Stones of the Broadway Valdez District

The Broadway Valdez District is a swath of territory, named by city planners, centered on Broadway and extending from 23rd Street up to I-580. The area is undergoing redevelopment at a furious pace. For my purposes, the area will give birth to a showcase in the use of building stone in current architecture. Here’s the first chapter in that story.

Gone are the days when stone was a load-bearing structural material in Oakland buildings. (A few of our older churches survive from that time.) Gone are the days, even, when stone was fashionable for large-scale cladding (see: Kaiser Center’s dolomite and Lake Merritt Plaza’s granite). Today, at this moment, stone is a color and textural accent framing the offset planes of metal and matte components by which today’s designers react to the bland slabs and faceless facings of yesteryear.

First out the gate in the race to develop the Valdez Triangle (framed by Broadway, 27th and 23rd Streets) is the Hanover Company’s two big residential properties, Hanover Northgate and Hanover Broadway.

Hanover Northgate stretches the length of Valdez between 24th and 26th, and its exterior has two different treatments. Here’s the south end.

The part on street level is faced with stone. The blond stuff, which echoes the top level, is an interesting fossiliferous marlstone. And I mean, fossiliferous.

Marlstone is not your traditional white or gray limestone; it owes its hues to clay minerals mixed with the carbonate minerals that define lime rocks. The variegated texture and color is integral to its charm. Notice among the cross-sections of fossil bivalves is a little brown gastropod shell.

Beneath this, at foot level, is a dark gray marlstone.

No obvious fossils here, but there are veins of calcite to lend visual interest. Carbon, not carbonate, provides the black color. Such a rock forms in anaerobic settings, where organic carbon is reduced to elemental carbon rather than being oxidized to form carbonates or CO2 gas.

The other end of the Hanover Northgate has a different palette: a warm buff-gray over a crystalline black footing.

In between the two parts, the carport features this rugged paving. However, it’s just dark-tinted concrete — cheaper than stone, just as tough and more controllable.

On to the real stone: a nicely polished laminated limestone. This panel displays two little faults cutting vertically through it; the middle part has been displaced upward. There’s also a thin vein, the result of a later fracture.

Interestingly, all the panels I took a close look at appeared to be placed stratigraphically upside-down.

One of the first things a geologist looks for is evidence of stratigraphic up and down. After seeing a few hundred outcrops, doing that becomes automatic, especially in the Oakland hills where many of the steeply tilted rocks are overturned past vertical. Sometimes the evidence can be quite subtle. The most obvious sign in this example is at bottom center, where the thin beds sag into the gaps in the thick bed. This rock — in this panel anyway — accumulated in the downward direction.

If I’m right, then the stone supplier made sure to mark this stock with arrows so it would be set in a consistent direction. Although the result might confuse geologists, it would avoid giving observers of the walls, even ordinary folks, a vague sense of disorder.

The dark rock at the base of the wall is “black granite,” better known to geologists as something like amphibolite or gabbro. It has a sandblasted finish for a more matte appearance.

Between the two Hanover buildings is a lovely plaza, open to the public and graced with stainless-steel sculptures by HYBYCOZO: a stylized oak tree and eight California poppies.

Not much stone is in evidence — the plaza is mostly tile and concrete and metal. But the benches are topped with solid black basalt.

Which leads us to the Hanover Broadway building, soon to have a Target store on the ground floor.

There’s not much stone on this building either. Like “Whistler’s Mother,” it’s a study in black and gray. Here’s an odd irregular panel on the side facing the plaza: brecciated limestone.

Here’s a closer look at this intricate material. (All images click to 800 pixels, as is my usual practice.)

And around the side in an entryway are some panels of gneiss, complete with quartz veins. The squashed-and-squeezed veins feature what are called ptygmatic folds, because geologists have come up with the damnedest words for things.

These stones, all of them, are things no human artist or artisan can duplicate. Though it may go in and out of fashion, stone will never go out of style.

3 Responses to “Stones of the Broadway Valdez District”

  1. withak30 Says:

    One the subject of architectural rocks, once you start noticing plumose structure, arrest lines, and twist hackle on slate floor tiles it is impossible to stop noticing.

  2. karensmulevitz Says:

    It was a delight to read your geological essay. I look forward to investigating these new buildings close up.

  3. Heidi Skolnik Says:

    This is wonderful; I’ll take a field trip to these buildings (and the public plaza) soon. Thank you!

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