The French Bakery—What We Know

The French Bakery
The Alameda French Bakery first opened in the early 1890’s. In order, the original owners were Bazilide Medevielle, Paul Beigbeder, Jean Ranyet, and Pierre “Peter” LaPlace. In 1930, LaPlace commissioned a new brick building to be constructed next door, by Alameda builder Conrad Roth. Begun in 1930, the structure was completed the following year at a cost of $12,500. The bakery was later sold to Pierre’s son, Jack, and his partner, Al Coustier. We were told by Pierre’s great-grandchildren that the Elks Clubs’ downstairs “LaPlace” bar/lounge was named after Jack.

At its peak, the Alameda French Bakery produced approximately 350-400 loafs of fresh French bread daily. Operation of the bakery continued until the 1960’s, with the LaPlace family maintaining it’s second story residence into the 1980’s. That residential space remains largely in its original condition to this day. Ultimately, the family operation was purchased by the Bay Area’s Columbo brand; the Alameda French Bakery’s slogan of “The Bay Area’s Finest”; is used to this day by Columbo. Two of Pierre LaPlace’s grandsons work for the company.

After the bakery operation was purchased by Columbo, and the more modern ovens that occupied the building’s addition at the southeast end of the property were moved to a new facility, the original brick ovens were closed and ultimately walled off by a succession of interior modifications by subsequent tenants. Those tenants included the administrative offices of a local bank, and the Alameda Journal.

In the mid-1990’s, West Advertising’s partners attempted to purchase the building from the bank that held title. That effort failed when the property sold in a cash transaction to the investor who spearheaded the ultimate purchase and renovation of Alameda’s historic post office across the street, and converted that building to its present use as doctor’s offices.

For the next three years, the Alameda French Bakery building served as construction headquarters for the renovation of the post office building; temporary residential quarters for the owner’s brother; and an ad hoc storage facility. For the most part, however, the building was left vacant, and deteriorated rapidly under rough use.

Seeing the building left vacant, West Advertising’s partners once again pursued the property. With the aid of a local realtor who was an investment partner of the building’s New York-based owner, they were able to negotiate an “as-is” sale.

During the “due diligence” process an interesting discovery was made. The building’s interior over the years had been transformed into a maze of small rooms, hallways, and doors. Some areas were boarded off entirely. In an effort to reconcile the floor plan with what appeared to be approximately 600 sq. ft. of missing space, the partners broke through a sheet rock wall with sledge hammers and found the facade of the original brick ovens hidden behind. The ovens would later prove to be both a major asset and obstacle during construction.

Actual transfer of the title was complicated by the “discovery” of two underground storage tanks, which presented the prospective buyers with a hazardous waste challenge. The City’s Fire Department did a wonderful job of working to expedite the remediation process. Additionally, a last-minute easement dispute surrounding an unrecorded property line infringement threatened the deal.

Once the tanks were mitigated and the easement properly recorded, the monumental task of undoing layers of interior modifications and outdated systems began. It was decided the entire ground floor interior would be demolished and rebuilt. For several weeks, truckloads of debris were hauled from the site as the ground floor space was reduced to a shell.

While the building met the City’s technical requirements for seismic reinforcement, it was also decided to comply with the more rigorous voluntary standards in an effort to protect the structure. Three iron moment frames were added around large openings at the rear of the building where brick infills were removed.

More challenging was the addition of a massive iron support system spanning the entire interior at the front of the building. Additionally, shear walls, shear ceilings, and reinforcing posts were added throughout most of the interior.

Once reinforced, new electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems were added to the building. Through a generous grant and cooperation from Alameda Power & Telecom, increased natural lighting and ventilation was added, as well as enhanced mechanical systems and fans for circulation. Lastly, high-speed data cables were strung for computer networks.

During the interior redesign, the brick oven facade was salvaged and incorporated as one wall of the conference room. Unfortunately, it was unreasonable to preserve the outdated ovens themselves, but roughly forty pallets of used bricks were salvaged, some of which were used to build the new brick patio at the rear of the parking lot. During demolition, wood bakery paddles and stacks of metal bread pans were found within the ovens, presumably left in place when the ovens became obsolete. A few are now displayed above the oven’s renovated facade.

For those who cherish old buildings like we do, this is now a wonderful place to work, rich in character and history, and well preserved and equipped to function as a modern office building.

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