Leonardville Legacy Walking Tour

Image courtesy private collection

Joseph Leonard published this brochure to advertise his real estate developments.

House Stories

Victorian-era entrepreneur Joseph Argyle Leonard pioneered multi-tasking. He was an architect, contractor, realtor, and financier who left a lasting mark on our Island in the five or so magical blocks known colloquially as "Leonardville." Bounded by San Antonio Avenue, Union and Chestnut streets, and bayfill lagoons, some four dozen Victorian-era Leonard homes still stand, most of the highly ornamented Queen Anne persuasion. Many are emblazoned with Leonard's "Three Ss of decor"—shingles, sunbursts, and spindles — and some sport towers and turrets.

When Leonard bought that large patch of ground, his purchase was shrewd in the extreme. The land adjoined the Chestnut Street stop on the South Pacific Coast Railroad that ran along Encinal and Central avenues. The train went to the ferry at Alameda Point, where vessels steamed to San Francisco in about 20 minutes. This convenient commute prompted owners and managers of many significant companies to settle their families in Leonardville. "Nearly 85 percent of the breadwinners in Leonardville worked in San Francisco. The Alameda Argus newspaper concocted the name Leonardville, and it stuck!" according to author and historian Woody Minor in his book Leonardville Heritage Area.

In addition to his real estate endeavors, Leonard was an active boater, who designed the turreted Encinal Yacht club that used to perch on a long pier at the foot of Union Street. Although the club has long since moved, Leonard's family mansion still stands at 891 Union Street, unbowed by its architecturally inhospitable neighbors across the lagoon. This home cost $20,000 to construct; most other Leonardville properties were built for well under $5,000. Minor described the residence as an exemplar of Queen Anne-style "with its looming towers, stone-clad base and shingled exterior." It was one of the first homes in Alameda to be electrified when it was completed in 1896.

Minor is a fourth generation Alamedan with a master's degree in urban planning from the University of Oregon. For the Alameda Planning Department, he produced a visual and historic survey of 10,000 buildings in town. Minor also wrote many newspaper columns about Alameda history for local newspapers and prepared four treatises on local Heritage Areas. His recent books are Taking Care of Business, which describes Alameda's commercial buildings and The Architecture of Ratcliff.

A few years back when the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society installed a tasty Victorian style fence in front of the Leonard mansion, they threw a festive party celbrating the installation of a plaque. Then Vice Mayor Beverly Johnson presided, Washington Elementary School first graders sang "The Alameda Anthem," accompanied by musician Jim Frantz. Then Minor took over and began to discuss Leonard and Leonardville. To his consternation, he was briskly elbowed off the podium by none other than Joseph Leonard himself, who seized the microphone to thank Alameda "in person" for honoring his work, while Minor went off in a snit.

Recovered from his hurt feelings, Minor will lead a walking tour of Leonardville, Saturday, May 5, starting at 11 a.m. in front of 891 Union St. Joseph Leonard will again return to Alameda from the ethereal zone, but he promises not to upstage Minor this time. Admission is free, and the walk is sponsored by the Historical Advisory Board. For information leave a message at 748-0796 or check alamedamuseum.org.

Judith Lynch serves on the Historical Advisory

Board and teaches at Washington Elementary School.



0 #1 Mark Spiegel 2013-07-10 20:37
I thought Joseph A. Leonard died in 1929! If it truly was Mr. Leonard he must have been more that one hundred years old! :lol:

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