The Central Building, Oakland, California
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The Central Building (aka the "Central Bank Building") is a large 16-story (15 + mezzanine) steel frame and reinforced concrete Beaux Arts. It was the first skyscraper built in downtown Oakland, constructed from 1925–1926 at the northeast corner of 1400-16 Broadway and 424-48 Fourteenth Street, Oakland, California. Although it has more floors than the City Hall building constructed in 1914, it is shorter because of the tower atop city hall, so it was never the tallest building in Oakland.

The building's current address is 436 Fourteenth Street, and the building is also the site of a Rite Aid store with an address of 1400 Broadway. When originally constructed, the building had grand lobby entrances on both Broadway and 14th Street. The building was designed by two Oakland architects, George Kelham and Walter Mathews. The current owner of the building says that it is on the National Historic Register, but this is not quite correct. The building is not listed separately on the Register, although it is listed as a District Contributor in the National Register nomination form for the Downtown Oakland Historic District (see pages 13-14) running roughly along Broadway from 11th Street to 17th Street.

The Central Bank had been located at 14th and Broadway since 1893. This 1911 postcard shows an earlier, but remarkably similar, building then known as the Central Block where the bank's offices were located. By 1925 the bank had outgrown its building, demolished the previous building, and began construction on the current building which was completed in 1926.

Architectural History

The Central National Bank Building is a sixteenth story (15 story and a mezzanine) steel-frame and reinforced concrete Beaux Arts skyscraper, rectangular in plan, on a southwest facing corner lot. It was designed for a bank in its base and mezzanine levels, with offices above. The building is clad in brown brick with glazed brown terra cotta trim. Ornamentation is early Italian Renaissance, with Romanesque references in the round arches. The original base had giant arched entrances on each facade, high arched windows on the ground level, rusticated terra cotta walls, and bronze window and door frames. The base has been completely remodeled with flat red marble and tan terra cotta panels (further ground floor remodeling is anticipated, as of late 1997). The ten story shaft, with bays of paired widows and recessed spandrel panels, is framed above and below by arcaded transitional stories with engage columns. The two story capital has arched bays of paired arched windows, below a tall, shallow, corbelled cornice. Of several fine interior public spaces, only the 14th Street lobby remains intact, with a high ceiling and richly ornamented surfaces.

The Central Bank occupied this corner from 1893, soon after its founding, in a five story brick building known as the Central Block. It bought up a number of smaller banks - including Union Bank, of 1300 Broadway, in 1914 - and required larger quarters by 1925. The 1925 building was designed by two prominent Oakland architects of two generations, Beaux Arts trained George Kelham and pioneer Oakland architect Walter Mathews. In style, the building echoes the Holland Building at 380-98 Fourteenth Street (McCall & Davis, 1923-24), with its dark brick, double arches, and corbeled cornice. It is one of a number of major Downtown Oakland banking and institutional buildings dating from the real estate and financial boom of the 1920s, and continues the pattern of corner skyscrapers which Mathews's Union Bank (1300 Broadway) initiated.

This historic building is #7 on the list of District Contributors for the Downtown Oakland Historic District Registration Form.


Oakland Tribune, April 1926
(fair use
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The earlier Central Bank building was damaged in the 1906 earthquake. 1The earlier Central Bank building was damaged in the 1906 earthquake. 11906 earthquake damage 1

Links and References

  1. Image(s) used by permission of the UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library