Cafe Sahara sign, 2013
CC SA-BY Our Oakland

The Cafe Sahara building is located on the edge of Chinatown near the 880 North/980 East entrance. Its prominent neon sign -- "Cafe Sahara lunch & dinner" -- makes it a popular subject for photography. The location has a rich history, although little is known about the eponymous Cafe Sahara itself, which opened in 1986 and may have been in the next building. 7

The location has a single Yelp review (dead link), which says that Cafe Sahara was a nightclub and, during the day and early evenings, restaurant. Yelp reviewer Victor G. says and the rooftop sign is "a remnant of a red light district that flickered and burned out" and claims that Cafe Sahara "offered female companionship for $18/hour." This refers to the space's time as a taxi dance club. 11,12,13

In 2004, the building caught fire, and it was discovered that the tenants were growing $200,000 worth of marijuana plants. The owner said that prior to the fire, the building had been used as a practice space for bands. 2


The building's construction date is 1913, according to the parcel information (dead link) available through the City of Oakland interactive Planning and Zoning map. The building's official address is 609 Jackson Street. The building is in the Local Historic Property category "Local Register or Potential Designated Historic Property" and has an area of 9,977 square feet.

The building may have been constructed by Schnebly, Hostrawser, and Pedgrift, contractors and builders, and the earliest occupants found so far.

A 1939 and 1940 phone books list 601 Jackson as the location of the Wanto Gakuyen Japanese School. 3 By 1940s, the location was listed as the site of Wanto Hall. Wanto Hall was a part of Oakland's Japantown and has since been demolished. 4 [ Question: How does that jibe a building still being there, and apparently showing on the 1950 Sanborn? ]

In 1944, it was the union hall for Local 681 of Boilermakers and Welders. 8 The 1950 Sanborn map shows it as a union hall.

From 1960 into the early 1970s the address belonged to Frere Jacques Catering 5,6 and Jacques Restaurant. 9,10

The Sakura Club featuring "100 beautiful girls" opened in 1982. 13 After a vice raid in Decemeber, it reopened in 1983 as the Lakora Club. 14 A 1984 ad describes it as "The largest deluxe Oriental ballroom in town," with "beautiful international dancing hostesses". 11 The club was owned Steve Cheung 12 and others.

1982 131982 121984 11

Cafe Sahara announced its grand opening in July 1986, giving 7th and Jackson as the address, 7 so it may have been nearby. No other references to Cafe Sahara have been found. In any event, quite a change from the earlier tenant, as it mentions a magic show and suggests bringing your family and kids. 7


Between 1989 and 2000, the building was occupied by Jackson Street Studios. Owner Al Lucchesi rented rehearsal space and installed an arena stage in the studio's largest room. The stage was donated by the band YMT. Groups like Digital Underground, Metallica, Faith No More, Tony! Toni! Toné!, En Vogue, and Tupac Shakur used the rehearsal space. 1

1950 Sanborn excerpt

Links and References

  1. Riding the Sound Wave East Bay Express January 7, 2009
  2. 20080921 Cafe Sahara and 20090226
  3. Polk's Oakland 1938
  4. Wanto Hall
  5. Polk's Oakland 1969
  6. Office Party Picture Mixed Oakland Tribune December 17, 1971
  7. grand opening Oakland Tribune July 2, 1986
  8. Moore Welders and Burners Ordered to Return to Work Oakland Tribune December 6, 1944
  9. Apartment Owners To Seat President Oakland Tribune December 6, 1961
  10. opening ad Oakland Tribune March 6, 1960
  11. ad Oakland Tribune February 3, 1984
  12. Dance hall can apply to sell alcohol Oakland Tribune September 23, 1982
  13. ad Oakland Tribune July 27, 1982
  14. New dance club to play it straight Oakland Tribune July 4, 1983 (p2)