Squeezed into the corner of the intersection between Broadway and Telegraph Ave, the gothic façade of the Flatiron-style Cathedral Building rises up 12 stories like an ornately detailed fin.
Delicate terra cotta spires built to look like a gothic cathedral on the inclined roof give the building its name. Nicknamed the “Wedding Cake,” during the construction it was described as “what looked as if it might be the beginning of the framework of an ocean liner that had lost its way.”
Completed in 1914 by architect Benjamin Geer McDougall, the structure was originally known as the Federal Realty Building. Its resemblance to the thin-profiled Flatiron Building in New York is due to its location on a small triangle of land amid a tight intersection of roads. The intersection on which it sits was once a stop along the old Bay Area Transit System, the Key System, for several lines that ran along Telegraph and Broadway in the 1930’s. The Key System Building itself is a few blocks south along Broadway, empty and boarded up.
Although no hard evidence has ever surfaced, rumor has it a speakeasy once operated out of the basement during the prohibition era. It’s not difficult to imagine drunkards stumbling out of the building and onto a transit car, rattling away into the night.
From at least the early ’60s to 1986 when the chain closed, the beloved local fast food restaurant Doggie Diner occupied the ground floor of the building.
The first floor was leased by a young fashion entrepreneur a few years ago hoping to turn the space into a fashion boutique to showcase local work and begin building a fashion district in downtown Oakland. But the ground floor of the building was looted during the Occupy Oakland protests and artwork and wares were stolen.
The historic building now houses offices of prominent architectural and engineering firms JRDV Architects and TJC and Associates, Inc. as well as Carrington Orthodontic Center. In June 2015, the United Nations Foundation commissioned Bay Area street artist Zio Ziegler to create a mural on the Cathedral Building’s north-facing wall. The mural features a figure releasing doves of peace, which commemorates the signing of the United Nations Charter in San Francisco, California on June 26, 1945.
You can admire the building from Latham Square, the plaza right in front.
Know Before You Go
At the intersection of Telegraph and Broadway, between the 12th Street and 19th Street BART stations.