Doctors Convert Failed Hotel to Asylum
Doctors Convert Failed Hotel to Asylum
Nothing remains of Alfred A. Cohen’s Alameda Park Hotel he built to entice the wealthy to visit, and, he hoped, move to Alameda. Cohen’s plan failed and he put the property—bounded on the north and south by Webb and Central avenues and on the east and west by Everett and Park streets — up for sale (“Alameda Park Hotel Morphed into Insane Asylum,” Jan. 21).
According to historian Joseph Baker, doctors Eustace Trenor and Joseph Tucker purchased the hotel and its property in 1866, “from which time, to the middle of December 1870, they used it as a refuge for insane persons whose friends could afford to pay the price.”
In a talk she presented to the Alameda Museum, Madeleine Seiwald said that Trenor and Tucker’s Alameda Park Asylum “served the needs of the growing East Bay population of the insane and provided a foothold for the doctors within their Alameda community.” Both Tucker and Trenor lived in Alameda.
Seiwald told her audience that the good doctors “used notions of California’s healthful coastal climate and the lack of an asylum geared toward the state’s wealthier popuCourtesy Chuck Millar Courtesy Swedebourgian Community Artist, later famous for Yosemite paintings, created lithograph for them lation to provide for clients who did not want to be packed into the overcrowded and less than luxurious state asylum (in Stockton.” Trenor and Tucker used the asylum as a means “to capitalize on the lack of infrastructure in the state of California to service the wealthier populations, and to gain respect in their community.”
The doctors advertised their services in Alameda with a handbill. They hired lithographers and William Keith to create this bill that described their asylum as one with “greatly and elegantly furnished buildings situated upon the healthy and picturesque peninsula of Alameda.”
They informed the public that the buildings (of Cohen’s former hotel) are “now opened for the reception of patients suffering from DEMENTIA (sic) and other CEREBRAL and NERVOUS DISORDERS (sic). They assured families wishing to commit these certain people that “every effort will be made to render this Institution deserving of the confidence and patronage of the medical profession and public.”
The cost? The handbill states that “Charges, including EVERYTHING (sic), from $1.50 per day, upwards. Depending on apartments occupied and condition of patients.” Suites of apartments with special servants were available, including a “female department in charge of an experienced Matron.”
Amenities included bowling alleys, gymnasiums, billiard and reading rooms, fresh- and saltwater baths “and all other sanitary improvements for the care and entertainment of patients.”
Among the names Trenor and Tucker dropped on their handbill as references were governors Frederick Low of California and H. G. Blasdel of Nevada.
A devastating railroad accident disturbed the asylum’s tranquility early Sunday morning, Nov. 14. 1869. An eastbound Central Pacific Railroad train collided head-on with a westbound San Francisco & Alameda Railroad train. A single track ran between Simson’s Switch and San Leandro. The Central Pacific had assigned an illiterate train-car washer to control the switch located near today’s High Street and Coliseum Way in Oakland.
Unaware that a train was coming from San Leandro the illiterate switchman signaled the Central Pacific train to proceed. The results were disastrous. Trenor and Tucker’s asylum was the nearest medical facility. People came from all around in horses and buggies. The transported the injured, the dead and the dying to the asylum. The inmates were taken out of their beds and quiet abodes to better accommodate the accident victims.
According to newspaper accounts, three cars of the San Francisco & Alameda train and four of the Central Pacific train were totally ruined.
“The carnage was horrible!! Twelve corpses were counted on the spot. Thirty-five persons were taken in a mangled condition from the ruins, though still alive,” The Weekly Arizona Miner Prescott reported on Dec. 4, 1869.
Federal census taker Stephen Burpee arrived at the asylum on Aug. 4, 1870. Some nine months after the mishap, all the accident victims were apparently gone. Burpee listed 14 people as “insane” — two women from Prussia and 12 men.
He noted the occupations of most of the men as “merchant”; others as “farmer,” “stevedore,” and “oarsman.” Trenor and Tucker closed the asylum in December 1870. On Jan. 31, 1871, fire destroyed the building as it was set to open as a school for girls.