Our History, Our Legacy

Founded in 1890, going strong today.

altenheim-historicHistory of The Altenheim

Founded in 1890, The Altenheim Association was established in the Dimond District reflecting and contributing to the German presence there. Operating this facility for seniors to live out their “Lebensabend”, The Altenheim continued in existence until 2002. In 2005, The Altenheim Association leased the facility for the purpose of restoring the complex and infusing capital into the organization, thus paving the way for renewed purpose and capabilities to serve the community and promote German culture as The Excelsior German Center.


Deutsches Altenheim von San Francisco

That was what it was called when it all started in the late 19th century.

adolphsutroGermans in San Francisco, people like Adolph Sutro, Mortimer Fleischacker, Fritz Rosenbaum and others equally as wealthy and influential, realized a need for a German old people’s home where men and women could live out their “Lebensabend” in the peace and surroundings earned by a hard life.

On March 31, 1890 they formed The Altenheim Assocation. While originally looking at locations in San Francisco, the decision was made to purchase land in Oakland’s Dimond District for $6,000.00. The site was on a hill overlooking Friedrich Rhoda’s cherry orchards, Charlie Schumacher’s fruit trees and the Biergartens of Trepper, Nochaus, and Bauerhofer. The climate was magnificent and neighborhoods were wonderful. It was a resort-like atmosphere. Horse-drawn trolleys connected with the ferry to San Francisco (which later became the Highland Park and Fruitvale Electric Railway).

On May 17th of 1891, a picnic was held at the site to raise money for the building fund. This picnic has survived as an annual tradition at The Altenheim where the Maifest is a time of music, dancing, eating and drinking for members.

Additional fundraising continued with a Bazaar and Festival at the Mechanic’s Pavilion in San Francisco, September 20-26, 1892. This was quite successful with $39,880.00 raised for the building.

Finally, in August 1893, the cornerstone for the new building was laid and The Altenheim was dedicated at ceremonies in May 1894. The facility was ready to welcome its new residents.

As the years progressed, the home was fortunate to escape damage from the great earthquake of 1906. However, fire destroyed The Altenheim in July 1908. Fortunately there were no injuries to the residents. The 70 residents were provided temporary shelter and a new building was constructed with occupancy starting again in October 1909.

The Altenheim has a full history of interesting residents and members. Residents have been writers, nurses, doctors, military, and others, some even with titles, but each with character enough to fill a book.

The Altenheim Association continued to operate this residential care facility up until 2002 when it closed due to financial concerns. It no longer had the funds to operate a residential care facility competitive with other facilities in the community.


A Period of Transition

Altenheim203During the next several years, The Altenheim Association volunteers continued to keep up the facility with respect to the grounds and building exterior. Through their tireless efforts and respect for the legacy of this historic place, they worked to maintain the exterior beauty for the community. While The Altenheim Association board proceeded to determine the strategy that should be taken with the facility, members continued to support the facility through temporary financing to ensure that it was unencumbered by debt or lack of funds needed for property maintenance.

Many options were examined, from school facilities, commercial concerns, along with development partners who would revamp the facility with new uses. Even with these options, there were other considerations. Aside from the improvements to accommodate whatever new purpose was deemed appropriate, the complex was in need of retrofitting up to present seismic standards. Additionally, for the board there was the consideration of the original intent which The Altenheim Association founders established when establishing a center where elderly could reside in this special tranquil setting.

Finally, an agreement was reached with Citizens Housing Corporation (CHC) that would provide for the facility to continue under the spirit of developing affordable independent senior housing. Under a 90-year lease agreement for the residential buildings, the structures would receive much needed improvements and upgrades to bring them up to the standards required today. These structures would also maintain their historical external significance as well through ongoing discussion with the Historical society. The complex itself would move to landmark status as part of the reopening.

All buildings would be leased with the exception of the Excelsior building. Used originally for visiting medical professionals from Germany, it has been used by various German societies including the German School of the East Bay for their Saturday language classes. The Excelsior building would remain occupied by The Altenheim Association as the Excelsior German Center to be used for administrative offices, future events, German society meetings and the German school.


A New-Found Purpose

groundbreakingWith the lease completed, The Altenheim Association was restored to financial solvency. Its new charter would be to lease The Altenheim to be used as a residential facility for the elderly, and to promote German cultural traditions which benefit the community.

Our direction would now involve developing new programs and events which would not only benefit the community but also attract new members to the renewed organization. New initiatives under review include, but are not be limited to, the following:

• Outreach to the community through funding & sponsorship
• Support of German language & culture
• Assistance to the senior community
• Events that motivate and enhance contribution to all ages of members
• Commitment to ongoing fundraising for new programs

A number of items are in the works – improvements in the Excelsior building, program development for film and lecture series, marketing brochures & literature, web site development, just to name a few.

Leading all of this is the selection of a new name that has broader applicability to our new programs as well as paying respect to the traditions of The Altenheim Association. To that end, The Altenheim Association would be re-launched under the new name of The Excelsior German Center at The Altenheim with our tagline of “Connecting with German language and culture – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.”

If you are interested in participating or learning more about our changes as we continue to write new history at The Excelsior German Center (previously named The Altenheim Association), please contact us preferably by email at history@excelsiorcenter.org or by phone at 510-530-4013. We are anxious to hear from you!


I find the Excelsior Center to be an exciting venue in meeting people that share my German roots.

Gretchen Von Hoffman