Newspaper Attempts to Convince Alameda Community it Needs a City Hall

The Alameda Daily Evening Encinal newspaper of Sept. 25, 1894, carried this conceptual sketch of a new potential Alameda City Hall. The paper boldly tried to convince its readers the cost of construction was a good investment.

Newspaper Attempts to Convince Alameda Community it Needs a City Hall

At an initial proposed cost of $226,380, the construction of Alameda City Hall proved a serious investment for Alameda residents. Converting roughly to $6.9 million according to online inflation calculators, the building would take 40 years to pay off according to the plan proposed in the Alameda Daily Evening Encinal of Sept. 25, 1894.

The idea actually saved the taxpayer money over time when one considers the city had to rent office space prior to having its own facility. The highly opinionated (and racist) longtime Encinal Editor Frederick K. Krauth also threw in, “None of the offices we have now are a credit, but rather some of them are a disgrace to the City of Alameda.”

According to the article, rent had to be paid to several landlords around town. The main city offices cost $171.50 per month or $2,058 annually — the equivalent of almost $63,000 today.

Besides that, the paper reports, the City Recorder paid $40 a month out of pocket to rent a separate office. Two Justices of the Peace operated out of two offices near Park Street on Webb and Santa Clara avenues costing $30 a month. The arrangement with the City Surveyor sounds almost like extortion: “The trustees are now obliged to pay the office expense of the City Surveyor, or do without one.” Tacking on the $8 per month for that office, the Encinal tallies the total at just shy the cost of principal and interest on new bonds that will fund City Hall’s construction.

Interestingly enough, the paper chose its most compelling argument about the rent for last in its list of reasons for a new city hall. More important than financial concerns came doing what was right for the city and its employees. First reason on the list: “Because the city officers are not properly housed.”

Secondly the paper notes how cramped current conditions are at the main office. “City Trustees, the City Clerk, Board of Education, Board of Health, Sanitary Inspector, Veterinary Surgeon and Health Officer all have their office in one and the same room.” The paper decries the fact the room lacks even a vault “wherein the election returns or any other important document may be put for safekeeping.” Note the critical role of Veterinary Surgeon in the era when all city vehicles were horse-drawn.

Third, the Encinal points to the fact that other city offices are scattered around town, “thereby inconveniencing every person that is obliged to do business with them.”

Krauth certainly had a sense of propriety about him, keeping his eye on Alameda’s beauty and downplaying the influence of anything he deemed unpleasant. His sensibilities come clear in his fourth reason for adopting a new city hall: “Because it will give tone and character to the City of Alameda to have proper offices for the city officials ...”

The article explains the design of the current Alameda City Hall was selected from 27 different plans from as many architects, but it would be Percy & Hamilton of San Francisco who landed the bid.

“Percy & Hamilton were the only architects who submitted, with their drawings, a complete bill of quantities and detailed estimate of cost,” stated the Encinal, following up by touting the firm’s excellent reputation for keeping costs within their estimates.

Readers are then presented with a glorious description of the building, which is “well proportioned and pleasing to view ... well lighted and well ventilated ... The basement is designed to be entirely fireproof.”
Originally, the basement was designated for the city prison, police offices and criminal courtrooms “with the necessary vault” and rooms for judge, jury, witnesses and more.

“The basement is so shut off from the main entrance and public stairway and corridors that visitors to the other portions of the building are not brought into contact in any manner with the police or prison departments, the entrance being in the rear and on the ground level,” stated the article.

The Oak Street entrance led directly to the Chief of Police’s office and the criminal court.

The entire “west end” of the building was given over to the public library including an entirely separate reference room, librarian office and reading room.

The first floor east wing would house the Assessor and Treasurer. Don’t worry, they had a vault, too. Also on this floor were the City Engineer’s office, a room for the Superintendent of Schools and two rooms for the City Attorney along with an “unappropriated room for contingencies.”

The second floor had a spacious chamber for the Trustees and an adjoining clerk’s office, vault included. This floor also accommodated the Board of Education in a room with its own clerk’s office adjoining along with the Sanitary Inspector and Health Officer. Two additional rooms were left for future expansion.

The paper also proudly lists that each floor has “ample toilet accommodation's for men and women.”

The original design and construction included a clock tower, one of a handful of structures in Alameda damaged by the 1906 earthquake. Its superstructure collapsed and was removed; the shorter clock tower stood until the 1930s when it was deemed unsafe and removed entirely.

Eric J. Kos is a historian who has contributed to several titles including Lost San Francisco and Bay Farm Island: A Hidden History of Alameda.