Front view of Oakland City Hall. Park in front, Memorial Plaza, small building in foreground "Information Headquarters for Servicemen". From The Montclarion, Sept. 12,1995, by Annalee Allen: In front of City Hall, the triangular plaza with its stately oak tree has been a focal point for public congregation since 1868. The parcel was originally part of the vast grazing lands of Rancho San Antonio, which stretched from present-day San Leandro to El Cerrito. In 1853 the city's street grid was laid out as far north as 14th street. San Pablo Road, the old Spanish trail which connected the various East Bay ranches cut a diagonal path through farms and orchards. The forerunner of today's plaza was a part of farmer Elijah Rowland's pasture. A crop of coastal oaks marked the spot. He sold the tract to the city for $17,672.90 in 1868 and the deed recorded that the property "was not to be used for gambling or for a house of ill repute." Evidently there was strong feeling on the part of some that this location was too far from the center of town. Dr. Samuel Merritt, then mayor "went into hiding" for a time "because of the violent reactions from citizens". Despite the discord, a two-story wood frame Victorian structure facing 14th and Washington Streets was built. A suspicious fire destroyed the building in 1877 and a similar structure designed by the famed Newsom Brothers replaced it. A fenced public garden, containing two or three of the oaks stood to the east of the building. Several changes have occurred in and around the plaza since City Hall was completed. One year after author Jack London's death in 1916, his widow oversaw the planting of an oak tree in his honor. It is still the most prominent feature of the plaza. In 1922, the plaza was renamed "Memorial Plaza" in honor of Oakland's soldiers who died in World War I. The present landscaping dates from 1954. Circulation patterns around the plaza have also undergone several changes. In the early 1970s, San Pablo Avenue was closed at 14th Street and became a parking area for city vehicles. Washington Street was closed south of 14th Street to make way for the City Center development. In 1994 the park was renamed in memory of longtime City Council member and parks advocate, Frank Ogawa. In conjunction with the planned city administration complex (now in preconstruction), the plaza will be redesigned to become the city's premier "outdoor room", a pedestrian link to and from Broadway for the estimated 11,000 workers expected to occupy the downtown area at the turn of the next century.
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