of women's organizations in Oakland, visit the History Room at the Main Library. To receive notices of upcoming Landmarks Board meetings, email Joann Pavlinec at email@example.com.