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With move of historic clubhouse, Oak Knoll development reaches another milestone

Mercury News logo Mercury News 9/17/2021 Annie Sciacca
a group of items on a table: OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 14: A portion of the historic Club Knoll building, left, is seen from this drone view as it’s moved to its new location at the Oak Knoll development in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) © Provided by Mercury News OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 14: A portion of the historic Club Knoll building, left, is seen from this drone view as it’s moved to its new location at the Oak Knoll development in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
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OAKLAND — The final piece of a 100-year-old clubhouse on the site of the former Oak Knoll Naval Hospital made its way on wheels across part of the 187-acre property this week to help make way for the hundreds of homes that will be built there in the next few years.

The relocation of Club Knoll, built as a clubhouse in 1924 and later converted to an officers’ club, was part of a plan approved by the city in 2017 for developing the wooded hillside above Interstate 580 between Sequoyah Road and Keller Avenue.

In addition to about 900 housing units — including townhouses and single-family houses — the plan calls for 72,000 square feet of retail property anchored by a grocery store, 67 acres of open space, biking and walking trails, restoration of Rifle Range Creek and public art installations.

Moving the historic clubhouse involved separating it into four large pieces that were placed on wheels and brought from the side of the property close to Sequoyah Road toward Keller Avenue. The stucco building’s parts will then be reattached and refurbished, and in the next few weeks crews will place the multi-story bell tower on top of the building.

It’s the only significant building remaining on the parcel after a former naval hospital, a warehouse and living quarters were demolished in 2011.

Before the property was closed in 1996, the officers club  — which offered views of the bay from its perch in the hills — was a popular venue for weddings and other festive gatherings.

It could once again serve that purpose, said Zack Roberts, a project manager for the development.

SunCal, the master developer of the project, will work with its building partners to renovate the clubhouse into a community space with a shell for a kitchen. A homeowners association for the development would ultimately decide how to use the space and could rent it out or use it for homeowner activities or community and social events.

Naomi Schiff, a community activist who sits on the board of directors for the Oakland Heritage Alliance, said it’s important that the historic clubhouse be made available to the public in some way, even under the control of an HOA.

The battle to preserve the building was a hard one. SunCal’s initial plans called for razing the building, which fell into disrepair after the Navy left Oak Knoll in 1996. But in 2015, the city’s Landmark Preservation Advisory Board rejected plans to demolish it.

In 2017, SunCal representatives told the landmark board they would need to relocate the building because the ground near it was unstable but would otherwise restore it in a new location. That satisfied the board.

Schiff said she and other preservationists are hopeful that the clubhouse will successfully be turned into a community hub.

She noted that many Oakland residents were born in the naval hospital before it closed in 1996. In the 54 years before then, the hospital treated serviceman wounded in World War II, the Vietnam and Korean wars, and the Gulf War.

And before the Navy used the building as a hospital, it was a golf clubhouse with a Spanish architecture flair.

Plans to develop the Oak Knoll site have been in the works for years. SunCal bought the property 15 years ago. Since 2018, the master developer has been preparing the site — including grading the hillsides — and restoring the creek.

According to Roberts, actual construction of buildings likely will start next year. SunCal will sell parts of the property to individual home builders, who’ll need to obtain some permits from the city but otherwise could start pouring concrete next summer.

SunCal spokesman David Soyka said the company is in talks with grocers and one of them will anchor the commercial portion of the development, which is to include retail spaces such as coffee shops and other stores.

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