The city of Oakland owns and cares for many historic buildings, parks, statues and fountains, ranging from landmark libraries and fire stations to municipal auditoriums and performance spaces -- not to mention the stately City Hall building and a handful of former Victorian-era residences now converted into community centers and historic-house museums that are open to the public.
At this month's Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board, held March 11, Derin Minor, the manager in charge of facilities services, gave a presentation on the inventory of historic properties his staff oversees and maintains. A representative from the city's real estate department also provided information on what happens when a city-owned property is offered for sale and how protections for any with historic status are maintained.
The report to the board was prompted this past fall when a group of activists decided to enter and make use of an unoccupied city building in the San Antonio neighborhood. The vacant building had once been a branch library but has been closed for some time.
The former Miller Avenue Library was only "liberated" for a few short days before officials moved in and boarded up the facility again. Since then, some of the activists have continued to make use of land next to the building for a community garden.
Oakland pioneered the concept of branch libraries in California, opening branch reading rooms as early as 1878 and continuing to emphasize neighborhood branches as the city grew and expanded. The Miller Avenue branch was the second of four libraries constructed with a 1914 Carnegie Foundation grant obtained by then-City Librarian Charles Greene to meet the needs of Oakland's rapidly growing population. Greene's application gained favor with the Carnegie funders, who were looking to bring books closer to residents living further from the downtown centers.
A decade earlier, Greene successfully applied to Carnegie to build the Main Library building, then located on 14th Street near City Hall. Today, the facility serves as the African American Museum and Library.
The Carnegie funders also wanted to award projects that brought free access of library materials to populations who were not native-born or who were new immigrants. At the time, the San Antonio and Fruitvale districts were home to many Portuguese, Italian and German immigrants who worked in the canneries and cotton mills near the estuary.
Charles W. Dickey and John J. Donovan, locally prominent architects of the day, drew up the plans for the Miller Avenue Library, which was Spanish Colonial Revival in style. A dedication ceremony officially opened the new facility March 17, 1918.
In the 1990s, the building was identified as in need of seismic upgrades and other cosmetic fixes. Unfortunately, funding was not found to bring it up to code and sits empty, even though it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a city landmark.
Members of the landmarks board wanted to know what's in store for the building, and how the city plans to dispose of it should a sale be in the offing. Hopefully answers to these questions eventually will be forthcoming.
KTOP-TV rebroadcasts of the landmarks board meetings are available. For more information on how to see past meetings, email firstname.lastname@example.org.