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Silicon Valley Mercury News

Renovation begins at historic California Hotel in West Oakland

By Anna Gallegos, Oakland Tribune

OAKLAND — With a groundbreaking Wednesday, renovations have begun on the historic red brick California Hotel on San Pablo Avenue.

“It’s more than just a building,” said Carlos Castellanos, director of real estate development for the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, which is overseeing the refurbishment. “It’s a neighborhood revitalization.”

The nonprofit developer is renovating the West Oakland hotel to improve the living conditions for current residents and to expand to 137 low-income housing units. Currently, 29 people live in the hotel and the upgrades will be done in phases so they can remain in their homes, according to EBALDC spokeswoman Catherine Lim.

“It’s wonderful to see this West Coast hotel come back to life,” Mayor Jean Quan said at Wednesday’s event.

The upgrades to the hotel are part of a larger community effort to enliven the surrounding area.

Across the street is a mural depicting teenagers as heroes working toward nonviolence in West Oakland, and the nonprofit People’s Grocery supports a garden at the hotel.

“We’re going to make San Pablo what it used to be — one of the best neighborhoods in Oakland,” said Quan, who also presented building and EBALDC developers a $260,000 check from the city and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “You’re on the edge of a renaissance.”

EBALDC also received community assistance to raise the $35 million for the renovations, Lim said, and grants from HUD and the California Department of Mental Health.

The renovation will add solar electricity and water heating, convert the ballroom into a community space and put kitchenettes into new apartments. Single room living spaces will be converted into studio apartments.

The renovations are part of a larger preservation effort.

“The goal is to really preserve the hotel’s historic features,” said Lim.

The hotel was well-known for hosting jazz musicians like Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Holiday before it closed in 1971.

The location was converted into affordable housing in the 1980s by Oakland Community Housing Inc., which attempted to evict residents in 2008 in order to sell the property. After a judge blocked the evictions, residents were allowed to stay. The EBALDC acquired the building in 2011.

Referencing the hotel residents’ legal battles, Quan said, “We know that it is a place where tenants will have a say in their governance.”

Added Castellanos, “We’re creating a safe haven for residents.”