Attorney Alfred A. Cohen dreamed of attracting the well-heeled to swanky, exclusive environs on the Alameda peninsula. He had already moved here with his family. They lived at “Fernside,” a 109-acre estate. In the early 1860s, Cohen organized and built a railroad and a wharf and started a ferry service that connected the sleepy peninsula town to the outside world. Now he was ready to invite the wealthy to move in.
He started by building the Alameda Park Hotel on property bounded by Webb Avenue, Everett Street, Central Avenue, and Park Street. Next, he planned to build a residential area for the well-to-do. To that end, he hired civil engineer Robert L. Harris to survey “Alameda Park Homestead,” a 50-acre woodland bounded by Central Avenue to the north and the old bay shore near today’s Otis Drive to the south. Park and Regent streets formed the western and eastern boundaries, respectively.
Harris laid out a street that ran down the center of the tract toward the bay. Cohen dubbed it Park Avenue—perhaps to echo the swanky New York City boulevard or to simply impress and entice the wealthy to live on such an impressively named street. In case Park Avenue filled with homes for the wealthy, Cohen’s other street one block over had a similarly imposing name—Regent Street. Did he perhaps have in mind the street with the same name in his birthplace, London, England?
Join Alameda Post Historian Dennis Evanosky and Publisher Adam Gillitt as we explore Park Avenue and environs, the centerpiece of Alfred A. Cohen’s plan to entice the wealthy to his “Alameda Park Homestead.”
We will explore Park Avenue and learn about the Alameda Park Hotel and its fate as an asylum. Dennis will discuss how Cohen’s plans failed and how his estates for the wealthy with the planned private park became the neighborhood we know today.
We’ll offer this tour on two different dates: Saturday, November 4 and Sunday, November 12. Meet at 10 a.m. in front of the Kaiser Building at 2417 Central Avenue. Tickets are available online for $20 each. More information is available on our Tours page.
Harris’s 1867 plan divided Park Avenue in two. In the center he designed a 100-foot-wide, 1,200-foot-long oval commons. The park’s design was deliberate and echoed Cohen’s fellow countryman “Lord” George Gordon’s South Park in San Francisco. Cohen and his partners ambitiously had Harris lay out parcels with frontages that matched the width of the park.
There were no takers, save Cohen’s uncle by marriage Dr. William P. Gibbons and Julius Chester. Julius and his brother, George, had settled on the Alameda peninsula in the early 1850s. They lived in a “knock-down” home near today’s San Jose Avenue and Union Street, where they produced charcoal. Chester bought six parcels from Cohen. In 1879 he built a home that still stands, albeit much altered, at 1227 Regent Street.
William Gibbons built an Italianate home at Central and Park avenues. The Gibbons family home no longer stands. The property first morphed into a Standard Oil service station, then into a post office parking lot. It next became the Islander Lodge Motel. Today The Park Central apartment building stands in its place.
By 1876, Cohen had realized that the wealthy were not impressed. He cut his parcels into smaller lots. Carpenter Thomas Hayselden bought some land and built a pair of homes on Park Avenue. In 1878, the South Pacific Coast Railroad began its run through Alameda. The tracks ruined Cohen’s oval park, slicing through its northern edge on today’s Encinal Avenue. Trains stopped nearby at the railroad’s Park Hotel on Park Street, site of the Alameda Fire Department headquarters today.
Time took its toll. Historian Woody Minor tells us that “the old oval park was in a sad state of neglect,” adding that “among the debris stood a sign that read: ‘Dump No Garbage.’” In July 1890, the Alameda Brass Band gave a concert in the park. Minor describes the scene: “On a Saturday evening in early July, members of the band took up their positions in the center of the park among the weeds and tall grass and discoursed their sweetest music by the flickering light of an insufficient number of torches.”
Concert-goers decided the band needed a more attractive place to play. The city’s Board of Trustees pledged $100 to build a bandstand and the good citizens of Alameda came up with matching funds. They turned to architect and builder Joseph A. Leonard, who had a bandstand ready to go for the band’s second concert two weeks later. Retired Alameda Museum Curator George Gunn relates that Leonard designed and built four homes on Park Avenue—1116, 1118, 1174 and 1178.
The Board of Trustees donated electric lights to illuminate the park—a pleasant substitute for the smelly torches that had so dimly lit the band’s first concert. Residents were delighted. The concerts would “keep the boys away from the saloons and afford young men the opportunity to take out their best girls for an evening of cheap and innocent enjoyment,” trustee Lida Peckham told the audience that early August evening. In 1891, the neighborhood got a second cultural boost with the appearance of the three-story Linderman Opera House on Central Avenue across Park Avenue from the Gibbons’ home.
Peckham and his fellow trustees knew a good thing when they saw it. The city had already begun a process called “condemnation” in an effort to wrest title of the park from its original owners. City attorney Edward Taylor pressed on, and in June 1894, the park belonged to the people of Alameda.
The City stepped in, and the park got a makeover. “Local florist John Becanne drew up a landscape plan,” Minor says. Street Superintendent Volkert Frodden supervised the work. “The surface was graded, most of the existing trees were removed, pathways laid out, and graveled and water pipes installed.”
Minor tells us that the electric streetcar line made an incision near the south end of the park in the form of San Jose Avenue—not unlike the cut the railroad made across the north end at Encinal Avenue in 1878.
Frodden had the park ready in time for the city’s 1895 Fourth of July celebration. With their well-polished speeches tucked discreetly but conveniently into their breast pockets, Alameda’s trustees joined dignitaries at the bandstand. George Blank stood by the 150-foot flagpole he had donated for the occasion. Then he watched proudly as the flag was hoisted.
Spectators blocked their ears to the deafening volley of rifle fire from the uniformed militiamen who had been standing at disciplined ready. “The crowd gave three cheers,” Minor says. “After six years and some $6,000 in expenditures, the city finally had a proper park.”
The city named the park for itself. In 1909 it was renamed Jackson Park. Andrew Jackson served as President of the United States, so the name fell in line with the city’s other parks named for presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. In July 2020, the Recreation and Parks Commission voted to rename the Park, and in January 2021 it officially became Chochenyo Park to honor the Ohlone people.
Read more: What’s in a Name: Chochenyo Park