Charles Shaner Refined City’s Architectural Landscape

Charles Shaner Refined City’s Architectural Landscape

Charles Shaner was one of Alameda’s more prolific Victorian-era architects and builders. According to Alameda Museum Curator George Gunn, Shaner designed and/or built 46 homes here.

His own home still stands near Broadway and Central Avenue next door to the home and duplex he built for streetcar and railroad executive George H. Waggoner. Waggoner’s former home at 1416 Broadway is currently on the market (see the advertisement on this page).

Charles Strong Shaner was born in 1851 in Ohio to Stephen B. and Josephine Wimms Shaner. The 1850 census, taken a year before Charles was born, lists Stephen, Josephine and 1-year-old William living in Cincinnati. The 1860 census records the family living in Frankfort, Ohio, some 90 miles northeast of Cincinnati.

The family then included 10-year-old William, 9-year-old Charles and 4-year-old Anna. Charles’ father was making his living as a carpenter, a trade that he likely taught Charles. The 1870 census show Charles, now 19 years old, living with his family in Concord, Ohio. They family had added a son Arthur in 1861.

It is not clear when Charles arrived in Alameda. The 1878 directory shows him living at the Loyal Oak Hotel on Park Street and lists his occupation as carpenter.

He was likely earning his living working for A. C. Gilbert and real-estate professional David S. Brown at the time. Charles is absent from the 1880 census rolls in Roxabell, Ohio, where the rest of the family was living. The same census does not list him living in Alameda.

Alameda historian Woody Minor’s research confirms that Charles first worked in Alameda as a carpenter for Gilbert. “Gilbert was the first to bundle real estate, insurance, design and construction in a single enterprise,” Minor writes. This made Charles’ employer Alameda’s first large-scale homebuilder.
According to Gunn, Gilbert’s earliest Alameda house — an Italianate-style creation that still stands rose up in 1878 — the same year we find Charles living in Alameda — at 2225 San Antonio Ave.

Gilbert and real-estate broker David S. Brown worked together on the project. The pair joined forces again the following year.

That home, also built in the Italianate style, still stands at 900 Grand St. Gilbert and Brown built and sold two other homes on the same block: a Stick-style residence at 903 and a high-basement cottage in the Second Empire-style at 911 Grand. In all, they built eight homes in Alameda.

Gilbert’s homebuilding business didn’t survive. He filed for bankruptcy in 1885. Minor writes that Gilbert was in the midst of building Maryngerson’s home at 1901 Alameda Ave.

Gunn lists a second home left unfinished when Gilbert closed his shop — William Bryan’s much-altered residence at 2040 San Antonio Ave. Shaner stepped in and finished both contracts.

Once away from Gilbert, the 35-year-old Shaner began advertising himself as an architect, specializing in large houses in upscale neighborhoods. He and Helen “Nellie” Jacobson married on Nov. 26, 1885. In 1888, they had a daughter they named Mabel.

The family lived at 1412 Broadway, a stately Queen Anne-style home (pictured above), which Charles designed and built in 1889. Charles thrived. He partnered with builder David Brehaut.

Charles designed and Brehaut built their showcase house at Willow Street and San Jose Avenue, pictured on the front page. A depression in the real estate market in the mid-1890s hit Shaner hard.

He and Nellie divorced in 1896. The June 25, 1898, delinquent-tax rolls list the Shaner home on Broadway. The rolls list the home in Nellie’s name.

The 1902 directory tells us that Nellie was living at 3267 Briggs Ave. Charles’ address is given as 1540 Park St. This was likely his place of business, but the directory lists it as his residence. Charles suffered an debilitating injury to his foot in 1905. In 1908 he fell 25 feet from a scaffold on a house he was building. In 1918 Charles was living at 2304 Alameda Ave., Apartment A.

In 1930 Charles was calling 439 Ninth St. home. Nellie and Mabel are missing from the directory. Charles died on Sept. 24, 1931, in Alameda. He was 80 years old.

Shaner Drive on Bay Farm remembers the prolific architect.