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West End Once Served As Magnet for Bathers – Part 1

Alameda had no public park until 1890, when the City took possession of Alfred A. Cohen’s Alameda Park Homestead. However, 19th century residents here found plenty of privately owned resorts for recreation, among them Hermann Bremer’s Schuetzen Park along the Bayshore, south of Prospect and McPherson streets (today’s Eighth and Ninth streets).

Alameda Post - a black and white drawing of Alameda Salt Water Baths or The Newport Baths. Carriages pull up to a large structure next to the water. In a corralled area, people swim in the ocean. A railroad train drives by
John Wonderlich and Alonzo Bryan advertised their Alameda Salt Water Baths in the 1878 Husted’s Directory, but soon renamed their enterprise “The Newport Baths.” They depicted the South Pacific Coast Railroad train in this advertisement to remind readers of the San Francisco Call how convenient it was to reach their establishment. Photo San Francisco Call.

Conrad Stolze ran Alameda Gardens along Prospect Street near Central Pacific Railroad tracks, and Louis Fassking operated a large “garden” along the railroad between Grand and Union streets. Like Schuetzen Park, Fred P. Muller’s Pine Grove and J.W. Pearson’s Long Branch Baths hugged the Bayshore — Pine Grove at the foot of Bay Street and Long Branch at the foot of Webster.

Bathers found the waters along Alameda’s south shore a source of relaxation. In 1877 word reached Alameda that the narrow-gauge South Pacific Coast Railroad (SPCRR) would be coming to town. It didn’t take long for entrepreneurs to cash in on this new railroad that also hugged the Bayshore as it traveled west of Webster Street. This news helped nurture a new industry — the baths.

Alameda Post - a railroad station an Alameda
Passengers line up to catch a South Pacific Coast Railroad train at the Fifth Street Station in the West End. The train is heading for the SPCRR mole where travelers could catch a ferry boat to San Francisco. Sunny Cove Baths, seen on the right, stood next door to the station from 1878 to 1950 on the site of today’s Marina View apartment complex. Photo courtesy Gary Lenhart.

In 1877, even before the advent of the railroad, a certain Mr. Salara started the Alameda Salt Water Baths. The entrance to the baths stood on the southwest corner of Central and Second avenues (today’s Fifth Street). Perhaps Salara knew that the railroad planned to build a station at that very spot.

The following February he sold his enterprise to John P. Wonderlich. In The Past and Present of Alameda County, Joseph Baker wrote that Wonderlich “at once commenced elaborate improvements, no less than $28,000 being spent on them.” That amounts to 2024 spending power of $832,885.33.

Wonderlich soon took on a partner, Alonzo W. Bryan. The pair renamed their venture the Newport Baths. According to the 1878 Husted’s Directory, Wonderlich and Bryan soon had company. G. W. Trover opened the Sunny Cove Baths right next door.

Wonderlich, Bryan, and Trover soon had even more rivals for the bathers’ money. Robert Cook opened Sandy Beach Baths, and John T. Gilman invited the public to enjoy the waters at his Green Arbor Baths. Wonderlich and Bryan, Trover, Cook, and Gilman clustered their baths near the new train station at Second Avenue, today’s Fifth Street.

Alameda Post - card for Terrace Baths
Terrace Swimming Baths promotional card. Photo courtesy Alameda Museum.

In the meantime, bathing fever had spread east down Central Avenue. Robert Haley opened the Terrace Baths on the southeast corner of Third Avenue, today’s Sixth Street. And a group of investors pooled their money — $21,000, a tidy sum in 1878, more than $655,000 in 2024 — to purchase Patrick Britt’s seven-acre farm at the foot of Webster Street. The buyers transformed the Britt farm into Long Branch Baths.

Trace what little remains of the Coney Island of the West with the Alameda Post’s Dennis Evanosky and Adam Gillitt. The resort opened its doors as Newport Swimming Baths in 1877, 40 years before the Strehlow family invited bathers to Neptune Beach. We’ll take a first-hand look at Neptune Beach that entertained thousands from 1917 to 1939. When it closed, McKay Avenue was carved on the footprint of the roller coaster. We’ll also explore the many other baths that lined Central Avenue. A video presentation will be made available to ticket holders. Join us on Saturday, May 18, or Sunday, May 26. We will meet at the entrance to McKay Avenue at Central Avenue at 10 a.m. and tickets are $20 each. Visit our Tours page for additional information.

“The Long Branch Swimming Baths were the largest of the famous Alameda swimming baths, with comfortable rooms and elegantly appointed grounds,” Joseph Baker wrote in The Past and Present of Alameda County. J.W. Pearson was among the Oakland investors who spent $70,000 — equivalent to $2.1 million in 2024 — after handing Britt all that money.

“They soon lost their shirts,” historian Woody Minor wrote in Alameda Magazine. However, the new railroad saw the beach as a way to entice folks to ride its trains, and decided to purchase the defunct resort. James Fair, who owned the railroad, enlarged the grounds and reopened in 1885 with the name Neptune Gardens, Minor wrote. The railroad enticed John G. “Johnny” Croll from Oakland to Alameda to run the new enterprise. That same year the Southern Pacific Railroad stepped in and took over Fair’s narrow-gauge line.

In the meantime, Haley’s Terrace Baths flourished right next door, until an accident changed everything. On November 3, 1887, a boiler explosion at the baths killed Haley. The following year Haley’s partner and now sole owner of the baths, Clinton Augustus “C.A.” Edson, celebrated his baths’ 10th anniversary with a two-page advertisement in Husted’s Directory.

Alameda Post - a map of the Alameda shoreline
Beaches, called “baths” in Victorian times, dotted Alameda’s southern shore when the Alameda Argus commissioned its map of Alameda in 1887. Newport Baths (1) was in between Fourth Street (B) and Fifth Street (C), with a train station (2) nearby for easy access. Terrace Baths (3), Neptune Gardens (4) and Britt’s Hotel (5) also attracted customers. The Alameda baths provided relaxation and diversion to locals and visitors. Photo courtesy Alameda Museum.

The ad included a sketch of the baths and a lengthy paean that called Terrace Baths “the largest swimming bath in this country.” The advertisement also explained the mechanics of the bath. A “substantial wall 12 feet thick” enclosed them. “The water is taken in through flood gates and is changed at high tides,” the ad said. If the tides were not high enough, then water was pumped into the premises at the next high tide.

The baths boasted a pair of 12-feet-deep diving basins with springboards, slides, and swings. In addition to the diving boards, Terrace Baths had “300 neat dressing rooms with railed platforms.” For the more discreet bather, the baths also offered private club rooms for rent. “The premises contain, besides the bath, a large driving yard, a terrace, and several raised balconies for viewing,” the advertisement stated.

And as for cleanliness: “The swimming bath, the hot salt water bathrooms, and the dressing rooms are kept scrupulously clean. Private suites are well taken care of.” All suites — “none of which are more beautiful or better made” — and towels were carefully washed, the ad promised. And there was no misbehaving at the Terrace Baths. “No intoxicating drinks are ever sold on the grounds, nor any catch-penny slide shows allowed.”

In 1888, the same year that Edson took out his advertisement in Husted’s, Patrick Britt and his family were no longer listed in the directory as living in their hotel. In 1892, E. O. Simmons opened the Terrace Restaurant just across Central Avenue from Terrace Baths. In 1893 Johnny Croll stepped in and purchased the Britt Hotel, renaming the establishment the Encinal Hotel. He also opened a bar in the establishment, which he called Croll’s Bar.

Alameda Post - a black and white promotional sketch of Terrace Bath, with swimmers enjoying the ocean and long buildings built into the ocean to make a rectangular swimming area. To the right of the promotional photo, a newspaper clipping reads "Shot in the Back. Cowardly Murder of C. A. Edson. No chance for retreat or defense. Charles Becker took a life for money he claimed to be due him."
Left: Robert Haley and Clinton Edson owned the Terrace Baths at today’s Sixth Street and Central Avenue. Swimming at night was all the rage, and the owners promised, “These premises are lit by 22 gas lamps, each having 80-candle power.” This drawing was part of a long-winded paid advertisement. Photo Husted’s Directory. Right: Charles Becker worked for Clinton Edson at the Terrace Baths. He claimed Edson owed him money. Edson failed to pay, and Becker shot him to death one day on Webster Street. Photo San Francisco Chronicle.

A year after Croll took over the Britt Hotel, news that a disgruntled employee at Terrace Baths shot and killed C. A. Edson shattered the neighborhood peace. Edson’s death came seven years after his business partner, John Haley, had perished in a boiler explosion.  Edson’s murder spelled the end for both the founding partners of the popular Terrace Baths.

Ernest Brounger took over the management of Neptune Gardens from Johnny Croll, but the establishment did not survive. After 1895 the gardens no longer had a place in Husted’s, but new life came to the West End shoreline that same year, when William S. Schmidt opened Cottage Baths. His daughter Nellie brought fame to Alameda as a swimming sensation.

As the 19th century came to a close, Green Arbor and Neptune Gardens had vanished, but Sunny Cove, Cottage Baths, and Terrace Baths survived. The 1897 and 1898 Husted listed L. W. Shroeder as manager of the Terrace Baths.

When Robert Strehlow opened Neptune Beach in 1917, he was touching on a tradition that stretched back some 40 years.

Part 2 of this series will describe Strehlow’s “Coney Island of the West.”

Dennis Evanosky is the award-winning Historian of the Alameda Post. Reach him at [email protected]. His writing is collected at

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