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September 27, 2011 > History: Fremont's Quest for A City Hall

History: Fremont's Quest for A City Hall

Alameda County was formed in 1853 and organized as the governing body for the area. The Courthouse was established at Alvarado, later moved to San Leandro and eventually to Oakland. The county was governed by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors that included a supervisor elected from Washington Township.

The county was in charge of all the basic government services for the townships. Early day services included establishing school and road districts, supervising elections and providing for law enforcement. Services expanded to include social and welfare concerns, courts, sanitation, and zoning laws.

Washington Township Chambers of Commerce advocated for a county office building to be established here. After months of discussion, the county accepted the three acre site on Fremont Avenue (now Peralta) donated by Dr. E. M. Grimmer. The building, dubbed "a little court house," opened in 1951 housing many agencies including courts, a branch library and a sheriff's substation.

Citizens of Washington Township eventually decided that they would never be properly represented by government from Oakland so they voted to incorporate and form their own city government. After several years of planning and preparing, residents of the present City of Fremont voted in January 1956 to establish their own city and elect their own council.

The people in the new city now had their own council, but they had no city hall so they had to find a home for the new government. Council members met at midnight January 23, 1956 and adopted a legal framework to replace county law. Two planning meetings were held in Mayor Jack Stevenson's living room. The Fremont City Council met in the judicial courtroom of the county office building on the present Peralta Boulevard which also housed city offices for awhile. Jane Hicks, sometimes called "Miss Fremont," was the temporary city clerk acting for the "caretaker" government from two rooms at the Alameda County Office building. Quarters were crowded so the council searched for a larger and more permanent location.

Ed Huddleson offered to let the city use part of the former Mission San Jose Grammar School for a temporary city hall. The council accepted the offer and employees moved city files to the former Mission San Jose School. The auditorium was prepared for council meetings with about 100 chairs for the audience.

A dedication ceremony for the new City Hall was part of the first city council meeting held there September 10, 1956. The building was remodeled to create office space for new employees.

There were 53 employees at city hall by 1959 with only 127 square feet of usable space per person. The city was using the entire building but paying only $805 per month rent. Quarters were so crowded that some workers had to stand to let people pass, and it seemed that carpenters were always putting in partitions.

The city was having problems housing its staff in the makeshift temporary city hall in 1965 and stepped up the campaign for a new building. Photos showed desks jammed together, file cabinets in the hallway and cracked pipes in the "dilapidated old schoolhouse." City leaders campaigned for a new city hall. One flyer read, "Our City Hall is a disgrace. Fremont is the only California city of more than 50,000 people without a home of its own. For ten years we've been arguing about a Civic Center. Vote yes to build our own City Hall."

Council members struggled to obtain a site for a new city hall and ways to pay for it. They used recreation funds to build a community center building; ground was broken in December 1961. The council and recreation staff moved to the new building, but other staff offices remained at Mission San Jose.

The Council accepted the gift of 15 acres of land near Central Park in March 1962. Voters finally approved a lease-purchase plan in April 1965 to construct a civic center.

Ground was broken March 9, 1967. Construction of the contemporary, reinforced concrete building was completed and the Council began meeting there March 25, 1969. The new civic center provided space for city employees and gave Fremont a focal point. Residents now knew where City Hall was, but the building continued to create controversy and criticism after it was occupied. Some people saw it as a beautiful artistic form while others thought it "looked more like a cement mixer."

Many who were critical of the building loved the site, but controversy increased when reports showed that City Hall had been built on an arm of the Hayward Fault and might not be safe in a strong earthquake. City offices were moved to two buildings on Liberty Street between 1991 and 1993. Only the City Council chambers remained in the building. Retrofitting cost appeared to be prohibitive, so the council began a search for a new City Hall site.

The City Council studied four sites in the central business district for the location of a new City Hall. They voted in 1999 to build on the former Nob Hill Foods site where city offices could be unified in one place. The Nob Hill building was demolished in the year 2000 and plans made to erect a new City Hall when finances were available. The City of Fremont held its 50 year celebration without a new city hall; who knows what the future will bring?

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