The Victor H. Metcalf House played a key role in Oakland’s historical preservation awareness. The early-1980s fight over its preservation became a cause célèbre first in Adams Point, and later in the city at large, as ordinary people began to take notice and realize how little developers cared about the local character or history of … well, anything other than $$. The issue galvanized public support, and led directly to the creation of the Adams Point Preservation Society.
A protégé of Governor/Senator Geo. C. Perkins, U.S. Secretary of the Navy Victor Metcalf lived just down the street from his old mentor’s estate (Palm Knoll), and retained its same architect (Walter Mathews) to design his (c. 1909, if memory serves) home. However, being the next generation down from the gilded-age crew he hung with, Metcalf already felt vaguely uneasy about having too ostentatious a home. He asked Mathews to keep it real, which the ever-accommodating Mathews happily did; though by any reasonable modern standard, the result was still a top-quality mansion. Instead of a greenhouse and fountain, Metcalf got by with a pair of sphinxes flanking his front entry stairs. And all was cool for many years.
By the 1970s, gangs of hippies happily lazed in the darkened corners of the now funky, yet still structurally sound house. Then one day some out-of-town developer bought the place, kicked everyone out and got the bulldozer ready, all too ready to trade our precious shared heritage for yet another characterless condo saltbox (and why not? It’s not like they live in Oakland!). That’s when Adams Point got a little bent out of shape and started banding together.
Much legal trouble and several years later, a compromise was reached: the developer would acquire the land for their condo, but was forbidden from razing the house to do so. So the house ended up being sawn in half—down the middle—and trucked to West Oakland, sphinxes and all. It was reassembled in its new location, which, although better than nothing, is much flatter and less impressive a setting than what the house was designed for.
On November 9, 1982 the Victor H. Metcalf House was designated Oakland Landmark #LM 82-308.
Original Location: 245 Perkins Street
Present Location: 750 - 14th Street