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Today’s Alameda Treasure – 2413 Buena Vista Avenue, Part 2

When we last left off, a circa 1890 Queen Anne style cottage was threatened with demolition in order to pave the way for a new parking lot for a planned development at the old Cavanaugh Motors site at the corner of Park Street and Buena Vista Avenue. Although the house was on Alameda’s Historic Building Study List, and had sheltered generations of Alamedans, the owner of the property asked for it to be removed from that list due to the importance of the new project.

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 was built in 1890 for $1,200. Photo Wikipedia Commons.

Houses tell stories

Like any 120-year-old house, 2413 Buena Vista Avenue has a story to tell. In Part 1 of this story, we learned about its first owner, Danish immigrant Ida W. Hegelund, and her daughter Serena Hegelund. Serena married Hamilton Cox in 1891, moved in with him in San Francisco, and had a child named Clarence in 1893. By 1894, however, Hamilton had run off with the wife of a butcher, made his way to New York, was injured working on a steamship, underwent a long treatment at Bellevue hospital there, ran out of money, had his paramour leave him, and finally, finding himself at loose ends in Canada, contacted his wife Serena seeking a reconciliation.

Returning to Alameda almost a year after his disappearance, with his tail between his legs, Hamilton Cox found Serena living with her mother at 2413 Buena Vista Avenue. Despite his professed intention to reconcile, Hamilton disappeared again in 1896, and a divorce was finally granted to Serena in March 1897, on the grounds of willful neglect. She was awarded custody of their child Clarence and $40 per month in alimony.



Alameda Post - a newspaper clipping that says "Granted a divorce" at the headline
On March 27, 1897, the Alameda Daily Argus reported on the divorce of 2413 Buena Vista residents Serena (née Hegelund) Cox and Hamilton Cox, on the grounds of willful neglect. Hamilton had run off with a butcher’s wife in May 1894, causing a scandal that had been reported in the local papers, and all attempts at reconciliation failed (see Part 1 of this story). Image via Newspapers.com.

Moving on

An announcement in the Evening Times Star, dated June 20, 1911, reported that “Mrs. Serena Cox and son Clarence are enjoying a few weeks in the southern part of the state, and write from Los Angeles to friends in this city of the many pleasures included in their outing.” At that time, Serena would have been 40, and her son Clarence 18 years of age. With Clarence on the verge of adulthood, it was nice to see him still enjoying long vacations with his mother. This was a harbinger of the future, since census records show Clarence still living with his mother in 1950, when he was 56 years old.

A chicken ranch on Buena Vista

Further clues have emerged as to how Serena was getting by as a divorcée, and how she brought in extra money to supplement her job as a stenographer for a law firm. A classified ad in the Evening Times Star on October 25, 1912 offered “Black Minoracs for sale; good stock, 2 cockerels and a few hens suitable for breeding. Apply 2413 Buena Vista, Alameda.” The interesting thing about the ad is that it tells us Serena had enough land around her home on Buena Vista Avenue to raise chickens, and also that a spelling mistake was allowed to creep into the classified ad; the correct spelling for that kind of chicken is Minorca. Another ad in June of 1913 offered “One dozen black Minorca hens; good stock. 2413 Buena Vista ave. Phone Ala. 1484.” Here we see that Serena was still raising chickens, and she even had a telephone number, using the simple exchange ALA 1484.

Alameda Post - an illustration of two chickens
An illustration of a black Minorca cock and a white Minorca hen. Illustration from the Geflügel-Album of Jean Bungartz, 1885. Public Domain.

A historic neighborhood

Another ad discovered during the course of this research originated from the home right across the street from Serena’s house—2412 Buena Vista Avenue. A classified ad in the April 11, 1908 Alameda Daily Argus reads “POSITION WANTED – An experienced young Japanese wants a position as a cook or general house work in a family. Address, G. Kaira, 2412 Buena Vista avenue, Alameda.” 2412 Buena Vista Avenue is one of two small, circa 1884 Italianate false-front cottages sitting directly across the street from Serena Hegelund’s house, and both are still standing to this day. The interesting clue here is that this historic neighborhood—known as “the Wedge” and bordered by Park Street, Tilden Way, and Blanding Avenue—also bordered Alameda’s once thriving Japantown. This ad, from a young Japanese person seeking work, is a reminder of the “Tonarigumi,” or close-knit Japanese community that formed here in the early years of the 20th century. (A 2022 article in the Alameda Post describes the unveiling of a historical marker honoring this community.) The presence of the Japanese person G. Kaira, living right across the street from Serena in 1908, is a precursor to the thriving Alameda Japantown that once existed here, and that would reach its peak in the 1930s, with about 880 residents. Connections between stories are something I always love to discover during these deep dives into our Alameda Treasures.

Alameda Post - a section of Alameda on Google maps with a yellow line drawn around a triangle-shaped section
The blocks bounded by Park Street, Tilden Way, and Blanding Avenue comprise a neighborhood known as “the Wedge.” Many historic homes exist in this district, and according to a 2003 Alameda Architectural Preservation Society report, “History (is) at Risk: Of some 114 buildings deemed historic, only half of them are on the officially documented Historic Buildings Study List.” Due to its location, the Wedge is particularly susceptible to commercial and other development. On this map, the border of the neighborhood is highlighted in yellow, and the location of 2413 Buena Vista Avenue is a red circle. Image adapted from Google Maps.

The old house changes hands

By the 1920 census, Serena, then 49 years old, and her son Clarence, then 26, were living at 1525 Clay Street in San Francisco. Serena was working as a clerk for a packing company, and Clarence was working as a clerk in the transportation business. It is not known whether Serena sold or rented out the family home at 2413 Buena Vista Avenue in Alameda, but in either case new people were living at the house by 1920, after 30 years of Hegelund family occupancy.

Serena may have lived the rest of her years in San Francisco, and never returned to Alameda. The 1950 census lists Sorine E. Cox—using the traditional Danish spelling of her name—at 78 years old living with her 56-year-old son Clarence at 2326 Larkin Street in San Francisco. Serena was retired at the time, and Clarence was listed as head of household, working as a clerk for a steamship company. Serena died on November 13, 1953, and was buried at Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery.

Life and death at 2413

The house at 2413 Buena Vista Avenue continued to shelter Alameda residents throughout the decades, and an announcement in the Oakland Tribune, dated October 16, 1959, informed the community that, “High mass will be celebrated in St. Joseph’s Church tomorrow at 10 a.m. for John McMullin, 79, who died unexpectedly at his home, 2413 Buena Vista Ave. A native of San Francisco, Mr. McMullin came to Alameda in 1906. He was a retired boilermaker and a member of Oakland local No. 10, of the Boilermaker’s Union. Mr. McMullin was the grandfather of professional golfer John W. McMullin and Linda McMullin, both of Alameda.” This is just a glimpse into yet another of the many lives that have been lived in the old house on Buena Vista Ave.

Alameda Post - a modern day photo of a square in Alameda
The PV Square development is located on the site of the old Cavanaugh Motors dealership, at the corner of Park Street and Buena Vista Avenue. The owner of this property requested the removal or demolition of the old Queen Anne cottage located at 2413 Buena Vista Avenue so that he could build a parking lot on the site of his new project. Photo Steve Gorman.

Neighborhood changes

Fast forward to the year 2008, and the old house at 2413 Buena Vista Avenue found itself vacant. The neighboring property at 1700 Park Street, once the home of Cavanaugh Motors, had closed. The entire parcel, including the site of 2413 Buena Vista Avenue, was purchased by a developer. As the era of new and used car dealerships on Park Street was waning, the need to redevelop Park Street north of Lincoln Avenue to replace the lost tax base was paramount.

An article in the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society’s February 2009 newsletter was headlined, “City considers removal of Victorian house at 2413 Buena Vista Avenue from Historic Building Study List.” The story continued, “The need for the Park Street North of Lincoln Strategic Plan implementation is illustrated by the proposal to remove the Queen Anne house from the Study List. The owner would like to have the building removed from the site in order to facilitate a new retail project at the northeast corner of Park Street and Buena Vista Avenue on the property formerly occupied by Cavanaugh Motors, one of Park Street’s recently departed car dealers.”

Although the City’s Historical Advisory Board (HAB) had voted at its November 20, 2008 meeting to keep the house on the Study List, that decision was appealed to the City Council by the property owner. Demonstrating flexibility, the AAPS weighed in, “Although the AAPS would prefer that the house be preserved within its existing block, we understand the importance of the project proposed for the house’s site due the departure of the auto dealers and the major reduction in sales tax revenue their departure has caused during a time of fiscal crisis. AAPS therefore supports the project, but we are urging that the City require the owner to make a good faith effort to have the house moved.”

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."
The February 2009 newsletter of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society (AAPS) reported on attempts to save the old Queen Anne cottage located at 2413 Buena Vista Avenue, including an offer of a “Free house to a good home.” Image AAPS.

Free house to a good home

At its March 13, 2009 meeting, the City Council did end up approving the removal of 2413 Buena Vista Avenue from the City’s Historic Building Study List, clearing the way for the demolition of the almost 120-year-old Queen Anne Victorian-era cottage. The home that had witnessed so much history over the years was officially considered to be “in the way.”

The City Council did at least impose some conditions on the removal of the house. These included:

  1. A demolition permit for the structure at 2413 Buena Vista Avenue shall not be issued until building permits for the entire project are issued.
  2. Property owner shall, to the maximum extent feasible, make the structure available for relocation to another site.
  3. Property owner shall, to the maximum extent feasible, make materials generated from the deconstruction of the structure available for reuse or salvage either onsite or off site.

The owner of the property, Bill Phua, accepted these conditions and vowed to continue advertising the availability of the old house on Craigslist. He reported having received 22 inquiries, two of which seemed very promising. Ultimately though, both of these proposals were withdrawn when the prospective developers, after inspecting the house, decided that moving and renovating the old structure would cost more than building a new one.

Another possibility emerges

Moving the building to the former Island High School site just a block and a half away, at the northwest corner of Eagle Avenue and Everett Street, was suggested as a fallback possibility if all other efforts failed. This option had its own challenges and complexities, including the need for cooperation from the Alameda Unified School District, and working within the context of the larger project at that site, which became Everett Commons housing in 2018.

“Old houses are full of memories, and that’s why they resist collapse.”

— Turkish playwright Mehmet Murat Ildan

Alameda Post - a parking lot at 2413 Buena Vista Avenue
The site where 2413 Buena Vista Avenue sat for 121 years is now a parking lot for the PV Square development and the Alameda Marketplace. Photo Steve Gorman.

Demolition Day

Despite the efforts made to find a new site for the old house, and despite the conditions imposed by the City Council, the decision to allow the demolition of the house ultimately resulted in exactly that conclusion. On February 25, 2011, an excavator began knocking down the old house at 2413 Buena Vista Avenue, as a small crowd gathered across the street next to the Marketplace to bear witness. Despite the stiff resistance offered by the solidly built cottage, it wasn’t long before there was nothing left but a big pile of splintered wood. The house that was once the proud new home of Ida W. Hegelund and her children Harry and Serena, and which had sheltered numerous others over its lifetime, was reduced to rubble in the name of progress.

Alameda Post - the site at 2413 Buena Vista as a pile of timber. Heavy machinery and workers move around the demolished home
After attempts to find a developer to cart 2413 Buena Avenue away to a new site failed, demolition day arrived on February 25, 2011, when an excavator began knocking down the 121-year-old historic house that had once been on Alameda’s Historic Building Study List. The City Council had voted to remove the house from that list on March 3, 2009. Here one can see the remains of 2413 Buena Vista Avenue after the historic house was demolished. This house had good bones, and could have been refurbished on a new site if the financing had worked out. Photo Dennis Evanosky.

The one that got away

Usually these stories of our Alameda Treasures have a happy ending, such as summing up an old home’s long, colorful history, and celebrating the fine, restored condition it’s in today. In this case, the story is a more cautionary tale. It’s a story of development and progress vs. preservation and history. Although the house was in a neglected state and needed some TLC, homes like that have been restored all over Alameda with excellent results. It had good bones, and with a little time and money could have become one of our enduring Alameda Treasures, housing people and beautifying the neighborhood to this day. Instead, the former site of the house at 2413 Buena Vista Avenue is a parking lot today, with about 14 spots on the land once occupied by the house. It’s a shame that the City and developer couldn’t work the old house into the new project somehow, or that financing couldn’t be arranged to help move it to a new location. The old saying goes, “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” but it seems that in this case there wasn’t quite enough will to find a way to save the old house.

Alameda Post - a well maintained beautiful old home
An example of “what could have been”. This is a current day view of 2064 San Antonio Ave., a Queen Anne style cottage built in 1890, the same year and style as 2413 Buena Vista Ave. This home is beautifully preserved, and stands tall and proud after 134 years, just like the Buena Vista house could have been with a little more effort. Photo Steve Gorman.

Today, we remember this former Alameda Treasure as “the one that got away,” and honor the lives that once were lived under its roof. Every Victorian-era home is precious—once lost, they can never be recreated in quite the same way again.

“It was a mistake to think of houses, old houses, as being empty. They were filled with memories, with the faded echoes of voices. Drops of tears, drops of blood, the ring of laughter, the edge of tempers that had ebbed and flowed between the walls, into the walls, over the years. Wasn’t it, after all, a kind of life? And there were houses, he knew it, that breathed. They carried in their wood and stone, their brick and mortar a kind of ego that was nearly, very nearly, human.”

― Nora Roberts, Key of Knowledge

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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