The Lake Merritt Pergola

Adapted from a report (1.4 megabytes)prepared in 2005 by Rosemary Muller AIA of Muller and Caulfield Architects for the Parks and Recreation Department of the City of Oakland, California.

I. History

The Pergola and Colonnade at the end of the eastern arm of Lake Merritt was constructed in 1913, designed by Architect Walter Reed, at a cost of $17,500 (Oakland Enquirer, 1/4/1913). This construction was part of a package of improvements for Lake Merritt, instituted by Mayor Frank K. Mott, starting in 1908. Walter Reed was responsible for the design of the Municipal Boathouse, the East 18th Street Pier, the Canoe House, and the seating at Glen Echo Creek, as well as the Pergola, all of which were constructed in the same period. pergola7sm.jpg perFromSsm2005.jpg

Lake Merritt was originally a tidal flat area called San Antonio Slough, which was dammed to make a lake in the 1860's under the Mayoral administration of Dr. Samuel Merritt. After that time Lake Merritt was used for boating, but no park existed, and there were little if any civic improvements to the shoreline. By 1880 there was significant public pressure to create a park around the lake. Still it wasn't until 1908, under Mayor Mott, that a Parks Commission was formed and the land was developed to become a park (Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 4-5). At this time the entire area was landscaped, and by 1913 construction was started on a number of structures associated directly with the lake, most of which were designed by Walter Reed. Later construction included a Bandstand, designed by Reed and Corlett, Bowling Greens with Clubhouse, and a string of lights ringing the lake, which were built during the 1920's (Longstreth, 1974, p. 15-16).

Soon after its construction, the Pergola structure acquired the name 'El Embarcadero' due to a suggestion by Mr. R.T. Stratton, who wrote a letter to the Oakland Park directors in November 1912. Mr. Stratton wrote that his father told him that "sloops and freight boats received and delivered cargoes for the early settlers" at that location (Oakland Tribune, 2/15/1914, available at Oakland Library, History Room), and that the landing was called by the Spanish 'embarcadero.' The small cross street where the pergola now stands still bears the name El Embarcadero, in honor of this structure.

Walter Reed was an architect in Oakland, first as part of the partnership Dickey and Reed, and after 1912 a principal of Corlett and Reed. He was born in Alameda, Ca., graduated from Berkeley High School, and attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in architecture. He is responsible for such buildings as the Financial Center Building and the Thompson Building, both in Oakland, the Oakland Bank Building, Peralta Hospital, Merritt Hospital, the Stanford University Hospital, as well as many of the structures constructed on Lake Merritt (Oakland Tribune, 1/25/1933). perDesigndrawing2.jpg

Historical resources regarding the Lake Merritt Pergola and Architect Walter Reed include early photographs, news clippings, and other documented information, and are available mainly from the Oakland Cultural Heritage Survey, the Oakland Public Library History Room, and at the Oakland Museum. We obtained copies of photographs, which showed the early conditions of the building, some which were taken just as the Pergola was reaching completion in 1914.

II. Description and Methodology

The Pergola consists of three loggias and two pergolas: a large central loggia flanked by a smaller loggia on either side. The loggias are connected by two arms of a curved trellis covered pergola walkway that embraces the end of this arm of the lake. The structure is 200 ft long, with 21ft x 21 ft end loggias, and the 50 ft x 28 ft central Loggia (Oakland Tribune, 2/15/1914).

The buildings are constructed of furred concrete walls, with incorporated concrete columns. Similar columns support the trellis at the walkway. Above the concrete walls wood truss framing forms the hipped roofs, supporting terra cotta tile roofing. The decorative unpainted roof overhangs are formed in panels and carved beams of exposed redwood. The interior ceilings of the small loggias are simple flat plaster, while the main loggia has a coffered wooden and plaster ceiling. The floor of the Pergola is paved throughout in concrete with an exposed pebble aggregate surface. In the center loggia there is a large circular pattern formed in colored pebbles, showing a tree, with a caption reading 'For a More Beautiful Oakland,' and 'Oakland Parks Department May 1961.' pergola5work.jpg

Much of our research into the Lake Merritt Pergola involved efforts to find plans of the structure, which came to little success. Along with the three locations already mentioned, we made inquiries at the Permit Center of the Oakland Community and Economic Development Agency, and at the Park and Building Maintenance Division of the Oakland Public Works Agency. Even this search yielded surprisingly little results, for a number of reasons: 1) the building is part of a public park, meaning there could always have been some confusion as to the actual address of the building for filing permit and plan records at the permit center, 2) being part of the Lakeside Park, work may have been done on the Lake Merritt Pergola that was part of a package of construction projects, undertaken for the park as a whole, which could be filed under some other name, 3) although it was constructed in 1913, it is apparent that little work has actually been done on the structure since that time, meaning that very little is available in terms of records, 4) the Park and Building Maintenance Division previously had building records for parks buildings, which were stored on an upper floor of city hall, but these records were lost (misplaced?) after the earthquake disruptions from the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. pergola1work.jpg

There are apparently very few records for parks buildings dating before 1989. Inquiries were also made at the UC Berkeley Environmental Design Library, and the Environmental Design Archives, which may have had archives of architect Walter Reed, but these were found to be either non-existent or of small and sporadic content. One image was recovered early in the project, by City of Oakland Contracts Officer Jadia Wu, showing an apparently original design blueprint.

We retained Applied Materials and Engineering (AME) to assist in investigating the existing structures and in testing for dry-rot in the structure. AME cut access openings into the ceilings and soffits to enable us to see the roof structure and to test for dry-rot, used a pachometer to investigate reinforcing in the concrete walls and columns, and, once we realized the walls were not solid concrete, drilled some exploratory bore-holes to look into the walls.

The following assessment is based on the investigation that we did during the week of October 19, 2005. perFromhillsm.jpg

III. Condition

a. The roof It is obvious from the ground that numerous roof tiles are missing or broken and that one of the downspouts has come lose. The City retained us to determine what other damage has been caused by the poor condition of the roof and to make recommendations for repair of the damage. We retained Applied Materials Engineering to provide access to the structure by opening up some holes in the ceilings and soffits and to test for dry rot in the wood.

We expected to find a lot of damage in the concealed attic spaces of the three loggias. However, to our surprise the interior of the attics revealed little to no wood rot or damage, and not even staining from water intrusion. The boards in the attics appear to be original, from 1913, with small knots and tight, old-growth grain. Some of the straight sheathing boards were previously used as concrete form boards, as was common at the time of construction. pergola8work.jpg

The main loggia structure has four small brass soffit vents installed in the unpainted wood overhangs. These vents look like standard interior furnace vents, with a relatively small free area. The attics of the two small loggias have no discernable ventilation. No light is visible from the attic, and there are no soffit vents in the plaster ceilings or in the wood overhangs. Once again, it is remarkable that there are no obvious problems with the structures due to insufficient or no ventilation. It may be that the entire structure can "breathe" through the unpainted wood overhangs and through the roof structure.

The existing roof tiles are tapered mission style, 9 1/8" wide, 4 1/2" high, 18" long, and 1/2" thick, with a full half-circle profile. The tiles are installed across the roof in straight rows, with the horizontal joints of each tile aligned. Each tile has one hole near the top end for attaching it to the roof with a nail or a wire.

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The small loggias have no gutters or downspouts. The main loggia has flat sheet metal gutters, which show a significant amount of rust and should be replaced The gutters are concealed above a redwood gutter and lead to four downspouts. One downspout is disconnected from the gutter on the central building.

b. Ceilings and Soffits pergola10work.jpg

The plaster is a smooth, 2-coat cement (?) plaster system applied directly to the roughened concrete or applied over expanded metal lath. The lath is lightly rusted, but in basically good condition and the plaster itself is in excellent condition with few visible cracks.

The plaster and wood ceilings are currently painted with a multi- color grey and white speckled paint (Zolatone). This finish was invented in the 1940's. It is our guess that the paint was applied in 1961, when the work on the floors was done. The historic photographs show the original coffered ceiling in the main loggia with contrasting light and dark colors. We assume that the wood was originally unpainted (currently grain wear can be observed under the paint of the coffers), while the plaster panels between were originally either integrally colored or painted in a light color.

The unpainted redwood soffits are in good to excellent condition in most areas, although the corner of the main loggia with the missing downspout shows some water damage. The fact that the wood was unpainted may have helped the whole attic to dry after any moisture was introduced.

c. Walls and Columns

The concrete walls and columns are in good condition, with very few visible cracks or damage in the plaster surface. The plaster is currently painted white except for the zolatone paint on the plaster ceilings. The historic photographs show that the columns were originally painted with a faux marble finish. perInteriorsm.jpg

Our investigation revealed that large parts of the loggia walls are furred on the interior side, rather than solid concrete, and are finished with plaster and metal lath. The large loggia has a system of solid concrete beams around the openings, and beams at the top of the wall, and at the 12'6" level, but the rest of the wall is furred. The concrete wall at the furred sections is only six inches thick, compared to the fourteen to eighteen inches at the solid sections. The walls of the small loggias have only small furred sections, at the top of each wall.

d. Trellises

Large vines are evident along the south trellis walkway, and extensive growth now encroaches on the roof and building of the southern loggia. The northern trellis was apparently completely rebuilt in 2004, by the City Maintenance Department. Vines were removed (if there were any) and new bolted connections were added to tie the main members together.

e. Floors and site furniture

The historical photographs show that the original paving of the Pergola was done in brick, and a layer of brick can still be seen under the current concrete paving, at both of the small loggias. The early photographs also show a number of pieces of site equipment that are no longer in evidence: a small fountain in the main central loggia, drinking fountains in center of the small loggias, and a number of concrete or stone benches. Similar benches also appeared in photographs of the Boat Landing at Eighteenth Street on Lake Merritt, which was constructed around the same time as the Pergola, and was also designed by Walter Reed. It is speculated that the benches were first placed at the Pergola, and then moved to the Boat Landing.

f. Medallions perBenchsm.jpg

There are round medallions on two sides of the main loggia, which are currently painted the same white as the walls of the building. Historic photos show a darker color in these circles. There is no evidence in the photos we have found that there was ever a decorative motif inside these circles. However, the two circles that face El Embarcadero currently are covered with metal panels that are painted white. The panels are held in place with four protruding nails. We did not remove a panel to see what is behind it. Further investigation is needed.

All of the existing framing, sheathing, tile and plaster appear to be original, as built in 1913. We did not see any evidence that any of the structure has been reconstructed or re-roofed except for the work on the floor and the trellis over the North pergola.

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VI. The Team

Investigation was conducted by Rosemary Muller of Muller & Caulfield Architects, assisted by Shizue Seo and Charles Bucher and by the following team: pergola11sm.jpg

(1) Applied Materials and Engineering, testing and investigation

(2) Ron Zeiger of Zeiger Engineers, electrical engineer

(3) Ron Gallagher and Jerry Quinn, structural engineers, R. P. Gallagher Associates

(4) Emil Vinuya, Don Todd & Associates, cost estimator

VII. Appendices

(A) AME Report: Materials Testing and Investigation

(B) R. P. Gallagher report: ASCE31 Tier 1 Seismic Evaluation of Lake Merritt Loggia and Pergola

(C) Don Todd & Associates: cost estimate perMandC.jpg

339 15th Street
Oakland CA 94612
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