The Veterans’ Memorial Building, designed by architect Henry H. Meyers and completed in 1926, includes an auditorium and two floors of dance, social, meeting, and office spaces overlooking Lake Merritt.
Currently, the Veterans’ Memorial Building is the home Downtown Oakland Senior Center by day, and Lake Merritt Dance during the evenings and weekends. The lawn in front of the building is the current location of the USS Maine Torpedo Port.
Veterans’ Memorial Building, architectural floor plan. (Henry H. Meyers and Mildred S. Meyers Collection, Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley.) The site, located at the tip of the Glen Echo Creek arm of Lake Merritt, was given to the City by the estate of Edson Adams in 1903.
In 1924, Adams Park was chosen by the Oakland Park Board as an appropriate site for a veteran’s recreational facility because of its separation from the main park. Its designation as a “monument” allowed the city to bypass restrictions that would have prevented the building of city facilities on donated park lands.
The building was completed by the County of Alameda, and was built as part of County-wide project that saw the completion of 12 veterans buildings. The Veterans Memorial Building at the 200 Grand Avenue site was the showpiece of the twelve veterans buildings built during that period. It was the largest and most expensive to build.
In July 1980, the City of Oakland purchased the Veterans Memorial Building from the County of Alameda with the side agreement that the veterans would forever be welcomed, and some of them headquartered in the building. The building is owned, operated, and staffed by the City of Oakland, and is situated on the site of a City owned park.
Recent Dance History
There was dancing and live music in the building as early as 1927 when it belonged to the County of Alameda.
Shortly after the Downtown Oakland Senior Center was started in 1981, evening dance was a part of the Senior Center’s programming. Recognizing the community’s desire for dance, bands and DJs were hired and both evening and weekend dances were operated by the Senior Center’s “Dance Council,” a committee of the DOSC Advisory Council. Many of these Wednesday, Friday, and later Saturday and Sunday night dances existed from, 1992, well before the 2007 creation of Lake Merritt Dance Center.
The Downtown Oakland Senior Center’s Annual New Years Eve Ball was a signature evening dancing event in the community.
LMDC operated in the role of a Master Renter for the evening and weekend programs that had formerly been part of DOSC from 2007 to 2016. During that time, LMDC opened up their evening and weekend rooms to ongoing renters. Each of those renters ran their own dance programs and the rent provided income for the LMDC dances and for the DOSC programs.
At the end of 2016, LMDC decided to discontinue their contract as Master Renter of the Veterans Memorial Building, and, as a result, the dancers were notified their programs would be ending on December 31, 2016.
Karen Lile and Michael Arntz decided to organize to preserve the programs of all the renters. They had been one of the dance businesses renting space in the building since 2008. 23 other renters joined them and formed the Lake Merritt Dance Organizers Association LMDOA, called “Lake Merritt Dance” for short. LMD met with representatives of Downtown Oakland Senior Center and the City of Oakland for the purposes of continuing their programs. Those discussions resulted in a successful negotiation of a Master Rental Agreement.
Members of LMDOA signed a resolution, electing Karen Lile, and her company Karen Lile Productions, to be the Master Renter on their behalf. Karen Lile Productions then booked everyone’s programs in the building under the terms of the City of Oakland Rental Agreement.
Karen Lile, as Master Renter, is now assisted by 14 other renters, who are volunteering as Program Directors for their individual dance communities. All of the renters, manage their own space and programing, carrying their own insurance, providing security deposits and pay 3 months in advance for the space that they rent each quarter.