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Neptune Beach, the Coney Island of the West.
This was “the greatest beach resort spot on the West Coast” from 1917 to 1939. The coastline of Alameda was dotted with sea bathing resorts starting in the 1870s, when sea water was pumped in from the Bay, filtered, and heated. This was originally the site of the Long Branch Bathing Association (1878-1885), Neptune Gardens (1885-1891), and Croll's Gardens & Hotel (1891-1917). In 1885 the Southern Pacific Coast Railroad cashed in on the resort boom in Alameda, and opened the renowned Neptune Gardens on the site of what would later be known as Neptune Beach.
In 1891 John G. Croll, a manager at Neptune Gardens, purchased what became known as the Croll’s Gardens and Hotel, but the hotel didn’t prosper until the opening of the Neptune Beach in 1917. 700 Central Avenue, now a California Historical Landmark, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is home to Croll’s Pizza and the 1400 Bar and Grill Restaurant.
Neptune Beach – the grand swimming pool and amusement park destination opened in 1917 by Robert C. Strehlow Sr., August Freese and Pete Peterson, all of whom were involved in the building of the 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco – was famously billed the “Coney Island of the West.” It was advertised as being located at “Central Avenue at Webster Street,” but Neptune Beach certainly extended beyond those boundaries. The Neptune Beach property consisted of the former Neptune Gardens, Surf Beach, and Terrace Baths properties. Strehlow bought out his partners in 1922 and formed the Alameda Park Co. It was a family corporation that included his sons, Arthur, Robert Jr. and Roland, and his daughter, Margaret.
The attraction boasted the world’s largest outdoor swimming facility, which was over 300 feet long and all tile-lined. It had dressing rooms to fit 8,000 swimmers. Swimming, steeplechase and horse races took place here, as well as high-diving competitions and ballroom dancing championships. It even featured some of the earliest synchronized swimming demonstrations this side of Busby Berkeley.
Besides prize boxing and wrestling fights, the attraction featured pre-San Francisco Seal professional baseball games that drew thousands to the Island, animal exhibits, trained exotic bird shows, a carny-game-and-barker midway that rivaled that of the California State Fair in size and content, beauty contests, arm-wrestling competitions, logging and landscaping contests and much more.
As the Great Depression of the 1930s deepened, crowds at Neptune Beach got smaller until the resort went bankrupt in 1939. A public auction was held to dispose of the rides and many props. The beautiful carousel was sold to San Francisco’s Playland at the Beach.