Historic Lakeshore Glen

Trestle Glen - From Lakeshore

LakeGlen's Signifigance

             Lakeshore Glen exemplifies a historically significant era of residential development in Oakland, when evolving transportation advances, new methods of real estate development, and aesthetic trends combined to create a residential subdivision typology that both reflected national trends and influenced the dominant pattern of residential development in the city.  

Following incorporation in 1852, early residential settlement in Oakland clustered close to the urban core, spanning Broadway to the east and west and stretching from the waterfront to what is today Fourteenth Street. Oakland appealed to settlers who desired a more settled, family-friendly lifestyle compared to the boomtown atmosphere across the Bay in San Francisco, and the physical city expanded rapidly to accommodate a rapidly increasing population. However, the geographic spread of residential development at this time was limited by the distance people could travel by foot or horse between their homes and their workplaces. This changed in 1869, when Oakland’s first form of public transportation was established, a horsecar line that ran from First Street and Broadway, along Broadway onto Telegraph Avenue, and on to Fortieth Street. By 1875 this line extended along Telegraph Avenue to the new location of the College of California, now the University of California at Berkeley.

The introduction of a network of electric trolley systems after 1890 transformed the geographic spread of residential development in Oakland. These electric trolleys were safer, faster, more convenient and more reliable than the horsecar system had been, and opened up hilly and remote sections of the city that had heretofore been difficult to access.

Lakeshore Glen fits squarely into this pattern of residential transformation in Oakland. Prior to Anglo settlement, this area, marked by a clear-running fresh water creek, had been the site of seasonal Ohlone Indian encampments, and this area was known as Indian Gulch well into the twentieth century. In the 1880s the area came under ownership of the Norwegian-American banker Peder Sather, and his estate became known in the decades after his death in 1886 as Sather Park. To improve access to this park, in 1893, transportation magnate F. M. “Borax” Smith constructed a large wooden train trestle across the area’s natural topography and extended an existing trolley line from downtown Oakland up Park Boulevard all the way to Grosvenor Place. This trolley line brought a steady stream of picnickers and other recreational activity seekers to Sather Park; gave the area the name Trestle Glen by which it is still known; and, significantly, connected what had previously been regarded as a remote section of the city into the mental orbit of the larger city of Oakland.

Promotional materials for Lakeshore Highlands, showing Olmsted street plan. 
Source: Lakeshore Homes Association Collection

Integral to the promotion of Lakeshore Highlands was its connectivity to both Oakland and San Francisco. In a 1917 advertisement for Lakeshore Highlands published in The San Francisco Bulletin, developer Walter H. Leimert emphasized the Key Route trolley’s metaphorical ability to “fly” residents of Lakeshore Highlands from their new homes to their workplaces in San Francisco. 

Promotional material for Lakeshore Highlands, 1917. Source: Oakland History Room Collection.

Lakeshore Highlands was serviced by the Key Route’s B Line, which was routed through downtown Oakland, up Grand Avenue, across Lakeshore Avenue, and entered the neighborhood in the tree-lined ridge just north of Trestle Glen Road, terminating at a small station on Underhills Road. The line, like all others of the Key Route System, connected to San Francisco via ferry service at the Key Route Pier. In Lakeshore Highlands, the line passed directly behind properties along Trestle Glen Road, and remnants of the overhead poles that held the power lines for the trains can be seen in the backyards along Trestle Glen Road.

            However, the importance of the trolley system at this time was being challenged by the concurrent rise in automobile ownership. Henry Ford began to mass-produce the Ford Model T around 1910, and by 1920, American consumers were purchasing over three million automobiles annually. This rise in automobile ownership can be noted both in the rapid shift in the promotional materials associated with Lakeshore Highlands and in the physical form of the homes constructed in the neighborhood. As early as 1922, Walter H. Leimert, in contrast to the flying trolley pictured several years earlier, was describing Lakeshore Highlands in terms of its motoring distance to downtown Oakland: “...a veritable fairyland of rolling hills and wooded dales right in the heart of Oakland near famous Lake Merritt and its flower filled parks-six minutes by motor car from Oakland City Hall.” Photographs from the early era of construction in Lakeshore Highlands capture both the importance of the trolley line, which rolled right past the sales office for Lakeshore Highlands, and the encroaching importance of automobiles, which crowded the street at the entrance to the new subdivision.

Trestle Glen tract, circa 1925. 
Source: Oakland History Room Collection.

Additionally, the importance of the new era of automobile ownership can be noted in the inclusion of single and double automobile garages alongside newly constructed homes in Lakeshore Highlands. Using the property at 850 Trestle Glen Road as an example, we can see, through an inspection of the original building permits, that the inclusion of the automobile garage was not an afterthought but rather a concurrent event. Constructed at the same time as the larger house and in both material and style to match the larger house, the automobile garage was an important complementary component of the site plan. The house itself does not sit at the center of its lot, but is placed slightly to the right in order to more fully accommodate the garage. The garage was not hidden from the streetscape, but placed in an offset location at the left of the house, visible directly from the street. Many of the properties along Trestle Glen Road display a similar site configuration, with their garages visually accessible both to the street and to the trolley line that passed behind the property lines. Although the garage at 850 Trestle Glen Road has been altered since its original construction, several other garages in the neighborhood appear largely unaltered and give us a sense of the workmanship and quality of design and materials that went in to these new, important parts of the residential landscape.

Garage at 900 Trestle Glen Road showing original configuration, garage at 850 Trestle Glen Road showing alterations, and garages visible from the Underhills station, 1953. 

Source: Contemporary photos, author's own, Key Route image OB&E Rail website, http://www.oberail.org/photo/18/2/g.

Integral to the story of Lakeshore Highlands, is the way in which the relationship between residential development companies, home builders, and homeowners shifted during this era of residential development, both locally and nation wide. Prior to the twentieth century, residential development surrounding cities took place in small incremental steps, as need for housing expanded and residential construction accreted adjacent to existing residential construction. As we have seen, Lakeshore Highlands reflects the movement away from this earlier model. Both nationally and locally, after the turn of the century the model of residential development shifted towards larger developments. Known as “subdividers”, companies like the Realty Syndicate Real Estate Development Company and the Lakeshore Highlands Company began to purchase larger tracts of land and subdivide them, carving out attractive street plans, basic infrastructure improvements, and individual building sites. These sites could in turn be sold at a profit, either to independent home-builders or, more commonly, to larger-scale home-building companies, which typically constructed several homes in new subdivisions and offered them for sale in turn to individual home buyers. Home-builders then competed in advertising directly to home buyers.

Liemert advertisement for home sites, left, and various home building companies advertisements for completed homes.

 Source: The Oakland Tribune real estate section, August 2, 1925.

Homes in Lakeshore Highlands were constructed and intended for the city’s “upwardly mobile” class, and in order to both create and ensure this demographic, in 1917 Walter Leimert established the Lakeshore Homes Association. As one of the earliest homeowners associations in the nation, the Lakeshore Homes Association created and enforced a set of covenants, conditions and restrictions that dictated both the physical and the social settlement pattern of the neighborhood. In regards to land use and building design, restrictions required that each house cost at least $3000 (more on certain lots), and forbade multiple dwellings on single lots and non-residential uses. Design review was also an integral part of the homeowners association’s duties, and strict controls on design gave the neighborhood a strikingly unified design aesthetic. Reflecting the openly anti-minority bias of the era, the original bylaws of the Lakeshore Homes Association included covenants excluding people of African or “Mongolian” descent (“except in the capacity of domestic servants of the occupant thereof”): these racial restrictions were intended to ensure the perpetual value of the neighborhood and were frankly incorporated into advertisements for homes in the subdivision. Racial covenants like these became legally unenforceable in 1948, and African American homeowners appeared in the neighborhood in the early 1950s. However, it was not until 1979 that the Lakeshore Homes Association rewrote the section of its bylaws concerning racial covenants and removed racial restrictions. As is the case with homeowners associations across the country, strong land use and design conditions and restrictions remain in place and continue to dictate the uniformly high aesthetic quality of the neighborhood. 

In Lakeshore Glen, the streetscape is dominated by Italian Renaissance architecture.  Simple Facades, symmetrically arranged, clad in stucco and decorated with minimal ornamentation.

Although some of these homes were constructed by the Lapham Company, a review of area permits revels that many were not, indicating that this dominant home design may have had its genesis in a pattern book. Pattern books emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century and offered standardized plans and elevations for independent home-builders. The most influential pattern book was authored by Andrew Jackson Downing in 1850 and promoted period revival styles including Italianate, Tudor Revival, Gothic Revival, and other European-influenced design styles. These patterns for homes often relied on a similar basic form with variation coming into the design through the alteration of specific design details such as doors, windows, and façade treatments. By the turn of the century, home-building firms, such as the Lapham Company, were often relying on general pattern books in order to construct multiples of homes while retaining a visually appealing sense of variety.