Alameda in history: City hall

Alameda in history: City hall

David Baker

Alameda has been an incorporated city for well over a century. As the center for the Island's government, city hall falls in line with the age and history of the city: Alameda has been recognized as having one of the oldest active city halls in the state of California.

In 1893, the city's leaders determined that Alameda had grown to the point where it required a proper city hall. A call for designs was made with a prize posted at a whopping $500 to the architecture firm that submitted the best design; the San Francisco firm of Percy & Hamilton won the job. Voters approved a $50,000 bond to fund construction of city hall. The cornerstone for the building was laid on May 16, 1895, with the construction being completed nearly a year later on February 13, 1896.

Only 10 years after the building was completed, city hall suffered major damage when an earthquake struck the Bay Area in 1906. While the main building more or less escaped the infamous quake unscathed, the bell tower that rose over the entrance of the building was damaged. The top of the tower was removed shortly after the earthquake, and the remainder was removed in 1937 after it was determined that it was no longer safe. City hall continued to serve Alameda throughout the 20th century.

In 1975, the City of Alameda showed its appreciation for the building by making it the city’s first official historical monument. This honor was recognized on a national level when the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. By the time the 1990s came around, though, the 100-year-old building was due for some major repair and improvements.

The brick building was essentially rebuilt with improved plumbing, electrical systems, and seismic retrofits strong enough to carry it through the next major earthquake. Attention was also given to retaining and restoring the building’s original architectural style. All of these improvements came with a heftier price tag than city hall's original construction cost, however. After a two-year, $7.7 million renovation, City Hall reopened in 1997 and is expected continue to serve as Alameda’s city hall far into the future.

For more information about Alameda's city hall and other architecturally important buildings on the Island, you can visit the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society’s website.