Oakland City Hall: Stone and structure

A few weeks ago I set foot inside our City Hall—for the first time, I’m embarrassed to say. I hope you will step inside before you’ve lived here 25 years, like me. I’ve always known we have a gorgeous building, and now I’m amazed. C’mon in.


First we’ll have a look at the structure’s famous seismic retrofit. See the light-colored strip at the foot of the walls? That’s a steel apron that covers an air gap all the way around the building. That gives the structure room to shimmy and sway on its fancy rubber feet during a severe earthquake. You can see it better by the side door, on 14th Street.


Notice the bellows-style barrier on the building below the street level, filling that air gap.

When you go inside there’s a little exhibit space that has, among other interesting objects, this cutaway model of the base-isolation pads.


There are more than a hundred of these under the building, each one the size of a cafe table, made of thick rubber and lead plates. In the early 1990s, when City Hall was retrofitted, no one had ever used this technology at such a scale before. Since then many other precious historic buildings have used it. Hearst Mining Hall on the UC Berkeley campus is one.

OK, now comes the luscious stuff. The interior is beautiful in the way people favored a hundred years ago. Here’s the grand stairway leading from the front door up to the City Council chambers.


Click the image for a large version. The balustrade is translucent marble on top, ceramic tiles on the sides. The stairs are marble. The ornamentation on the walls is plaster.

Here’s a skylight on the upper floor, edged in black marble.


And this thing is a large lighting fixture that illuminates the rotunda. Click that photo for a large version. It was futuristic in 1914, and it’s still futuristic today.


There are other, smaller fixtures elsewhere on the ceiling that are worth searching for. The bronze ring suspended above the big ball depicts personifications of the planets—eight of them, from Mercury to Neptune, just like today.

4 Responses to “Oakland City Hall: Stone and structure”

  1. BN Marion Says:

    Thanks Andrew, Most people still miss planet Pluto, though. Damn that Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

  2. Farmlady Says:

    I’m glad the City Hall is still standing after last nights protests. It’s a beautiful building.

  3. lesleybonnet Says:

    Oh I love that lighting fixture!

    Unrelated–but did you know there’s a group of Oakland streets with apple names (and one Prune thrown in, too)? Apple, Gravenstein, Pippin, and Pearmain (I had to look that last one up!). It’s over near the San Leandro border, between 98th/105th Avenues and San Leandro St/ Edes Ave. Were there fruit orchards there? I know that’s not geology but you seem to have all sorts of historical info on Oakland!

  4. Andrew Says:

    Those streets were laid out some time before 1912. Across the tracks you’ll also find Apricot, Royal, Royal Ann, Blenheim and Graffian streets. I don’t know about that particular area, but orchards certainly existed in East Oakland. The original subdivisions (visible on the 1912 map) had orchard names. I’ve walked every block over there, and there’s no “heritage” anything except those street names and a few sidewalk stamps (though residents may know more than me).

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