Municipal Auditorium, Oakland, California (postcard CC BY 2.0 by Boston Public Library)

The  Oakland Auditorium, aka the Oakland Municipal Auditorium, is a 1915 Beaux-Arts-style building in the Civic Center neighborhood, directly below Lake Merritt. The building was designed by architects John J. Donovan and Henry Hornbostel (who also contributed to the design of City Hall) and built under the supervision of Commissioner of Public Works, Harry S. Anderson. It was later renamed the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, and in 2024, renamed the Henry J. Kaiser Center for the Arts.

The building is not to be confused with the Oakland Convention Center or the Kaiser Center. It was known as the Oakland Auditorium until 1985 when the name was changed to the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center.

Chronology of Development

  • Ideas and suggestions for building an auditorium came to a focus in 1910.
  • First Auditorium Bond Issue, for $500,000, carried May 6, 1911.
  • J.J. Donovan, appointed city architect in March 1912.
  • Plans for structure submitted May 24, 1912.
  • First contract let for piling and foundation, October 31, 1912.
  • First pile driven, November 28, 1912
  • Contract for structural steel, May 21, 1913.
  • Auditorium Bonds, re-issued at higher rate of interest, Election July 22, 1913.
  • Second Auditorium Bonds, for additional $500,000 issue defeated May 19, 1914. Architect Walter J. Mathews appointed as associate Auditorium architect. Same bonds carried at initial election, June 12, 1914.
  • Auditorium Advisory Commission approved by City Council.
  • Dedication of Auditorium, April 30, 1915.

Oakland Tribune June 13, 1912 provided by harryseverinOakland Tribune March 7, 1915 courtesy of harryseverin

Opening Day Presentation

Commissioner Harry S. Anderson then reporting the work of the builders completed, addressed Mayor Mott, officially turning over to him the building. He said:

"Mr. Mayor. Some years ago at the instance of a representative group of taxpayers of Oakland, there was evolved in the general scheme of civic improvements of this city, a plan for a municipal auditorium. That plan was taken up by the people with great enthusiasm. The public officials were encouraged to forward it, and today were are witnesses of the splendid result of the effort. That the task was no mean one is amply demonstrated as we observe the imposing structure now before us. It is a work that will bear the closest scrutiny. It has been carried on under the best of comparison, and I have no hesitation in the reporting of the statement that no public office, in this country outranks it by architectural perfection of construction.

"May I ask your indulgence a moment to point out the fact that this auditorium as it now stands, is much larger and more comprehensive than was originally outlined? We have developed, at the demand of the people, two outstanding features, namely, the arena and the theater. By the clever mechanical contrivances these may be utilized separately or jointly as occasion shall require. Numerous smaller halls, committee rooms, and the like have also been provided. I shall not go into details at this time - but will invite the architects and superintendents of construction to give these items to the public. Let it suffice to me to say that this auditorium has been built by skilled hands, under complete supervision and that the people of Oakland have received a dollar's worth of value for every dollar that has been expended upon this edifice.

"As commissioner of the Department of Public Works of the city of Oakland, it is my pleasant duty formally to advise you of the readiness of the municipal auditorium for public use. With a full sense of the great responsibility that has attached to the erection of the building, I do now present it to you, Mr. Mayor, as the chief executive of this city, that it may here be dedicated to the public service, for the pleasure and enjoyment of all the people."

As the crowd cheered Mayor Mott rose to answer, accepting the work of the builders in the name of the people of Oakland.

Source: Oakland Tribune - April 30, 1915 - provided by harryseverin

Oak Trib: 30 Apr 1915  courtesy of harryseverin

Historic Status

On April 3, 1979, the Oakland Municipal Auditorium was designated Oakland Landmark #27, under Zoning Case #LM 79-40.

Perhaps its most salient fact, however, is etched in huge letters (almost readable in the photo above) on the façade facing the lake:


Read it again—there’s nary a word about Henry Kaiser (who hadn’t come on the scene yet, anyway), nor any mention of 3Com, Oracle, or for that matter, any corporate profits or concerns. 1914’s citizens (not “consumers”!) intended it to serve today’s citizens (that’s you!). Yet the City of Oakland mothballed the Center in 2005 because it wasn’t profitable 1. The main problem is the boilers and heating system, which are antiquated and apparently cost a small fortune just to start up. Ever since, this lovely building has basically been ignored … not serving the community, hosting cultural events, or helping anyone’s intellectual progress or industry.


10 Tenth Street, Oakland, California

Former Uses

In its long and varied career, the Auditorium building has fulfilled many roles:

  • Beginning in 1916, it was home to the Oakland Art Gallery, which was later merged with other museums to become the Oakland Museum of California.
  • It was used as a makeshift hospital during the 1918 flu pandemic.
  • It hosted the annual Oakland Christmas Pageant, roller derby tournaments, sporting events, and symphony performances.
  • Space-Con 2 was held there on August 7 & 8, 1976. Many of the Star Trek TOS actors were in attendance (along with over 10,000 attendees).
  • Performers and speakers have included (only a tiny, random sample): Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama, Woodrow Wilson (Sept. 18, 1919), the Grateful Dead, James Brown, Elvis, the Police, Iggy Pop, the Kinks, Lääz Röckït, and Rick James.

James Brown at the Oakland Auditorium Oakland Auditorium as hospital during flu pandemic (1918) Elvis Presley backstage at the Oakland Auditorium on June 3, 1956Opening Night at the Oakland Auditorium
from Alameda County: The Ideal Place for Your California Home 1915


Each of the seven entrance bays on the north side of the building features beautiful bas relief sculptures. They were created by A. Stirling Calder, father of noted mobile sculptor, Alexander Calder. Calder was in the Bay Area to create sculptures for the Panama Pacific International Exhibition (PPIE) in 1915. He was the acting director (under Karl Bitter) of the massive sculpture program for the PPIE.

The dome-shaped hollows also act as great sound reflectors and focusers.

Photos CC SA-BY Our Oakland

"Gifts of the Air""The Duties of Life""Wealth of the Sea""The Wealth of the Mind""The Delight of Flowers" / "The Source of Food""Consolation of the Arts""The Joy of Effort"studio photo 6

Current Status

The city shut down the convention center in 2006 because of operating costs. In 2010, the City sold the property to the Oakland Redevelopment Agency, as a way to move $28.3 million from the Agency to the City’s general fund. However, in 2012, the state dissolved redevelopment agencies, so the property reverted to City ownership, and the state disallowed the sale and demanded the City repay the full amount to the state. 2. It currently is in need of approximately $7M worth of upgrades, mostly to the heating and cooling system. On Jan. 28, 2012, Occupy Oakland attempted to re-occupy the building during its Move In Day protest.

There have been various proposals to refurbish and re-purpose the auditorium,4 but as of March 2019, nothing had come of any them. 5

After a long period of redevelopment, the building opened as the Henry J. Kaiser Center for the Arts in 2023 for limited uses, and all venues in the building are scheduled to open for full use in early 2024. 7

Links and References

  1. Once the center of civic life, former Oakland Auditorium now vacant with future still uncertain Oakland North February 13, 2012

  2. Quan says Oakland will have to return millions in redevelopment funds Oakland Tribune April 3, 2013

  3. Information provided by Greg Anderson

  4. 2 Developers Vie to Refurbish Oakland's Kaiser Convention CenterSan Francisco Chronicle, December 29, 2014
  5. Arts-Centered Plan for Kaiser Auditorium Draws Both Praise and Doubt in Oakland KQED Arts March 2019
  6. BANC PIC 2015.013:15687--NEG by Edward A. Rogers, UC Berkeley Bancroft Library
  7. Henry J. Kaiser Center for the Arts website About page