photo CC BY 2.0 by Sharon Hahn Darlin

The California Hotel on San Pablo Avenue at 35th St. opened in 1930 and served as a venue for notable blues and jazz performers, the California Hotel hosted the likes of Billie Holiday, James Brown, and Ray Charles. It closed in 1971, and was later converted into low income housing.

Hotel and Music Venue

c.1935 8

The hotel opened May 18, 1930, owned by the Eastbay Hotel Corporation. Axel Bern (one of the principal shareholders of the corporation) was was the manager. It had 150 hotel rooms, and 25 apartments. 5

The Zanzibar Club opened at the hotel in 1941. 7

According to California Hotel Live! it was a whites-only hotel from the opening. It became one of the few hotels where Blacks could perform in 1949, and ended its discrimination policies against guests when new owners took over on January 16, 1953.

A grand "reopening" was held with invited guests that included Oakland-born comedian Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, boxing champion Joe Louis and acclaimed singer Lena Horne. The hotel attracted many high profile black visitors to Oakland. At that time, it was the only full-service hotel that welcomed black people in the East Bay. 6

Later it began to be listed in the Green Book.

In addition to being a venue for blues and jazz, the hotel also had a Big Mambo and Afro Cuban scene in the late 1940s and 50s. Pete Escovedo got his start playing there. It was popular with both jazz and Latin music lovers. Other performers like Carlos Federico, Benny Velarde and Cal Tjader performed at the California hotel.

Over time the hotel fell into disrepair and that, coupled with the impact of the freeways (I-580 is less than 100' away), the decline in the neighborhood, and financial difficulties caused the closure of the hotel in 1971.

Low Income Housing

The hotel was converted into low income housing by the Oakland Community Housing, Inc. (OCHI) in the 1980s. After OCHI ceased operations in 2007, residents refused attempts to evict them from the hotel. A trustee was appointed by the court who continued to operate the hotel so residents could stay.

In 2011 the California Hotel was purchased by the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC) which renovated the building with $18.4 million in city redevelopment funds and private donations. On July 25, 2012 local officials gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking for the renovation of the historic California Hotel.

Building History

The building was designed by Clay Burrell, and opened May 18, 1930, 4 near the start of the Great Depression.

A 3/4 page advertorial in 1930 invited the public to an open house. It touted various businesses that were involved in the construction, including hardware from Maxwell Hardware, Marshall and Stearns hide-a-beds, and Wonderlite (SF) which made the neon sign, as well as businesses to be involved in the running of the hotel, including the Union Pacific Laundry, Hansen Coffee, and the Remar Bakery. 5

1929 21930 5

In 1988 the California Hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places.


In addition to the hotel lobby and a banquet hall (the "Gold Room"), the 1951 Sanborn map shows a restaurant, nightclub, and drug store on the ground floor. Addresses include 3443, 3445, 3447, 3457, 3459, 3463, and the hotel at 3501. The Sanborn map also shows a gas station in front of the hotel on the point that used to exist between San Pablo Ave. and Chestnut St.

1951 Sanborn excerpt

Years Address Business Notes
1931 3443 Apex-Johnson Washer Store ad
1935-1944 3443 Miller's Pharmacy 1940 directory
1934 3445 Cooper-Challen Realty ad
1939-1943 3445 Jewel Tea Company 1940 directory, ad
1944 3445 Republican Party campaign HQ Political Notes and Comment
1949 3443 Zax Pharmacy ad
1954-1956 3443 Lyndes TV ad
1959-1964 3443 Regal Television ad
1967 3447 California Cleaners ad
1969 3445 H & R Block ad
2020-present 3443 Magnolia Street Wine Lounge website
?-present 3445 Oakland Public Conservatory of Music website
?-present 3463 Bay Area Mural Project website


California Hotel, Oakland, California (circa 1930) 1photo CC BY-NC 2.0 by Jeremy Brooksphoto CC BY 2.0 by Sonny Abesamis


3501 San Pablo Avenue, Oakland, California

Links and References

  1. California Hotel Route40
  2. New Hotel on San Pablo Announced Oakland Tribune October 27, 1929
  3. California Hotel on Wikipedia

  4. California Hotel on PCAD

  5. California Hotel Opens Today Oakland Tribune May 18, 1930

  6. California Hotel Live! website
  7. Making The Rounds With "Kip" Oakland Tribune October 16, 1941
  8. California Hotel ohrphoto.oaklandhotels.020.jpg Oakland History Center via Calisphere