Developer Hopes To Restore Key System Building, Build 18-Story Office Tower

After nearly 20 years of proposed projects, a developer is hoping to get a project underway this year to restore the former Key System Building in downtown Oakland and build a new 18-story office tower next door.

The design of the project at 1100 Broadway has some preservationists and city officials worried it would overshadow the existing historic building and have a negative impact on the views along Broadway.

Proposed design for 1100 Broadway. | via Gensler

The so-called Key System Building was built in 1911 and first housed the Security Bank and Trust Company. It later housed the Key System mass transit company, which operated transit throughout the East Bay, including trains over the lower deck of the old Bay Bridge.

The building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1981, but was badly damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and has been vacant since.

Various proposals have been floated in the intervening years to build on an adjacent lot while simultaneously rehabilitating the historic building. In the late 80s, the city approved plans for a 150-room hotel, in 2006 it approved an 11-story commercial office tower, and in 2008, it approved a 20-story office tower.

Previous designs for a 20-story tower.

Real estate investment firm Ellis Partners announced in March its purchase of the building in a venture with Intercontinental Real Estate Corporation. The new partners have proposed a design for an 18-story office tower that would partially hover over the Key System Building via a large cantilevered section.

At a recent city meeting, Matt Weber of Ellis Partners said the company revised the previously approved 20-story design to make the building “more contemporary” and “meet today’s tenant needs.” The cantilevered section would provide larger contiguous floor plans in the upper floors.

One tenant at the building would apparently be the University of California, which announced in February that it had signed a lease for the yet-to-be built space.

But the design has drawn concern from members of the Planning Commission’s Design Review Committee, the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board and historical preservation group Oakland Heritage Alliance.

Members of the Design Review Committee called it "top heavy," "looming" and "overwhelming the delicate Key System building."

In response, developers shrunk the cantilevered portion and submitted the revised design to the Landmarks board.

"We definitely think it's an improvement over the previous design, but we still have concerns," said Daniel Levy of Oakland Heritage Alliance. "Even though it is improved, it still looms over the Key System building."

A mural depicting Key System trains has been removed from the building. | Via Google Maps

A casualty of the renewed momentum for restoring the building has apparently been the removal of a mural depicting Key System trains on the south end of the building.

Ellis Partners said in March that the company hopes to break ground on the project later this year to open sometime in 2019.

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Developer hopes to restore key system building build 18 story office tower