Harrison Street high-rise comes to Planning Commission on Wednesday

While the Victory Court ballpark EIR scoping session is getting all the attention, there are actually some other interesting items on the agenda for Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting (PDF). For one, the Director’s Report will feature a verbal update on the progress of the International Boulevard Transit Oriented Development plan, which I’m looking forward to, since I wasn’t able to make either of the meetings earlier this month.

Another interesting item is a public hearing on the Draft EIR for a project at 325 7th Street (PDF). Remember how I was describing the EIR process the other day? (Read this post for a more detailed explanation of the process) Well, this is what the next step looks like. The scoping session for this project (PDF) was held in January of 2008 (PDF), and now, two years later, Draft EIR has been completed (you can read it here (PDF) and read all the appendices here (PDF).

At Wednesday’s meeting, the public will have an opportunity to make comments on whether the EIR is sufficient in its assessment of the project’s impacts and proposed mitigations for those impacts. The Final EIR will have to respond to all the comments received, and based on what they say, at least some parts of the Draft EIR will likely be revised. Only then can the City approve the project.

325 7th Street

The subject of Wednesday’s hearing is strictly about the adequacy of the Draft EIR, not about whether or not this is a good project or whether or not the City should approve it. That comes later. But just for fun, let’s take a look at what’s being proposed.

325 7th Street is a proposed residential high rise at the edge of Chinatown, between Harrison Street and 880 and 6th and 7th. There would be two towers, one 20 stories tall and the other 27 stories tall. Together, they would contain 380 units on top of four stories of parking featuring 399 spaces. On the ground floor would be a little over 9,000 square feet of office and retail space.

Here are some renderings from the architects:

325 7th Street

327 7th Street

For the more detail oriented among you, you can view more renderings, plus floorplans here (PDF).

Project Impacts

The project’s expected impacts and possible mitigation measures are detailed in the this table from the Draft EIR (PDF). Unsurprisingly, the main unavoidable impacts are traffic related, specifically causing increased delays at the intersections of 5th and Oak and 6th and Jackson.

The other main issue is that the project as currently proposed would require the demolition of an historic building. The staff report for Wednesday’s hearing (PDF) explains:

The proposed Project would demolish the structure at 617-621 Harrison Street which is a contributor to the API. The City Standard Condition of Approval requires that the Project applicant make a good faith effort to relocate the building to an acceptable site. If relocated, the impacts to cultural resources would be less than significant.

If the building cannot be moved, the proposed mitigation measures require that the Project applicant hire a qualified consultant to prepare a deconstruction and salvage plan to identify interior and exterior elements that can be reused either on or off site with all deconstructed materials to be promptly recycled back into the construction market. In addition, the Project applicant shall make a monetary contribution to the City for a Historic Interpretive and Program about the 7th Street/Harrison Square Residential District and a historic resource related program such as the Property Relocation Program or the Façade Improvement Fund. Even with these mitigation measures the Project will result in a significant and unavoidable impact if the building is demolished.

Frankly, that seems like a lot to ask in exchange for a building with a C rating, but I’m sure several of the preservations among my readers would disagree and will be happy to lecture us about the importance of APIs. The City’s Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board certainly did, and have noted a number of areas where they believe the Draft EIR is insufficient (PDF).

71 thoughts on “Harrison Street high-rise comes to Planning Commission on Wednesday

  1. Naomi Schiff

    The LPAB was fairly restrained–they didn’t so much oppose the project as express the need for a context-sensitive design, and the hope that old buildings should be reused rather than added to the waste stream. Not unreasonable. The thing that bothers me some is the badminton shuttlecock on the top. I believe that architects should begin to resist the fad of “put a weird doohickie on the top” ism.

  2. Navigator

    I love the buildings. It’s about time Oakland strives for some interesting architecture. We have too many squat and boxy 24 to 28 story buildings. We should look at Boston and Seattle for ideas in interesting modern architecture.

  3. Chris Kidd

    The Final EIR won’t have to respond to *all* comments received, but only those that raise reasonable concerns about impacts or mitigation measures or the veracity of information in the EIR. They won’t have to respond to if someone’s comment is “I hate this project”.
    Also, now that SB 1456 is passed, anyone planning on suing the EIR better come with a laundry list of objections. You can no longer use other peoples’ comments to bring suit against an EIR, they have to be ones that you (or your organization) submitted.

  4. V Smoothe Post author

    Well, they “respond” to those, too with some form of “comment noted.” I always like reading those. “We acknowledge the commenter’s opposition to new dams.” “We acknowledge the commenter’s enthusiasm for recreational activities.”

  5. Max Allstadt


    “Put a weird doohickey at the top” is in the city’s design guidelines! I believe they call it by a different name: “Distinctive visual terminus”.

    Yeah. It’s dumb. Tall boxes can be nice too.

    I also think that we should look at reducing the requirements for historical preservation on blocks adjacent to highways. The highway inherently ruins the historical context, and it also makes the structures unpleasant and undesirable to occupy. What belongs next to highways: stuff that is taller than highways and designed to work with highways.

    The requirement to make a good faith effort to move the structures is usually moot too: the cost of moving utility lines is so high that it almost never makes financial sense.

  6. livegreen

    I’m guessing the weird doohickeys do something, like solar panels or blind overflying airplanes…
    (There’s a new building in Houston that has about 6-8 giant wind turbines at the top, you’d think the Bay Area could do something energy innovative like that…)

    I’m curious about the Traffic Impact coming out of the Alameda Tube. Guessing they’ve thought about that already though…

  7. ralph

    I am not a fan of the distinctive visual terminus language on this building, but i love the building. It seems to me that the reason for d/v/t was to avoid a downtown full of flattops. I think designers can be creative without adding stuff to meet the literal meaning d/v/t.

    I skimmed through the reports but I have some issues with historical preservation. I am somewhat of the mindset if the area is of low significance additional analysis to determine how a destruction of bldg impacts the designation is pointless. Just eliminate the designation.

  8. V Smoothe Post author

    I thought they got rid of the distinctive visual terminus line before they passed the new zoning? I could be totally wrong about that, though. I usually try to avoiding saying things like this, but in this case I will: I’m too lazy to look it up right now. But if anyone else wants to and report back, feel free.

  9. Naomi Schiff

    While the parcel is not full of historic buildings, it immediately adjoins a primary historic resource area. The renderings in the EIR don’t show any of that, so one wouldn’t be easily able to consider whether there should be design revisions to fit the building into its context better. Max, I think your view of the near-freeway is a bit confining. What about when there is a valuable historic or cultural resource next to a freeway? It just has to be demolished? It would be interesting to test the idea against some real-world examples.

  10. V Smoothe Post author

    Naomi –

    I would be interested in examples of new developments that you think did a good job of responding to their historic context. I am not opposed to the idea — in fact, I like it conceptually. However, it is not infrequent that I see new buildings where I can tell that was the goal, and the result looks awful. Can you show us some places where you think it has been done well?

  11. livegreen

    Like seeing a modern interior in an old building done right, a modern building next to an old historic context can look good too. If done right.

    The phrase “historical context” sounds unnecessarily vague however. Here we have 1 building standing all by itself. Surrounded by warehouses which obviously replaced the contemporaries of the historical house. The context was changed a long time ago.

    It seems moving the house a block away to be with houses of a similar era would fit the historical context better than leaving it where it is…

  12. Max Allstadt


    I’m not talking about A rated structures. I’m talking about the sorts of structures that are on this site that are unremarkable other than their age.

    Another example of an area where there ought to be exemptions is in Fruitvale, north of 880, east of Fruitvale ave. There’s a zombie zone there where all the old houses are trapped between train tracks an an elevated highway.

    The site in question for the project detailed in this article is one of several spots in chinatown where the highway dwarfs adjacent houses that aren’t super important historically, just old by Oakland standards.

    There are also a few oddball blocks on the far west end of Jack London square with some very interesting quirky buildings that may have some historic rating, but the prospect of relocating them is just ludicrous.

    One thing that chinatown has going for it in terms of relocation: a lot of undergrounded utilities. You might actually be able to schlep one or two of those houses up Webster to the lakeside portion of the Valdez Triangle, for instance, without having to pay PG&E to move wires.

  13. Naomi Schiff

    Indeed, moving that house was one of the suggestions that came up at LPAB, might be feasible. Contextual design can definitely work, and doesn’t necessarily mean imitating old forms, but rather paying attention to neighborhood form, scale, rhythm of block faces, materials, views from near and far, and pedestrian’s eye view.
    Oakland examples: An recent example of a new/old combo is the expansion at the Fox Oakland Theater. Quite a bit was added on to that building, which still received hefty federal hist. tax credits. More controversial, but now seems to work well, was Whole Foods at Harrison/Bay Place. Previous Rite Aid design was hideous and cheaplooking, with enormous parking lots. The city’s own 250 Frank O. Plaza wraps around the historic East Bay Community Fdn. building on the former site of the historic (demolished) Pardee Building. The building just to the north of what used to be called The Broadway Building (with clock, point between plaza and Broadway), while it does betray its 1980s style, is successful I would say, for a completely new, larger building adjoining an old one. I don’t want to monopolize ABO space, so don’t want to make too long a post, but could give many more examples if you ever want to talk about this in some pleasant nonvirtual place.

  14. Matt C.

    Max, there are many blocks in DTO, Uptown, Old Oakland and Chinatown where moving a house like the blue Queen Anne would restore the block to a complete status.

    Everyone has a passion and in my posts I show total respect for yours and for V’s. I really wish you two would do the same. Naomi and I and many others simply have a passion for history. These old buidings are a history lesson within themselves. I’ve learned more about Oakland, the Bay Area, urban development and industrialization researching my old house than in any classroom. History is important because you have to know where you have been to know where you are going. We all want to be going somewhere with our time on Earth, right?

    Personally I’ve seen this all before. What if this project goes south like so many others have? We’ll be left with a net loss. I’m really sick of that, I’m sick of the parking lots in DTO. Sound srtuctures with original design in tact should be moved to places where they are needed so we can build Oakland up and not tear it down.

  15. Max Allstadt

    Disagreement isn’t disrespect.

    Fundamentally, I disagree with the level of historic protection in this town, particularly the reverence for B and C classes, and most particularly the C.

    Oakland is a young city. Our history is not our strength. Our potential is our strength.

    I do believe in some historic preservation. APIs in most cases, are appropriately selected in my experience.

    At the same time, there is a mass of neglected housing stock in East and West Oakland that is often so far gone that it’s cheaper to tear down and rebuild that to restore, and our rules make this a headache.

    Also, as cool as some if our old architecture is, a lot of it is based on designs that are not appropriate for our climate.

    On top of this, we apparently have folks who feel it’s appropriate to deem old faux-historicism to be historic. It’s like treating an 80s letterman jacket to be as important as the 50s jacket. Just not the case.

    I also think that for Oakland to be a healthy city, it needs to double in size in my lifetime, or sooner. To that end, preservation needs to be much more selective. Decaying homes that are too small to support growth simply shouldn’t be a priority. The Kaiser Center, that’s a priority.

    History is long and value judgements are very malleable. I wouldn’t be surprised if hybrid time I’m an old man, the Dellums Federal building is looked upon with the same nostalgic reverence that we afford the Trib tower today.

    In a way, preservation priorities in Oakland feel like more of an aesthetic and fashion preference than anything about actual history. It’s not that I feel we should preserve nothing, I think that we preserve too much.

  16. Steve Lowe

    Yeah but, Max, look at the erosion of historic context throughout Oakland – perhaps most notably, the soon-to-be-demise of the 9th Ave Terminal, the only breakbulk terminal left on the entire San Francisco Bay.

    There’s always a way around the preservation of anything in this town because the will isn’t there on Council or anywhere else to honor the General Plan when big bucks are stacked on the table. What other leverage is there to guarantee highest and best city planning guidelines will be followed?

    Though some dudes and dudes-in-training around here like to feel that they’re making big change for the better, what they’re really doing is worshipping at the faux feet of Bay Street and other ersatz claptrap built to satisfy some developer’s egomaniacal bid at immortality.

    So if a C building has to go, as they too often do, then at least the mitigations in favor of the community have to kick in and at least make what goes up instead all that much more worthwhile. Give some goon the right to tear down the Cathedral building so he can erect something a couple of stories higher, and he’ll damn sure do it without a moment’s regret.

    See ya hybrid podium tonight!

    – S

  17. J

    I agree with Max. The city of Oakland preserves far too much. Other Cities have been able to maintain their historic integrity without holding onto every vestige of a bygone past. Look at more modern cities like Seattle that have become modern while at the same time preserving areas like Pioneer square and the southern warehouse area. Granted Seattle also has the ability to put to better use its historic buildings turning them into night clubs and entertainment venues. Oakland very rarely puts its historic building to good use, with the of course obvious exception of the Fox, Paramount and other large well known and by far much more historically important than whatever would be demolished for this building. Sorry to ramble, Happy holidays to all. Cheers.

  18. Dax

    How about if we quit flailing about on every issue and just choose another city to emulate from A to Z. I can’t help but feel that had we done so 25 to 35 years ago, Oakland would be much better off today.

    Singapore comes to mind. (A city state)

  19. Matt C.

    Max, J, when was the last B or C property saved from the landfill? Where is this preserved Oakland you write about? Where is every last vestige of the past in Oakland? I want to see it.

    Presently, I look out my front window to a parking lot where a cute little house once stood. Down MLK is a church that seems to have been sucked up in a Midwestern tornado and dropped on the church that use to be there. Next to that is a large Italianate house the church bought and hasn’t painted in years (likely plotting it’s demise). Down 18th you’ll find a row of more Victorians that would be stately homes anywhere else but across the street from a huge, new Chevron station. Behind my house the city demoed a dozen or so century-old buildings to build that generic Forest City project. I do not know how anyone can say Oakland preserves too much. Developers get what developers want in this town.

    Now back to the blue Queen Anne in question. If you don’t think it has any remaining value then I strongly urge you to research and understand what it and others like it are and what they represent.

  20. Max Allstadt

    I lived in Singapore for 5 years Dax. Somehow I think it’s unfeasible for Oakland to house 90% of it’s population in public permanently affordable housing with racial diversity quotas. The police state part is also a little unrealistic for us.

    Although thinking about those two traits, isn’t it remarkable that the Singaporeans have implemented two policies that seem like the delusional fantasies of opposite extremes of Oakland’s politics.

  21. Navigator

    Boston does a great job with historic preservation while also revitalizing its waterfront with exciting modern architecture. There’s a fine balance.

    Oakland has done a good job preserving a good portion of downtown. I don’t think that a city can ever have enough historic architecture. For a west coast city in the United States, Oakland has a lot of old stuff. Uptown, Old Oakland, Preservation Park, Downtown Historic District, Produce District , Gold Coast Apartment District, Chinatown, Frank Ogawa Plaza, etc.. Unfortunately, Oakland doesn’t promote itself as a historic town. That’s a shame because more folks would visit Oakland if they realized how much historic architecture exists here.

  22. Naomi Schiff

    Oakland Heritage Alliance is trying to bring the big statewide historic preservation conference to Oakland in 2012. We hope our proposal will succeed, as it would bring a couple of thousand people to town for several days, and, one hopes, give some well-heeled re-use developers a good chance to look around. (Plus of course, give them a chance to patronize all the eateries listed in the other thread!) The thing is, Max, there is money and development opportunity in historic preservation.

  23. ralph

    It would be nice if those thousands of people had a place to stay in Oakland. Seems to me a fair number of them will be in San Frnacisco.

    I would love to have NSHMBA, NAMBAA come to Oakland but we don’t have enough beds for the numbers that these groups attract for annual conferences.

    Far be it from me to be negative but it seems to me that Oaklanders have a tendency to exaggerate the financial benefits of initiatives. But it seems to me that a number of these people may dine closer to where they live.

    This, of course, has nothing to do with Harrison Street but it reminds me of a comment someone made at the Planning Committee Mtg about Oakland being a second rate city. If we need to make investments to bring Oakland into the 21st century, or at least the late 20th century.

    All of this brings me to the following, saving every C building and making a case for every registered building makes no sense. I like, scratch that, I love historic buildings and buildings with historic relevance. I think they add character, add to sense of time and place but not every building fits this criteria and I find it frustrating when preservationist want to save a bldg for the sake of saving. Who is to care for these buildings? We should never let the past impede future development.

  24. Naomi Schiff

    Hey Ralph, I’d love to talk with you about this, though don’t want to write lengthy posts here in the interests of keeping ABO moving. As one group with an interest in our built environment, Oakland Heritage Alliance does try to calibrate its efforts to the value of the resource. For example, at Planning Commission last night we did not oppose the Harrison St. project; but we hope to improve the underpowered mitigations in the draft EIR. Of course, it doesn’t make news when we don’t make a lot of noise, so some may perceive us as antidevelopment when they disagree with us. However, we count numerous developers, architects, engineers, and landowners among our members. And we have often been shown to be right, in retrospect: if no one had spoken up, we would have lost some irreplaceable assets, and we’d have twice as many parking lots downtown.

  25. Naomi Schiff

    Join a great crowd at Peralta Hacienda tonight for Zorro By Night–This should be fun, and raises money to keep the doors open.

    Also: Ralph, the Oakland Conv. & Visitors Bureau is pretty helpful and helps conventions arrange for accommodations in Oakland. This is a great place for small- to midsized convention, though agreed we might have trouble with housing the really large ones.

  26. Max Allstadt


    The Bs and Cs don’t get saved from the landfill, that’s sort of the point. We set up tedious protection regimes that don’t actually protect stuff that shouldn’t be protected in the first place. The net result is paperwork, not progress.

    I also did not directly address that blue queen anne. Maybe it does have value, maybe it doesn’t.

    A quick search indicates that the Queen Anne Style in the US was a faux-historic fad in the late 19th and early 20th centuries which aimed to emulate a centuries older style from England, but did so inaccurately.

    What exactly does this represent in terms of our architectural history? A marketing ploy used to sell homes to our great great grandparents? I mean I guess that’s significant.

    Another doubt I have about this is the same doubt about what I saw happen during the rezoning of San Pablo Ave.: People with an academic interest in architectural history demanded downzoning. Not a single person from the neighborhood showed up to agree with them.

    Chinatown’s community seems to think that the value of the highrise is worth leveling a few houses. People who don’t live in chinatown think the houses have historical value that needs to be addressed. The Chinatown residents who spoke on this project at the planning commission last night had concerns, but they weren’t about historical preservation.

    Also, anybody ever notice that the entire Landmarks Preservation Board is made up of fuddy duddy white people, with the exception of Dan Schulman, who isn’t fuddy duddy? It doesn’t represent our city very well.

  27. Annalee Allen

    quoting from the city’s General Plan Historic Preservation Element, “C” Rated buildings are so rated because they are “superior or visually important examples of a particular type, style, or convention,” and most are pre-1906 properties. I have long felt that the “C” moniker conveys a school-roomish “mediocre” connotation that obscures the inherent heritage value of buildings such as these. For a west coast city, Oakland is old, by the way. I just returned from Boston, admittedly a far older area, and I was struck by how many Victorian era buildings I saw that had unfortunately been covered over by vinyl siding. The whole point of Oakland’s rating system is to categorize our oldest buildings in such a way that they can go on to be eligible for money saving rehab assistance (and not be knocked down to go into the landfill). There. Now I’ll get off my soap box.

  28. Dax

    Max, re-Singapore

    “Although thinking about those two traits, isn’t it remarkable that the Singaporeans have implemented two policies that seem like the delusional fantasies of opposite extremes of Oakland’s politics.”

    Wouldn’t it be nice if Oakland leaders and residents didn’t find themselves locked in mental and philosophical straight-jackets on so many issues.

    Sure the culture is different, but look at Singapore and its many areas of success.
    Look at the progression of Singapore over the past 35 years.
    Look at the progression of Oakland over the same period.

    There must be dozens of lessons we could learn by looking at Singapore.
    I’m sure some of them would be denounced by the usual crowd, more willing to stay frozen in the past than to learn from what works in the real world. The rapidly changing and advancing world.

    I can assure you, in Singapore, the main focus of the public is not about a sports team or debating a single building’s roof style.
    In Singapore or China, the SF Bay Bridge would have been replaced and operational since 1995.

    It would seem our leaders simply don’t care about the future economic prospects of its young men and women in the same manner as leaders do elsewhere.
    If Oakland didn’t have the Port, and wasn’t at the very center of this entire Bay Area, it would be in far worse condition.
    There is perhaps no city in the nation better situated for success. But then again, that has been its position for the past 40 years.

  29. Max Allstadt


    The reason that there’s vinyl siding on old houses in Boston is that it’s cheaper than wood, is a better building envelope sealer than wood, and weathers better. If it had existed in 1790, they would have used it.

    Similarly, hundreds of Oakland houses have had wood siding replaced with Stucco. Do we really have the money to for everybody to re-clad their homes in wood every 15 years? Even if we did have that money, is this the best use of it?

    My issue with the house-by-house, building-by-building approach to preservation is that it doesn’t actually preserve a historic feel. It creates anachronisms.

    I support the concept of APIs because of what I’ve seen of historic preservation in eastern cities. For example, my aunt lives on a block in Chelsea in Manhattan that is 100% 1860s row houses and is protected.

    Check it out on street view:
    http://bit.ly/gRFcC8 It makes sense to me to protect historic environments like this one.

    Protecting individual structures that are unremarkable enough to get a “b” or “C” doesn’t, especially in areas that are a mishmash of new and old buildings.

  30. Naomi Schiff

    We could discuss the rating system, with further explanation because it is not that simple. It is, as Annalee says above, different from the grading system in school.You might be intrigued by some of the buildings rated “B.” There is a statewide standard for cultural resources under CEQA. That doesn’t mean you have to keep them all standing, but it does provide a structure for evaluation that is not so arbitrary. An informed discussion might be useful, and it should include thinking about the ways that re-using buildings helps cities. Los Angeles is a great example.

  31. annalee allen

    Max, I do not pretend to be an expert when it comes to building siding, but I will say that I have heard and read very disturbing things about misguided use of vinyl siding and how it covers over problem areas on surfaces and masks the subsequent deterioration on buildings where it is used.

  32. Max Allstadt

    Any siding, if applied over an unfixed problem, will do that, and any cladding can be incorrectly applied and cause deterioration.

    I’ve renovated a few old West Oakland homes, I’ve come across plenty of situations where the wood siding has been applied over tar paper in such a way that it creates a moisture trap and turns either the siding or the framing into a rotten mush.

    You can get it wrong with beautiful old materials and you can get it wrong with new materials. If you don’t pay attention to every exterior cladding detail, water gets in. Once it’s in, water always wins in the end.

  33. Daniel Schulman

    Max, thanks for the exception, but I think I am middling fuddy-duddy on the Landmarks Board.

    I agree with you that Landmarks is not a very diverse board, but I think that will change as terms expire. When I joined there were three openings on the board. The shortage was not solely due to Dellums lack of appointing in the first part of his term, but lack of applicants.

    Thanks to a number of factors including our excellent staff bringing important matters to our agenda, popularization of historic matters by the local preservation community, and media outlets like ABO, Landmarks has a much higher visibility than it used to. I think the next seat openings will be competitive and have a more diverse applicant pool to draw from.

  34. Naomi Schiff

    A number of us have proposed candidates (diverse candidates) and they simply haven’t been acted upon by the current mayoral administration. I hope the logjam will end. There are openings, as one or two members at least are serving as holdovers on expired terms.

  35. gem

    “A quick search indicates that the Queen Anne Style in the US was a faux-historic fad in the late 19th and early 20th centuries which aimed to emulate a centuries older style from England, but did so inaccurately.

    What exactly does this represent in terms of our architectural history? A marketing ploy used to sell homes to our great great grandparents? I mean I guess that’s significant. ”

    Then you’ve misunderstood the architecture term. “Queen Anne” in the US refers to eclectic architecture that eschewed many of the typical formulas of the time. It drew from a wide range of influences, and became the most popular housing style of the 19th century. The style represented the newest in wood shaping technology and was a symbol of industrialization.

    Seattle has a very popular historic neighborhood called Queen Anne, after the architectural style. People pay big bucks to live there. Seattle is a much “newer” city than Oakland, and they seem to be able to manage historic preservation and modern development well enough.

  36. Max Allstadt

    Seattle is less than 20 years younger than Oakland.

    All I’m saying is: if we have complete blocks of blocks that are close to being complete historic blocks, I support preserving them. If we have B and C grade historic structures that are surrounded by modern structures and freeways, they should be deprioritized.

    Moving houses within the downtown area, where overhead power and phone lines don’t exist: this makes sense.

    Demanding that they try to be moved in places like Temescal and West Oakland is just nuts, because it costs thousands of dollars an hour to move the utility lines, and inevitably the economic feasibility of moving homes in that situation will turn out to be impossible. So why force anyone to bother studying it in the first place?

  37. Naomi Schiff

    You might want to learn about B and C ratings and find out what they are, how the city treats them under our new demo ordinance, and what qualifies as a cultural resource under CEQA. There is a fair body of information available. The city has worked quite hard to set policies and implement rules. The planning dept. is now drawing up a set of design guidelines to support the zoning update. That might be a useful place to contribute practical knowledge, especially where it comes from experience and knowledge of building styles and durability. It furnishes a way to implement design and materials standards for new and rehab projects that will upgrade neighborhoods rather than contributing to decline. Windows alone can generate hours of discussion.

  38. Matt C.

    gem, thank you for your post. I’ve been wanting to respond to Max’s assessment of Queen Anne style for days. Basically, I concur.

    Max, what do think of the architectural value of the proposed structure? To me it’s a monument to hey-add-this-itecture… trite crap. Anyway, everyone is a critic. If the neighborhood likes it, the developer thinks it’s a viable project, and there are no red herrings -then hey, get it built. However, let’s not also shoot ourselves in the foot by forsaking the old blue Queen Anne.

    Researchers have found that a neighborhood with variation in architectural style and period tend to be more socioeconomically diverse and have more fair and equitable housing options.

    Regarding freeway proximity, there is no direct relationship with the construction of a freeway and an existing structure becoming obsolete. Not that it doesn’t happen, it’s just not a 1 to 1 relationship. Besides, the fair way to deal with freeway proximity is to make the freeway mostly deal with it and not the adjacent properties. Mitigate the ugliness with art, landscaping, and so on. Why can’t 880 be Oakland’s Freeway Park like Seattle’s? Anyway, I digress. Freeway construction is not always a death knell for adjacent old structures.

    There are more reasons why this specific Queen Anne should be saved. It was constructed of far more superior materials to what you will find today. Example, properly maintain its (red)wood siding and it will last for centuries, not just 15 years! If the windows had not been removed the building would be 100% original. The house is an example of a popular late 19th century architectural style that showed great respect for creativity and imagination. Most important, its design and construction represent the contribution of merchant builders to Oakland’s development. I could go on, man.

    It is perfectly reasonable to keep this building out a landfill and to build the new building, so let’s… make it work.

  39. Max Allstadt

    There absolutely is a relationship between the freeway and the fact that 100 year old houses next to it become obsolete.

    The new proposed structure will have air filtration. The old ones don’t and it’s entirely cost-prohibitive to install it.

    A house next to the Nimitz with windows facing the Nimitz and that is shorter than the Nimitz rents for approximately $jackshit per month, and it will continue to be worth jack shit even if you install air filtration.

    I live near a highway, and the blocks that run into it are in perpetual states of blight, because the rental and resale values are abysmal, and landlords don’t care about maintaining the properties.

    I’m willing to bet that breathing isn’t exactly fun in any of those structures at Harrison and 7th.

    The ideal way to mitigate the impact of a dirty elevated freeway on a neighborhood is to wall the freeway off in a canyon of tall modern buildings that have modern air filtration for the people who live and work in them. This in turn shields the neighborhood nearby from the noise, ugliness and to some degree the pollution from the highway.

    If preservationists think that old houses in the shadow of filthy freeways are not obsolete, maybe those preservationists should invest in these houses and move in to them to prove they aren’t obsolete. Tell you what, you invest in the house, and I’ll be nice and invest in a respirator for you to wear.

  40. Matt C.

    Max, I consider you very well spoken, very well informed person, but you can shove it. Seriously, you’re not being realistic or open minded about this. Walls, canyons, hermetically sealed buildings, totally unrealistic!

    The proposed towers will have operable windows and the residents will not be cooped up in their units all day. They’ll likely be in the neighborhood walking around when the highest amount of airborne pollutants will be spewing from the freeway. Your argument about air quality being a deciding factor is worthless.

    I did buy one of those old places, a block from 980. I did restore it and I do not need to wear a respirator. It’s working out just fine.

    You know not a single neighbor has come by and said, “Damn you for doing this I wanted a modern high rise with sky-high rents.” They smile at the house and say something to the point of it’s the best the place has looked in 30 years and then complement me for taking up the work.

    What I posted previously still stands.

  41. Max Allstadt

    The highrise we’re talking about explicitly includes air filtration measures in the proposal which I read at the planning commission meeting. As for walls and canyons, this is a long-term tactic.

    In SF, you can see parts of soma growing taller than the freeway, and over time, office and R&D and residential uses can easily be set up to gradually surround the freeway.

    In the town I grew up in, long stretches of the Shuto expressway are completely surrounded by tall buildings. It works. It just takes planning and time.

    And to clarify, I’m not talking about one block from a freeway. I’m talking about directly adjacent to a freeway. There are a ton of houses along MLK that back directly up to the 980/24/BART structure. Many are disintegrating because it isn’t worth the owner’s effort to keep them up, because their rental and resale value is super low. Tearing them down to build tall should be encouraged. They are anachronisms.

    I am only talking about places directly adjacent to freeways. My broad opinion is that these parcels should all be permitted, as-of-right, to be built taller than the freeways, so that there’s economic incentive to create structures that are modern, have modern air handling and which isolate the rest of the neighborhood from the freeway.

    There are several dozen homes in Chinatown that face the freeway, or are on a block is directly next to the free way. The project site in question has exactly that context.

    And I didn’t see a single chinatown resident come to that meeting and say “this is too tall” “this is no good” or “we need to preserve the history here”. The local’s concerns were about traffic, mainly.

  42. Matt C.

    One unscientific survey? Max, since when would you accept that as a valid argument? I’m not going to.

    The house in question is not facing the freeway, it’s in the middle of the block on Webster. The homes along MLK from W Grand north to 50th are in a neighborhood where unfortunately MOST of the homes are in a state of disrepair. The ones backing up to 580 and 24 are no better, no worse. What about the ones along 24 in Rockridge or Temescal? A building’s viability is clearly not about freeway proximity -it’s about the overall neighborhood.

    So far none of the reasons for sending this duplex to the landfill are sticking Max. Well, that’s of no matter really, we’re in Oakland -the house is done for and with it the there there.

  43. Max Allstadt

    I consider tall highrise buildings to be “there” too.

    Going back to what I said a while ago, this city’s strength is not it’s history. Our strength is our potential.

    Our downtown is zoned for tall buildings because that’s what belongs in a downtown. A tall downtown is “there”. It is precisely what I think of when I think of “there”.

    As for rockridge and houses abutting highways there, you’re right, those aren’t falling apart.

    That would suggest that the way to save all the old houses abutting freeways in West Oakland is through wholesale gentrification. If you can convince upper middle class people to move to West Oakland and buy houses with freeways in their backyards, maybe you can save them.

    But that’s not going to happen. The options in those specific spots are slow decay of old buildings, or moderately paced replacement of old buildings with new ones that are bigger and help increase urban density.

  44. Naomi Schiff

    Max, while you have some interesting ideas it might behoove us all to remember to be slightly flexible. You might be able to accept some old buildings near freeways, and I might be able to accept some highrises. This argument seems to be unnecessarily polarized. I don’t look at the world in this all or nothing way.

  45. Max Allstadt

    It’s polarized because I brought up a limited scope of ideas for change in our historic preservation laws and was treated as if I wanted to steamroller every cute old house in town. I don’t.

    I’m even OK with moving houses when it’s feasible.

    But as long as we’re on this contentious trip, let me say this. There is no way that I will ever get into a mindset where your acceptance of highrises in a central business district is something I see as a concession. Downtowns have tall buildings. Accepting reality isn’t a concession.

  46. ralph

    Flexibility is good. But we also need to introduce real world facts into the discussion. In the real world, not many people want a house with either an on-ramp or freeway (or train track) in their front yard. Surprisingly, it happens in NorCal moreso than any other place I know.

    Initially, I could not for the life of me understand why people wanted to live in a building overlooking 80, but the more I drove by I began to see the beauty in those towers. I think the proposed structure and others will give us similar visual beauty along the Nimitz.

    Also need to keep in mind that each neighborhood is different. I am trying to picture the Rockridge houses that face 24 and I see greenery and density – a completely different vibe. But more importantly, I do not feel that 24 creates the same disconnectedness that the Nimitz does. That might be due to density.

    I don’t know. Each situation is different. In this case, I think increasing the density and sense of community and neighborhood is a good idea.

    Naomi, I still want a lesson on the preservation etc classifications. Perhaps V can connect us. Was in the city Thursday and not able to attend the Peralta Hacienda fundraiser.

  47. ralph

    And Max is right; downtowns have highrises. Walking though downtown Oakland, I can’t help but think Ithaca, NY a small college town, is more built up than this.

  48. Matt C.

    Naomi, I think what you meant to say is: Max, you painted yourself into a corner claiming absolute truths and you obviously won’t relent with your defense until you hear silence.

  49. Matt C.

    Quick clarification, l support density and development. I’m not at all against the construction of the proposed towers. Though I find the design to be generic Taicouverkonghai crap. I’m only concerned by how easy it is to put a historical resource in a landfill. How easy it is for an entire block to be leveled and left vacant for decades.

    Ralph, in many places being freeway adjacent only get’s you a minor discount. Also, the properties Max mentioned, along MLK, are no different in neglect from those several blocks to the west -they’re mostly all in disrepair.

    We do freeways/interstates in urban areas a little weird in this country. We design them to be completely foreign to their surroundings. In almost every other country they build under and over them so they’re fully integrated.

  50. ralph

    You Californians are a different breed. When I first came to CA, developers were building TH on the Caltrains track. Kids playing in the front yard would need to move because the train went through their game of horseshoes. But people gladly paid 500K and up for these 1800 sf. homes. Dumbfounded. At least in Hayward, they had the good sense to but sound barriers.

    I have varying feelings about a number of the areas mentioned. I opted to avoid most of the other areas because this is real estate and no location is the same. They may all be freeway adjacent but each has its own set of issues. So boilerplate solutions will not work but guiding principles should.

  51. Max Allstadt

    Nope, that’s not what Naomi meant to say. That’s about 15 years too young and one X chromosome short of the style she uses when we debate.

    I’m absolutist? You picked the absolute nicest example of 7 or 8 structures on the site to use when you defended your point. Pretty much everything else sucks. Except for that on the Webster street side there appears to be a “health center” where they probably don’t suck, they probably only give handjobs.

    Again, it’s an alright house. Nothing else there is even worth considering saving. But it isn’t really “historical” in my book either. And I reiterate that it absolutely isn’t in a location with any historical context. There’s a park on one corner and surface parking lots on the other 3.

    I could be wrong about the context, of course. Historical events might be worth considering. If Luis Peralta parked in one of the lots…

  52. annalee allen

    max, if you don’t stop behaving like this ( i.e. handjobs?) I am going to have to insist you go stand in a corner and repeat “our history is valuable” multiple times.

  53. matt

    Max, yes, it is essentially what was being said and no, no one needs to use a velvet glove when debating you.

    Your argument about freeway proximity allows no room for exception, but more importantly it’s false. Furthermore according to you it doesn’t apply as the structure in question does not back up or face the freeway.

    Thank you for acknowledging that I focused on the one structure on the block with the best potential for being retained. The contributions of common folks and their common lives deserve acknowledgement in the historical record, too.

  54. Naomi Schiff

    Ralph, what does TH stand for?
    Hey the Peralta Hacienda event was great, very multigenerational and multi-everything else, handing out capes and masks to wear, and showing the many cinematic versions of Zorro in the rooms of the old house, while Alex Zaragoza was entertaining in his discussion of connections between Hollywood films, Spanish colonial life (that’s the East Bay too!), and contemporary politics in several decades. The place is terrific. Please send them a little money; it’s a wonderful public resource, the result of a long patient effort by Holly Alonso and her dedicated band of visionaries. http://www.peraltahacienda.org. PS: did you know some of the original handwritten documents from the Peraltas are in our library?

  55. ralph

    TH = townhome. If you venture down to Mtn. Vw., you will find more than a few TH that literally sit on the tracks.

    I’ve been trying to figure out why the Peralta Hacienda has been on my radar of late. I was in the library not long after the election, checking out the pics and chatting with the lovely lass in the history room. Might have been this. I also seem to recall an article indicating loss of city funding. Why I strongly support additional hotels and reasons to stay in Oakland. Most cities use hotel tax to support cultural institutions.

  56. Max Allstadt


    Thank you for having a sense of humor about my sense of humor!


    There’s nothing wrong with moving that one. It may actually be one of the few scenarios where it makes lots of sense to move a house. I said it already, but I’ll say it again:

    Woodframed structure, wood clad. The area has few overhead utility lines, and there are vacant lots nearby that happen to be on blocks where this house would help re-construct a complete historical context. It’s the ideal situation to move a historic house.

    It is also a very rare situation in our city.

    @Naomi and all the other preservation fans:

    My check to the hacienda is in the mail. Don’t all faint at once.

  57. Naomi Schiff

    Thank you, Max! I sent in my bit too, and I hope others will follow suit. The city’s funding cut was drastic, and means that the Hacienda can’t host free tours for OUSD kids until the rest of us step up. Ignacio De La Fuente has just announced a generous contribution, but it will take everyone chipping in to keep it going.

  58. Max Allstadt

    I hope so too. If I’m going to go on rants on how I want to prioritize our most significant history over what I see as the overly broad current approach, I feel compelled to put my money where my mouth is.

  59. ralph

    Don’t know how much work you do with the Peralta Hacienda but I recommend they create a recurring donation program. I sent an email off to them but it never hurts to have more voices suggesting the idea.

    I also recommend that they charge students some amount but that is a subject for a different discussion.

  60. Matt C.

    What? Overly broad!!! Just kidding. The change in this thread’s direction is a good opportunity for me to get off the soap box.

    Seeing so many people rally around the Hacienda makes me smile :-) You can’t get much more know-where-we’ve-been-to-know-where-we’re-going than the Peralta Hacienda.

    East Oakland should be declared the largest historic district in the United States!

    Sorry, I couldn’t help myself…

  61. Naomi Schiff

    The Hacienda does charge modestly for tours, but OUSD has cut its field trips allocation so there’s no money for its students to go on trips unless subsidized.

  62. ralph

    did not realize trains in the yd is so entrenched in the CA culture. at least today the trains are cleaner

  63. Andrew

    Anyone bother to look at the two buildings in question? Really is a waste of energy and time to try and save this:


    Just take the two existing buildings apart and sell the parts that are valuable (plank flooring) but don’t get in the way of something that will have a HUGE economic impact for all of us and improve the city. The two “historic” buildings are surrounded by blight

  64. Naomi Schiff

    An Environmental Impact Report is required to consider cultural and historic resources, as well as other factors, to provide information for a decision. It is not the same as making decisions on the project. The idea is to include complete information (the renderings just left out the old buildings and surrounding neighborhood) and to consider alternatives that might reduce any environmental impacts. With the information found, then the decision makers should be able to make a good decision.