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The architecture of Oakland: Mutual Stores/Safeway Headquarters

on December 21, 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.”

The Mutual Stores building is located at 5726 International Boulevard between Seminary and 57th Avenue. It opened in 1928, and the Mutual Stores company sold dairy products before it expanded its product line to include baked goods. The building became the headquarters for grocery chain Safeway in the 1930s.

According to the Oakland Cultural Heritage Survey records, this is a early 20th Century commercial building with Renaissance Baroque ornamentation. This style of architecture is usually adorned with curved forms and elaborate pieces of art which are part of the design, such as the carvings and pillars seen on the top of the tower on this building. Reed and Corlett were the architects and Charles Stockholm and Sons constructed the building from 1928 to 1931.

The two-story rectangular warehouse and office space are made of reinforced concrete with a steel frame tower, which rises 150 feet. There are reddish brown and light brown terracotta details, including industrial sash—or framed—windows. The tower originally had a clock with letters instead of numbers that spelled out the name “Mutual Stores.” Cow heads were added to the tower design to represent the company’s start as a store that sold dairy products.

Founder Emil Hagstrom came to the United States from Denmark. It is said that when he arrived, he pawned his watch to get the money needed to open a store. That first store was The Danish Creamery Company, which offered dairy products for sale and featured a new marketing concept called “cash-and-carry,” which meant that customers who paid cash could take their purchases straight home with them instead of having them delivered. The company used the new model believing customers would be willing to try it because the price of shopping would be much lower without a delivery cost.

After the success of that first store, Hagstrom opened a second business and called it Mutual Stores—so named because he believed it would be mutually beneficial to him and to the customers who would come to shop at the store. It was the beginning of what we now refer to as “supermarket” shopping.

MacMarr Stores, a chain, purchased the building in 1929, and the name Mutual Stores disappeared. In 1931, the building was purchased again, this time by Safeway.  An announcement in the August 16, 1935 edition of the Oakland Tribune announced the grand opening with the headline “New Safeway Stores Show Modern Trend.”

Today, a portion of the building is occupied by a furniture store. Except for the space used as storage by the furniture company, it appears the remaining space in the building is now vacant.

The images shown here are of the project drawing from the Oakland Cultural Heritage Survey book located in the Oakland Public Library and a photograph recently taken of the building.

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



  1. Nat on January 11, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    That building is beautiful. If you didn’t live in East Oakland, you’d never know it existed.

  2. Kelvin on March 21, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    I live here. Except for the furniture store and some space under construction, the building has been converted to live-work loft space.

    I’d like a clarification on these conflicting points in the article: “Charles Stockholm and Sons constructed the building from 1928 to 1931” and “MacMarr Stores, a chain, purchased the building in 1929.” Am I missing something?

    I greatly appreciate your research! I haven’t been here long, but I’ve heard people call it “Mutual Creamery.” That business, in fact, is located in downtown Oakland. I’ll start spreading the truth.

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