Longtime Oakland Developer Gibb Had “Incredible Vision”
Former Oakland Police Lt. Paul Berlin first met Clyde R. “Buzz” Gibb in the 1980s at the Waterfront Plaza Hotel in Oakland. Gibb, the gregarious and successful property developer who founded Thunderbird Properties and became one of the principal owners and developers of nearly two dozen Best Western hotels, had purchased and expanded the hotel into a luxury property in Jack London Square in the 1970s.
“He allowed us to hold homicide meetings there and would never charge us,” Berlin said. “I had known him since we both grew up in Oakland. It wasn’t until later that I found out he was a pilot in World War II, flying a B-24 Liberator in the South Pacific.
“Later, in 1992, a year when we had a record 175 homicides, he felt really bad about the spiral of crime in the town where we both grew up. He knew we didn’t. “We didn’t have enough cops and he suggested bringing in Alameda County Sheriffs. Buzz hated to see businesses leave East 14th Street. He respected the work of firefighters, cops and rescuers.”
Gibb, in addition to hotels, owned a Webster Street gymnasium called Oakland Athletic Club, and as a managing member of the Tahoe Yacht Harbor he became a major donor to the Lake Tahoe Discovery Center and Museum. As a yachtsman, he and his wife, Joan Gibb, whom he married twice, restored and maintained the Thunderbird, his 1939 55-foot Hackercraft yacht.
Married four times in his life, he grew up in Oakland, attending Cleveland Elementary School and Oakland High School. He was known to his family early in his life as “Buster” and earned his adult nickname, “Buzz”, after piloting low, buzzing passenger trains during an advanced flight training company. two years after enlisting in the Naval Air Corps at the age of 18 in 1943. .
Cops, firefighters, longtime Port of Oakland employees and crime reporters say Gibb was “a real good guy” who lived in many towns in the East Bay — Oakland’s Montclair district, Piedmont, Berkeley and Lafayette – and loved nothing more than after-work conversations about the area. He allowed the aforementioned bands to mount tabs, and though Gibb rarely, if ever, mentioned his time in the military, he told stories of odd jobs held to save enough money to buy well-stocked vehicles. -loved ones he upgraded, like his first car, a 1928 model. A Ford that Gibb sold two weeks after buying it to buy a 1931 Model A Ford Roadster.
Berlin’s storied past includes a 31-year career with the Oakland Police Department during which he focused on solving violent crime and eliminating or reducing activity in corner drug hotspots in positions such as Patrolman, Homicide Investigator and Commander, SWAT Team Leader and Area Commander for West Oakland and Downtown. Escaping the rigors of his job to enjoy gardening and hobbies at his second home in Tahoe, Berlin recalls learning that Gibb had bought the yacht Thunderbird and hired a man called “Captain John” to work with him on the boat.
“Captain John was a master craftsman. Buzz told him that he didn’t have many rules, but if he found out that someone working for him was (water)skiing in the back of the Thunderbird, he would fire them. So John, after about a year, finds a job somewhere else and before he left he had two buddies – one guy in the boat who drives, another guy who takes pictures alongside – and John goes skiing. Buzz found out and he fired him. People were talking about it all over the lake. I still have a photo of it. Everyone knew you weren’t supposed to do this, so someone had to report John. They always got along, even after that. They joked about it years later.
Berlin says Gibb never bragged about his wartime military service or his influence as a real estate developer in Oakland.
“He was gregarious, without a big ego, down to earth, common sense. And he had great judgment, incredible vision. He was someone you could befriend immediately. He fit into any environment and treated people with respect.
Although Berlin’s law enforcement work often sought to combat police actions that caused African-American residents living in West Oakland to distrust the department, he says Gibb focused on the more commercial aspects and the hotels of the city.
“He was just trying to make the city more livable. Oakland? He wanted it to be a place of fun, a place with four and five star hotels that never had any management problems.
Gibb died Dec. 12 at the age of 98 at his home on Jupiter Island, Florida. He is survived by his wife, Joan Gibb; sons, Gary Gibb and his wife Charlotte, Jeff Gibb and his wife Marie, and Jordan Gibb; and four grandchildren, as well as many other family members.
Memorial services for Gibb will be held in Florida and California. Contact [email protected] for details. Donations in memory of Gibb can be sent to Thunderbird Lake Tahoe, PO Box 6812, Incline Village, Nevada 89450 or online at ThunderbirdTahoe.org/donate.
Lou Fancher is a freelance writer. Contact her at [email protected]