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The Ellington, located in Oakland's Jack London Square is a 16-story luxury residential high-rise.The lender now owns the property and is is selling the units at about 40 percent below the original asking price. Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009. (Giovanna Borgna/Staff)

OAKLAND — The Ellington residential tower next to Jack London Square is more than half sold — a milestone that paves a smoother path for buyers in the complex to land favorable home loans, developers said Thursday.

"That's an important achievement," said Kim Cole, vice president of sales for Pacific Marketing Associates, which is selling the units in Oakland. "It really opens all types of financing for the customer."

Slightly more than 50 percent of the 134 units in the downtown complex, situated at the corner of Broadway and Third Street, have been sold, Cole said.

That progress represents a reversal of prior misfortunes for the upscale residential complex.

In November 2008, amid a mortgage meltdown that stretched from Wall Street to Main Street, the 15-story tower of condominiums tumbled into a default on a $77 million mortgage.

The principal developer at the time of the default: Lehman Brothers, which two months earlier filed the largest bankruptcy in history with $613 million in debt, becoming a victim of the mortgage crisis it helped create.

In March 2009, the Ellington's lender, Union Labor Life, seized the complex in a foreclosure that priced the tower at $52 million, or a 32 percent discount from the original value of the project.

Prices typically range from the high $200,000s to the low $800,000s. A penthouse unit sold for $1.4 million in the fall of 2009. At the time, that deal marked the first sale of a million-dollar condo in the East Bay in at least a year.

The project's new developer and property manager, San Francisco-based Emerald Fund, began to market the units for sale in the stalled project in mid-2009.

Overall, the pace of sales has at least met the expectations of Pacific Marketing and Emerald fund.

Now, buyers such as Ruth Strauss and her husband Shaheen Tonse, have been drawn to the Ellington's upscale ambience.

"We had been looking for condominiums off and on for the last couple of years," Strauss said. "We looked all over the East Bay. We looked in the Washington, D.C., area. This building has all of the amenities you could want."

Strauss and her husband recently bought a unit with views on three sides, of the estuary, the downtown, the iconic Tribune Tower and the East Bay hills.

"It's a beautiful facility," Strauss said. "You feel like you're on vacation all the time."

Plenty of perils lurk. The project, after all, must still sell nearly half of its units.

What's more, the housing market overall has shown some signs it could relapse and suffer a fresh bout of ailments.

The prognosis, nevertheless, remains robust. The developers recently decided that sales were sufficiently sturdy that they could upgrade 47 existing units. The face-lift would transform them into luxury condos that could command higher prices.

"We realized there was a viable market for buyers who wanted a more luxurious experience," Cole said.

Industry watchers say the ongoing sales and incoming residents will bolster efforts to create more retail, dining and night life in downtown Oakland and Jack London Square.

"The Ellington brought more elegance to Jack London Square," Cole said. "Consumers have recognized that and want in."

Contact George Avalos at 925-977-8477.