Oakland City Hall has achieved an important milestone, and the Main Library's History Room exhibit, "Oakland City Hall Centennial, 1914-2014," relates the saga of how this landmark was built, highlighting some of the major events in and around this unique structure.
Featured in the display are images of previous City Halls, floor plans and renderings of the current building, plus news articles, building statistics, and vintage photos and postcard views.
It is interesting that throughout its 160-year history, Oakland has had five different city halls. The first two were rented spaces, dating from the 1850s and '60s. Both were on upper floors of commercial buildings on Broadway, the first between Second and Third streets from 1852 to 1867, and the second between Seventh¿ and Eighth¿ streets from 1867 to 1871.
The third and fourth city halls were on 14th Street, facing the end of Washington Street just west of Broadway. City Hall No. 3 was Victorian in style, with three stories and a clock tower. Contemporary photos show the wood-frame structure next to a civic center park, a precursor to today's Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. The building stood only five years, before a suspicious fire destroyed it in the summer of 1877.
Its replacement was quickly erected on the same foundation and looked very similar, although viewed closely, the clock towers were somewhat different in style.
Following the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco, the East Bay experienced a population boom as residents fleeing the ruined city migrated to Oakland and other parts of Alameda County. By 1909, the exploding growth of Oakland convinced city leaders, including then-Mayor Frank K. Mott, to push for a bond measure to pay for a bigger, grander City Hall. Voters approved a $1.15 million bond issue, and a nationwide competition was held to produce a suitable design that would reflect the city's emergence as a major transportation hub on the West Coast.
New York-based firm Palmer and Hornbostel came up with the winning concept -- a high rise, Beaux Arts-inspired, 10-story municipal tower, topped by a 91-foot ornamented cupola and clock tower. The first three floors would house the formal Council Chamber and the mayor's ceremonial office, as well as hearing rooms for the Municipal Court.
The new City Hall would have steel frame construction clad in white California granite with glazed terra cotta ornamentation of grapes, olives, figs and wheat shafts representing the state's agricultural abundance. A unique feature would be a cluster of jail cells beneath the clock tower to hold arrested suspects, male and female, awaiting trial or sentencing.
The groundbreaking in 1911 was an impressive affair, attended by President William Howard Taft and other dignitaries, and featured a civic-sponsored parade along Broadway.
Photographs show the four-year progress of the building's construction as the structure rose 343 feet, towering over every other building in the region.
In putting together this display, History Room staffers searched in vain for records of a grand opening in 1914 when the new City Hall was completed. The thought is that over the final months, employees of various departments most likely moved into their new spaces and business went on as usual. City Hall No. 4 was razed so Washington Street could be extended to San Pablo Avenue, past the new building's front steps.
Don't miss this impressive exhibit, which will be on view through February, and stay tuned for announcements of special behind-the-scenes tours, programs and events about Oakland's most important historic landmark. For more information, go to www.oaklandlibrary.org.