To Ring in the New Year, Emeryville Poised to Drop the (Wrecking) Ball

January 13, 2009

Two of Three Buildings Slated for Demolition Designated by City as “Architecturally Significant”

by Tracy Schroth and Marc Albert

City Hall is poised to issue a flurry of building demolition permits to ring in the new year, hastening the extinction of Emeryville’s architectural and cultural past — for a future filled with — you guessed it — more retail, residential rental units, and parking.

Plans for three particular projects have much in common. Each violates one or more city laws restricting density, building size, and height. Each is being pushed by three of the city’s most well-connected developers. Each requires the destruction of some of the city’s few remaining architectural gems.

Two of the endangered buildings are designated as “architecturally significant” buildings worthy of protection under Article 67 of the city’s own preservation ordinance. Adding insult to injury, the proposed projects turn prime locations for a pedestrian-centered renaissance into more auto-centric development, exacerbating Emeryville’s traffic woes.

For what it’s worth, preservation figures prominently in the city’s General Plan. The document declares that historic industrial-warehouses found “in many parts of Emeryville should be preserved,” and that, “the City strongly endorses the reuse of heritage buildings.” These buildings, if saved, not only provide a tangible link to the past and an aesthetic sense of place lacking in much new development, they serve as affordale space for small, entrepreneurial ventures for which Emeryville has long been known.

Many Emeryville residents have asked the City Council again and again for development that cultivates real neighborhoods and provides services to the community — independently owned retail and restaurants, light industrial, and small start-ups. To no avail.

The Alder Building at Powell and Hollis

One of the three buildings slated for demolition is the Alder Building at Powell and Hollis streets. It will be torn down to make way for a 139,000-square-foot office building and parking structure to be constructed by Wareham Development. The property has the dubious added distinction of being acquired in a hostile land grab, orchestrated by the city. The property was sold by the owner only after the city had begun legal proceedings to take the property through eminent domain and give it to Rich Robbins, owner of Wareham, the city’s biggest and most influential developer. The property was sold to Robbins and eviction notices were served to the occupants — a small law office and an architectural firm.

While the Alder Building is not designated by the city as “architecturally significant,” the other two buildings are — the brick building at Doyle and Powell streets (photo, top left), and 3908 Adeline Street, at the intersection of 39th Street (photo, top right).

The building at Doyle and Powell streets will be torn down to make way for 14,000 square feet of mixed use including retail (10,500 square feet) and “flex space” (about 3,500 square feet) which can be office or retail, and residential (170 rental units), which exceeds the density allowed by city ordinance. The developer also wants to chop down 12 mature street trees.

The building at 3908 Adeline, which straddles the line between Emeryville and Oakland, will be replaced by more than 100 apartment units and 1,000 square feet of retail/restaurant space. The height of the new building will reach 49 feet in areas where 30 feet is the maximum height allowed. The project also requires a parking variance to allow 6 guest parking spaces where 23 is the required minimum. The building to be destroyed has also been designated as “historically significant” by Oakland’s Cultural Heritage Survey.

For more information on these and other projects, click here.


The City Council is sacrificing pieces of Emeryville’s past for a future of more retail and rental units. Didn’t they get the memo?

15 Responses to To Ring in the New Year, Emeryville Poised to Drop the (Wrecking) Ball

  1. Works in Emeryville on January 13, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    So, what is the action plan for those who oppose demolition?

    Should Emeryville residents write the council? The Oakland planning dept?

  2. Anonymous on January 13, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    I am not sure that any of those buildings are worth saving. It sure would be a treat if the city followed the law though.

  3. Anonymous on January 14, 2009 at 1:26 am

    I disagree with the previous commenter, I think at least the two buildings in the photos are quite handsome. You just know what’s going to replace them will be more of the same ticky tacky lofty condos we keep getting in Emeryville. Plus, there’s going to be more empty retail or even worse, retail chain hoakum associated with the new buildings. Can you imagine how ugly this place is going to look in 20 years when all the shoddy architecture looks really dated?

  4. Anonymous on January 14, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    This is an election year!! Let us elect a City Council person who WILL follow the laws and honor the city’s past.

    Whenever Emeryville has a seat opening up I say a prayer that someone new will come on board. Hopefully this will be the year.

    I’ll miss both of those buildings. They are landmarks for me and remind me of my 23 years in Emeryville.

  5. THE SECRET NEWS on January 14, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    In response to the first comment:
    Write the City Council. Their emails re available at

    And, please attend next week’s City Council meeting when the Council will vote whether to grant the demolition permit to tear down the building at Adeline and 39th. Please be there to urge the Council to save this building. The meeting will be held:
    Tuesday, January 20th, 7:15 p.m.
    City Hall
    1333 Park Avenue (@ Hollis Street)

    Please contact your neighbors and urge them to email Council members and attend the meeting. For more information, contact

  6. Anonymous on January 15, 2009 at 12:06 am

    The building at 39th and Adeline is nice looking but the young Korean girls that work at the “massage” parlor there are really cute.

  7. Douglas Bright on January 17, 2009 at 10:42 pm


    I would like to voice my protest of the apparently inevitable issuance of a demolition permit that would allow the destruction of the historic buildings at the corner of 39th and Adeline as well Powell and Doyle.

    Emeryville has a wonderful stock of older buildings that could be parleyed into a successful marketing approach to potential residents, tourists, and businesses. The apparent over-willingness of the city government to destroy the unique cultural resources which separate Emeryville from surrounding communities, only serves to diminish the future potential for economic growth in the city. The potential for growth Emeryville, as elsewhere, will lie in differentiating herself from other communities. The homogenization of a community places it at a severe disadvantage to other communities that strive to create a niche setting of themselves, as shoppers, businesses, and families of the future will decide where to spend their time and money.

    Emeryville needs only to package their heritage resources properly to take advantage of this enormous opportunity it possesses to tap into the niche-appeal of unique communities. I encourage you to peruse the National Trust’s Main Street Program website at to see what so many other communities have acomplished by using the “Main Street Approach.” This is a program begun by the National Trust over the 30 years ago. It has been incredibly successful, benefiting cities both small and large across the country by showing them approaches to set themselves apart from other competing cities by highlighting their cultural and architectural uniqueness and desirability, and combining it all into a marketable package. This can lead to enormous economic opportunities using many resources that the city already possesses along with opening up state and federal grants to rehabilitate and rejuvenate historic neighborhoods as well as individual buildings. Emeryville has used a similar approach in the past by taking advantage of Brownfields grants to bring many contaminated parts of the city back to useful operation. Emeryville can do the same thing with the Main Street Program to improve its other residential and commercial districts. This is especially important during these trying economic times.

    As local references to the success of this program, I would direct you to Pleasanton, Berkeley, and Livermore. All of these cities are participants in this program and have benefited greatly. The Book, “Main Street Success Stories” has more details on how many cities around the country have utilized this approach in both good economic times and bad to great success:

    Thank you.

    Douglas Bright
    Environmental Planner (Architectural History)

  8. Anonymous on January 25, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    First of all, no one is breaking the law. The City Council is complying with the Preservation Ordinance. Second, in the future, the architecture of the replacement building will look about as “soddy” as the building that is there now. Why are we to assume buildings built now do not age as well. I’m sure residents weren’t swooning over brick warehouses when those were built. Third, a significant number of people moved to Emeryville because of the growth and development that is taking place. Third, everyone seems to be forgetting that 3 facades of the building at Powell and Doyle will be preserved! Facade preservation is a successful form of historic preservation. That building is a success story!

  9. Brian Donahue on January 29, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    The previous commenter is like Bill Gates who said he sees a future where the great paintings from the past could be democratically available to all by flat screen monitors in the home the same size as the painting, bringing the high culture of the western aesthetic canon to the masses.

    It’s sort of pathetic that he can’t see the difference between contemperary curtain wall constructed condo buildings with “lick ‘n stick” brick versus actual load bearing masonry walls with timber framed roofs. It’s not historical perspective: one is a shoddy simulacrum the other embodies architecural integrity. The other commenter that stated that this place will look really dated in a few years has it right. Take a look at urban buildings built in the 60′s and you’ll see what I mean.

    Other cities have been able to protect their architecural heritage, it seems Emeryville can’t manage this.

  10. Anonymous on February 1, 2009 at 9:11 am

    Yes, I see exactly what you mean. Mid-century Modern and the International Style have become among the hottest architectural genres right now. Ya, that Seagram Building, I bet you can’t even find 20 architecture critics who think that it is one of the most elegant buildings in New York.

    There are examples of good and bad architecture from every era. Sometimes preservation takes a mediocre example of past architecture and improves it by adding good contemporary architecture in harmony with it–a la Norman Foster’s Hearst Tower.

    By reusing the facades of the building they will be reinforced and preserved for many more years. Otherwise these unreinforced buildings will come down in the next large earthquake. You show me a pro-forma that can reinforce those entire buildings and at least break even and I’ll show you a project that really isn’t a pipe dream. Facade preservation is a realistic way to preserve parts of our past and it can be done very elegantly.

    It’s very professional for an organization who claims to be a “news” source to criticize its readers. The Times should start doing that; they would probably sell lots more papers.

  11. Anonymous on February 8, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    So do we really want to save that massage parlor.. the one that is open late at night and has metal bars over the windows?

  12. Anonymous on February 17, 2009 at 3:00 am

    It’s not the massage parlor we tried to save, it ‘s the building. This is the reason Nora Davis gave for why we need to tear down the building. Pretty strange logic…it’s almost like she was being obtuse.

  13. Anonymous on February 26, 2009 at 2:48 am

    John Fricke is the only one fool enough on the council to want to stop progress and “save” a worthless building like this. Grow up people! Change happens. Embrace it and quit trying to save every building. We’d be better off if we cleared the slate and started fresh. The best ideas in Emeryville are comming from the developers. I say we should make way for change. Let’s clear out all the blight.

  14. Anonymous on February 28, 2009 at 8:02 am

    Blight, yeah that’s it: blight.

    We had to destroy the town in order to save it.

  15. anonymous on December 20, 2011 at 6:49 am

    does anyone know how long time renters are compensated for being victimized by eminent domain? do we get financial compensation or
    just a map to the nearest housing project?

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