Oakland buildings clad in stones

One of the cool things about Oakland is its huge variety of buildings, dating from midcentury — mid-19th century, that is — to brand-new. There’s a particular variety of midcentury-20th-century architecture that’s piqued my geological interest: boxy tilt-up structures that I think of as Old Period Safeway, with a cladding of natural rock. In 2017 I showed an example of the type clad in beautiful serpentinite, so I set out to find others around town.

The sharp-eyed folks in the Oakland History Facebook group pointed me to several candidates, and I took an afternoon to visit them and also cruise much of the main roads by Zipcar. Yesterday afternoon I took one more little outing to capture the distinctive building of KP Market on Telegraph Avenue, the best pan-Asian grocery around.

The stone cladding covers only part of the front, and besides it’s painted over. To see it pristine you have to go around the side and look along the base of the wall, where taggers never venture (and thus paintovers aren’t needed).

This is the same coarse-grained dolomite rock used on the iconic Kaiser Center building.

Now for some genuine Old Period Safeways, but first a lament for rocks that get painted over, which permanently spoils them. The former Safeway on San Pablo at 27th Street, for instance, has lost its original appearance beyond retrieval. Without the colors and lusters of natural rock, the walls are unappealing.

But the former Safeway on upper Golf Links Road, in the Grass Valley neighborhood, is unspoilt.

Close up, it resolves as a mixed metamorphic assemblage of river rock, perhaps from the northern Coast Range but the presence of granite amid the sandstone says Salinian instead; that is, from the Santa Lucia or Gabilan ranges around Salinas. I don’t know for sure, it’s just fun to guess.

Another former Safeway, on 14th Avenue at E. 17th Street, still has its stones out.

This wide-ranging river-rock assemblage is darker and more rounded, and granite is absent while lava is present. I peg it as coming from the Diablo Range, but I warn you I could be totally wrong.

There’s one more former Safeway, a dialysis center on Claremont at Clifton, whose cladding still looks good in Google Streetmap but I haven’t visited it yet. The rest of our old Safeways, and there were about 20 listed in the 1969 phone book, are either gone or have been renovated or didn’t use the rock cladding.

One more supermarket and I’ll move on: the Cardenas grocery on High Street.

The cladding on the front side is painted, but on the side you can see it’s an excellent quarry-crushed golden quartzite mixed with lava and what might be travertine or sinter. I’m thinking the northern Sierra here, but that’s a long way to ship crushed rock, even fancy stuff.

Couple more notable buildings, non-Safeways, to show you. Next to the Post Office building off Hegenberger is a low-slung office building, 8475 Pardee Drive.

It’s clad with a selection of river rock I don’t hesitate to call Franciscan sandstone, maybe from Sonoma County.

Finally there’s the Community School for Creative Education building, on International at 21st Avenue. Something about the whimsical accents and the warm, even-textured cladding makes just the right impression.

This stuff is straight crushed quartzite that’s gotta be from some special place in the Sierra foothills, if not farther afield.

Material of this quality can last for centuries, if well maintained.

One cladding type I didn’t seek out for this post is pretty common: big flat hunks of undressed sandstone — that is, flagstone. I have no idea where the stone might be quarried. Some well-known Oakland buildings use it:

But it can be overdone, bringing to mind another fashion, a late-century one: shag carpet.

My knowledge of architecture and the building trades is pretty scant, so if you know the correct terminology for these features, please add an informative comment.

4 Responses to “Oakland buildings clad in stones”

  1. Adam Says:

    So much of this in the Edgewater area near Hegenberger…Roland Way, for example, this is all over!

    Interesting article, thanks!

  2. Andrew Aldrich Says:

    I suppose there were rock quarries in all directions from the Bay Area that might have contributed stones/gravel for these buildings. One huge Sierra foothills source that comes to mind is the lower reaches of the South Yuba (along Hwy 20 above Marysville). I presume (in my semi-educated way) that there would be a lot of serpentine in that rock since it’s in or near the Smartville Block?

  3. Andrew Says:

    As it happens, I have a photo of the river gravel from that area.

  4. Andrew Aldrich Says:

    My goodness, and each of those beautiful stones has its own geological story!

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