PG&E Proposing demolishing historically significant “Laboratory” Building

2 mins read

The Planning Commission will hold a study session tonight to review a proposal by PG&E to demolish the 17,000 sq. ft. “Laboratory” building at the corner of Hollis & 45th. A building that is part of an existing PG&E transformer repair facility but has sat vacant since 2010. Is PG&E pitching rehabilitating the building into loft condominiums? No. Building a modern state-of-the-art facility in its place? No. A co-working space, recreation facility or other needed amenity for our city? No. They just want to demolish it and replace it with a 6-foot wrought iron fence.

The reasons given for the requested demolition are increasingly frequent break-ins, vandalism and liability issues presented by persistent homeless squatters. The application insists that the building is no longer safe for warehousing and storage uses.

Some #StreetArt captured through broken windows at the old PG&E laboratory building on Hollis. #EvilleArt #Emeryville #EvilleSpots #EastBay

A photo posted by The E’ville Eye Community News (@evilleeye) on

The public utility monopoly has its work cut out for it though, as the building is designated as a Significant Structure by our city and is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (NHRP) for its contribution to our areas heritage. A Historical Resources Evaluation Report prepared by JRP Historical Consulting in fact concludes that the building “retains sufficient integrity to remain a contributor to the Emeryville Historic Industrial District and the district retains integrity to remain eligible for the National Register and the California Register.”

Demolition of a significant structure would require Planning Commission (PC) recommendation and subsequent City Council approval as well as the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report. Since the building is not damaged beyond repair or contaminated, its demolition would require that PG&E convince the PC that “Demolition of the structure is in the best interest of the public health, welfare or safety”.


The neoclassical reinforced concrete building was designed by PG&E architect Ivan C. Frickstad and constructed by G. Thebo, Starr & Anderton Construction from 1924-1925. The building was constructed as an Engineering Department Laboratory and part of a four building complex that comprised the PG&E Laboratory and Central Warehouse Group. The building’s character-defining features include large steel sash industrial windows, a street set-back, engaged pilasters with tapered tops and neo-classical details including the words “Laboratory” and “Pacific Gas and Electric” stamped into the frieze near the double-door entry. The site of the building was formerly The Oakland Trotting Park which closed in 1920 shortly after Prohibition was ratified.

The Park Avenue District Map of buildings with Architectural Significance include this building which is classified as Tier 1 – High Architectural Significance:


One scenario that PG&E is pitching involves a complete demolition of the site and being replaced with a fence. A second scenario calls for retention of the front façade and securing the site with a 6-foot wrought iron fence. Two options for fencing are proposed – one that is on side of the existing partially demolished wall and another on top of the wall.

The request is expected to be met with stiff opposition and if PG&E expects this to go through unchallenged, it clearly has not been paying attention to the sentiment of our city. A city looking to cling to artifacts of its colorful past and celebrate our unique role in the regions evolution. The adjacent warehouse building (not being considered for demolition) contains sculptures by current councilmember Scott Donahue and is also eligible to be listed on the NRHP. Those who take exception to the plan to demolish this building are encouraged to write our council or attend tonight’s 6:30 p.m. meeting at City Hall.

Read the Emeryville Staff Report online for more information [PDF].

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.


  1. This is a very sad story with so many homeless seeking habitat in whatever forms.
    Demolition is a desperate alternative from a Company that is capable of doing its part to relief the suffering and humility of a segment of the population that has not been able to cope with the modernization of this development millennium.
    The cost of demolition would be so much more than making partition to shelter the homeless.
    The past classic example is the demolition of the old bay bridge at an approximately cost of
    one $ million / day all that for the benefit of one entity. It was bid accepted for about $ 300
    millions but with all the rainy days and common expectation excuses and alibis is now over
    a $ billion. Those beneficiaries declared ” imminent collapse ” ( you heard that one before ) are riding in luxurious automobile while spitting on the homeless cluttered everywhere in public right away. I have one in my back yard too.
    Please note that the old bay bridge had all the possible utilities connected and in working order
    all it needed was to make partition for the lower deck and leave open the upper for those wanting or preferring their own vehicle as habitat.
    So the moral of this story of ” demolition freaks ” is NOT to vote for their new scheme of wanting more of our tax money if it is used for demolition by those mentality of ” war junkie ”
    Wait for their usual broken promises to the next one, to the next one, to the…..
    Have you ever noticed a single homeless around the ritzy Watergate folk, this is where Queen Nora has her headquarter making sure that our police is in full alert to carry off territory any homeless attempt to find shelter in that part of Emeryville. Ca. ( those bleeding craps )
    Over 90 % of those folks live off their slum lord income, so guest what !
    Love THY neighbors. Wild human savages do better than those without religious indoctrination.


  2. I wrote to the council to urge them not to demolish this significant building and leave a blighted empty lot literally in my back yard. PG&E should sell the land to a developer for condo conversion or some other beneficial purpose if they won’t make it useful. PG&E owns a significant amount of property in Emeryville just for the sake of owning it.

    • Thanks Lisa. I think PG&E got the message last night. Hopefully they’ll come back with a better plan or preferably sell the building to someone who wants to do something worthy of its history and potential.

  3. My feeling now is that P.G.& E. sent an alert flare in the sky to sound responses from the surrounding community. It is not know who broke the windows and trespassed the premises for what ever reasons but when people start to use ” blight ” as main excuse no one can tell what the city will do to deal with blight and demolistion is the alternative to get over that blight name calling.
    All over my years of dealing with P.G.& E employees I do not know a single one that has become homeless, so here is a disconnect on the homeless issue, P.G.& E would not be a target of the homeless anger because they are too vulnerable but having the whining community do it for them is a convenient tactic promoted by their P.R.
    With little land left available in Emeryville territory, making another Park with an outdoor gym exercise named after former City Councilman ” Greg Harper ” would be a blessing asset for the surrounding neighbors.
    P.G.& E could still retain the ownership of the land, and provide other details like public restroom, shower, potable water and be a welcome spot for those they call them ” undesirable blight ”
    Jail them is not an answer and creating another government agency to
    deal with them was not an issue in the past millenium so its another
    forseeable tax proposal for next election….hey !

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