October 23, 2017

Historic California Hotel Provides Affordable Housing in Oakland, California

A photo of the front and side façade of a red brick and white stucco building topped by a marquee with a lit sign that reads “California Hotel.” A freeway is in the foreground.A local landmark since its construction in 1929, the California Hotel began its life as a commercial hotel and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Credit: Mark Luthringer

The California Hotel, a distinctive Mission-style building of red brick, stucco, and tile, has been a prominent feature of Oakland, California’s San Pablo Avenue since its construction in 1929. The five-story building was converted into affordable housing in the late 1980s but went into foreclosure in 2007 following the dissolution of its operating agency. The East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC), a nonprofit community development organization that manages 19 residential buildings in Oakland and the surrounding area, obtained the historic property in 2011. The building reopened in 2014 after an extensive $43 million renovation and today serves low-income and formerly homeless tenants. As part of EBALDC’s health-based approach to neighborhood development, the California Hotel includes community spaces and onsite supportive services for the residents of its 137 affordable units.

Commercial Hotel to Low-Income Housing

As the first area hotel to accept African-American entertainers as guests, the California Hotel was a venue for many prominent black performers during the 1950s and 1960s. The hotel went into decline by the early 1970s, however, and in 1972 the building was abandoned. In 1987, the hotel was converted into affordable single-room occupancy housing by Oakland Community Housing, Inc., which operated the building for 20 years until the organization became defunct in 2007 and the property entered foreclosure. Faced with eviction, the tenants sought the assistance of the Eviction Defense Center (EDC), which fought to keep the California Hotel operating on limited funds. By 2009, only a few residents remained in the dilapidated structure that once had housed more than 100 people.

At the behest of the remaining residents, EDC, which had become the pro bono, court-mandated trustee of the building, approached EBALDC in 2009 with the hope that the nonprofit would obtain the building for use as housing. EBALDC, which at the time was participating in neighborhood planning efforts for the San Pablo Avenue Corridor, purchased the building in 2011 and began renovations in 2012. To avoid displacing longtime residents, EBALDC undertook renovations sequentially, with existing tenants still in residence.

Safe, Healthy, Affordable Homes

The two-year, $43 million renovation was extensive, involving infrastructure improvements, historic restoration, and the installation of energy-saving features. EBALDC installed new plumbing; refurbished the windows; replaced the roof; installed a modern, high-efficiency heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system; and performed substantial seismic retrofitting to protect the building from earthquake damage. The renovation installed green features such as a solar-powered hot water system and energy-efficient lighting, and the effort used environmentally friendly materials such as paints and adhesives with low levels of volatile organic compounds, reduced formaldehyde cabinets, and environmental flooring.

A man receives a blood pressure screening in a large, well-lit community space.  As part of the hotel restoration, EBALDC re-opened the historic ballroom as a community space. Credit: EBALDC

Using guidance from Gelfand Partners Architects, EBALDC changed the floorplans of the residential areas. In addition to adding a second elevator, the renovation updated and changed the sizes of the apartments, some of which lacked kitchen facilities. The new units all include kitchenettes, energy-efficient appliances, and mechanical ventilation. Some units were reduced in size while others were increased, in order to accommodate tenants with live-in aides. The resulting 135 residential apartments and 2 managerial apartments consist of 120 studios, 12 one-bedroom units, and 5 two-bedroom units. There are 10 units for residents who qualify under the California Mental Health Services Act, 15 wheelchair-accessible units, and 7 units designed for residents with impaired hearing or vision.

Today, the California Hotel serves low- and very low-income households, with 80 units reserved for those whose annual incomes do not exceed 50 percent of the area median income (AMI), and 55 for those with annual incomes of no more than 30 percent AMI. A quarter of the units are reserved for homeless individuals with special needs, and all residential units are subsidized through Section 8 project-based vouchers. As of October 2017, the property is not accepting new applications.

The Third Life of a Neighborhood Landmark

EBALDC considers California Hotel a prime example of the organization’s work to create healthy neighborhoods. The property includes many amenities and areas for communal enjoyment or service delivery, including a computer lab, numerous program rooms for classes and activities, an onsite laundry facility, and a large community garden and greenhouse with organic vegetables and chickens. The ballroom, once the site of banquets and jazz performances, is now a community room. The historic lobby functions as an art gallery where residents and community members can enjoy the works of local artists and participate in artistic programming. EBALDC rents the four ground-floor retail spaces to small businesses and nonprofits, currently including Planting Justice, Resilient Wellness, and the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music.

Although EBALDC owns and manages the facility, it partners with several nonprofit entities, chief among them LifeLong Medical Care and People’s Grocery. LifeLong Medical Care, a regional health and social services organization, offers services through their Supportive Housing Program. Services include comprehensive case management, benefits advocacy and financial management help, primary and mental health care, substance abuse services, and more. People’s Grocery helps residents maintain the community garden and greenhouse and operates the Garden Enterprise Program, which employs California Hotel residents to help with local plant sales and turn their experience in the garden into an income.

The Future of the San Pablo Avenue Corridor

The California Hotel, an affordable housing development flourishing where a dilapidated and mostly abandoned housing project once stood, exemplifies the success of EBALDC’s health-based development perspective. In 2014, the same year that the California Hotel reopened, EBALDC brought together 10 partners to create the San Pablo Area Revitalization Collaborative. Because many applicants with children expressed interest in the California Hotel when it opened, EBALDC obtained an adjacent property composed of a vacant lot and liquor store, with plans to develop the site into affordable family housing. Until construction on the new 60-unit development begins in 2019, the liquor store is being used as a temporary arts center and community space.

Source:

East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation. 2014. “A Storied Past, a New Beginning: Grand Opening of West Oakland’s Historic California Hotel,” press release, 8 May. Accessed 13 September 2017; U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. 1988. “National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: California Hotel.” Accessed 14 September 2017.

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Source:

Document provided by Joshua Simon, executive director of the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation; East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation. 2014. “Celebrate the Grand Opening of the California Hotel May 15th,” press release, 13 May. Accessed 13 September 2017; East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation. n.d. “About Us.” Accessed 13 September 2017; East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation. n.d. “Our Impact.” Accessed 2 October 2017.

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Source:

U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. 1988. “National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: California Hotel.” Accessed 14 September 2017; Document provided by Joshua Simon, executive director of the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation.

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Source:

Document provided by Joshua Simon, executive director of the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation; East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation. 2014. “A Storied Past, a New Beginning: Grand Opening of West Oakland’s Historic California Hotel,” press release, 8 May. Accessed 13 September 2017.

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Source:

East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation. 2014. “A Storied Past, a New Beginning: Grand Opening of West Oakland’s Historic California Hotel,” press release, 8 May. Accessed 13 September 2017.

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Source:

Document provided by Joshua Simon, executive director of the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation.

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Source:

Document provided by Joshua Simon, executive director of the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation; East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation. 2014. “Celebrate the Grand Opening of the California Hotel May 15th,” press release, 13 May. Accessed 13 September 2017; Correspondence with Joshua Simon, executive director of the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, 12 October 2017; Jeni Miller. 2015. “Community Development 2.0 — Collective Impact Focuses a Neighborhood Strategy for Health,” blog, Build Healthy Places Network, 27 October. Accessed 17 September 2017; Correspondece from Natalie Bonnewit, principal of Bonnewit Development Services, 13 October 2017.

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Source:

Document provided by Joshua Simon, executive director of the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation; East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation. n.d. “California Hotel.” Accessed 13 September 2017; Correspondece from Natalie Bonnewit, principal of Bonnewit Development Services, 13 October 2017.

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Source:

East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation. 2014. “Celebrate the Grand Opening of the California Hotel May 15th.” Accessed 13 September 2017; Document provided by Joshua Simon, executive director of the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation; East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation. n.d. “California Hotel.” Accessed 13 September 2017; Correspondence with Joshua Simon, executive director of the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, 12 October 2017.

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Source:

Document provided by Joshua Simon, executive director of the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation; LifeLong Medical Care. n.d. “Supportive Housing Program.” Accessed 6 October 2017; People’s Grocery. n.d. “California Hotel Garden and Greenhouse.” Accessed 6 October 2017.

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Source:

East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation. 2014. “Celebrate the Grand Opening of the California Hotel May 15th,” press release, 13 May. Accessed 13 September 2017; East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation. 2016. “Building Healthy Neighborhoods: Annual Report 2014 to 2015.” Accessed 2 October 2017; Correspondence with Joshua Simon, executive director of the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, 12 October 2017.

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