OAKLAND -- Welcome back to the California Hotel.
Once a venue for jazz, blues and mambo stars and a beacon for African-American travelers who experienced discrimination elsewhere, the storied West Oakland building fell into disrepair in the 1970s, re-emerged as subsidized housing in the 1980s and finally fell into foreclosure and abandon.
Now, at the end of a three-year, $43 million rehabilitation, the historic 1929 landmark is a beacon again.
Tenants, nonprofit developers and city officials celebrated its reopening Thursday and the hotel's critical role as a refuge from the Bay Area's rising rents. All of the 137 refurbished units are reserved for low-income tenants, many of them previously homeless.
"We're excited about being able to preserve 137 apartments that will be affordable in the long-term, as economic forces continue to impact West Oakland," said Joshua Simon, director of East Bay Asian Local Development Corp., known as EBALDC. "This is an island of affordability and an island of opportunity."
Only 26 defiant tenants were still living in the falling-apart hotel that overlooks Interstate 580 when EBALDC bought the property in 2011. Twenty-four stayed on through the makeover, and their surroundings are in much better shape, said corporation spokeswoman Jennifer Moxley.
New plumbing, refurbished windows and a new roof were among the fixes built with the help of federal and local grants. EBALDC also made extensive seismic upgrades and installed a new high-efficiency heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, a solar-powered water heater, and upgrades to individual apartments such as kitchenettes and mechanical ventilation.
The number of units has dropped to 137 from 150, but Moxley said the bigger-sized apartments can now accommodate families and residents with live-in caretakers. The People's Grocery helps tenants grow their own organic vegetables and raise chickens in a 9,000-square-foot rear garden.
"They (the contractors) did an excellent job," said Duane Anderson, 65, a resident for seven years. "I have a room ... that's very comfortable. It's not big, but it's kind of like being on a cruise ship."
Supporters hope the rehabilitated residence and the ground-floor storefronts bring new life to the block-sized building on San Pablo Avenue that once drew big-name performers including Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, James Brown, Mahalia Jackson, Sly Stone and Big Mama Thornton, along with many popular Latin American band leaders.