The historic former Johnston Motors Building on Broadway in Oakland's Uptown district is the new home for Impact Hub Oakland, a shared-space entrepreneurial incubator, the latest in what organizers say is a global community of people seeking to learn from one another.

In taking the space, the Hub as a modern business development enterprise is replaying the building's original, early 20th-century role as the center of the new firms involved in the automobile sales and service industry.

The first Hub was founded in London in 2005, and over the past decade other cities including Amsterdam, Singapore and Mexico City have become hosts to Hub networks.

All told there are now 42 Hub headquarters worldwide.

Hub came to the Bay Area in 2008, with a site in the San Francisco Chronicle building on Mission Street and in Berkeley's David Bower Center, near the UC Berkeley campus. Each Hub location is centered on a member-based collective where the spaces and resources for state-of-the-art workstations are housed in a light-filled, creative environment, using sustainable materials where possible. According to its website, Hubs have an estimated 7,000 members.

At a recent open house for prospective members, I took a tour with Chief Creative Officer Ashara Ekundayo as he explained how collaboration to complete the space has involved some local artists and designers.

For instance the backdrop of a raised stage platform was fashioned from wood planks taken from the adjoining building, which is also undergoing renovation. Plans call for regularly scheduled presentations and events using the handcrafted platform stage.

Skylights overhead amid the wood truss ceiling rafters do let in the light. The burnished and buffed concrete floor testifies to the structure's original use as an automobile services space. Some second-level rooms feature views of the street from the mezzanine windows.

The developer for this block of long vacant buildings, including the space now occupied by Hub, is Signature Development Group, headed by managing partner Mike Ghielmetti. Signature is also responsible for the nearby Broadway Grand condominium complex, which opened a five years ago. Signature intends to blend the renovated historic buildings in the 2300 block of Broadway with new construction. Plans also call for a pedestrian courtyard in what is now an empty parking lot.

Architectural researchers at the city's Cultural Heritage Survey found that development of this section of Broadway began at the dawning of private automobile ownership, around 1913-14. Sales and services for the then new must-have consumer item generated a new sort of commercial building, and well-known architects such as Julia Morgan, Clay Burrell and Willis Polk were enlisted to design them on Broadway, which led out to the emerging affluent neighborhoods in Piedmont, Rockridge and Montclair.

By the 1920s, sales ads for residential developments in these areas began including garages as a feature for homebuyers. Automobile ownership grew rapidly and Oakland started to become known as the "Detroit of the West," files reveal.

The auto showrooms often featured terra-cotta coping and belt courses, transom prism glass and marble floors, as well as large plate glass windows to show off the automobiles inside.

Today these same historic automobile services buildings have become sought after spaces for art galleries and eateries.

One example of the transformation of these attractive historic buildings is the recent opening of the Blue Bottle Cafe, 4270 Broadway, in the newly restored Wendell C. Morse Building, formerly a 1920s-era car and truck dealership.

During the month of February, Impact Hub Oakland is hosting workshops, presentations and demonstrations. Details and reservations for tours are available at www.oakland.impacthub.net.

hub tours
During the month of February, Impact Hub Oakland is hosting workshops, presentations and demonstrations. Details and reservations for tours are available at www.oakland.impacthub.net.