Landslide2008: Marvels of Modernism


In the early 1950s, Henry J. Kaiser decided he wanted to construct a campus, including several large high-rise buildings that would serve as the headquarters for all Kaiser Industries. The first Kaiser Center building was to be a visual symbol of the important position Kaiser held in the San Francisco Bay Area and in California. A 1955 memo from Fritz Burns (head of Kaiser’s construction division) summed up the major objective to construct a building that would “everlastingly reflect public relations credit to the Kaiser name as well as aiding in the establishment of Oakland as an important national center...[and] demonstrate the importance of the Kaiser Industries to the City of Oakland.” Although some Kaiser executives urged that he locate the building in San Francisco and others suggested Los Angeles, Kaiser preferred Oakland. In 1955, he purchased the College of Holy Names property adjacent to Lake Merritt in Oakland for this building project.

Photo © Tom Fox


Initially there was no intention of installing a full garden on top of the parking garage adjacent to the Kaiser Center. However, as early as March 1956, there was a reference in the Kaiser papers to a proposed adjacent hotel (on the 20th Street side) overlooking a roof garden on the parking garage, possibly consisting of some lawn and a few shrubs around a swimming pool. The choice of landscaping the garage roof may not have been entirely voluntary on Kaiser’s part. The city's Planning Commission granted Kaiser variances for existing height zoning (then limited to eight stories) and setback requirements and a portion of Lake Merritt was filled in to allow sufficient widening of the road fronting the building. In return, the commission made stipulations about landscaping the building noting that, "all roof areas, up to and including the roof of the top floor, will be properly landscaped.”

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List of Marvels

Boston City Hall Plaza
Boston, Massachusetts

Estates Drive Reservoir
Oakland, California

Heritage Plaza
Heritage Park
Fort Worth, Texas

Kaiser Roof Garden
Kaiser Center
Oakland, California

Lake Elizabeth
Allegheny Commons
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Manhattan Square Park
Rochester, New York

Mill Creek Canyon

Kent, Washington

Miller Garden
Columbus, Indiana

El Monte
Hato Rey, Puerto Rico

Pacific Science
Center Courtyard

Seattle, Washington

San Francisco, California

Peavey Plaza
Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, Minnesota

education partners
Garden DesignGeorge Eastman House
Additional Sponsors

American Society of Landscape Architects’ Indiana, Pennsylvania/Delaware, Minnesota, Northern California, Texas, Upstate New York, and Washington Chapters • Astorino • Charles Butt • Design Within Reach • Topher Delaney • Sandy Donnell & Justin Faggioli • Fathom • Tom Fox • Hillman Foundation • Indianapolis Museum of Art • Lorraine Osmundson • Richard T. Murphy • National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Northeast, Southwest, and Western Offices- with funds from the Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation of New York, Dodge Jones Foundation Intervention Fund, and Eastern Massachusetts Preservation Fund • James Richards • Seibert & Rice • Diana & Bruce Shuman • Ann Stack • SWA Group • TBG Partners • Michal and Jeffrey William Tincup • Unilock Inc. • The Woltz Charitable Trust