What’s interesting about the Oakland Tribune building, is that the structure itself is intriguing and has gone through a series of changes over the years. What makes it Oakland, are the people and the stories that have existed within it. The Tribune Tower has been a theater, a furniture store, a radio station, a tavern, law offices, and, of course, a newspaper office. The 11th tallest building in Oakland, it stands at 22 stories and was designed with French and Italian influences, most specifically the Venetian Saint Mark’s Campanile.
In 1906 the first incarnation of the building was designed and built by D. Franklin Oliver and purchased by the The John Breuner Furniture Company. The Sacramento furniture company opened it’s doors to help people furnish their homes after the San Francisco earthquake. Bruner’s would eventually move into their own building. One of the highlights of their residency in the tower was their animatronic displays during the holidays that Oaklander’s would bring their children down to see.
In 1918 the furniture company moved out and Joseph Knowland, the owner of the Oakland Tribune, bought the building with the vision of creating a first-class newspaper facility for his paper. He was only 27 at the time and had owned and run the paper since he was 24.
From 1918-1924 construction on the Tribune Tower moved forward and the six story building became the 22 story tower it is today. (There is a rumor that the tower was originally intended for Zeppelin landing, where the ship would be tied off to the mast of the tower and a ladder could be lowered to the 20th story walkway. I truly hope it’s a fact.) During it’s construction, in 1923, the tower garnered national attention when Harry Houdini attempted an escape from a straight jacket while hanging upside down from the unfinished 9th story landing. He was known for doing these stunts in connection with newspapers in order to be guaranteed coverage of the event.
In 1924 the building was complete and the Oakland Tribune and local radio station KLX moved in. The radio station was also owned by Knowland and would eventually be sold to cover the debt of his son William’s run for governor of California.
In 1947 the Oakland Tribune absorbed the building next door to expand it’s work space. This building contained the Pantages Theater. The Pantages theater was a vaudeville theater that was owned by Alex Pantages and went through a number of names and owners before becoming part of the Tribune Tower.
In 1979 the paper and the tower were purchased by the Gannett Company who then sold the paper in 1983 to Robert C. Maynard and Nancy Hicks Maynard, the editor and publisher at the time. With this purchase Robert and Nancy became the first African-Americans to own a major daily newspaper in the United States. Under their guidance the paper went from a struggling, “second worst in the country”, paper to a breeding ground for some of the most diverse and respected local reporting. The paper would be a place where some of the best news sources in the country would look to hire reporters from given their journalistic excellence.
In 1989 the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck the area and devastated much of the bay area. The Oakland Tribune’s photojournalistic coverage of this event would earn them a Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography the next year. Sadly, the earthquake also damaged the building greatly and forced the paper to move to Jack London Square.
In 1995 the tower was purchased for $300,000 by the Madison Park Financial Corporation who then renovated the tower. The paper would move back in in 1999, but would move back out again when the ownership of the building changed hands in 2007. The paper is now located on Oakport Street, near the airport. In 2006 the tower was bought by Edward B. Kislinger for approximately $15,000,000. (I’m sure the financial corporation was delighted.) Under his guise the clock faces would be repainted and the Tribune name lights shone once again.
Now owned by Tom Henderson, the tower houses offices for different businesses, it’s largest being CallSocket. Most notable though, is the Tribune Tavern which carries on the legacy of the Tribune name and pays homage to the paper with little details throughout the restaurant.
In 1976 the tower became an official city landmark and it certainly remains one of the most recognizable and breathtaking buildings of Oakland. Seeing those familiar lights as I make my way towards downtown from any angle fills me with a sense of history, but also of steadfastness. The tower has changed and grown and developed over the years, much like the city, but it’s integrity has remained.