Squeezed into the corner of the intersection between Broadway and Telegraph Ave, the gothic façade of the Flatiron-style Cathedral Building rises up 12 stories like an ornately detailed fin.
Delicate terra cotta spires built to look like a gothic cathedral on the inclined roof give the building its name. Nicknamed the “Wedding Cake,” during the construction it was described as “what looked as if it might be the beginning of the framework of an ocean liner that had lost its way.”
Completed in 1914 by architect Benjamin G. MacDougal, the structure was originally known as the Federal Realty Building. Its resemblance to the thin-profiled Flatiron Building in New York is due to its location on a small island of land amidt a tight intersection of roads. The intersection on which it sits was once a stop along the old Bay Area Transit System, the Key System, for several lines that ran along Telegraph and Broadway in the 1930’s. The Key System Building itself is a few blocks south along Broadway, empty and boarded up.
Although no hard evidence has ever surfaced, rumor has it a speakeasy once operated out of the basement during the prohibition era. It’s not difficult to imagine drunkards stumbling out of the building and onto a transit car, rattling away into the night.
The first floor was leased by a young fashion entrepreneur a few years ago hoping to turn the space into a fashion boutique to showcase local work and begin building a fashion district in downtown Oakland. But the ground floor of the building was looted during the Occupy Oakland protests and artwork and wares were stolen. The space now lies empty except for a few posters showcasing the history of the building in the windows that aren’t broken. Higher floors are offices that eventually transition to expensive full floor condos, in another attempt by Brog Properties to gentrify parts of downtown Oakland.
Recently empty, where a peak through a broken window or the glass of the heavy door showed a beautiful chandelier and ornate details on the walls, the historic building now houses prominent offices architectural and engineering firms JRDV Architects and TJC and Associates, Inc. as well as Carrington Orthodontic Center. In June 2015, the United Nations Foundation commissioned Bay Area street artist Zo Ziegler to create a mural on the Cathedral Building’s north-facing wall. The mural commemorates the signing of the United Nations Charter in San Francisco, California on June 26, 1945.
You can admire the building from the Lantham square, the plaza right in front.
Know Before You Go
At the Corner of Telegraph and Broadway, between the 12th Street and 19th Street BART stations.