A Photograph of Bygone Days

by Kathryn Doyle (8/10/2008)

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.

Today a flag pole sits atop the building instead of the large neon “Breuners” sign. The only reminder of days past is the large mural photograph on the wall outside CGS.


1. Wall mural photographs, Breuner Building, Oakland, California, Kathryn M. Doyle, 31 July 2008.
2. Annalee Allen, Historical Building to House Society, Oakland Tribune, April 22, 2007, Accessed at FindArticles.com, 08/08/2008. Update Link broken; Accessed at NewsModo 3/3/2010.
3. Exterior photographs and illustration, The Breuner Building, digital images, e-mail from Christopher C. Curtis, Metrovation Brokerage, Oakland, California.
4. Annalee Allen, Genealogical Society Marks 110 Years of Researching Family, Oakland Tribune, Feb 24, 2008, Accessed at FindArticles.com, 08/08/2008.
5. Breuners Company History, The Breuners Home Furnishings Web site, Accessed 08/10/2008.
Written for the Fourth Edition of Smile For The Camera ~ A Carnival of Images which takes its word prompt from the Ace of Hearts. I Smile for the Camera

This and That: Bits of News and Information

by Kathryn Doyle (8/7/2008)

If you were thinking about attending the workshop this weekend but hadn’t made a reservation yet, don’t bother calling. The Hints on Publishing Your Family History workshop is sold out. Maybe we can convince Shirley, Matt and Jane to do a repeat performance next year. Or better yet, is there someone out there who could help the society get set up to do podcasts?


Speaking of podcasts, Susan Goss Johnston, one of the speakers at the upcoming L-AGS American Military Research Seminar was a guest on Dear Myrtle’s Family History Hour August 5, 2008 podcast. Ol’ Myrt wanted the interview when she learned that Susan will be discussing known surviving military record groups — what is online and what is not. DearMyrtle’s detailed show notes includes links to the sites discussed and this:

Susan has advised students to print out and bring with them, An Overview of Records at the National Archives Relating to Military Service by Trevor K. Plante (Prologue Fall 20002, Vol. 34, No. 3). Susan feels this article is an excellent starting point for researchers.


As predicted by Rose Pierson of FamilySearch Indexing, the first portion of the San Francisco Mortuary Records project is complete. Rose reports that they are working hard to get the second set of images from twenty-nine rolls of microfilmed registers ready to be indexed. These are a bit more complicated to set up but they include the eagerly anticipated early ledgers from the 1860s.


The San Luis Obispo Tribune ran an article last Saturday about Camp Roberts, named for San Francisco native and Medal of Honor winner, Corporal Harold Roberts. The California Genealogical Society and Library got a mention in the paper’s August 2, 2008 article, Camp Roberts Mystery: Who’s the Man Behind Post’s Name?

Wordless Wednesday – Then and Now

by Kathryn Doyle (8/6/2008)

California Genealogical Society President Jane Lindsey is “big sister” to five younger brothers. It’s where she got her training to be CGS “Mother Hen.”

Photographs courtesy of Jane Knowles Lindsey.