Expedition 18: On the street where I live, San Pablo Avenue

November 29, 2023. San Pablo Avenue runs from downtown Oakland up to Crockett, about 23 miles, and is one of the oldest and longest roads in the Bay Area, appearing on a map in 1830. It became part of the transcontinental Lincoln Highway and was the main north south thoroughfare until the Eastshore Freeway was built in the 1930’s. 

The highway crosses over to San Francisco, through the Presidio and down Lake Street to the terminus at Lincoln Park. So, I didn’t walk the entire length! San Pablo Avenue will be a series of expeditions.

I started at the Lionel Wilson Building, which was inspired by New York’s Flatiron Building (the architect had worked for that building’s designer, Daniel Burnham). The nondescript white building was the Oakland home of Heald Colleges, which was apparently pointlessly destroyed by a private equity firm in 2015.

The Rotunda Building wasn’t on my original list, but I spotted it on the street. The dome is unassuming from the street, but inside it’s pretty impressive. The building was originally Kahn’s Department Store, which opened in 1879. It housed a few other stores and the building was empty when it was damaged in the 1989 earthquake. Twelve years later it was renovated and now contains office and retail and event space. 

This section of San Pablo has many odd shaped lots since it slices through a grid of streets at an odd angle. Hot Boys Sandwich Shop occupies another wedge shaped building down the block. At the other end of this triangular block is the former Maclise Drugstore Building, built in the 1880’s. It has a nice set of vault lights on one side that let daylight into the basement. Still another odd shaped building housed Mel’s Drive In Restaurant from 1954-ish until the 1970s. 

The Piedmont Piano Company’s building is from 1946 but they only moved there in 2010. Apparently they somehow converted the California Art Supply store’s sign. Looks great! Another wedge building was The Arcade Hotel, built in 1907. It was a hotel until about 1969. In 1996 it opened as senior housing. The old abandoned Greyhound bus station is still hanging by a thread onto its sign. At some point the racing greyhound part on the top came off. It opened in 1926 and only closed last year. It’s now owned by a hedge fund. 

The Moor Hotel opened as an apartment building in 1950. It’s been closed for many years. I loved the rounded bay windows. The cute brick castle was the Willowbrook Creamery, hence the WC on the sign. It’s now apartments. A little Google snooping shows it as the home of Marco Cochrane, sculptor, whose piece “Truth is Beauty” can be seen from the San Leandro BART station. 

Several creameries used the property where the Storage Mart now stands. One of them was Producers Dairy, which still exists, and a portrait of me once decorated their delivery trucks! I’ll have to get it out of storage to post later. Well known child portraitist Maud Tousey Fangel “discovered” me in a Greenwich Village park and asked me to model for her (well, she asked my mom). My 15 minutes of fame. 

This anonymous building was the East Bay Rats Motorcycle Club. It closed in 2019. Too bad! Not really my kind of place, but very Oakland. Seven years ago I went there for fight club night, got a $2 PBR from the vending machine and went to the roof to watch. Bar patrons signed up to fight each other complete with boxing gloves and mouth guards. There was blood. It was pretty strange!

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