We recently had the opportunity to restore the front entrance to Oakland’s Regillus Building. That building, like so many of our projects, came with a deep attachment to the history of the city in which it was built. Preserving that history for new generations is one of the real rewards of the work we do at Wooden Window.
Most of us in the East Bay are familiar with the city’s Lake Merritt, home of Children’s Fairyland and the Lake Merritt Boating Center. The transition of its shoreline from a “Gold Coast” of great mansions to a ring of luxury apartment buildings is a fascinating part of Oakland’s history. We’re glad to have had the chance to help keep that history alive.
The city of Oakland itself was incorporated in 1852 by lawyer and land
squatter Horace Capentieras, who became its first mayor. At the time, the area of Lake Merritt was an estuary, soon turned to use as a vast sewer for the city’s untreated waste.
But, with the gold rush, the hulking 6’3″, 340 lb Dr. Samuel Merritt came west and became Oakland’s mayor in 1868. Owning property on the “lake’s” edge, Merritt worked to clean up the area. He proposed and funded a dam between the estuary and the bay, transforming the wetlands into a lake. The body of water was called Lake Peralta or Merritt’s Lake, but finally, Lake Merritt. Merritt was also eventually able to redirect the city’s sewage, although the Fish and Game Commission considered the lake “notoriously bad” as late as the 1920’s.
To protect waterfowl and migratory birds, and to cut down the haze of hunter’s gunfire so close to the city, Merritt had the lake declared a wildlife refuge in 1870–the first to be designated in the United States. He also built one of the earliest of the great residences along the shoreline–the Camron-Stanford House–which still stands. It remains one of the visiting areas on the lake today.
Lake Merritt was eventually dredged and cleaned, to an extent, as part of the “City Beautiful” movement of the 1900’s. The City built roads to encircle the
Lake and a string of lamps on its perimeter that residents dubbed the “Necklace of Lights” was put in place. By 1930, the lake boasted a sailing club with regattas, as well as outboard motor races. Despite the pollution, fishermen were pleased to find that, after a heavy rain, striped bass, salmon, and other fish found their way into the lake on incoming tides.
Over time, apartment buildings gradually replaced the great homes on the shore to form what would become known as the Lakeside Apartments District, or “The Gold Coast” of the lake.
The greater neighborhood includes the interior blocks officially designated as a local historic district and the ‘Gold Coast’ peripheral areas along Lakeside Drive, 20th Street, and the west edge of Lake Merritt, areas closer to 14th Street and the Civic Center district, and blocks adjacent to downtown along Harrison Street. (“Lakeside Apartments District, Oakland, California”)
The Regillus was designed, in the Beaux-Arts style, by architect Willis Lowe around 1920-21, and built by construction engineer P. A. Palmer. It is thought that the building takes its name from the legendary Roman Battle of Lake Regillus, fought shortly after the establishment of the Roman Republic.
Palmer built on the site of the old Schilling mansion. August Schilling emigrated from Germany and, in 1870, found work with J. A. Folger & Co. He remained at Folger as a partner until 1881 when he and George Volkmann left the company to start Schilling & Co., producer of coffee and spices. McCormick & Company spices bought Schilling’s company in the 1940’s. By that time Schilling had built several opulent homes, including his summer estate, Portola Hall, in Portola Valley on the Peninsula. He’d also lent his name to the Schilling Gardens, adjacent to his Oakland home.
Built as an apartment building with 8 floors, the Regillus originally consisted of 47 luxury apartments, most now condominiums. The apartments have wood-burning fireplaces, large windows, a formal dining room and high ceilings with classic moldings. There is a doorman, a concierge, formal gardens and a marble foyer. The former carriage house serves as a garage. The building originally cost $450,000 to construct. Individual units now sell for $650,000 to $4 million. How times change.
Wooden Window replaced the right-hand door with a perfect duplicate of its historical model.
“August Schilling – Oakland – Localwiki”. Localwiki.Org, 2018, https://localwiki.org/oakland/August_Schilling. Accessed 18 Feb 2018.
“Battle Of Lake Regillus”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Lake_Regillus. Accessed 18 Feb 2018.
“Information About “Oakland_Tribune_Sun__Mar_5__1922 – Regillus In Progress.Jpg” On Regillus Apartments – Oakland – Localwiki”. Localwiki.Org, 2018, https://localwiki.org/oakland/Regillus_Apartments/_files/Oakland_Tribune_Sun__Mar_5__1922 – regillus in progress.jpg/_info/. Accessed 18 Feb 2018.
“Lake Merritt”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Merritt. Accessed 19 Feb 2018.
“Lake Merritt | City Of Oakland | California”. Www2.Oaklandnet.Com, 2018, http://www2.oaklandnet.com/government/o/opr/s/LakeMerritt/index.htm. Accessed 19 Feb 2018.
“Lakeside Apartments District, Oakland, California”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakeside_Apartments_District,_Oakland,_California. Accessed 22 Feb 2018.
“Oakland”. Google Books, 2018, https://books.google.com/books?id=AtXK85bjBksC&pg=PA82&lpg=PA82&dq=willis+lowe+architect&source=bl&ots=5kQs3jFVGp&sig=lLGh_qYHGpHJgppDBf9sJn5yq8A&hl=en&sa=X&ei=QeDEUJzeDqLqiwKw54HoCQ&ved=0CD4Q6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=willis lowe architect&f=false. Accessed 18 Feb 2018.
“Schilling Family”. Allelementsdesign.Com, 2018, http://www.allelementsdesign.com/schilling/history/residences/portola.html. Accessed 18 Feb 2018.
Allen, Annalee, and Edmund Clausen. Oakland. Arcadia Pub., 2005.
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