Tag Archives: art deco

The Breuner Building ~ a gem in sea-glass green

I’m not done with the Paramount yet… but in an effort to be quick today (I’m a bit under the gun) I thought I’d share some photos of the lovely Breuner Building, designed by Albert Roller and built in 1931. It was constructed to house the John Breuner Company Furniture Store… indicative of this early history is the building’s front facade, another terra-cotta relief (in fact the entire building is clad in terra cotta glazed in a gorgeous sea-glass green) featuring two workers crafting a chair. It’s classic Art Deco – high stylized motifs incorporating images of industry with more organic forms (leaves, swirls), and of course, always the zig-zags!

breuner building, art deco terracotta, art deco buildings oakland

The Breuner Company was established in 1865 (also indicated in relief on the exterior) but this store was opened decades later at “22nd and Broadway — despite the onset of the Great Depression — to join fellow retailers H.C. Capwell and I. Magnin, and the grand and elegant Paramount and Fox Oakland movie palaces.” (Annalee Allen) Here is a shot of the original building with the Breuner sign atop, and what it looks like now, the sign replaced by a lone flagpole.

Breuner Building, art deco buildings oakland, breuner company furniture store

Historical photo courtesy Christopher C. Curtis, Metrovation Brokerage

terra cotta relief of chair, art deco terracotta

You can see that the lower portion of the building was changed significantly and large openings were cut into the ground floor that now harbor huge criss-crossed steel trusses, likely an earthquake retrofit.

art deco buildings oakland, art deco terra cotta, breuner furniture company

breuner building on broadway, art deco buildings oakland

Surprisingly, the Breuner Furniture Company still exists today, now called Breuners Home Furnishings. The company was originally founded by John Breuner, a German cabinetmaker turned gold miner, who “founded the company in 1856 in Sacramento, California when he realized selling [furniture] to gold miners was more lucrative than mining gold for himself.” Smart man. His sons Louis and John Jr. were responsible for the later move to Oakland. The store was ultimately shuttered in the 1970’s and the building currently consists of commercial office space, including the home of The California Genealogical Society.

Art deco building oakland, art deco terra cotta

architectural terracotta, oakland art deco building

Art Deco Oakland, Breuner Building on Broadway

The Paramount Theatre – for frugalistas

I asked a friend the other day if he’d ever seen the inside of the Paramount Theatre. He smirked slightly and rubbed his forefingers and thumb together, indicating that this establishment was a bit too steep for his price-line. But while many shows are fairly expensive ($50 and up, but usually worth it in my humble opinion), there are plenty of ways to experience this incredible venue for a lot less cash. And you really should. It’s one of those things-you-should-do-before-you-die kind of things.

paramount theatre, paramount oakland, movie night at Paramount

The best ways to see the Paramount on the cheap – though trust me you’ll want to put on your finest dandies and make a night of it, even if you are on a budget – are either of three ways, all of which I have done and enjoyed immensely:

  1. Volunteer as an usher – I mentioned this in my short post about touring the Paramount… pretty much anyone can usher shows here for free.  It simply requires that you complete a few prerequisites, such as taking the tour at least once ($5 fee is waived), attending a volunteer meeting, and having access to black dress clothes & shoes along with a nice white shirt.  You also have to usher a few “required” shows before you can pick your own.  It’s definitely a process, but for those who have more time than green, it’s a great option… especially if you love seeing a lot of music.  And it’s actually quite fun.  The theatre has an unusual historical opera-house method of seat numbering, so it’s really pretty tricky to figure out where one’s seats are.  The ushers provide this valuable service, and offer historical tidbits to inquiring patrons.  You generally get dismissed one to two songs into the headline act, at which point you can find a seat in the back or make your way to the back of the floor to enjoy the rest of the show.
  2. Take the tour – only $5.  Offered twice every month on Saturday mornings.  If you catch them on a day when there’s no performance, they’ll take you up on stage, under the stage, the whole shebang!
  3. Classic Movie Night – this too only $5!  I’ve said it before… this is the best deal in town.  And includes fun stuff like Jim Riggs performing on the mighty Wurlitzer, a hosted game of Deco-win, and more.  Last movie I saw at the Paramount was Cool Hand Luke, in memorium for Paul Newman.  What a great movie, and what a handsome man!!!  ol’ blue-eyes… (sigh)

Then of course, there’s always the option of buying tickets to premiere events. I’ve seen some shows of a lifetime at this venue… Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, Leonard Cohen, The Flaming Lips with Beck, WilcoDamn I love this place! And you should know that it’s not just pretty to look at.  The Paramount is currently owned, as it has been for the last 38 years, by the Oakland Symphony who purchased it explicitly for its acoustics.  But more on that tomorrow… I think I just decided that I’m rambling at this point and need to shelve some of this material for tomorrow.  I’ve got tons of photos (I took over a hundred on the tour in addition to ones I already had in the archives)… there’s history galore, and so much extravagant Art Deco craftsmanship it will stump you speechless.  I told you it was a lot!  Please stay tuned…

What is Art Deco?

Art Deco was an international design movement popular in the 1920’s and 30’s, focused on themes of luxury, technology, modernization, and craftsmanship. The movement was born in Paris, an outgrowth of the previous Art Nouveau movement that was declining in popularity at the turn of the 20th century.

Art Nouveau (French for “new art”) focused on the importance of artisan craftsmanship, and typically featured organic motifs of flowers & plants, and/or highly stylized curved forms. Art Deco retains many of the same inherent aesthetic qualities as Art Nouveau, but was considered a modernization of the style, and until a comprehensive book was written about it, following an exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 1971 by Bevis Hillier, Art Deco had often been referred to as “Style Moderne.”

Hillier’s book was titled Art Deco of the 20s and 30s, which first popularized the term. He took his title from an exposition held in France in 1925, the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (truncating the words “Arts Décoratifs”). The Exposition was organized by a collective of French artists known as La Société des Artistes Décorateurs (the society of the decorator artists), and its purpose was to demonstrate French artists’ and designers’ dominance as leaders in the world of luxury design. The French are not known for their modesty!  The exposition was originally slated for 1915, but was postposted due to WWI, which had the unlikely effect of expanding the historical influences to the designs presented.

With the increasing ability to travel abroad, and international interest in archeology fueled by discoveries such as the lost city of Pompeii and King Tutankhamun’s intact tomb, artist and designers began incorporating exotic cultures and primitive arts into their design themes. These influences are pervasive throughout the Art Deco movement – Egyptian motifs are prevalent, as well as Grec0-Roman, Babylonian, Azteca, etc. and can be seen in sunburst and zig-zag patterns, staggered tiered/pyramidal structures, pictorial representations and more.

This period of Deco, sometimes referred to as Zigzag Moderne, flourished during the hey day of the post-war roaring 20’s. The economy was booming, people were optimistic, and the lavish yet modern stylings of Deco ushered in this age. Classic examples can be seen in the Empire State Building (pictured below) and Chrysler Building, both built in the late 1920’s in New York.

art deco architecture, empire state building, sunburst pattern, staggered pyramid

As I mentioned last week, I took the tour this past weekend of our incredible Paramount Theatre, “one of the finest examples of Art Deco in the United States,” which displays many of the Zigzag influences as well as references to Art Nouveau, through repetitious use of organic themes of grass, flower, leaf, & vine. I’ll be posting about it later this week, but it’s a lot of material to compose (the Paramount’s website alone has more than 4 pages of history and artists information, so I may need to break it up a bit). We’ll see… Please stay tuned.

As Deco continued to develop throughout the 1930’s more industrial influences can be seen, such as sleek, aerodynamic stylings often referred to as Streamline or Streamline Moderne. Rounded corners, chrome surfaces, and the conveyance of speed influenced everything from buildings to cars to kitchen appliances. The renovated marquee of the Fox Oakland Theater (shown in my last post) is a good example of Streamline design, as is the 1934 Chrysler Airflow pictured below (photo courtesy of Randy Stern on Flickr).

art deco moderne, chrysler airflow 1934

Though a dominant design form through the early 1930’s, Art Deco waned in popularity mid-decade as the Great Depression continued to take its toll. The glitzy elegance and luxurious treatments of Deco-inspired buildings and products were seen as stark reminders of a promised prosperity, never realized. “Moreover, as the threat of a second world war loomed closer and closer, Art Deco was looked upon ever more vehemently. And with the outbreak of WWII in 1939, Art Deco was dead.” (Art Deco Style)

Not truly dead however… Because we have our wonderful historical homages to this period, many of which have been spared the wrecking ball due to their incredible beauty and craftsmanship. I’ll be looking at many of our Oakland Art Deco masterpieces in my coming posts…