A one year excerpt from "The Story of Alameda" an upcoming title by Eric J. Kos
The reclaimed marsh on Bay Farm flooded after the peripheral dike failed. Several small breaks occurred under the pressure of January floodwaters. Mecartney’s shellroad was largely erased in a striking contrast to the year’s upcoming events on the main island. Repeated complaints in the local press resulted in the road being regarded and graveled from the bridge to the uplands, along the south shore of the upland to San Leandro, following the route of the original 1854 road. Within three years, this road, too would succumb to ebb and flood.
Gilded Age opulence brought plenty to Alameda. Loaded with Nevada silver, James G. Fair and associates made the Alameda railroad game interesting in 1878. He brought the narrow gauge South Pacific Railroad up from Santa Cruz via San Jose and Newark across San Leandro Bay on a trestle and right down Encinal Avenue. The track ran up to West End Avenue (Fourth Street), went out over the bay and reentered on Main Street where it ran north across the marsh. From there it turned left and to a separate pier served by the Newark and Bay City ferries. Encinal eased some of the burden on Central Avenue becoming another cross-town artery. Fair also built Park Hotel at the corner of Park Street and Encinal Avenue to accommodate passengers on his line.
The presence of the two railroad lines in town gave Alameda much of its modern character. Plenty of space and accessible freight shipping gave both industry and commerce a leg up. Fair’s line in particular made it possible for public baths and swimming holes to thrive along the south shore. Both lines would eventually be double tracked and provide hourly then half hourly service from High Street to the wharves.
Ferries offered shoe shines, coffee, pastries and newspapers. Prior to building a high school, students often studied aboard on their way to class and many romances grew from regular meetings between commuters in a romantic setting.
Cohen and Fair and associates drew up a new incorporation plan designed to stifle public services and without public approval. The new charter cut taxes, city wages and jobs. Property owners received new rights when it came to opening roads on their lands. The city treasury could only ever spend what it had in tax receipts, which amounted to no public works projects for the next seven years or so. The Encinal newspaper bemoaned these “dead-letter” years.
Another railroad director, Edwin Mastick took the town’s booming economy to heart and subdivided land around Mastick Station. Now the station took on a more commercial character as businesses gathered near the waiting room and the growing number of cottages and other residences. A remnant of this commercial district survives at Ninth Street and Lincoln Avenue.
In June, the city ordered up gas street lighting on certain parts of Park Street, Pacific and Central avenues. Strictly an experiment for one year, this tentative move hinted at the town’s reluctance to citify. The order was never carried out.
Spewing hate at the Chinese in print was nothing new for the Encinal, but many writers complain about overloaded vegetable wagons crowding city streets, driven by a particular demographic. A general brawl between about 25 men ensued on Bay Farm Island that year, when a Portuguese dairyman lost a cow in a Chinese farmer’s pea patch. Other complaints arose about Chinese laundries near Park Street. "Beating buttons unmercifully," unattractive steam and smells, running their cylinders with dog power, gambling and opium use were typical complaints.
Construction workers completed the Oddfellows Hall, housing the Alameda Post Office at the corner of Park Street and Santa Clara Avenue. (Doumitt's Shoes on the ground floor today.) Postmaster Theodore Leydecker oversaw operations there and would one day have a park named in his honor on Bay Farm Island. Groups like the Oddfellows, Elks and Masons helped newcomers become familiar with the local community and were important to the growth of communities still civilizing the frontier. Just below Buena Vista Avenue, the city’s first theater was erected by several shareholders including early Park Street investors Thomas Smith and Dr. Joseph Tucker. The Park Opera House opened with fanfare, and at a whopping cost of $9,000, the building was never profitable.
Sunny Cove Baths opened for business. Right next to the rail line near Fifth Street Station proved an ideal spot for the resort business. Sunny Cove remained profitable for the next 69 years. During the following decade they were joined by a dozen or so other bathing resorts equipped with changing rooms, giant filtered saltwater tanks, professional instructors, diving boards and competitive events. Among the earliest were Terrace Baths, Cottage Baths (home of Alameda’s famed Nellie Schmidt), and Neptune Gardens (a precursor to Neptune Beach). James Fair owned Neptune Gardens as part of his right-of-way acquisitions, and he had plans for it.
Patrick Britt had a farm at the end of Webster Street that he sold out to a new bathing resort, Long Branch Baths after the New Jersey resort of the same name that was also used to describe the West End in general around this time.
Other stations on the brand new rail line included the High, Park, Chestnut, Morton, Scheutzen Park (today’s Eighth Street), Third Avenue (today’s Sixth Street) and Pacific Avenue in the village of Woodstock. Notably absent was Webster Street, which still hadn’t benefited much from train traffic. A roundhouse and other maintenance facilities were located one block east of the High Street Station on the shoreline. Coinciding with the new rail line’s arrival were the establishment of no less than 12 new residential subdivisions over the next year. The city’s population doubled over the next decade.
Alameda Police decided they could no longer keep Dr. Babcock, the alleged inventor of an eponymous fire extinguisher, locked up; he smelled too horrible due to his experiments.