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Today’s Alameda Treasure – 2413 Buena Vista Avenue, Part 1

“At its March 3, 2009 meeting, the City Council approved removing the Queen Anne Victorian house at 2413 Buena Vista Avenue from the City’s Historic Building Study List and demolition of the structure.” With those words, quoted from the April 2009 edition of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society newsletter [PDF], the fate of the 119-year-old Queen Anne cottage seemed sealed. The home that had stood on that site through the 1906 earthquake, two world wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War, the civil rights movement, the 1960s counter-culture rebellion, and countless other events that changed the world and Alameda, could fall to the wrecking ball. But this old Alameda Treasure still has a story to tell, even though some people once considered it unwanted.

Alameda Post - 2413 Buena Vista Avenue, looking very abandoned and run down
A view of 2413 Buena Vista Avenue taken in 2010. This Queen Anne cottage, built in 1890 for $1,200, has been a home for many generations over the years, and it has a story to tell. Photo Wikipedia Commons.

A long history

According to George Gunn’s book, Documentation of Victorian and Post Victorian Residential and Commercial Buildings, City of Alameda 1854 to 1904 (available at the Alameda Museum), 2413 Buena Vista Avenue was built in 1890 by J. L. Etward, at a cost of $1,200. The architect is unknown, but the first owner was Mrs. Ida W. Hegelund (1844-1900). It’s interesting that Ida is listed as the first owner, as it was more common in those days for property to be owned by men. In this case, that would have been Ida’s husband, Jacob R. Hegelund (1838-1886), of Hegelund’s Fish Market and Oyster Depot, 1323 Park Street. However, Jacob died in 1886, and so Ida Hegelund purchased the home at 2413 Buena Vista Avenue on her own, and remained the property owner until her death in December of 1900. At that time, her home on Buena Vista Avenue, as well as property on Park Street (probably her late husband’s fish market) were willed to her son Harry and daughter Serena.

An ill-fated marriage

The Hegelund’s were of Danish ancestry, with both Ida and Jacob having been born in the Scandinavian country of Denmark. Their daughter, Serena, married Hamilton Cox of San Francisco on May 6, 1891. An announcement in the Oakland Enquirer, dated May 5, 1891 had stated, “Miss Serena Hegelund of Alameda and Hamilton Cox of San Francisco will be wed on Wednesday evening at the home of the bride, 2413 Buena Vista Avenue.”



The newlyweds lived in San Francisco for a couple of years, and then this appeared in the Alameda Daily Evening Encinal on August 12, 1893: “Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton Cox (nee Hegelund) have concluded to live in our salubrious climate. They have leased their handsome residence in San Francisco and moved into one of Capt. Hanson’s cottages on Eagle Avenue.” Further research indicates this home was located at 2318 Eagle Avenue, between Oak and Park streets – just a short walk from Serena’s mother’s house on Buena Vista Avenue. The circa 1893 Queen Anne cottage on Eagle Avenue still stands to this day.

Cox skips town

The first sign of trouble in the marriage, at least as far as public reporting goes, was a story in the Alameda Daily Evening Encinal dated May 18, 1894, less than a year after Serena and Hamilton moved to Alameda from San Francisco. The headline was, “Cox’s Whereabouts Still Unknown,” with the sub-headline, “He is Believed to Have Skipped With a Butcher’s Wife.” The story reported: “Hamilton Cox, the engineer of the tugboat Relief, who disappeared from his home on Buena Vista Avenue, Alameda, about two weeks ago, has not since been heard of. August Scheel, a butcher who is said to reside here, says that it was his wife that eloped with the tugman.”

The story described Mrs. Scheel as a San Francisco girl, along with being “a coquettish sort of somebody, who, only a short while ago, had attracted the eye of a young man named Henry, who worked for Stone’s milk dairy.” After absconding with several hundred dollars of his employer’s money, Henry naturally lost his job and then Mrs. Scheel soon forgot about him. That’s when she met Hamilton Cox. The story closes with, “No one has any idea where Cox has skipped to, but the theory is still advanced that he has gone North, in the direction of Portland, or some one of the Sound cities.”

Alameda Post - two newspaper clippings. One says "Cox's whereabouts still unknown. He is believed to have skipped with a butcher's wife. The other says, "A husband's return. H. Cox became weary of wanderings."
Left: A snippet from an article in the Alameda Daily Evening Encinal, dated May 18, 1894, reports on the disappearance of Hamilton Cox, the husband of Serena Hegelund Cox, originally of 2413 Buena Vista Avenue. Serena had to move back in with her mother when her husband failed to return. Article via Newspapers.com. Right: An article in the Alameda Daily Argus, dated April 10, 1895, announces the return of the wayward husband, Hamilton Cox, who became weary of his year of wanderings and sought a reconciliation with the wife he had abandoned. Article via Newspapers.com.

A husband’s return

About a year later, on April 10, 1895, a headline in the Alameda Daily Argus stated, “A Husband’s Return,” with the sub-heading, “H. Cox Became Weary of Wanderings.” The story reported that, “The erring husband has now returned, and it is said that a reconciliation will take place between him and his wife. He went East with his fair companion, but from reports he made to some of his friends, fate was not kind to him, and when his money gave out his charmer wearied of him and the two separated.”

As to Serena, the story said, “Mrs. Cox is of a very independent nature, and when she realized her husband was gone she set about to earn a living for herself and her child, and secured employment as stenographer in the law offices of Delmas and Shortridge, San Francisco. She lives with her mother on Buena Vista Avenue, near Park street.”

More details emerge

Another article from the same date, April 10, 1895, in the Alameda Daily Evening Encinal, shed further light on Hamilton Cox’s misadventure. After returning from his absence, it was reported that, “He looked the worse for his absence, and had had quite an experience. When he left Alameda, so the story goes, he went to New York City. There he obtained a position as an assistant engineer on a steamer. While engaged in his work, one day, he was seriously injured, causing him to undergo a treatment for a long while at the Bellevue Hospital in New York. Upon his recovery, he journeyed to Canada, from whence he wrote to his wife a short time ago, effecting a reconciliation.” Meanwhile, while Cox was gone Serena had availed herself of legal services at the law firm where she worked and had had papers for a divorce suit drawn up.

Alameda Post - a cheerful looking blue house at 2318 Eagle Avenue
2318 Eagle Avenue is the house Hamilton and Serena Cox lived in when they moved back to Alameda from San Francisco in 1893. The Queen Anne cottage was brand new at the time, having just been built by David S. Brehaut for a cost of $2,500. The owner and landlord was Captain James Hanson (info per George Gunn). This house is only a couple of blocks from Serena’s mother’s house on Buena Vista Avenue. Unfortunately, Serena had to leave this house and move back in with her mother after Hamilton deserted her in 1894. Photo Steve Gorman.

Can this marriage be saved?

Although it was reported that Hamilton Cox had intended a reconciliation with his wife Serena, and that, “He was glad to get back to California and has expressed his intention of remaining here permanently,” it seemed that this leopard wasn’t able to change his spots, to use an old expression. Over a year later, on November 27, 1896, an announcement appeared in the Alameda Daily Argus,  headlined, “The Cox Divorce.”

It seemed that the footloose Hamilton Cox had wandered off again, and this time Serena had had enough. According to the article, “Serena E. Cox of Buena Vista Avenue, having been unable to ascertain the whereabouts of Hamilton Cox, whom she is suing for divorce, has been compelled to publish a summons. A copy was mailed to Seattle, which was his last known place of business.”

The final reporting on the saga of this ill-fated marriage came four months later, on March 27, 1897, when the Argus reported that “Serena E. Cox of 2413 Buena Vista Avenue has been granted a divorce from Hamilton Cox on the grounds of willful neglect. She was awarded custody of the minor child, Clarence M. Cox, and was granted $40. per month alimony.” And so, the six-year unhappy marriage of Serena Hegelund and Hamilton Cox was over.

It is not known whether Hamilton ever returned to Alameda permanently or played any role in his son’s life, but based on his prior history, it is doubtful. According to genealogical records, Cox lived until 1955, when he died in Alameda at 80 years old. Perhaps he did have a chance to change his ways in his later years.

Death of the matriarch

Serena’s mother, Ida W. Hegelund, died at home at 2413 Buena Vista Avenue on December 29, 1900. She had come from Denmark as a young girl, and lived in California for nearly thirty years, twenty of which were spent in Alameda. At this point, it can be assumed that Serena remained living at 2413 Buena Vista Avenue with her son Clarence, who was just six years old at the time, and possibly with her 20-year-old brother Harry, who also appears on the 1900 census as living in the house. Further research in this series will have more to reveal.

Alameda Post - a photo of 2413 Buena Vista Avenue with the text "Free house to a good home. City considers removal of Victoria house at 2413 Buena Vista Avenue from Historic Building Study List."
2413 Buena Vista Avenue was in the way of a new development planned for the old Cavanaugh Motors site at the corner of Park Street and Buena Vista Avenue. It was offered for free to any taker who would cart it away at their own expense. Did any takers step forward? We’ll learn more about that in our next installment. Photo Alameda Architectural Preservation Society (AAPS).

Up next

When our story of 2413 Buena Vista Avenue continues, we’ll learn how long Serena lived, what she did to support herself as the years went on, and how she and her son Clarence spent their free time. We’ll also see how this home was part of an Alameda neighborhood known as “the Wedge,” and its historic connection to Alameda’s Tonarigumi, or Japanese community. Finally, we’ll learn what efforts were made to save this historic home, including an offer of a “free house to a good home,” and whether those efforts came to fruition. All that and more, when our story continues.

“Most people these days chase new things – new houses, new cars, new objects. But, they don’t realize that old houses, old cars, and old objects have something that new things don’t have – their history and culture.”  – Avijeet Das

Contributing writer Steve Gorman has been a resident of Alameda since 2000, when he fell in love with the history and architecture of this unique town. Contact him via [email protected]. His writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Steve-Gorman.

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