Historic brick and stone building at corner of Washington and Ninth St. in Old Oakland.

An Architectural Blast into the Past 

Amit Cohen

Oakland has one of the most interesting architectural legacies in the Bay Area. Famous architects such as Julia Morgan and Frederick Law Olmsted have left their imprint on the city’s urban landscape. Oakland features an eclectic mix of styles: Art Deco, Beaux-Arts, and Victorian buildings can be found scattered throughout the city, even though new developments have put some of these buildings in danger. In Old Oakland, a local group has made a special effort to ensure the legacy of the area’s historical buildings were preserved.  

The Victorian style was the dominant architectural design during Oakland’s booming growth in the late 1800s. In 1869, Oakland became the western terminus of the First Transcontinental Railroad, causing the city’s population to triple in the following ten years. Businesses sought to capitalize on the increased traffic brought by the Central Pacific station near 7th Street and Broadway. City development accelerated and a downtown area grew around the station; department stores, bakeries, tailors, markets, and other retailers filled the ground floors of new Victorian buildings while hotels occupied the upper stories. This area, referred to today as Old Oakland, became the core of upper-class society in the late 1800s. 

However, Oakland’s cultural and economic center shifted in the early 20th century and Old Oakland’s buildings fell into disrepair. Many Victorian buildings were knocked down during the urban renewal era of the mid-20th century. A similar fate seemed destined for Old Oakland, but a group of local architects who hoped to preserve the area’s Victorian character worked with the city to purchase and restore a stretch of Victorian houses along 9th Street. The project passed between several developers and eventually resulted in Victorian Row, a beautiful example of Oakland’s Victorian history. Affordability and accessibility questions remain as the area seems to be gentrifying, much like other parts of Oakland and the Bay, with trendy and niche retail stores inhabiting the buildings. Nevertheless, Victorian Row still acts as a window into a past era of Oakland architecture that all who walk down 9th Street can enjoy.

Cover image credit: Visit Oakland 

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