What’s in a Name? Britt Court

Editor’s collection    This 1903 photo of the Croll’s building shows damage sustained in an early-morning train accident when a locomotive exploded right in front of the building. A local bicycle club had also gathered. Telegraph poles were incorporated into the building’s balcony overlooking the Bay.

“Croll’s.” That’s what nearly everyone calls the handsome, three-story building on the southwest corner of Central Avenue and Webster Street. Alamedans remember the Croll family who moved into the three-story, Italianate-style building with its handsome third story’s Mansard roof in the 1890s. However, most forget or remain unaware of another family, the one without whom the building would not stand there today, the Britts. 

Patrick Britt and his wife, Ann, arrived in Alameda from New York sometime in the mid-1860s with their daughter Ellen, and two sons, Pat and George. They farmed seven acres of land on the south side of Central Avenue near Webster Street, then called Euclid Street. The Britts likely witnessed the Central Pacific Railroad’s first transcontinental trains arriving in Alameda on Sept. 6, 1869. Two months later they learned that the trains would stop using Alameda’s wharf and move its operations to Oakland.  

By 1870, Pat, as he preferred to be addressed, and Ann had a second daughter, Martha. She went by her nickname, Mattie. The following year, life changed when Euclid Street was extended over the marshlands from today’s Atlantic Avenue to the soggy shore of the “San Antonio Slough,” today’s Oakland Estuary. 

A bridge began carrying horse, foot and carriage traffic across the slough, connecting Alameda’s West End with Oakland. This allowed the Britts and their neighbors easy access to and from Webster Street in Oakland, a city that had begun to blossom as the transcontinental railroad’s permanent West Coast terminus. Soon, Euclid Street took on the name “Webster Street” to match its counterpart across the slough.

The Britts continued farming. By 1878, three more children — Mary, Loretta and Willie — had joined the clan. Then the family learned that a new train would soon serve Alameda, and it would pass right by their farm. Soon enough, the Britt children could watch South Pacific Coast Railroad trains chug by and often stop near their farm at Webster Street. The following spring investors offered Pat and Ann $21,000 for their farm, about $550,000 in 2019 dollars. The family accepted the offer and saw their farm soon transformed into the Long Branch Baths. 

Pat and Ann invested $6,000 of their windfall in a handsome hotel just across Central Avenue from the baths. There were two telegraph poles in the way, however. The American District Telegraph Company had installed them there two years before the Britts built their hotel. Instead of setting the building back from the poles, the hotel’s designer decided to incorporate them into the design using a second-story balcony.

In 1885, the railroad made the hotel more attractive to visitors by building a station at its front door. Six years later, the Britts sold their hotel to the Croll family, who lent the building the name we know today. We still remember Pat, Ann and their family with Britt Court on Bay Farm Island.