What’s in a Name? Neptune Gardens Avenue
Neptune Gardens Avenue remembers railroad baron James Fair’s resort that once graced the San Francisco Bay shoreline not far from Webster Street and Central Avenue. While Fair was completing construction of his narrow-gauge South Pacific Coast Railroad through Alameda, he realized the value of opening a resort on his railroad line. Patrick Britt had already sold his beachfront farm to a party that planned to build “The Long Branch Swimming Baths.” Britt invested $6,000 of the $21,000 he received for the sale in a handsome hotel across from Long Branch (“What’s in a Name, Britt Court,” Nov. 21).
Fair found Britt’s Hotel an attractive addition to the landscape and an ideal place for South Pacific Coast Railroad passengers to stop a while and maybe spend the night. He opened a small train station at the hotel’s front door. Fair also admired the new swimming baths.
“The Long Branch Swimming Baths were the largest of the famous Alameda swimming baths, with comfortable rooms and elegantly appointed grounds,” Joseph Baker wrote in Past and Present of Alameda County. J. W. Pearson was among the Oakland investors. He paid out $70,000 — this after handing Britt $21,000 — to finance the baths.
“They soon lost their shirts,” historian Woody Minor wrote in Alameda Magazine. Fair stepped in with the wealth he had gathered with his investments in the silver mines in Nevada. He purchased the Long Branch Swimming Baths, enlarged the grounds and reopened in 1885 with the name Neptune Gardens.
He hired the San Francisco Bridge Company to build “The Wigwam,” a large dance hall along the shores of San Francisco Bay. (This same company later created the Oakland Estuary.) He also built a restaurant called the Neptune Delmonico. Fair spared no expense on opening day, June 28, 1885. Crowds gathered to enjoy the park and witness a balloon ascension.
Fair hired John G. Croll first to run the restaurant. On July 31, 1886, Fair promoted Croll to manage all the affairs at the resort. Things went well until 1890, when Fair announced that he was going to close Neptune Gardens.
James Fair retained ownership of the Neptune Gardens property until his death in 1898. In 1906 Charles Schlesinger acquired this property from Fair’s daughter, Theresa Oelrichs. Then, in 1911, real-estate developer Harvey Toy purchased Neptune Gardens from Schlesinger.
Toy had grand plans for the place. He told the San Francisco Examiner that he believed that “a large pleasure resort with a bathing beach would make for a paying investment.” He said that he would invest a “large sum of money” in Neptune Gardens and create “a second Coney Island.”
Toy formed the Neptune Gardens Amusement Company and opened an office on Park Street. He ran an advertisement in the Alameda Daily Argus on April 23, 1912, inviting Alamedans to a meeting at “The Neptune Gardens Pavilion” (Toy’s name for the Wigwam). His plans never became reality. In a bit of irony, on Feb. 13, 1914, Toy informed Mayor Frank Otis that he was going to tear down the very place where he hosted his 1912 pep rally.
In the meantime Croll was thriving. He purchased Patrick Britt’s hotel and renamed the establishment “The Encinal Hotel and Saloon.” He gave the saloon itself a more intimate name, one Alamedans know today: Croll’s. He continued to use the old Neptune Gardens property. As early as 1904, Alamedans began calling the place “Croll’s Garden.” We’ll explore how this happened and get to know John G. and Nellie Croll and their family in the next article as we explore what’s in the name of Crolls Garden Court.