The historic Athenian-Nile Club building, home to the Joyce Gordon Gallery, is one of the oldest standing buildings in the downtown district.

On the corner of 14th and Franklin streets in downtown Oakland, the four-story masonry building features a prominent rounded bay window on the Franklin Street corner, attesting to its turn of the last century architectural style. The whole structure retains its historic features and appears to be very well-maintained.

For many decades, it served as the headquarters of a men's social club known as the Athenian-Nile Club, founded in the 1880s. Members included the town's elite, including Enoch Pardee, the father of Gov. George Pardee, and William Dargie, the former publisher of the Oakland Tribune.

One of the group's early members, Walter J. Mathews, was a busy Bay Area architect and builder, and the person responsible for designing the club headquarters.

Mathews has an interesting background.

Born in Wisconsin in 1850, he came with his family to Oakland in 1866, shortly after the end of the Civil War and just before the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, which would connect the sleepy village of Oakland to the East Coast. Mathews' father, Julius C. Mathews, was a builder, and the younger Mathews apprenticed with his father, starting at the age of 16, before going out on his own.

Mathews, who lived to the age of 97 -- he died on Nov. 20, 1947 -- witnessed Oakland's coming of age and its transformation into a major West Coast port city. Through his busy architectural practice, Mathews was responsible in large part to Oakland's metropolitan advances.

He designed office buildings, hotels, theaters, clubs, churches and residences in both the East Bay and San Francisco. Many of his buildings still stand, notably the First Unitarian Church and the Oakland Auditorium. Oakland's first so-called skyscraper, the Easton Building on the corner of 11th Street, is also his work.

Researchers are still compiling lists of buildings attributed to Mathews, who also had an architect brother named Edgar, and another brother, Arthur, a well-known artist and muralist, making the Mathews family important contributors to the Bay Area's architectural heritage.

The Athenian-Nile Club disbanded in 1990, after more than a century in existence. Since then the club building has been in the ownership of Geoffrey Pete, who has restored the gentlemen's club's once-elegant interiors. Pete has also rented the downstairs commercial spaces to businesses such as the Joyce Gordon Gallery.

In September, Joyce Gordon celebrated a decade of her fine arts gallery being located in the Athenian-Nile building. The 2,500-square-foot galley space has displayed the work of a host of established and emerging artists. She is among the original members of Oakland's thriving Art Murmur gallery consortium. Book signings, poetry readings, music and film events have also taken place in the arts space.

Gordon's Annual Holiday Art and Salon Exhibit opens on Friday and will continue through Jan. 31, 2014. Two dozen artists from the area will be featuring paintings, prints, jewelry and other works from 6-9 p.m. at the Joyce Gordon Gallery, at 406 14th St. For details, go to www.joycegordongallery.com.