Albert Brown Mortuary, 3476 Piedmont Avenue (JL)

There was no undertaker or funeral home in Oakland until 1849 [ date needs verification -- Gurnett brothers would have been 5 and 13 years old in 1849; one ad says 1855, another "late 1850s" ], when local furniture makers the Gurnett Brothers branched out into the construction of coffins. c.1874, the Gurnett Brothers business was sold to William Helmer, the County coroner, who after retiring, was succeeded by his business partner, William Hamilton. 3 A 1932 article gives a different timeline, with the Gurnett Brothers in the 1860s, William Helmer in 1873, and Albert Brown in 1882. 4 Add to the mix, it says "Established 1873" above the front door.

1890s 2

Albert Brown, who was an undertaker in Denver, Colorado, moved with his wife to Oakland in the early 1870s. William Hamilton and Albert Brown became partners in 1873 and changed the business name to Hamilton-Brown Undertaking Co. 15 years later Hamilton sold his interests to Albert Brown, and the business once again went through another name change. Albert Brown Undertaking Co. was at 466-468 - 13th Street c.1896, 1 and run by Albert Brown until he died in 1909. His son Bert (Albert Jacob Brown?) took over the business into the early 1920s.

The Browns lived at 1387 Alice Street c.1896.

1874 ad 3466-477 13th St. 1885 5 466-468 13th St.
from 1896 Illustrated Directory
neon sign. photo CC BY-SA 2.0 David Brossard1964 ad

Murder Mystery

On Thursday, January 31, 1974, three workers at the Albert Brown Mortuary on Piedmont Avenue were found murdered inside the funeral home. Robbery was not considered a motive as the victims' wallets and money were still present. The only missing items were several pints of embalming fluid, with three of the bottles found broken on the sidewalk. The victims were Doris Bryant and Clarence Bryant, the caretakers who were both in their 70s, and the 27-year-old mortuary trainee, Michael Moore.

This case was solved; Michael S. Jackson was convicted in the triple-homicide. I believe he is still incarcerated at San Quentin. The motive was to steal formaldehyde to make LSD. We discussed it briefly on this site: (via

Links and References

  1. Illustrated Director of Oakland (p.32)
  2. BANC PIC 1996.003:Volume 27:122b--fALB UC Berkeley Bancroft Library
  3. successor ad Oakland Daily Transcript January 28, 1874
  4. Albert Brown Leader Here for 44 Years Oakland Tribune May 5, 1932
  5. Oakland and Surroundings W.W. Elliott 1885