Eastern Architectural Styles – Alameda Post

Alameda began its existence in today’s East End, and the domestic architecture found there reflects its birth. The architectural styles of the East End range from the oldest in Alameda history to the modern era. Only two of the many old houses survive, each in one of the first two styles of the Victorian era. In 1854, the Webster family assembled a house on what is now Avenue de Versailles, just south of Avenue Encinal. Around the same time, the Christensens built a house on what is now Post Street, also south of Encinal Avenue.

Cristopher Christensen arrived in Alameda in the early 1850s and built a Greek Revival style home for his family. Now greatly altered, this residence is arguably the oldest house in Alameda. It was known to be standing in 1855 but must have been built earlier. There is no documentation of the exact date.

The Christiansen house is the first house built in Alameda, but its existence was not recorded until 1855. Since then it has been updated and added to. Photo Heidi Noriko Boettcher.

John Nelson Webster didn’t build his house, but he assembled it from parts prefabricated on the east coast and shipped to California around Cape Horn aboard the Henry Harbeck. His house reflects a second style of the early Victorian era, Gothic Revival. The house reflected the tastes that were popular at the time on the East Coast. Some attribute its style to landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing, who believed that homes like the one Webster assembled should blend into the landscape.

Alameda’s East End grew slowly. Three factors played a role in its gradual development. The East End was mainly used for agriculture. The founders of the town of Alameda, William Worthington Chipman and Gideon Aughinbaugh, introduced orchards and cultivated berries there. Meanwhile, the Civil War disrupted normal life, as many returned east to join the fight, and California used Alameda for training exercises. Then the disastrous winter of 1861-1862 flooded much of California, making growing crops nearly impossible.

In 1864, AA Cohen, who lived on an estate not far from the Christensens and Websters, built a railroad that ran the length of the peninsula that later became Island City. But when the San Francisco and Alameda Railroad began operating in 1864, it bypassed the East End and made Park Street and its surroundings more attractive. The Methodists moved with their entire church intact from Jackson Street near Encinal Avenue to Park Street and Central Avenue. Today, Peet’s customers enjoy their coffee in a building in the “Methodist Block.”

Some people chose to build in the East End during this time however, and we will see Italian and modern style homes on our walking tours over the next three weekends. These two architectural styles of the East End reflect the shift towards more sophisticated homes. The modern style allowed the use of scroll saws on site rather than relying on parts assembled at the factory, as was the case with the Italian style. This allowed modern-style builders to create – and sometimes modify – designs in place. Some refer to this modern style as Eastlake, or with a term coined in the 20th century, the Stick style. You will find out why during our walks.

Of course, Alameda is brimming with Victorian favorite style, Queen Anne. This highly decorative style came to the United States from Great Britain during the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia. We’ll appreciate seeing the fancy fish-scale shingles, ornamental barge boards, and eye-catching pendents on the style’s recessed windows. We can see a turret or a tower (or both) and learn the difference.

Another style that originated in Philadelphia but took a little longer to come to life here was the Colonial Revival, Queen Anne’s more understated sibling. The death of Queen Victoria, the arrival of Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet, and the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 allowed Colonial Revival’s more restrained nature to stay more in step with the times. The Mansard style, which flourished as Croll’s in the West End, also appears in an interesting example in the East End. During our walking tour, we will explain how the French came up with this design to avoid paying taxes. We’ll also show how the advent of single-story homes, as well as the Arts and Crafts movement, inspired new ways of living in the early 20th century.

There will also be fun along the way. We’ll visit Tregloan Court and hear all those stories about the houses that some say were built for Little People. We will learn why certain neighborhoods took shape the way they did. Next, we’ll discover Lincoln Avenue’s secret: it’s just a little crooked for a reason. And there’s surprisingly more to Thompson Avenue than all those Christmas lights.

Rejoin Alameda Post editor Adam Gillitt and I on Saturday morning, August 13, as we explore the architectural styles of the East End of Alameda. We meet this Saturday at 10 a.m. on Versailles and Lincoln avenues. We will finish around 11:45. Advance tickets $15. For more information on this and other tours, visit our History Walking Tours page.

Dennis Evanosky is an award-winning East Bay historian and the editor of the Alameda Post. Join it at [email protected]. His writings are collected at AlamedaPost.com/Dennis-Evanosky.

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