Thursday, July 12, 2007

All Roads Lead to Oakland

This advertisement of interest is from the H. C. Capwell Company, celebrating the opening of the Carquinez Bridge in May of 1927.
The advertisement extols the virtues of the "six great highways" delivering traffic across the new bridge to Oakland; bringing in new shoppers from all over. The six great highways include the Pacific Highway, Redwood Highway, Lincoln Highway, Victory Highway, the coast road, and the Ridge road.
Of additional interest is the notice of merger between Capwell's and the Emporium to give Oakland "its greatest store." The combined name "Emporium Capwell" didn't come into use until 1979. Although, in 1990, "Capwell" was dropped in favor of just "Emporium."
In the advertisement, they go on to announce a new store to be constructed at 20th and Broadway in downtown Oakland, which is the current location of Sears.


buff said...

In my visits to San Francisco over the last 20 years, when Emporium-Capwell was still there, I never thought about the origins of Capwell. Now I know, through this very insightful blog post.

And thank you for your great comments to my recent blog posts. THey are always intelligent and thought provoking. Right on.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Oakland.....Do have any info on the Eastmont Mall, 73rd and Bancroft.
On a tour of bay area malls about ten years ago, I found it nearly empty. What was there originally ?
Was it ever vibrant ?
Love your site and thanks for your efforts on it.

Georob said...

I'm not sure on the dates and details here, but I'll give this a whirl:

Eastmont was built on a site that used to be a Chevrolet assembly plant (which probably closed when GM moved to's now NUMNI)

The mall was built in two stages.
In the early/mid 60's, the first part(and probably the only part that is still retail) was a community/strip center with a Safeway fronting Bancroft. It had a small indoor mall that later connected to the second phase, which was a two level structure with double deck parking and a full line, three level Penneys.(it was not yet "JCPenney", which puts it in the late 60's)

Mervyns came later in the 70's and was built on the upper deck of the parking structure fronting 73rd.

But what distinguished Eastmont from other malls was that it was in (at the time) a middle class, but predominantly African American neighborhood. And as someone that used to hang around mostly white venues like SunValley, it was very odd to be in this sprakling new mall with mostly black people. (I hope that doesn't come across as racist it's just that it truly looked odd to a 12 year old in the 70's)

I always used to drive by Eastmont on the way to A's games at the Coliseum, and once in a while I'd pop in. I don't think it ever was fully leased out(particularly the food court), but it still had a nice selection of stores like Smiths, Kress(later Woolworths), B Dalton, Leeds, Orange Julius, and a four screen cinema. And the Safeway section on the west side always looked busy.

Unfortunately, over the years the area became more lower income, gang infested, and you can pretty much figure out what happened. Penneys eventually closed the third floor and before leaving for good (mid/late 80's?) told mall and city offoials that the only way to make it work was to either go down to one level or move to a smaller space. Never happened.

Interestingly, for many years there were still small Penney stores in Alameda and San Leandro that competed with the large Eastmont store. Obviously, the folks there weren't gonna go to Eastmont and now there is no Penneys between Hayward and Richmond.

Mervyns just up and closed one day around 92/93 without any prior announcement. They likely figured there'd be a strong public reaction and they didn't wish to put their employees in danger. That took the cake! Even Safeway eventually left and the space filled with an assortment of independents that come and go.

But crime and demographics aside, the fact that Eastmont was far from a freeway and small in size would have likely killed it eventually. Had it hung in there long enough perhaps they could have gotten a Wal Mart or something. Today it is the Eastmont Town Center and is a combination of small retail, with community services. The former Penneys is a community health center, and the Mervyns is a Police station.

In my opinion, it's a wasted facility and should be demolished for housing. However, there are too many other former industrial and retail sites in the city being redeveloped for residential and Eastmont will have to wait. Just as well, as it's still considered a bad neighborhood.