Oakland Home Prices Nearly Double Over Two Years

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Just two years ago, the median home price in Oakland was a mere $245k. Aftergrowing a stunning 76% between May 2012 and May 2013, Oakland’s median sales price shot up another 23% last year to reach its current $478,000. This means that, for the second year in a row, Oakland home prices have grown, percentage-wise, even more quickly than those in San Francisco, which experienced a 14% median home sales price rise between May 2013 and May 2014. Alameda grew at an 11% rate over the past year to reach a median sales price of $666,250, while Berkeley’s median actually fell by 1% to 801,000.

Oakland’s most expensive areas continued to be in the 94610 and 94611 zip codes, areas that include Piedmont Pines, Glen Highlands and Grand Lake. However, the zip codes where prices were growing most quickly were further west in zip codes like 94612, which includes the bustling area around the Fox Theater. Meanwhile in San Francisco, the most expensive zip code was 94123, which includes the Marina, Cow Hollow and Pacific Heights. It saw a staggering 109% median price increase over the past year.

Source:  ZipRealty

How the Cold War Shaped the Design of American Malls


Regardless of location, the American shopping mall takes the same form: two floors of enclosed shopping and parking connected by escalators, with a lush central arboretum and two anchor department stores at either end. Today this design seems cliche, but in 1956, it was a revolutionary setup that brought comfort to a nation that feared itself on the brink of nuclear war. America’s first mall, Southdale in Edina, Minnesota, was a Cold War-era invention that forever changed the way America lives and shops.

Southdale was designed by Austrian-born architect Victor Gruen. Gruen grew up in the high arts scene in Vienna and designed housing projects and stores for local merchants, but he fled his home and the rise of Nazi Germany in 1938. He settled in America, where he first designed a leather goods boutique for Ludwig Leder on Fifth Avenue in New York. Gruen turned the typical street-fronting New York boutique on its head by designing a mini arcade entranceway for Lederer. Then he turned his attention to larger-scale design, entering a 1943 Architectural Forum competition called “Architecture 194x,” which solicited ideas from renowned modern architects to design components of a futuristic model town. (The contest title referred to an unspecified year sometime in the postwar future.)



Gruen answered the magazine’s call with a design for the town’s shopping center. He proposed a fully enclosed shopping center with stores that were inward-facing, rather than street-facing. Gruen’s design also lacked a center square, the green space of traditional urban shopping districts where pedestrians would mingle and stroll. Both of these changes were radical departures from previous designs and from the American shopping experience that existed at the time. In fact, the design was too radical forArchitectural Forum, which asked Gruen for revisions until he turned in something more in line with contemporary trends.

But by the time World War II ended and the Cold War began, the country’s mindset had changed drastically. Against this backdrop, Gruen’s design for an insular utopia had substantial appeal: America was seeking shelter and a controlled environment. Just over a decade after his enclosed shopping center was turned down by Architectural Forum, Gruen built Southdale mall in the Minneapolis suburbs, the world’s first enclosed mall. His design for Southdale, which historian Timothy Mennel calls “a Cold War Utopia,” would go on to become the blueprint of today’s regional shopping mall: an enclosed community combining both retail and non-retail facilities in a single location.

Gruen himself had actually once dreamed of designing open-air promenades reminiscent of his native Austria—spaces where neighbors could mingle and shop in close connection with the natural environment. But his dream shifted as Gruen instead drew influence from the design work of America’s governmental and military institutions. Although Gruen popularized the regional shopping mall, the idea of combining both shopping and non-retail services (like movie theaters, the post office, churches, housing, etc.) in a single location came from the U.S. Federal Government. San Diego’s Linda Vista shopping center (built in 1942) was an all-encompassing installation built by the government for WWII defense workers, and Los Alamos, New Mexico, (built in 1943) was developed by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission as a combined retail and non-retail facility at the heart of America’s nuclear headquarters. That America’s first modern shopping centers were built by the government during the Cold War is a key indicator of how the government perceived life in this new atomic age. Gruen took these nascent ideas developed by the government and gave them a refined finish to appeal to his high-end clientele. (He wasn’t the only one to do so—Eero Saarinen drafted a plan for a similar shopping center in Willows Run, Michigan, though it ultimately went unbuilt.) Gruen first tried out his Cold War-appropriate design elements in 1952, when he designed Northland Mall in the Detroit suburbs for Michigan retailer J.L. Hudson.

The Dayton family of Minnesota, the owners of retailer the Dayton Company (and later Target) commissioned Gruen to design Southdale Mall. Family figurehead Donald Dayton called the mall a “self-contained community,” and it was massive, 810,000 square feet spread across 463 acres. The mall was located far outside the urban population center of Minneapolis, in the suburb of Edina, Minnesota. The suburbs were atypical retail locations at the time, and Edina had a population of just 15,000. What Edina offered was a location ten miles outside the Minneapolis city center, putting the mall outside the eight-mile blast radius of an atomic hit to the Minneapolis city core. A mall located in Edina could serve to house and protect the Twin Cities’ population in the event of a nuclear attack.


Groundbreaking for Southdale occurred in 1954. Gruen called for the mall to be built ofsteel and reinforced concrete, which had been proven more blast resistant than the ordinary variety. Specifically, Southdale was made up of 200,000 concrete blocks and 360,000 bricks, and a 10,000 kilowatt generator completed this post-apocalyptic structure. Southdale’s completely enclosed nature allowed it “to keep out, both cold war worries and actual cold,” writes Mennel. Shops were to be converted into food combines in the event of an attack. A large basement area, complete with an underground tunnel system, was built at Southdale to act as a fallout shelter and sat stealthily yet ever-ready below the Minnesota shopper’s paradise. The mall was strategically positioned directly between two major highways, which would allow easy access to the facility even in times of chaos and traffic. Parking at Southdale—2,800,000 square feet of it—was also built with the idea that it could easily be converted into a tent city for a population seeking shelter.

In fact, Gruen’s initial plans for the compound called for actual apartments, business and medical offices, civic and religious buildings, auditoriums, and utilities to all be built on-site at Southdale. This miniature town would be ready to function as a full-fledged operational city on a moment’s notice. It could serve the medical needs of those affected in a blast, house others escaping a ravaged city center, and eventually cultivate a return to everyday life with its religious and entertainment centers. While many of these elements were built over time at Southdale, the full extent of community structures in Gruen’s initial plan was never realized.


Many of the Cold War-conscious design choices were implemented within the mall itself. The paradise was climate-controlled for extended habitation—its air conditioning and central heating achieved a constant homeostasis. Such a controlled environment not only lent itself to stable human life, but to stable animal and plant life as well. Gruen was no Noah, but within Southdale, he did create enough of a perfect ecological microcosm that he was able to fill the mall with exotic birds and tropical plants, notes Gruen biographer M. Jeffrey Hardwick. Enclosed Southdale featured all this in a “Garden Court of Perpetual Spring” with orchids, Magnolia trees, and Eucalyptus trees. It was a space so big and lush, at five stories tall and a block long, that it would be a more than adequate substitute for the outdoors in a ravaged, post-atomic world. Southdale was such an acutely curated substitute for reality that it could make a person forget they were indoors: At the time of its opening, Architectural Record wrote, “[It is] an imaginative distillation of what makes downtown magnetic: the variety, the individuality, the lights, the color, even the crowds—for Southdale’s pedestrian-scale spaces insure a busyness and a bustle.”

Southdale mall opened for business on October 8, 1956, to much fanfare. Copycat malls soon followed. James Rouse, Maryland developer extraordinaire and the mastermind behind the planned community of Columbia, Maryland, built the country’s second enclosed mall, Harundale, which opened in 1958. Eleven miles outside downtown Baltimore, in Glen Burnie, Maryland, Harundale too was beyond the assumed radius of an atomic attack on the city center. And like Southdale, Harundale incorporated auditoriums, fountains, libraries, post offices, and churches as would-be centers of civic life. Harundale was also at constant homeostasis with a fully climate-controlled environment. As Rouse biographer Nicholas Dagen Bloom explains, Rouse was convinced the mall was to be the new center of the American community—it was the new main street of “Rouse’s Cold War utopia.” Houston’s Montclair mall, New Jersey’s Cherry Hill mall, and others followed. By the 1980s, over forty years later and close to the end of the Cold War, there were around 3,000 Southdale copy-cats in the U.S.


Source: SF Curbed

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Huge New Palo Alto Condo Aims for $1,500+ Per Square


Construction recently kicked off on a mixed-use four-story residential and office building on Cowper Avenue, near the Palo Alto Caltrain station. Because there is so much demand in the area and new construction there is so rare,developers R & M Properties are aiming for prices of $1,500 per square foot for the residential portion, which will consist of a massive 5,000 square foot condo with private elevator access. That condo alone could bring in a price of$7.5 million. The 30,000 square feet of office space on the first three floors already has a tenant, although there’s no word on who that may be. The new building, designed by architecture firm The Hayes Group, is expected to be complete by the end of 2015.

Source: SF Business Times

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Source: Zillow’s Mortgage Education Center


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More New Housing Coming to KRON-TV Studios on Van Ness


Back in March, KRON-TV Studios at 1001 Van Ness hit the market asking $25 million. The 25,000 square foot property has now sold for a reported $26 million to a new developer, Oryx Partners, that plans to redevelop the site into new housing. The studio lot is zoned for up to 200 housing units and plans are to create a mid-rise complex after demolishing the current structure. The developer was attracted to the site’s location because it is a block away from the new $2 billion California Pacific Medical Center that will soon rise on the site of the old Cathedral Hill/Jack Tar Hotel.

Much of the action around Van Ness in the past few weeks has focused on the section around mid-Market, but Central Van Ness is also a new housing hotspot. The Marlow at 1800 Van Ness was wildly popular and other upcoming developments in the area include 1533 Pine Street, 1285 Sutter and a proposed condo building at 1688 Pine. KRON will move its studios down to a smaller space on Front Street by the end of this year.

Source: Curbed

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Bay Area ranks as the best commercial real estate market in the country, again!

For the second year in a row, the Bay Area ranked as the best market for commercial real estate in the country, according to a report from the Wells Fargo Economics Group.

The report found that the Bay Area’s strong gains in employment, housing inventory and technology sector push the Bay Area far ahead of other markets in terms of increasing value and potential for more growth.

“The San Francisco Bay Area remains the epicenter of many of the most rapidly growing technology sectors, including mobile devices, social media, cloud computing, data analytics and life sciences,” the report states. “Overall job and income growth have significantly outpaced the nation in recent years and the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level in nearly six years.”

The report demonstrates the tight relationship between jobs and real estate, pointing to deals like Salesforce.com leasing 714,000 square feet in an office tower under construction. That tower will eventually house thousands of jobs, many of them yet to be created, and Salesforce is just one of numerous tech companies expanding in the Bay Area.

The Wells Fargo report provides detailed analysis of the Bay Area’s submarkets of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Silicon Valley and the East Bay. Here’s a sampling of highlights:

Some industries like financial services are shrinking like in the case of San Francisco-based Charles Schwab & Co. deciding to move 1,000 jobs out of San Francisco to places like Colorado and Texas.

Fortunately, the technology sector is growing much faster than other sectors are retreating.

Tech is booming in San Francisco, but the Bay Area’s true tech capital is still Silicon Valley.

Technology firms have not abandoned the suburbs. Job growth in Silicon Valley remains exceptionally strong. … Technology firms employ about 270,000 workers in the San Jose metropolitan area, which includes Santa Clara and San Benito counties. Total tech employment in the San Jose metropolitan area is 73.4 percent higher than the number employed in the San Francisco metropolitan division.

Still, many tech workers prefer to live elsewhere.

Household employment growth has risen more slowly in South Bay, however, climbing just 3.3 percent over the past year, which implies a significant number of workers are commuting into Silicon Valley from San Francisco, Oakland and other neighboring areas.

Jobs and housing are great here, but transportation connects it all together. You can debate high-speed rail all you want, but turns out strong commuter systems boost the entire region.

A major modernization program is now under way, which will extend service to the Transbay Transit Center being developed in San Francisco’s booming SoMa area and move from diesel-electric locomotives to overhead-electric powered trains by 2019. The growth of the system, which will more firmly connect the major hubs of the Bay’s tech sector, the San Francisco and San Jose airports, and many of the region’s key sports and cultural venues, has become a major driver of residential and commercial development.

Everybody loves a growing economy. Well, not everybody. Growth comes with repercussions.

With employment and population growth exceeding expectations, worries are beginning to surface that the latest boom is showing signs of overheating. Explosive growth in the Bay Area’s creative industries is beginning to crowd out activity in parts of the financial and professional services sector. The boom has also sparked a backlash by some individuals tied to slower growing and lower paying parts of the economy. Home prices, apartment rents and office rents have also increased dramatically, which has significantly increased the cost of living and doing business in the Bay Area. Despite these developments, we still expect the Bay Area to outperform the nation. While costs have increased dramatically over the past year, so has the quality of life.

If any region would be familiar with tech booms and busts, it should be the Bay Area. So when is our bust coming, if at all? Economists expect this cycle to have a smoother landing that the first tech boom.

The dependence on technology has raised concerns about the vulnerability of the Bay Area’s economy to another dot com crash. The prospect has gained increased attention in recent months, which have seen a number of extremely highly valued acquisitions of tech startups and a few disappointing IPOs. While every boom must eventually end, traditional valuation measures are much different than they were during the run-up during the tech bubble in the late 1990s.

Source: Blanca Torres (Reporter) – San Francisco Business Times


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