Keep local news in Alameda.
Double your giving power with #NewsMatch. Donate or Join Now!
Give or Join Now!

Let’s Solve a Mystery

How—and why—were a pair of houses on Central Avenue moved to the east side of Paru Street?

Cottage Street and the adjoining block of Paru street have intrigued me for at least 10 years. It’s time to solve what I call “The Harmonie Hall Mystery” once and for all. The Alameda, Oakland & Piedmont horsecar line once ran along Santa Clara Avenue past Cottage and Paru streets on the way to Fassking’s Hotel on Grand Street. At some point, likely in the 1880s, the German community decided to take advantage of the horse car and build Harmonie Hall along the line. I looked up the hall in the 1890 directory. The address, as is the case with most information in these directories, did little to exactly pin down the location. The directory told me that the hall was on the “west side of Paru, between Santa Clara and Central.”

Alameda Post - an old advertisement that says "Felix Wirbser, Manager of Harmonie Hall, West Side Parus, Bet. Santa Clara and Central Aves, Alameda. Suppers, dinners, and refreshments furnished on short notice in first-class style, for weddings, balls, entertainments, etc. Elegant China, glass, plateware, and cutlery, loaned at reasonable rates."
This torn advertisement from an 1890 Husted Directory led me on my quest to find more information about Felix Wirbser and Harmonie Hall. Photo San Francisco Public Library.

Paru Street between Central and Santa Clara avenues is the 1400 block.  The west side of Alameda’s streets have odd numbers. I took a look—several looks, actually—at George Gunn’s books. Gunn is the retired curator of the Alameda Museum. He published two books that, together, contain addresses and other important information about all the homes built here between 1854 and 1909. He tells us that only two homes built during this time frame still stand on the west side of the 1400 block of Paru. The rest of the property on the west side of the street rose up later and took the place of Harmonie Hall.

Join Alameda Post historian Dennis Evanosky for a history walking tour, Determining Architectural Styles as he takes you back to 1897 to explore why, and how, the east side of Paru Street—across from Harmonie Hall—became “second homes” to a pair of houses that once stood on the 1600 block of Central Avenue. As we always do on our walks, we will discuss the architectural styles of these homes. Meet at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 28 or Saturday, June 3, on Santa Clara Avenue at Stonehenge Street, just across from Cottage Avenue. Besides sharing how he solved “The Harmonie Hall Mystery,” Dennis will also discuss the Storybook style and other architectural delights along the way. He will discuss the styles from the roof to the porch and give you three elements to help you describe each of the styles we encounter.

Alameda Post - a photo of 1418 Cottage Street
This lovely Bracketed Italianate-style home on Cottage Street once graced the 1500 block of Central Avenue. Photo Google Earth.

I learned that Felix Wirbser managed Harmonie Hall. He also owned Café Bohemia on 12th Street in Oakland. I gave him a call at the phone number listed in the directory, Cedar 591, but it was disconnected. Harmonie Hall’s advertisement in the directories promised, “supper, dinners, and refreshments furnished on short notice in first-class style.” The ad went on to assure its customers that the hall was available for “Weddings, Balls, Entertainments, Etc.” A search through the newspapers of the day showed that “Harmonie Hall” did host events worthy of print, including one political rally that escalated to fisticuffs and brought the police to the scene.

Cottage Street appeared on maps as early as 1876. I don’t believe that the street existed until 1881. That’s when the first house went up. We’ll have a look at that Stick-style home. Just across the street stands a wonderfully intact Italianate-style home. Like the homes that were moved onto Paru Street, this home also once stood on Central Avenue. The last home built on Cottage Street during Queen Victoria’s reign went up in 1888. Four more rose up before 1910, four in the Colonial Revival Style and one in the Craftsman Style.

I found the hall on an 1897 Sanborn map that I will share at the tour. I always thought that Harmonie Hall property stretched west and encompassed some of the property on Cottage Street’s east side. The Sanborn map showed me that it did. It’s uncertain when Harmonie Hall met the wrecking ball. I found references to the place as late as 1917. World War I may have turned sentiment in Alameda against places with German names. Was it renamed or taken down? Join us on our walking tour to find out.

Dennis Evanosky is the award-winning Historian of the Alameda Post. Reach him at [email protected]. His writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Dennis-Evanosky.

Alameda Post - NewsMatch 2023: Support nonprofit news, give to the Alameda Post.