There is one rather distinctive photograph that you can’t help notice when you pay a visit to the California Genealogical Society and Library. Antique autos and a streetcar with its network of overhead wires tell you right away that this is a scene from a different era. And while time has marched forward some seventy-eight years since the image was created, the bustling Oakland street corner in the photo is in fact the same one on which the CGS library now stands. The photograph shows the large signs that shield the construction site from passersby and announce “Ready October 1st” and “New 8 Story Home of Breuner’s!”.
To be precise, the photograph isn’t actually inside the library, but is displayed in the hall just outside the entrance to the society suite. And though the story it tells is pertinent to its placement, what makes this particular photograph special is its size.
The blown-up photograph is a wall mural in the hall beside the elevators on the “lower level” of the Breuner Building. It serves as an impressive welcome to visitors to the basement location of the society.
The California Genealogical Society moved to its present location in the historic Breuner Building in March of 2007. At the time, Annalee Allen, well-known Oakland Tribune historical landmark columnist, program coordinator of the Downtown Oakland Walking Tours and author of Oakland Postcard History and Selections from the Oakland Tribune Archives, reported:
The society’s new home is an eight-story reinforced concrete building with a distinctive variegated sea-green glazed terra cotta front facade, constructed in 1931 to house the John Breuner Company Furniture Store. Other noteworthy features of the building include Art Deco motifs, and a pair of stylized figures crafting a chair located over the front entrance. Locally prominent architect Albert Roller designed the structure, according to history files.
The Breuner’s Furnishings Web site states that the company pioneer was a German cabinetmaker turned gold miner, who “founded the company in 1856 in Sacramento, California when he realized selling to gold miners was more lucrative than mining gold for himself.” The company expanded and opened stores in San Francisco and Oakland. According to Allen,
Several decades later, Breuner’s sons Louis and John Jr. moved operations to 22nd and Broadway — despite the onset of the Great Depression — to join fellow retailers H.C. Capwell and I. Magnin, and the grand and elegant Paramount and Fox Oakland movie palaces, records show. By the 1950s there were seven stores in the Breuner chain, in Stockton, Richmond, Berkeley and Vallejo. In the 1970s, the Oakland flagship store on Broadway was closed and sold off. It later underwent a major renovation by new owners and reopened as commercial offices in the late ’70s. For the time, it was considered an innovative adaptive reuse.