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Iconic Oakland: Then and Now

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From the country's first themed amusement park (predating both Disneyland and Six Flags) to the cousin of New York's Flatiron Building (affectionately known as "the Wedding Cake"), here we've mapped some of the top places in Oakland that make this city-in-flux one of the most special places in California, so special that it's become one of the fastest growing places in the US. Here are several reasons why Oaktown stands on its own, both long ago and today.

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1. Cathedral Building

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1615 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94612

Prickling with fun and Gothic Revival whimsy, the 14-story, historic landmark Cathedral Building, adorned with terra cotta spires at top, is affectionately nicknamed the "Wedding Cake" for its ornate appearance. Finished in 1914 and designed by Benjamin G. MacDougall, the thin structure was initially known as the Federal Realty Building. Today it's home to JRDV Architects and TJC and Associates, as well as several floors of private residences. It's also known to bear a vague resemblance to New York's iconic Flatiron Building. Of particular note is the Zio Zigler mural on the north-facing wall, commissioned by the United Nations Foundation in 2015.(Photo by Sean Munson/Flickr; 1914 photo courtesy of Oakland Public Library.)

2. Lake Merritt

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Many people new to the area mistakenly think this lagoon in the middle of Oaktown is man-made. Perish the thought. This lake, which is arguably the best body of water in the Bay Area, was an official wildlife refuge in 1870, listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1966, and drains into the bay. Today it's home to geese, fish, and other wildlife. It's also home to the well-do-do. The surrounding area—replete with the Oakland Museum of Art, noted new restaurants, and other architectural gems on this list—is also considered one of the hottest neighborhoods in Oakland. In other words, similar to many neighborhoods in San Francisco, it's going through a gentrification of its own.(Photos courtesy of Library of Congress; photo by Aitor Gonzalez Frias/Shutterstock)

3. Children's Fairyland

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699 Bellevue Ave
Oakland, CA 94610
(510) 452-2259
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Before Disneyland, Legoland, and Six Flags' parks of barely controlled chaos, there was Children's Fairyland, the country's first-ever themed amusement, geared toward families. Conceived and built in 1950 by the Oakland Lake Merritt Breakfast Club, this Lake Merritt-based park still operates today and features puppet shows, summer sleepovers, children's theater, and pastel colors galore. What's more, the comparatively small amusement park features the work of now-noted artists like Ruth Asawa and Frank Oz.(Photos courtesy of Children's Fairyland.)

4. Oakland Tribune

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1970 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 208-6450
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Inspired by St Mark's Campanile in Venice, Italy, the Tribune Building used to be the headquarters of the Oakland Tribune from 1927 to 2007. Today it's the home of a business call center, but the old Tribune name remains.(Photo courtesy of California Images; photo by Thomas Hawk/Flickr.)

5. Fox Theater

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1807 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 302-2277
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Opening in 1928, and screening films until 1970, the Fox Theater now hosts some of the biggest musicians from Prince to the White Stripes. But the real star, at least for the structurally-minded, is the theater itself. The movie-house-turned-concert-hall is a massive domed building featuring a Middle Eastern-themed mix of terra cotta tiles, paintings, and golden deity statues. (It was originally going to be christened "The Bagdad," but was instead called "The Oakland" until William Fox purchased the West Coast Theater chain.) But the best part of this historic place is the marquee proudly shining Oakland's name to drivers and passersby.(Courtesy of Eventbrite.com; photo by Thomas Hawk/Flickr)

6. The Cathedral of Christ the Light

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2121 Harrison St
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 893-4711
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In an area with many standout structures, the Cathedral of Christ of Light is one of the top eye-catchers on Lake Merritt. And it's easy to see why—the new home of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland, designed by Craig W. Hartman of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, is a stunner with its cloak of glass wrapped around its thin wooden interior. This results in an airy and brightly lit structure, one that, according to SOM, "conveys an inclusive statement of welcome and openness as the community’s symbolic soul." Completed in 2008 to the tune of $175 million, it replaced the Cathedral of Saint Francis de Sales, which was heavily damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.(Photo by Lynn Watson/Shutterstock.)

7. Chapel Of The Chimes Oakland

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4499 Piedmont Ave
Oakland, CA 94611
(510) 455-4004
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Though originally built in 1909, this popular crematorium and winter/summer solstice party place was rebuilt in 1928 based on designs of famed Bay Area architect Julia Morgan. "When architect Julia Morgan took on the redesign and expansion of the modest, turn-of-the-century columbarium on the hill at the end of Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, she brought with her a small army of local artisans, architectural treasures from Europe, and her trademark eclectic vision," notes Atlas Obscura. "The resulting winding walkways and terraced indoor gardens, designed with Spanish-Moorish Gothic flourishes reminiscent of Alhambra, makes for an exceptionally beautiful environment to house the dead."Speaking of which, famous (ahem) residents are former NFL executive and Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis and musician John Lee Hooker, just to name two.(Photo by Sarah Mittermaier/Flickr.)

8. Evergreen Cemetery

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6450 Camden St
Oakland, CA 94605

A far more somber affair than Chapel of the Chimes, the Evergreen Cemetery—a cemetery, crematorium and mausoleum—has the only memorial to the horrific Jonestown Massacre. In 1978, cult leader Jim Jones poisoned 918 members of his Peoples Temple in Guyana. Of the 918 members killed, 412 unclaimed bodies are buried here. Four plaques featuring the names of all the victims (controversially including Jones himself) can be found here.(Photo by AP Photo/Palmer, May 24, 1979 [Fred Lewis of San Francisco, whose wife and all seven children perished]; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

9. Heinold's First & Last Chance

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48 Webster St
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 839-6761
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The name of this 1883 bar was a cheeky way of letting area sailors know that this watering hole was the first and last chance to drink booze before heading out to sea. But it also has another name: Jack London's Rendezvous. This historic pub was reportedly the inspiration for scenes from the Nobel Prize-winning writer Jack London. (Specifically, in his works Call of the Wild and The Sea Wolf.) The bar still serves alcohol today for thirsty history buffs; it features the same slanted floor that was never fixed after the Great 'Quake of 1906, and the same potbellied stove used in 1889 is still used to warm the room. Glorious.(Photo courtesy of Oakland Tribune Archives; photo by Sue Stokes/Shutterstock.)

10. Jack London's Cabin

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This is the cabin Jack London lived in, wrote in, and drank heavily in during his heyday. It was brought down from the Klondike and now lives in Jack London Square. Think of it as one of the first tiny homes, well before the crazed movement gained traction. (Photo courtesy of keepoaklandbeautiful.org; photo by Daniel Ramirez/Flickr.)

11. Chabot Space & Science Center

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10000 Skyline Blvd
Oakland, CA 94619
(510) 336-7300
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Going through several different incarnations, names, and locations since 1883 (it had to move due to ever-increasing light pollution), the Chabot Space and Science Center is now the place to go for meteor showers, astronomical nighttime hikes, and, yes, a laser show set to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.The 86,000-square-foot science and technology facility sits on 13-acres in the Oakland Hills. Its rolling roof observatory is its biggest signified when seen from afar, and it houses three powerful telescopes named "Rachel" (1914), "Leah" (1983), and "Nellie" (2003).(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images; photo courtesy of Chabot.)

12. Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension

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4700 Lincoln Ave
Oakland, CA 94602

Opening in 1960, this cathedral features the typical Greek Orthodox dome, but the interiors of the space are what make it stand out. Both modern elements and traditional design mesh together seamlessly at this heavily-attended church. (It boasts the biggest Greek Orthodox congregation in the Bay Area.) It's far cry from its humble beginnings when it started in 1917 inside a rented hall; it opened in 1921 on Brush Street in downtown Oakland, then moved to its current home in the hills.(Photo courtesy of FamilySearch.org; photo by Jennifer Tharp/Flickr.)

13. Mountain View Cemetery

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Such an esteemed final resting place, this cemetery filled with California's most important figures (political, blue blood, et cetera) even features a "Millionaires' Row." Among the deceased inductees—Warren A. Bechtel (founder of Bechtel), Peter Folger (coffee heir), Domingo Ghirardelli (of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company), Julia Morgan (architect), and others. What's more, it's the most gorgeous burial ground on this list. A must visit, if you will. (Photo by Sonny Abesamis/Flickr; photo courtesy of Library of Congress.)

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1. Cathedral Building

1615 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

Prickling with fun and Gothic Revival whimsy, the 14-story, historic landmark Cathedral Building, adorned with terra cotta spires at top, is affectionately nicknamed the "Wedding Cake" for its ornate appearance. Finished in 1914 and designed by Benjamin G. MacDougall, the thin structure was initially known as the Federal Realty Building. Today it's home to JRDV Architects and TJC and Associates, as well as several floors of private residences. It's also known to bear a vague resemblance to New York's iconic Flatiron Building. Of particular note is the Zio Zigler mural on the north-facing wall, commissioned by the United Nations Foundation in 2015.(Photo by Sean Munson/Flickr; 1914 photo courtesy of Oakland Public Library.)

1615 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94612

2. Lake Merritt

Oakland, CA 94610

Many people new to the area mistakenly think this lagoon in the middle of Oaktown is man-made. Perish the thought. This lake, which is arguably the best body of water in the Bay Area, was an official wildlife refuge in 1870, listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1966, and drains into the bay. Today it's home to geese, fish, and other wildlife. It's also home to the well-do-do. The surrounding area—replete with the Oakland Museum of Art, noted new restaurants, and other architectural gems on this list—is also considered one of the hottest neighborhoods in Oakland. In other words, similar to many neighborhoods in San Francisco, it's going through a gentrification of its own.(Photos courtesy of Library of Congress; photo by Aitor Gonzalez Frias/Shutterstock)

3. Children's Fairyland

699 Bellevue Ave, Oakland, CA 94610

Before Disneyland, Legoland, and Six Flags' parks of barely controlled chaos, there was Children's Fairyland, the country's first-ever themed amusement, geared toward families. Conceived and built in 1950 by the Oakland Lake Merritt Breakfast Club, this Lake Merritt-based park still operates today and features puppet shows, summer sleepovers, children's theater, and pastel colors galore. What's more, the comparatively small amusement park features the work of now-noted artists like Ruth Asawa and Frank Oz.(Photos courtesy of Children's Fairyland.)

699 Bellevue Ave
Oakland, CA 94610

4. Oakland Tribune

1970 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

Inspired by St Mark's Campanile in Venice, Italy, the Tribune Building used to be the headquarters of the Oakland Tribune from 1927 to 2007. Today it's the home of a business call center, but the old Tribune name remains.(Photo courtesy of California Images; photo by Thomas Hawk/Flickr.)

1970 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94612

5. Fox Theater

1807 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94612

Opening in 1928, and screening films until 1970, the Fox Theater now hosts some of the biggest musicians from Prince to the White Stripes. But the real star, at least for the structurally-minded, is the theater itself. The movie-house-turned-concert-hall is a massive domed building featuring a Middle Eastern-themed mix of terra cotta tiles, paintings, and golden deity statues. (It was originally going to be christened "The Bagdad," but was instead called "The Oakland" until William Fox purchased the West Coast Theater chain.) But the best part of this historic place is the marquee proudly shining Oakland's name to drivers and passersby.(Courtesy of Eventbrite.com; photo by Thomas Hawk/Flickr)

1807 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94612

6. The Cathedral of Christ the Light

2121 Harrison St, Oakland, CA 94612

In an area with many standout structures, the Cathedral of Christ of Light is one of the top eye-catchers on Lake Merritt. And it's easy to see why—the new home of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland, designed by Craig W. Hartman of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, is a stunner with its cloak of glass wrapped around its thin wooden interior. This results in an airy and brightly lit structure, one that, according to SOM, "conveys an inclusive statement of welcome and openness as the community’s symbolic soul." Completed in 2008 to the tune of $175 million, it replaced the Cathedral of Saint Francis de Sales, which was heavily damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.(Photo by Lynn Watson/Shutterstock.)

2121 Harrison St
Oakland, CA 94612

7. Chapel Of The Chimes Oakland

4499 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA 94611

Though originally built in 1909, this popular crematorium and winter/summer solstice party place was rebuilt in 1928 based on designs of famed Bay Area architect Julia Morgan. "When architect Julia Morgan took on the redesign and expansion of the modest, turn-of-the-century columbarium on the hill at the end of Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, she brought with her a small army of local artisans, architectural treasures from Europe, and her trademark eclectic vision," notes Atlas Obscura. "The resulting winding walkways and terraced indoor gardens, designed with Spanish-Moorish Gothic flourishes reminiscent of Alhambra, makes for an exceptionally beautiful environment to house the dead."Speaking of which, famous (ahem) residents are former NFL executive and Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis and musician John Lee Hooker, just to name two.(Photo by Sarah Mittermaier/Flickr.)

4499 Piedmont Ave
Oakland, CA 94611

8. Evergreen Cemetery

6450 Camden St, Oakland, CA 94605

A far more somber affair than Chapel of the Chimes, the Evergreen Cemetery—a cemetery, crematorium and mausoleum—has the only memorial to the horrific Jonestown Massacre. In 1978, cult leader Jim Jones poisoned 918 members of his Peoples Temple in Guyana. Of the 918 members killed, 412 unclaimed bodies are buried here. Four plaques featuring the names of all the victims (controversially including Jones himself) can be found here.(Photo by AP Photo/Palmer, May 24, 1979 [Fred Lewis of San Francisco, whose wife and all seven children perished]; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

6450 Camden St
Oakland, CA 94605

9. Heinold's First & Last Chance

48 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607

The name of this 1883 bar was a cheeky way of letting area sailors know that this watering hole was the first and last chance to drink booze before heading out to sea. But it also has another name: Jack London's Rendezvous. This historic pub was reportedly the inspiration for scenes from the Nobel Prize-winning writer Jack London. (Specifically, in his works Call of the Wild and The Sea Wolf.) The bar still serves alcohol today for thirsty history buffs; it features the same slanted floor that was never fixed after the Great 'Quake of 1906, and the same potbellied stove used in 1889 is still used to warm the room. Glorious.(Photo courtesy of Oakland Tribune Archives; photo by Sue Stokes/Shutterstock.)

48 Webster St
Oakland, CA 94607

10. Jack London's Cabin

Oakland, CA 94607

This is the cabin Jack London lived in, wrote in, and drank heavily in during his heyday. It was brought down from the Klondike and now lives in Jack London Square. Think of it as one of the first tiny homes, well before the crazed movement gained traction. (Photo courtesy of keepoaklandbeautiful.org; photo by Daniel Ramirez/Flickr.)

11. Chabot Space & Science Center

10000 Skyline Blvd, Oakland, CA 94619

Going through several different incarnations, names, and locations since 1883 (it had to move due to ever-increasing light pollution), the Chabot Space and Science Center is now the place to go for meteor showers, astronomical nighttime hikes, and, yes, a laser show set to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.The 86,000-square-foot science and technology facility sits on 13-acres in the Oakland Hills. Its rolling roof observatory is its biggest signified when seen from afar, and it houses three powerful telescopes named "Rachel" (1914), "Leah" (1983), and "Nellie" (2003).(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images; photo courtesy of Chabot.)

10000 Skyline Blvd
Oakland, CA 94619

12. Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension

4700 Lincoln Ave, Oakland, CA 94602

Opening in 1960, this cathedral features the typical Greek Orthodox dome, but the interiors of the space are what make it stand out. Both modern elements and traditional design mesh together seamlessly at this heavily-attended church. (It boasts the biggest Greek Orthodox congregation in the Bay Area.) It's far cry from its humble beginnings when it started in 1917 inside a rented hall; it opened in 1921 on Brush Street in downtown Oakland, then moved to its current home in the hills.(Photo courtesy of FamilySearch.org; photo by Jennifer Tharp/Flickr.)

4700 Lincoln Ave
Oakland, CA 94602

13. Mountain View Cemetery

Oakland, CA

Such an esteemed final resting place, this cemetery filled with California's most important figures (political, blue blood, et cetera) even features a "Millionaires' Row." Among the deceased inductees—Warren A. Bechtel (founder of Bechtel), Peter Folger (coffee heir), Domingo Ghirardelli (of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company), Julia Morgan (architect), and others. What's more, it's the most gorgeous burial ground on this list. A must visit, if you will. (Photo by Sonny Abesamis/Flickr; photo courtesy of Library of Congress.)