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Oakland’s Bellevue Club, an imposing six-story building on the north shore of Lake Merritt, with interior decorations inspired by Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon, a pool, dining rooms, private accommodation and more, was about to close. in front. Somehow, the historic private clubhouse bravely managed to survive despite its aging and dwindling membership.
But the pandemic, which forced the closure of all of its revenue-generating businesses, has put the final nail in the coffin, and on June 16, the club’s Beaux Arts building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will be sold.
“The writing was on the wall before the pandemic,” said Bellevue Club President Carole Levenson in an interview.
The Bellevue Club was founded in 1926 as the Alameda County’s Women’s Athletic Club and began serving men in 1985. Its Olympic pool, high ceilings, mural lounge, huge ballroom and lake view are breathtaking. The elaborately decorated rooms have hosted many weddings, events, and holiday parties for generations of Oakland and Piedmont residents.
The Bellevue Club closure will also affect small businesses and community groups that have rented offices in the building – a writing group, a therapist, a realtor, and a masseuse – all of whom have already moved out. The East Bay Children’s Theater also stored its costumes and props in the club.
“After the board voted to sell, there were still some people who totally opposed it,” Levenson said. “They thought we could rise from the ashes like the phoenix. I just haven’t seen how that can be. “
Here’s what else is going on in Oakland:
The Bellevue Club will continue to serve as a social facility. The owners of The Battery in San Francisco are buying the building for $ 10 million.
The Battery was founded in 2013 by Michael and Xochi Birch and, like the Bellevue, is a private social club in a historic building with hotel rooms, restaurants, a gym, live music and special events. In contrast to Bellevue, The Battery has member connection societies (LGBTQ +, Womxn, AAPI, Earth, Creatives, Gamers, Adventures), virtual events with experts talking about current events, an online magazine with a focus on art, culture and Philanthropy, a wine cellar, hot tub, bar, library, and charitable foundation that has donated more than $ 20 million to philanthropic causes, including many based in Oakland. The Battery owners hope to bring this updated and livelier style of social club to Oaklands Bellevue.
Michael Birch didn’t even enter the Bellevue Club before deciding to buy. From the British Virgin Islands, where he currently lives, he watched video clips of the building and its interior that his team had sent him.
“Incredible” and “too good an opportunity not to be pursued,” he said in an interview.
The Bellevue Club membership has been declining for years and failed to survive the pandemic that prevented the clubhouse from hosting special money-making events. Photo credit: Amir Aziz
Although The Battery’s plan has always been to identify other locations in the Bay Area for expansion, Birch said he did not expect to find an existing club and Oakland was always high on his list.
“I love the great history of the Bellevue Club,” said Birch, who co-founded the social networking site Bebo with Xochi and sold it to AOL in 2008 for $ 850 million. “It felt so perfect to be a club with its large rooms and real character.”
Birch said it was preferable to keep Bellevue as a club (albeit renamed The Battery Oakland) than to sell to a developer for high-end condominiums in the parking lot and use the clubhouse only for the building’s new residents . (This was an option the club confirmed before the Birken made their offer).
The battery’s membership profile is much younger and racially different than that of Bellevue, with 40% women. The regular annual subscription of the Bellevue Club is just under $ 3,000 per year; The Battery charges its members $ 2,700 per year and offers scholarships for artists, writers, and other creative professionals.
The Battery also actively curates its members to engage people from all walks of life, which has long been the norm in Oakland civic organizations, including the Oakland Rotary and the Lake Merritt Breakfast Club. Bellevue’s membership had dropped below 200 during the pandemic, while The Battery currently has over 4,000 members.
According to the founders of The Battery, philanthropy is an important part of the club’s ethos, and their members have contributed to Oakland groups like Ayesha and Steph Curry’s Eat. Learn. Play. Program, First Place for Youth, which serves youth development, Creative Growth Art Center, which works with artists with disabilities, and Ubuntu Theater, now called the Oakland Theater Project. Birch hopes the club can expand its foundation’s philanthropic reach as more Oaklanders join The Battery.
The new owners also said they intend to give current Bellevue Club members free lifetime memberships to The Battery.
Birch said he was glad the concrete and steel reinforced building itself is fine, but that a lot of work needs to be done on the delayed maintenance before it can be reopened and renamed. “I would like to say that we will open in a year but that may be naively optimistic.”
As for the building’s character, Birch said he wanted to honor its history. “I literally don’t think we could have chosen a better building or location. We look forward to continuing the next chapter in the history of the Bellevue Club. “
“I think this is the best we could have asked for, given the circumstances,” said Levenson, the last president of the Bellevue Club.
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