Skip to content

Can you name Oakland’s National Historic Landmarks?

on August 18, 2011

There are about 2,500 National Historic Landmarks in the country, 136 in California, and five in Oakland. But they aren’t the buildings you might expect – not the Tribune tower, not the Sears building, not City Hall nor even Mountain View Cemetery. Two of the landmarks aren’t even buildings in Oakland, they’re ships floating in the Oakland Estuary.

National Historic Landmarks are historical “resources that have national significance with the highest level of integrity,” said Michael Crowe, an architectural historian who served on the National Historic Landmark program before retiring. The landmarks are designated by the Secretary of the Interior, and they have to be nominated.

There hasn’t been a new one named in Oakland since 1990, and Crowe said that since landmarks don’t receive much publicity, many people in Oakland may not know where—or what—they are. “They’re pretty much not aware of the program,” Crowe said.

Here are the five Oakland spots that made it onto the national register:


The Lightship Relief is basically a floating lighthouse, and was built in 1950. Originally, it was used off the Delaware coast before it was moved to west to Washington and Oregon, and eventually, California, where it served as a replacement vessel for all Pacific Coast stations.

From 1820 to 1983, there were 116 lighthouse stations around the country, but now there are only 12, all of which have been retired. The ship is now located in Jack London Square, and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1989.


The Joaquin Miller House. Photo via Wikipedia Commonds.

Joaquin Miller, who became known as “the poet of the Sierras,” built the white house right off what is now Joaquin Miller Boulevard, in Joaquin Miller Park, in the late 19th Century as an artist’s retreat. Miller bought 70 acres in the area and led the planting of 75,000 trees in the hills, including Monterey Pine, Monterey cypress, olive and eucalyptus trees.

In the late 1800s, Miller hosted parties at the house with a famous guest list, including authors Mark Twain and Jack London, and statesmen and actors of the time.

The Joaquin Miller Home was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962.


The Potomac was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “floating White House” from 1936 until his death in 1945. “He used it as a retreat from the White House, and supposedly met with [Winston] Churchill during the second World War, on the Potomac,” Crowe said.

The vessel has been restored to its 1939 appearance, and now serves as a museum at Jack London Square. It was named to the list of National Historic Landmarks in 1990.


The Paramount Theatre is “a supreme example of the Art Deco style,” Crowe said. It was designed by Timothy Pflueger, a prominent Bay Area architect, and opened in 1931.

The theater served as a “movie palace” in the 30s, but was falling apart after years of neglect when the Directors of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra Association purchased and restored the building in 1972. The theatre was named to the list of National Historic Landmarks in 1977.

(pictured at top)

Lake Merritt, a 160-acre salt-water lagoon in downtown Oakland, was created by real estate developers to “provide a nice setting to houses that were built around the lake,” Crowe said. It was also the first official wildlife refuge in the country, and the borders of the landmark are the centerline of the sidewalk around the lake.

The lake was established in 1870 and serves as a refuge for thousands of migratory birds every winter. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1963. (It’s pictured at the top of this story.)

What other Oakland places or buildings do you think should be officially designated historic landmarks? Vote in our poll at the top of the page, or suggest other landmark-worthy spots in the comments section!


  1. livegreen on August 18, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    Great article, thank you.

    Re. Lake Merritt, it would be nice if families could enjoy the grass around it, not just the Geese. There are pathogens in all scat (esp. harmful to children and pregnant women), and it’s just plain yucky anyway. As a result almost nobody uses the grass around the Lake and it is not the Center of the City, or as family friendly as other’s City Parks that it’s compared to.

    Why can’t the City find a balance between uses for humans and the migratory foul instead of almost exclusively the migratory foul? It’s beautiful to walk around and use the play ground, but it would be even more beautiful if we could use the grass and have our babies/toddlers play on it without rolling in Goose Sh–.

    • Juan on August 22, 2011 at 4:32 pm

      I couldn’t agree more with your comment about the geese. The problem is that Oakland decided to keep the geese over protests because the lake is technically a bird sanctuary.

      Fact of the matter is that Oakland is so caught up with trying to keep up with Berkeley and San Francisco in the battle to be the most liberal place in America that it has completely forgotten about its citizens right to enjoyment.

    • Allan on August 22, 2011 at 5:37 pm

      The problem of goose excrement is not due to migratory foul, but a large population of resident geese. They were intentionally planted around the country, in part because they are magnificant to look at (but only when rare)

  2. livegreen on August 18, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Please also consider putting the Henry J. Kaiser and Cleveland Cascade on your list…

  3. Anthony Moore on August 21, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Oakland Tech High

Oakland North welcomes comments from our readers, but we ask users to keep all discussion civil and on-topic. Comments post automatically without review from our staff, but we reserve the right to delete material that is libelous, a personal attack, or spam. We request that commenters consistently use the same login name. Comments from the same user posted under multiple aliases may be deleted. Oakland North assumes no liability for comments posted to the site and no endorsement is implied; commenters are solely responsible for their own content.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
Oakland North

Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to:

Latest Posts

Scroll To Top