In 1908, Alameda voters approved the purchase of James and Virginia Waymire’s home and property on Buena Vista Avenue at Walnut Street. The following year, the city opened McKinley Park on the site. At James Waymire’s urging, the city named the new park for William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States. James and McKinley had been friends since boyhood and served together during the Civil War. James managed McKinley’s successful 1896 presidential campaign in California. After winning a second term, McKinley died at the hands of an assassin in September, 1901.
The Waymires were not the first family to live on the site of the park. Robert H. and Lida Magill purchased the four-acre site in 1866 and named their estate “Oak Shade.” The couple built a two-story home and, to insure their privacy, lined Buena Vista Avenue with cypress trees. Robert and Lida had three children when they moved out of Oak Shade in 1875 and took up residence at a home further west on Buena Vista Avenue at Lafayette Street. Lida passed away there in 1884, after a long illness. Over time Robert became a respected authority when it came to insurance. Robert remained in Alameda for the rest of his life. He died in 1921 at the age of 90.
Judge James Andrew and Virginia Waymire moved into Oak Shade in 1885. They hired Denis Straub and his architect stepson Fred Fischer to embellish the Magill home with a tower and bay windows. James and Virginia also hired gardeners to add exotic trees to the property and to replace the Magill’s cypress trees along Buena Vista Avenue with palm trees.
“The mansion has a magnificent setting in the center of a grove of oaks, and the block, bounded by Buena Vista and Clement avenues and Walnut and Mulberry streets, is surrounded by palms that are unsurpassed outside of the tropics,” the San Francisco Call gushed to its readers.
After a failed investment in the Central Valley, the Waymires fell on hard times. In 1888, James went to Hibernia Bank and borrowed $16,900 against his property. He was unable to keep up with the payments, and the bank foreclosed in 1900. Hibernia allowed the family to stay on as renters, but James and Virginia couldn’t afford the payments. The Waymires learned the bank was going to call in its mortgage, and one week before Christmas in 1907, with the rent long past due, the 65-year-old attorney and his distraught wife were evicted.
The eviction became grist for the newspaper mill. “Bank to Take Home of Judge Waymire,” the Call headline read. “The old Waymire home at Walnut Street and Buena Vista Avenue, a landmark of Alameda and the scene of many festal (sic) gatherings, is about to pass out of the hands of the family of James A. Waymire, a Regent of the State University and former Assemblyman,” the Call story announced to its readers.
Sure enough, Alameda County Sheriff deputies came knocking with an eviction notice.
“The passing of the splendid grounds and the removal of the mansion will mark the ending of an unusual social reign In the Encinal City,” the Call reported. “James A. Waymire is one of the ‘old guard’ among the politicians of Alameda County.”
The following May, voters approved purchasing Waymire’s property from Hibernia Bank to create a park. The city took possession in May 1909. The property encompassed not only the mansion, but four acres that would later contain today’s Thompson Field and property to the west of today’s park that now includes the homes on the east side of the 1800 block of Mulberry Street.
In 1937, the city rented the northern half of the old estate to the school district, which converted it to an athletic field. The district dedicated the field to Alameda High School Principal Dr. George C. Thompson on July 10, 1940. During World War II, the Navy leased the field for use by the Pacific Bridge Company to build cargo ships. The shipyard closed in 1945 and the Navy returned the land to the city four years later.
“For nearly three decades, McKinley Park preserved the ambience of Oak Shade,” historian Woodruff Minor writes in his book Alameda at Play. According to Minor, the city refurbished the mansion to serve not only as a home for the superintendent of parks, but as the city’s first indoor recreation center.
Minor describes what happened when the wrecking ball arrived in the late 1930s. “The mansion, play area, and garden were taken out to make way for a new athletic field,” he writes. The city tore down the mansion and sold its remains and the property’s wrought-iron fence for scrap. Workers cut down the palm trees. “When the project was completed,” Monitor writes, “the park was about a third its former size, covering about an acre.”
The fieldhouse stands at the site where the Magills and Waymires lived and raised their children. A neighborhood grew on the streets near the old mansion. The Estuary’s tidal canal was completed not far away from the old Oak Shade estate. By the time the city purchased the Waymire property, a maritime industry was blossoming along Clement Avenue.
Joseph Leonard, David Brehaut, W. G. Johnson and the aforementioned Denis Straub designed and built houses on nearby streets.
Read more about Alameda’s parks in historian Woodruff Minor’s book Alameda at Play.