Oakland building stones: Serpentinite

In a modest West Oakland neighborhood on Market Street is the modest West Grand Shopping Center. Its ordinary building is clad in rough stone, an exterior treatment similar to the Kaiser Building and many other examples.

But at the West Grand Shopping Center, the cladding consists of fist-sized pieces of beautiful serpentine rock.

The front side of the building is pristine. The rear side, on Myrtle Street, is a full block long and completely faced with serpentinite. Unfortunately the bottom seven feet or so has been painted over.

The mutable color of this stone, blue-green in the shade and olive-green in the sun, gives the building a real Oakland look. I don’t know where the stone came from. Our own serpentinite is usually bluish and not of this quality, except maybe in small outcrops in the Franciscan melange. Perhaps it’s from a quarry in the Mother Lode country. It must have taken a few carloads of rock and a crew of skilled artisans to put this together.

A few months back, when I was presenting the building stone verd antique, serpentinite’s dressed-up cousin, I said “You can’t do much with California serpentine except admire it.” Makes me happy to be proved partly wrong — you can always admire it, and sometimes build with it.

4 Responses to “Oakland building stones: Serpentinite”

  1. Arleen Feng Says:

    Interesting bit in the latest newsletter from Friends of the (Tilden) Regional Parks Bot Garden about sourcing serpentinite boulders for its serpentine bog garden:.

    “After some searching we found a source at a family-owned rock yard in Santa Rosa, California. The yard was selling the boulders mostly as fill and rip rap to CalTrans and Sonoma County Public Works.

    This “trash rock” designation worked out well for us as we had the pick of the limited supply over the course of several years. Only within the last few years has serpentinite become a desirable rock for high-end wall construction in Sonoma and Marin counties. (George Lucas has become the most famous client of the rock yard.) Because of the newly found respect that serpentinite enjoys, most rock yards now carry rock that could pass for serpentinite as a supplement to their diminishing supply of actual serpentinite.”


  2. Oakland Daily Photo Says:

    NB Schiff beat me to it. Definitely looks like a former Safeway. Makes you wonder if they got a special deal on serpentinite. Have you checked out the stone facades of other Safeways? There’s a number of them in East Oakland.

  3. nbschiff Says:

    Is this a former Safeway? A lot of them looked kind of like this.

  4. Arleen Feng Says:

    This “tilt-up” form of construction usually poured the wall slabs flat (on the interior concrete floor) and then tilted them up on their bottom edges to be joined by poured columns (now painted green). So I assume the serpentinite pieces were mortared onto the upper surface after the plain concrete slab had set but before it cured enough for tilting up. Still a heckuva lot of work but not as difficult as if the wall had been vertical

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