With the Fassking’s Gardens era coming to a close at Grand Station, the next phase of Alameda’s growth was set to begin. Once thought of as mainly a place to come for weekend picnics and summer resorts, Alameda was becoming a city of homes. In Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this story, we learned how German immigrant Louis Fassking created Alameda’s largest and most successful hotel and resort at Fassking’s Park. The railroads, which did so much to bring business to his resort, now were bringing that business to the bathing resorts on the West End, the most famous of which was Neptune Beach. These same railroads, as they extended their lines and stations, were also making Alameda a more desirable and convenient place to live, with regular service to and from San Francisco and Oakland via rail and ferry.
Marcuse & Remmel excel in real estate
The close of the 1880s saw grocer Felix Marcuse (1847-1925), and musician Julius Remmel (1855-1913), separately start to become more and more involved in selling real estate. Although each had been successful in his chosen field, they were unable to resist the pull of Alameda’s booming housing market. By 1890 they had joined forces, and when Fassking’s tract was cleared of its old hotel buildings, they were perfectly positioned to jump on the opportunity. A large, empty piece of land right next to a train station must have seemed like an excellent investment to the new company called Marcuse & Remmel.
They purchased land for 10 cottages on the newly created Minturn Court, along with enough land for five more homes fronting Lincoln Avenue. Though new to the field of home-building, they hired architects and builders to construct affordable homes in the style of the day—Queen Anne High Basement Cottages. Whereas other builders, such as Joseph Leonard and Charles Shaner, were building larger and more opulent homes for wealthier clients, Marcuse & Remmel focused on more modest, yet stylish, cottages for the average wage-earner. Their cottages typically cost $1,400 to $2,500, and could be purchased on an installment plan with as little as $100 down and $10 per month.
Join Historian Dennis Evanosky and the Alameda Post on Saturday, February 25, or Sunday, March 5, (Note: Sunday’s tour postponed from Feb 26. due to rain) at 10 a.m., for a walking tour of Caroline and Weber streets. We’ll learn about the notable architects—including Marcuse & Remmel—who designed and built homes on the 1200 and 1300 blocks of these Gold Coast streets. We will also learn personal details about some of the people who lived in the historic homes there. We’ll meet at 10.a.m. on either day at the intersection of Caroline Street and Fair Oaks Ave, Tickets are $20 each for either Saturday or Sunday’s tour. Limited tickets may be available on the day of each tour.
Fassking’s Hotel site sees new life
Marcuse & Remmel’s first big project was turning a vacant parcel of land, three blocks from their Bay Street offices, into Mastick Court, a cul-du-sac of 11 Queen Anne-style cottages built in 1890. The success of this project led to the Minturn Court development, where 15 cottages were built in 1891 and 1892 on the site of the old Fassking’s Hotel. Ten of them can still be seen on Minturn Court itself, with five more located just outside on Lincoln Avenue. They are in various states of alteration, renovation or preservation, but there are some excellent examples of Marcuse & Remmel’s early 1890s work on these streets.
It’s interesting to compare the cottages on Mastick Court, Marcuse & Remmel’s first big project, with the ones on Minturn Court, the firm’s second big project. In the span of a year, they’d upped their game considerably, and the increased level of detail and beauty in the homes show it. The firm built 58 buildings in 1891, and averaged 60 buildings a year through 1896, making them Alameda’s most prolific builders.
Most of their work was in Alameda, but about a fifth of their commissions were in other cities, and they even opened a branch office in San Francisco in 1890. Marcuse & Remmel eventually employed a crew of over 60 skilled workers such as architects, draftsmen, carpenters, plumbers, plasterers, and painters. Bert Remmel (1872-1927), the younger brother of Julius, joined the firm around 1895 and may have played a role in the shift to more “modern” and transitional designs, as the Colonial Revival style began to appear on the scene.
Marcuse & Remmel’s time comes to a close
By the late 1890s, the lingering depression was starting to take its toll on Marcuse & Remmel. Their annual home-building count fell below 50, and continued to drop each year. By 1898, new commissions were mostly coming from San Francisco, and their incredibly productive and exuberant era of homebuilding in Alameda was coming to a close. In less than 10 years they had built over 500 homes in the Bay Area, most of them in Alameda. But as sales slowed and bills piled up, they found themselves in much the same position Louis Fassking did by the end of his run at Fassking’s Park—in debt and in trouble with creditors. And so the boom and bust cycle, so often repeated, was coming around again.
By Christmas 1899, stories in local newspapers reported on the transfer of all assets owned by Marcuse & Remmel to the Puget Sound Lumber Company, their largest creditor. By February, 1900, stories appeared in the San Francisco Examiner with headlines such as, “Home Builders Forced Under,” describing Marcuse & Remmel’s bankruptcy. Both Felix Marcuse and Julius Remmel, along with Bert Remmel, went on to work separately in other pursuits including notary public and real estate, but never again would there be such a golden age of building like they experienced in Alameda in the 1890s.
Julius Remmel died in 1913, Felix Marcuse in 1925, and Bert Remmel in 1927. Though long gone from the scene, their spirit lives on in the many examples of their fine work throughout Alameda and the Bay Area. Their signature elements such as sunbursts, molded plaster, textured facades, an enormous variety of millwork, and curvy sheet metal sills below bay windows, immediately let the viewer know that they are looking at a Marcuse & Remmel creation.
Learn more about another member of the Remmel family, Jacob Remmel, who founded the Teutonia Park and Homestead Association in Alameda.
Lingering treasures from the past
While there are numerous examples of Marcuse & Remmel’s work still standing in Alameda today, there are fewer tangible reminders of Louis Fassking’s legacy. In Part 3 of this story we took a look at the two surviving sections of Fassking’s Hotel, still standing today at the corner of Eagle Avenue and Stanford Street. But there is one more remnant from the old Fassking’s Hotel, an ornate door that somehow escaped the scrap heap and wound up preserved at the Alameda Museum.
This door, accompanied by a framed description on the wall, is noted for the fine craftsmanship of its day. Rather than being made of plywood or other cheaper construction methods, these door panels are “beveled and mitered, stiles and rails are joined with wooden dowels, and panels are fit into mortise-and-tenon joints. The window is made with pieces of stained, textured and etched glass. This door is truly a work of art,” according to “The Fassking Hotel Door” by Ron Ucovich. This door gives us just a hint of the grace and beauty that must have characterized Fassking’s Hotel and Gardens.
The late 1800s were truly a time of both craftsmanship and beauty of design. Things were made to last, including buildings and homes. The fact that we have these treasures from the past to admire today is testament to the quality of work, building materials (old growth redwood), and the dedication of preservationists to keep them alive for future generations to enjoy. Thanks to Cohen’s railroad, Fassking’s Park, and Marcuse & Remmel, Grand Station still retains the basic layout of a 19th century train station and commercial district to this day. Stop by sometime and take a walk through history, as you admire our Alameda Treasures.
For more information on Marcuse & Remmel and the other top builder in Alameda, Joseph A. Leonard, see Woodruff Minor’s book, A Home in Alameda, available from the Alameda Museum gift shop and website.
Special thanks to Alameda Librarian Beth Sibley for research on Louis Fassking and Fassking’s Park, and a tour of the Fassking’s Hotel door at the Alameda Museum.
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.