The Oakland Civic Auditorium was dedicated to the intellectual and industrial progress of Oakland when it opened in 1914.

But Oakland's bastion of civic pride — renamed Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center — has been mothballed nearly three years after the City Council in 2005 turned off the subsidy spigots.

Where once fans of Buffalo Bill, Elvis, Black Sabbath and 2 Live Crew thronged is now cavernously empty.

That could change, though, and soon.

The city is in talks with a management group to operate the entertainment colossus that is able to hold a total of 9,024 people in the arena on 10th Street, across from Laney College.

"We anticipate having an agreement signed within the next two to three weeks," said Anne Campbell Washington, assistant to the city administrator.

But she would not say who the group is.

We'll get back to that later.

More important, did you know The Ramones, in all their punkness, rocked the stage Oct. 27, 1979, just two months after the release of their "Rock and Roll High School" film?

"It's really great here to be here in Oakland, California!" yelled Joey Ramone before launching into "Rockaway Beach."

In its 90 years of operation, the auditorium saw it all, like when famed promoter Bill Graham, dressed as an eagle, flew across the stage suspended from the ceiling during a 1986 Grateful Dead show.


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Then there were the wrestling, roller derby and boxing matches, the trophy dinners, concerts, baby shows, balls, graduations, Oakland Kennel Club dog shows, union and religious meetings. Actress Bette Davis was slated in 1960 to present Oakland with an evening of poetry by Carl Sandburg. And the center looked more like a fortified embassy in some hostile country, according to The Oakland Tribune in 1990, when Rappers Ice Cube and Too Short ended a yearlong freeze on rap music at the Kaiser.

Meanwhile, the center was home to the Oakland Symphony.

The center's theater was renamed after the symphony's beloved conductor Calvin Simmons died unexpectedly. The theater sits unused, although the symphony (now called the Oakland East Bay Symphony), the Oakland Ballet and other performing arts groups long for a venue of the theater's size that would be easier to fill than the Paramount.

But now the only sign of life was a homeless man sleeping Thursday on the stairs under one of the seven massive, elaborately carved bays overlooking Lake Merritt.

His bay, the entrance to the Olympic Room, was carved with scenes of a harvest inscribed with the words: "The Duties of Life."

Mayor Frank Mott (dubbed "The Mayor who built Oakland") probably didn't see that coming in 1911 when he put his power behind building the $1 million center that was a pioneer on the shores of Lake Merritt.

A crowd of 12,000 filed up the elegant stairs for the first grand event, the Ball of a Thousand Colors on April 30, 1915.

When Oakland's Golden Age faded, the pioneer, however, was left standing alone as theaters, restaurants, department stores and the Hotel Oakland folded.

Even putting the Oakland Museum, Laney College and BART nearby in the 1980s didn't push up use as much as city officials expected, neither did a $15 million upgrade when the auditorium was rechristened the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center.

The city took over booking talent for the auditorium in 1988, with the aim of cutting out the middleman and soaking up more profits to reduce the $1.2 million subsidy paid that year.

The advice in late 2005 to shut down operations at the money-losing auditorium came from former City Administrator Deborah Edgerly when losses for the 2004-05 fiscal year were at $516,240.

The city had been subsidizing the center for many years but the municipal welfare check was expected to hit $755,278 for the coming fiscal year, and with that number came calls to sell the city's one-time cultural and convention center.

Edgerly expected the city would pay $94,220 yearly to keep it closed, letting the Paramount Theater pick up the entertainment slack.

Later, a 2006 proposal to convert the auditorium into the main branch of the public library was narrowly defeated.

So now what?

Well, although city officials are mum about who the group is that may take over as soon as two weeks from now, it is true the people who operate Historic Sweet's Ballroom is interested in the Kaiser and has been talking to the city, said Andrew Jones, of the Oakland Venue Management Company.

But, Jones added, no agreement has been reached.

That means maybe his company is the mystery managers.

Maybe it's not.

That's all for now, ladies and gentlemen. But if you have a cool shindig, e-mail me at awoodall@bayareanewsgroup.com or visit the Night Owl blog at www.ibabuzz.com/nightowl for more events and oddities.