AKA: Bankers' Hotel, Downtown, Oakland, CA; Hotel Oakland Village, Downtown, Oakland, CA

Structure Type: built works - dwellings - housing - housing for the elderly; built works - dwellings -public accommodations - hotels

Designers: Bliss and Faville, Architects (firm); Hardenbergh, Henry Janeway, Architect (firm); Mathews, Walter J., Architect (firm); Sorenson Brothers, Building Contractors (firm); Walker, P.J., and Company, Building Contractors (firm); Walter Danforth Bliss (architect); William Baker Faville (architect); Henry Janeway Hardenbergh (architect); Walter J. Mathews (architect); Percival J. Walker Sr. (building contractor)

Dates: constructed 1910-1912

9 stories

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270 13th Street
Downtown, Oakland, CA 94612

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The Hotel Oakland was built on 13th Street between Harrison and Alice Streets.


Noted New York hotel designer Henry Hardenbergh and at least two other architectural firms influenced the design of the Hotel Oakland.built between 08/1910 and 1912. Opening in 1912, the hotel contained 450 rooms originally and operated for about 30 years, before facing financial problems during the Depression, like many grand hotels built in the century's first three decades. During during World War II, the US Army requisitioned the building and turned it into a hospital Various efforts to restart the hotel business failed aftter the war, and it became a Veteran's Administration facility for some time during the early 1960s. After years of disuse, it was transformed into elderly housing by 1979. In 2016, the elder-care community was known as "Hotel Oakland Village."

Building History

The well-known hotel and apartment house planner Henry Janeway Hardenbergh (1847-1918) received the invitation to design this large urban hotel in the mid-1900s. A note in the American Architect and Building News read: "Oakland, Cal.--Plans for the exterior fo the hotel to be erected on Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Harrison and Alice Street have been completed by H.j. Hardenbergh, 1 West Thirty-fourth Street, New York, N.Y. The building will cost $2,000,000, and will be built by the Oakland Hotel Co." (See "Industrial and Building News Section," American Architect and Building News, vol. XCII, no. 1646, 07/13/1907, p. 9.) The hotel was originally called the "Banker's Hotel," as local bankers had financially backed the project and hoped that it would cater to traveling businessmen. At first, Hardenbergh collaborated with with a local Oakland architect, Walter J. Mathews, on retainer from the Oakland Hotel Corporation. The Architect and Engineer of California noted: "Hardenbergh and his chief assistant are already on the coast. It being the former's intention to direct the work of construction personally. The preliminary draughting has been done by Architect Walter J. Mathews of Oakland. Mathews is supervising architect for the company. A syndicate of Oakland bankers and capitalists hold most of the stock, the demand for which caused the directors to increase capital to $2,300,000." (See "Architect for Oakland's Great Hotel," Architect and Engineer of California, vol. VIII, no. 3, 04/1907, p. 89.)

By 1909, however, the initial Hardenbergh/Mathews designs proved unsatisfactory for W.W. Garthwaite, President of the Oakland Hotel Corporation, and his firm commissioned the prominent San Francisco architectural firm of Bliss and Faville, to "perfect" the design. The San Francisco Call reported on 07/24/1909: "Complete revised plans of the projected Oakland hotel company's structure at Thirteenth and Harrison Streets, were submitted to the board of directors today by Bliss and Favelle [sic], the architects. Details will be worked out as rapidly as possible., so that bids on construction material and work can be called without further delay. W.W. Garthwaite, president of the corporation, said today that the plans as submitted were considered satisfactory, and that much progress had been made by the architects in modifying and overcoming objections, which had been raised by other designs. He felt that the architects had progressed so rapidly that in general it could be said that the hotel plans had been perfected." (See "Revised Plans for New Hotel Complete," San Francisco Call, vol. 106, no. 54, 07/24/1909, p. 12.) It is possible that the Hardenbergh/Mathews design had elements that were deemed too costly; they devised their plans in 1907, just before the Panic of 10/1907, a serious banking crisis brought on by an unsuccessful effort to corner the copper market.

Hardenbergh had gained wide acclaim for his designs for other major East Coast hotels, such as the Waldorf (New York, NY, 1893), Astoria (New York, NY, 1897), Willard (Washington, DC, 1901) and the Plaza (1905-1907). These were some of the most-discussed hotel designs of their age, and it is no surprise that ambitious civic leaders in Oakland, long in the shadow of the bigger and more renowned San Francisco, would ask him to design them a centerpiece hotel covering a full city block. (Owners of the hotel wanted people to know that its level of luxury would exceed anything in San Francsico; As the San Francisco Callreported in 02/1910: "Contractor Walker declares that it will surpass the new Palace [Hotel] of San Francisco in the completeness of its equipment and the richness of its decorations." [See "Bankers' Hotel Contract Signed," San Francisco Call, vol. 107, no. 78, 02/16/1910, p. 8.]) At this time, hotels were seen as important symbols of urban maturity; tourists and business visitors developed their impressions of a place--at least in part--from the quality of their hotel's accommodations and services. From a booster's point of view, a first-class hotel was a crucial step toward urban prosperity and establishment. This was certainly the case in Seattle when the Olympic Hotel opened in 1924.

Opened on 12/23/1912 at a cost of $3,000,000, the Hotel Oakland operated as the city's social center for two decades and became, between 1913-1927, the western terminus on the Lincoln Highway (connecting New York and San Francisco). A note in the Hotel Monthly of 04/1920 stated: "William C. Jurgens, general manager of Hotel Oakland, Oakland, Calif., is the author of an interesting article in the Oakland Tribune's annual number, under head of 'Oakland as a Touring and Tourist Center." My Jurgens' hotel is the western terminus of the Lincoln Highway. His summary of Oakland's natural headquarters for the automobile tourists to the coast reads: 'This is the natural result of a city being on the continental side of a great body of water like San Francisco Bay, and having all automobile roads terminate there." (See Hotel Monthly, vol. 28, no. 325, 04/1920, p. 62.)

During the Depression, when the number of businessmen traveling and tourists visiting declined drastically, the Hotel Oakland experienced sporadic closings and re-openings. The hotel corporation was reorganized in 04/1938. Vacant a short time, it reopened during 1943, at the height of World War II, as an US Army hospital receiving wounded from the Pacific Theatre. The hotel's property was liquidated in 07/1945 for $705,000. Subsequently, several attempts to resume hotel operations failed. In the 1960s it served as a Veteran's Administration facility, before closing in 08/1963. For sixteen years it remained vacant, when a Boston developer renovated to serve as a residence for the elderly.

Building Notes

Hardenbergh indicated in an interview held with the Oakland Tribune in 1907, that he would select the French Renaissance Style for the ten-story Hotel Oakland. He continued: "It must be a compact of economy, comfort, convenience and luxury. The main feature of a hotel is revenue, and yet the building must be monumental, attractive and enduring." (See "Noted Architect Tells of Oakland's New Hotel: Visitor Praises West -- Predicts Wonderful Growth for Oakland --Says Destiny's Hand Points Westward," Oakland Tribune, 04/12/1907.) The final design, however, was not French Renaissance, but eclectic, as the lower floor elevations strongly recalled Italian Renaissance palazzi.The cupolas may have been sourced from Colonial American or English Baroque precedents. In its U-shaped plan formed around a grand courtyard, it followed Carrère and Hastings's pioneering Ponce de León Hotel in Saint Augustine, FL (1885-1887). The Hotel Oakland shared two prominent motifs seen at the Ponce de León, a central recessed colonnade on its upper floor above the main entry and two prominent towers placed at the corners of the central hotel block.

Shoring and foundation work was done by the Sorenson Brothers firm of Oakland. ("The contract for the foundation and basement walls of the new $2,000,000 Bankers' Hotel in Oakland was let last night by the directors to Sorenson Bros of Oakland." (See "Let Contracts for Hotel," Los Angeles Herald, vol. 35, no. 98, 01/08/1908, p. 10.) Building contractor Percy J. Walker signed the construction contract for the Bankers' Hotel on 02/15/1910. The hotel's steel frame was completed by 12/24/1910. (See "Frame of Oakland's Million Dollar Hotel Is Completed," San Francisco Call, vol. 109, no. 24, 12/24/1910, p. 6.)

The prominent Oakland merchant Harris Cebert Capwell (1858-1929), owner of the H.C. Capwell Department Store, and his wife, Josephine, (1863-1951), a well-known painter, lived at the Hotel Oakland in 1913. (See thePolk-Husted Directory Company's Oakland Berkeley Alameda Directory, 1913, p. 15., p. 204.)

As it was built, in part, to house traveling businessmen, it is not surprising to learn that the Oakland Commercial Club maintained its headquarters on the mezzanine floor of the Hotel Oakland in 1913. (See "Oakland Commercial Club ad," Polk-Husted Directory Company's Oakland Berkeley Alameda Directory, 1913, p. 15.) The club's 1913 ad in the Oakland city directory featured a large drawing of the building, attesting to its civic pride in having accommodations there.

The early Oakland radio stations KLX and KLM placed their 50-watt transmitter in the Hotel Oakland in 1922-1923, until they moved to a location in the Oakland Tribune Building.

Tel: 510.835.3749 (2017)


The US Army Corps of Engineers undertook seismic upgrading of the Hotel Oakland in 1979. This seismic upgrading helped the building weather the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake with minor damage.

Oakland Historic Landmark: 31

National Register of Historic Places: 79000470 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

PCAD id: 3566