Alameda Park Hotel Morphed into Insane Asylum

Courtesy Chuck Millar When Alfred A. Cohen built the Alameda Park Hotel, he had no idea that the enterprise would fail, became an insane asylum and then burn to the ground in 1879.
Courtesy Chuck Millar

Alameda Park Hotel Morphed into Insane Asylum

When British-born Alfred A. Cohen built his railroad through Alameda, he turned to his friend and fellow countryman George Bird to build a hotel to house the men who built the line. Cohen and partner James D. Farwell built a second hotel across town to accommodate a wealthier clientele.

The pair leased the premises to Frank Johnson. He opened for business on Saturday, February 18, 1866. “This new and elegant house will be opened for guests on the 18th of this month,” Johnson announced in an ad in the Daily Alta California. “This hotel is splendidly fitted up with all the modern improvements and, in every respect, will be as a first-class private house.”

In the ad Johnson promised that “as a suburban resort, the hotel cannot be surpassed for its beauty and healthfulness.”

M. W. Wood wrote in the 1883 History of Alameda County that “People came over in crowds to Alameda, and the hotel, large as it was, proved insufficient to accommodate them.

After a while, Johnson lost money and less than five months after he opened his doors, he sold his interest in the place to Frank McGown.” Wood tells us that McGown “formerly kept an eating-house at the corner of Clay and Leidesdorff streets in San Francisco.

Like Johnson before him, McGown took out an ad in the newspapers. “I take pleasure in announcing to my friends and the public that I can furnish visitors with spacious and elegantly furnished rooms.”

McGown boasted of Alameda’s “particularly inviting” climate. He pointed out that San Franciscans could reach his establishment “in just forty-five minutes from the foot of Pacific Street.” The fare? Just 25 cents.

In a very short time, McGown, too, discovered that he “couldn’t keep a hotel.” A certain Mr. Reed, “formerly of the Weber House, Stockton,” stepped in, but by the time Reed took over Wood pointed out that “business had fallen off— the prestige of the place had gone— and he very soon went with it.”

Cohen and Farwell decided to put the place up for sale. They employed San Francisco auctioneers John Middleton & Son to dispose of the place. The company announced in a Sacramento Daily Union advertisement that the auction would take place at 12’oclock noon, Saturday, November 4, 1865.

Middleton stated in the ad that “the Hotel is well and favorably known as a Summer Family Resort, and is well patronized as a place of transient amusement.”

This advertisement provides us with a detailed description of the property. “The land is an area between nine and ten acres. It is entirely enclosed by a well-built and substantial five-rail fence, and is well covered with many of the largest and finest Oaks of the Encinal,” the Daily Union readers learned.

The auctioneer even dropped a few names. “It is within a few minutes’ walk of the elegant residences of Messrs. Sather, Farwell, Cohen, etc.” Middleton boasted. (A somewhat interesting statement, considering that Peder Sather and his family were not living in any “elegant residence,” but in the abandoned Oak Grove Academy building.)

In his ad Middleton stated that three outbuildings—a kitchen, a wash-house and an office—complemented the “elegantly built hotel.” He pointed out that the “main building had a bar room (“with one of the most handsomest bars in the state”), a dining room and a large hall on the first floor. Upstairs, guests found “thirteen Rooms, divided into single rooms and suites.”

The auctioneer also let prospective buyers know that the “entire building is finished with three coats of plaster, and is in the must perfect condition. There are gas pipes throughout the house, and every room and the hall has a bell connecting at the bar-room.”

A 12-foot-wide verandah extended across the front of the main building. A “ten-pin alley” complemented the hotel. In addition, “all the furniture in the house is nearly new and is of the first quality, all having been manufactured expressly for the Hotel by Goodwin & Co., Peirce & Co., and Schreiber & Bro.”

“The especial attention of Hotel Keepers is called to this sale, as it presents an inducement to enter into a good business, seldom offered at auction,” Middleton stated. Apparently he had not consulted with Messrs. Johnson McGown or Reed before making this claim.

The auction did not go well. There were no takers and the building languished for a while. Finally Doctors Eustace Trenor and Joseph C. Tucker stepped in and purchased the place. Eyebrows no doubt raised and brows likely fur-rowed when the neighbors learned that the good doctors planned to convert the place into an insane asylum.



Where was it located?


Hopefully this is to be continued as I came to read about the asylum!