Great Architects of New York: Henry J. Hardenbergh
Hotel Oakland
Address
270 13th Street
Oakland, Calif. 94612
Location
Entire block bounded by 13th, 14th, Alice and Harrison Streets.
Built
1910-1912
Use
A residence and health center for the elderly. The building housed the finest hotel in Oakland until it went out of business in the Great Depression; in 1943 it became an army hospital and by the 1960s a VA hospital. From 1963 to 1979 it was vacant, before being reborn into its current use.
Web Resources
Seismic Strengthening of Hotel Oakland Revisited: A Case Study [U.S. Army Engineer Waterways Experiment Station]

In an age before "starchitects" had become first-rank celebrities flying from one project to another across the globe, Hardenbergh had gained enough of a reputation to be worth an interview for a city starved for reassurance that it would make it big. He traveled farther for this building than for any of his others, and his arrival in California was big news.

In April 1907, Hardenbergh stepped off a train and arrived in the west for the first time. He was in good spirits despite alighting from a train that was 19 hours late. The local business leaders who were supposed to have met him had given up on waiting for him, but an enthusiastic reporter for the Oakland Tribune was there to capture the great East Coast architect's arrival. "Mr. Hardenbergh is a man of small proportions, spare, compact, positive, a veritable thinking machine, high-gear and of much apparent nervous encurance," the reporter wrote. He "speaks rapidly as if he were full of his subject. He is said to be one of the most versatile men in his profession. He can plan a skyscraper or a church as he watches the smoke curl from his after-dinner cigar."

The reporter asked Hardenbergh for his impressions of California. The architect praised the climate and predicted the phenomenal growth that would occur: "The vastness of it makes me gasp," he said. "All this great unoccupied land will some day be filled with millions of people."

As for the hotel, Hardenbergh refused to say exactly when it would be completed, but promised a building in the French Renaissance style. "It must be a compact of economy, comfort, convenience and luxury," he said. "The main feature of a hotel is revenue, and yet the building must be monumental, attractive and enduring."

The building today seems less monumental than it must have when it opened in 1912, but taking up a full block and topped by two flagpoles atop two three-story cupolas it remains impressive in its position a few blocks away from the skyscrapers of downtown Oakland. And it with its welcoming palm-filled courtyard framed by two pleasant colonnaded, this building is extremely attractive. It is both human scaled and monumental.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this building is its endurance. For 15 years when it stood vacant and decaying in an emptying city, and a decade later, it survived a magnitude 6.9 earthquake with only cosmetic damage thanks in large part to well-executed reinforcements made in 1979.

While Hardenbergh was evidently excited by the possibilities that California offered for the future, he couldn't be pulled away from his work in New York. "I shall discuss the plans with the owners and then return as soon as possible," he told the Tribune, "as I have a great deal of important business in the east."

Hardenbergh designed this building with the firm of Bliss & Faville.

Newspaper Articles
"Noted Architect Tells of Oakland's New Hotel: Visitor Praises West -- Predicts Wonderful Growth for Oakland -- Says Destiny's Hand Points Westward." Oakland Tribune, April 12, 1907.


Circular cartouche-like decorations on the south facade sit above a device that looks religious in nature: Is it a coffin and a cross contained within a halo? This unfamiliar imagery may be the work of Bliss & Faville.


A plaque noting the building's placement on the National Register of Historic Places fails to mention Hardenberg. Presumably the Ratcliff Architects handled the 1979 conversion.


A sign across the street.


Rich detailing on the west facade.


Proof that this building is in California.


The east and west wings of the Hotel Oakland form a courtyard open to the south, facing 13th Street.


A detail of the towers


The west facade faces Harrison Street.


The northwest corner.


The northeast corner.


The pleasant row of arched two-story windows on the north side form what could almost be a colonnade along 14th Street. The depth of the arches' top ornament is more prominent in real life.


The east facade faces a full-block parking lot (for residents) on Alice Street.


Detail of the two-story arches.


Colonnades frame both sides of the courtyard.


Signs of facade damage may be the result of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.