Hotel Oakland, Oakland, California - 2012 (by mk30)

The Hotel Oakland is one of the largest historic hotels in Oakland and an architectural jewel of the downtown area.

On December 18, 1979, the Hotel Oakland was designated Oakland Landmark #31, under Zoning Case #LM 79-484, and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Bankers Hotel postcard, circa 1913

The hotel was first proposed in 1906, as Oakland's business community sought to capitalize on the flow of commerce from San Francisco to Oakland following the 1906 earthquake. Many of the initial stockholders were important bankers (including Edson F. Adams and W. W. Garthwaite), and Borax Smith held 20% of the initial stock. The hotel was initially called the Banker's hotel due to involvement of the banking community. A banking panic in 1907 forced several major sponsors to drop out, delaying construction of the project. 9 The initial drawings shown in the newspaper were somewhat different than what was eventually built. 10 See also the Oakland Hotel Company.

Construction started in August 1910, and was completed in December 1912 at a cost of over $3,000,000. The architects were Walter Bliss (who also designed the furnitire, tapestries, hangings and rugs) and William Faville, who designed the building in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. The grand opening of the Hotel Oakland on December 23, 1912 was celebrated by a dinner and ball with 1,150 invited guests, including Mayor Davie and much of the East Bay's social, financial and industrial elite. 9

According to Oakland Magazine A Hostelry With History "Police blocked all traffic for an entire block between Alice and Harrison streets except for a continuous stream of limousines that all pulled into the same inviting half-moon drive on 13th Street. Out stepped gentlemen in white ties and tails escorting feather- and jewel-studded creations draped in chiffon, charmeuse and Chantilly lace. Hundreds of elegant couples dined at rose-scented tables and danced under glittering, fern-filled chandeliers as notes cascaded down from a marble balcony set into the vaulted, gold-leafed ceiling. At the close of the evening, news of the “most important social event in Oakland’s history” was telegrammed to cities across the country and in Canada."

In 1921 the radio station KLX got its start there, broadcasting from high atop the west tower of the hotel. It was originally a "radio operator's training school called the Western Radio Institute [occupying] two rooms on the seventh floor of the Hotel..."7 As part of the school, a small "experimental radio station" was built in the west tower. The batteries for the transmitter were kept charged by the elevator, and "...the two towers rising from either side of the building that were perfect for supporting the station's antenna."7 The station grew to include news, music, and live broadcasts, including a band playing on the hotel roof. In 1923 the station moved to the Tribune Tower.7

According to Ed O'Neil, a research civil engineer in the US Army Corps of Engineers and the author of "Seismic Strengthening of Hotel Oakland Revisited: A Case Study," "During the 1930s, the hotel was forced into bankruptcy several times as the result of the depression and management difficulties."

Oakland Area Station Hospital
postcard, circa 1946 8
In 1943, the War Department took possession of the hotel for use as a U.S. Army hospital known as Oakland Area Station Hospital. 8 All furnishings were auctioned off, including irreplaceable chandeliers of which only photographs remain. Following World War II, the Veterans Administration operated a hospital in the building until August of 1963.

Following the VA's use of the facility, several unsuccessful attempts were made to reopen the hotel for public use. For the next 15 years it stood vacant. Finally, in 1978 a Boston-based developer obtained possession and remodeled it into a housing project for the elderly. It remains in this use today."1

ad for the Hotel Oakland (among other things) Polk-Husted Directory Co.'s Oakland, Berkeley and Alameda directory (1911), cc via

Famous Guests

For the next three decades government leaders, glitterati and well-heeled Oaklanders frequented the hotel for elegant parties and luxurious accommodations. Presidents Wilson, Coolidge, Hoover and Roosevelt stayed in the Hotel Oakland, as well as “America's Sweetheart” Mary Pickford, who sold Liberty Bonds in the lobby in 1918. 3

In 1927, Charles Lindbergh took a room at Hotel Oakland during the opening ceremonies for Oakland Airport, and Amelia Earhart made a stop-off in January 1935 after her record-breaking transocean flight from Oahu to Oakland. Sarah Bernhardt, Jean Harlow, and Lily Langtry were also guests. The hotel was home to permanent residents as well, including the millionaire inventor and aviator Jacob Struble, who kept a 1,700-pipe organ in his hotel suite. 3

Present Day

Today the Hotel is devoted to senior housing. A Family Bridges Hong Fook Adult Day Health Care Center is also housed in the Hotel Oakland. The building recently celebrated its centennial.

After a multimillion dollar retrofit in 1993, the 315-unit Hotel Oakland became home to many local seniors, most of whom as from South-East Asia. Four years later, with the support of its property management company, A.F. Evans, the Hotel Oakland Computer Learning Center opened its doors and became one of the first computer centers in senior housing in the Bay Area. 4

According to the 2004 Residential Hotels in Central Oakland report, 70% of the senior residents of the Hotel Oakland are female, with 80% of the residents considered very long-term, which is significant as the vast majority of other Oakland residential hotel occupants are male. 5

Hotel Oakland (the book)

"Hotel Oakland is an affordable housing community that provides rental assistance to seniors. 2012 marks the 100th Anniversary of this landmark building in downtown Oakland. Using portraits and interviews, photographer Rachel Welles presents the historical and social significance of the building's pro-active health focused “village” model that could enable other affordable senior residential communities in America to follow suit." The book, which is filled with wonderful photographs of the past (from the Oakland Library History Room) along with charming memories and photos of current residents, can be purchased online at


260 - 13th Street, Oakland, California

Hotel Oakland, Oakland, California 2 Hotel Oakland Lounging Room, Oakland, California (1912) 6

Links and References

  1. Excerpt from A Brief History of the Oakland Hotel, Lincoln Highway Association
  2. Oakland Hotel Wikimedia Commons
  3. A Hostelry With History by Ann Leslie Davis Oakland Magazine (July-August 2011)
  4. At Hotel Oakland Computer Learning Center, the Past Meets the Future
  5. Residential Hotels in Central Oakland report Community and Economic Development Agency, City of Oakland (January 2004)
  6. Hotel Oakland Lounging Room, 1912 Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room
  7. The History of KZM and KLX, John F. Schneider, Bay Area Radio Museum
  8. Oakland Area Station Hospital, The California State Military Museum
  9. National Register of Historic Places Inventory -- Nomination Form for Oakland Hotel
  10. Plans of Oakland's Magnificent $2,000,000 Caravansry Are Received and Contracts Let for Excavating for the Foundations San Francisco Call June 22, 1907