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The architecture of Oakland: The Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building

on December 7, 2012

Many of the reporters at Oakland North are new to the Bay Area, and one of the first things we noticed while touring the city was its beautiful and sometimes unusual architecture. On the reporting team for this series, one of us is from Brazil and one is from Southern California. We decided it would be great to learn more about some of the structures that represent Oakland’s beautiful landscape.

With a great deal of assistance from the representatives at the Oakland Library History Room, Oakland Cultural Heritage Survey and Oakland Heritage Alliance, we were able look at a wide array of old city maps, photographs and drawings to learn more about how Oakland’s most notable buildings once appeared. You can scroll the photo at the top of the screen from left to right to toggle between the older photo of the building and the one from today.

For the next six weeks we will showcase some of the buildings we liked the most—both as they used to look, and what each is like today. Some are more familiar to Oakland residents than others. Each has helped enhance the city’s reputation and some are considered the “crown jewels of Oakland.”

This week we look at the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building. This City Center building was completed in 1994 and, with 18 floors, reaches 328 feet from the ground floor to the rooftop. There is a rotunda on the ground level and a sky bridge near the top connects the two towers. It replaced the former Athens Athletic Club, pictured in the photo.

Surrounded by a variety of retail establishments and city offices, the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building is a beautiful representation of postmodern architecture, a style that began in the 1950s and became popular in the 1970s, and often described as ornamental and “witty.” The building’s golden two-tower structure is dramatic and boasts interesting stand-out details such as the skybridge and the wrought iron insets next to the columns. One of the towers hosts a federal courthouse and there is a post office on the ground floor.

In 1998, the building was named after former Oakland mayor and congressman Ronald V. Dellums, who served as a member of the House of Representatives from 1971 to 1998 for Northern California’s 9th Congressional District. He was the third African American to hold the office of mayor in Oakland and served from 2007 to 2011.

The Ronald V. Dellums Federal building is located at 1301 Clay Street in downtown Oakland.

Music used in the audio portion of this article is by Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons by Attribution 3.0


  1. Naomi Schiff on December 7, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    Thank you for the article! Something that folks might be interested in knowing is that there is a medium-sized publicly-usable auditorium in the north tower of the Federal Building. For info on using it, I think it’s (510) 637-5000. I might add that the Athens Club wasn’t directly demolished for the Federal Building, but rather, it was demolished years earlier as part of a twelve-block general demolition under redevelopment, before it was known exactly what would be built there.

  2. JG on December 7, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    I think it’s ugly and boring. The pyramids at the top are to hide the communications towers, btw.

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