Category Archives: Historical Landmarks

The Erstwhile Seat of Power

Gail has a very nice blown glass perfume bottle from Nourot Glass Studio in Benicia. The only problem with this thing is that the stopper broke off in the top of the bottle, making it a little tough to put perfume in or get perfume out. We had been thinking about getting it fixed. On a shakedown ride last year before our credit card tour from San Francisco to Laguna Beach, we stopped at Nourot and the friendly staff said “Oh sure…we fix those things all the time. Just bring it in.” Now was the time…and we would visit a bunch of Historical Markers along the way, too.

We didn’t have a huge amount of time on Sunday, May 16, so we tossed the tandem on the roof of the car and drove to Benicia, rather than riding up there via the newly-opened bike path on the Benicia-Martinez Bridge. Our general plan was to park at Nourot, ride to Fairfield to visit a landmark, ride back to Benicia and visit some other landmarks, and then drop the perfume bottle off at Nourot. A good plan on most days. This was not one of those days.

The ride from Benicia to Fairfield is pretty nice. We passed through the Conoco/Phillips refinery in Benicia (which I thought was most excellent but Gail found horrifying) and the rode between the hills to the south and Suisun Bay to the north along a frontage road next to the famous “Luther E. Gibson Freeway” (i.e., Interstate 680). For those that haven’t had the unique opportunity to drive a VW Bus or other types of boxes on wheels, the Luther Gibson Freeway was a source of fear and loathing when driving from the Bay Area to Tahoe, given the howling cross-winds along that stretch of road.

Along the way you get to see the so-called “Mothball Fleet,” which is a bunch of ships from WWII and the Korean War that are anchored in the Carquinez Straits, supposedly at the ready in case the USSR, Bulgaria, France, or some other enemy came steaming into San Francisco Bay looking for trouble. Thankfully, over the next few years, the most decrepit of these rusting hulks, which are environmental nightmares, are being removed and dismantled. However, from our tandem, the ships look surreal, a ghost of a long-past time of big navy and big military in the SF Bay.

From this road you can also see the wetlands of Suisun Bay. During periods of bird migration, this place is just lousy with birds taking a breather before continuing on to their final destinations. We could see some birds in the distance but not as many as one might see at different times of the year.

When we reached Fairfield, we finally decided to consult the directions to the Rockville Stone Chapel (Landmark #779). We found that this joint was all the way across Fairfield, so it took us a while to wind through the suburban street grid and pop out the other side of town into the farmland to the west. However, this was all worth it, because the chapel is just beautiful. The cornerstone of the chapel, erected by pioneers of Methodist Episcopal Church South with volunteer labor and donated funds, was laid October 3, 1856 on a site supplied by Landy and Sarah Alford, and the chapel was dedicated February 1857. By 1929, the chapel had deteriorated and the church deeded it to Rockville Public Cemetery District as a pioneer monument. It was restored in 1940.

What a beautiful place! The stonework is great, the setting (away from the road, surrounded by large trees) is lovely, and there was a Historical Landmark marker, too! It also made me proud to be a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party, since the chapel was reconstructed by the Federal Works Agency of the Work Projects Administration (part of Roosevelt’s New Deal). If you happen to be in Fairfield (perhaps visiting the Budweiser brewery), you should stop over. It is worth the effort.

We now had to retrace our route back to Benicia, since that was the real star of the day, landmark-wise (there are no less than 9 Historical Landmarks in Benicia, which gives it about one landmark for each 3,000 residents, which is much higher on a per-capita basis than any other city in California). After a fine lunch at Subway in Fairfield, we got back on Lopes Road and headed toward Benicia. There was a great tailwind as we left Fairfield, which made me think that we would be in Benicia in no time. WRONG! Once we got about halfway to Benicia, that friendly tailwind turned into a screaming headwind. Even with our powerful stoker, it was slow going all the way to the Benicia city limits. Once we got down in the wind shadow of the refinery, the riding got easier.

After we climbed the last hill, Gail and I had a collective brain freeze. Which way to we go? Over toward the bridge on the bicycle path or down the hill? Sitting here typing, it is obvious that we should have continued down the hill, since that was where we came from about 2 hours before. Sitting on the “captain’s seat” of the tandem, the decision wasn’t so clear. So, we headed down the bicycle path, which appeared to be going in the proper direction (i.e., down the hill) until it made a sharp left turn and went UNDER the freeway (i.e., away from Benicia). The bicycle path was pretty narrow, so turning the tandem around took some doing. When we did it, we noticed that we were between the roadways for the old and new bridges. This presented a great contrast in engineering between the old steel bridge, which looked like it was built from an Erector Set, and the new, sleek, modern span to the north.

We got turned around and finally made it back into town, where we found the Benicia Arsenal (Historical Landmark #176). Captain Charles P. Stone, with 21 enlisted men, established Benicia Arsenal as an ordnance depot in 1851. The first building, a small wooden powder magazine, was erected in September 1851. Between 1853 and 1863, Congress authorized $550,000 to be spent on the establishment, and some 15 stone and frame buildings were constructed. The arsenal was first called “California Ordnance Depot,” then “Benicia Arsenal Depot,” and finally, in the spring of 1852, “Benicia Arsenal.” It played an important role in crises such as the Indian wars. Some of its original buildings are in use today. Descendants of the men who established Benicia Arsenal are still living in Benicia and other parts of California.

The marker sits in the middle of a lawn area in front the main building of the Benicia Arsenal. We were unable to go inside of the structures (they are used today as commercial buildings). However, the exterior was quite attractive, having Spanish tile roofs, whitewashed walls, and very nice architectural details over the main entryway. It took us a bit to find this place (even though we had ridden past it earlier in the day) since the address is somewhat misleading. We are glad that we finally did stop and look it over.

Our next stop was the Site of Former Benicia Barracks (Historical Landmark #177). Benicia Barracks, established on April 30, 1849 and organized by Brevet Lt. Col. Silas Casey, 2nd U.S. Infantry, was the U.S. Army headquarters for the Department of the Pacific from 1851-1857. Also known as the “Post near Benicia,” it remained a garrison installation until 1898. The post hospital, built in 1856, is the only remaining structure associated with the original Barracks. The Barracks became part of the Benicia Arsenal, which closed in 1964.

From the map of our route, it looked like this place was up the hill from downtown Benicia. Google Maps now has an interesting feature that gives the best bicycle route to a destination. Although I don’t know the decision criteria used to determine the “best” route, it appears that the route selected by Google Maps involved either the longest route or the route with the lowest average grade for climbing. We wound around the streets overlooking Benicia and the Carquinez Straits, making lefts and rights, until we reached the top of the hill. When we found the location for the Barracks, it hit us: we had just ridden past this place on our route back from Fairfield! We would have had to climb a fence and avoid some armed National Guardsmen to get to this location, but it would have saved some climbing. I plan to notify Google about this option.

We looked all over Francesca Terrace Park, which is the location of the Barracks. No luck on finding a marker. Then, we saw what might have been a mounting for a marker at one time. Upon closer inspection, we saw that the marker had been ripped out of the mounting. Gail speculated that this was done in order to sell the scrap metal. I thought that the more likely scenario was a history buff trying to complement his collection of California state memorabilia. In either case, there wasn’t anything to see except for a bunch of families having picnics in a relatively beat looking park. Not the finest Historical Landmark we ever saw…

We flew down the hill to downtown Benicia. Here we faced a tough choice: do we explore the Historical Landmarks in the downtown area (of which there are many) or do we ride toward Vallejo and see the most remote of them and work our way back? When faced with a choice of more or less riding, I know where I fall, so Gail gave in and off we went to the Turner/Robertson Shipyard 1883-1918 (Historical Landmark #973).

We pedaled northwest along the shore of the Carquinez Straights and finally arrived at the Landmark. What is the big deal about this place?  In 1852, Matthew Turner of San Francisco relocated his shipyard to Benicia. Turner, the most prodigious shipbuilder in North America, constructed 228 vessels, 169 of which were launched here. In 1913, the shipyard was purchased by James Robertson, who operated it until 1918. The yard sways, and the Whaler Stamboul, used as a shipyard work platform, are visible at low tide. There isn’t much left of the place, other than some pilings in the shallows. However, one can just imagine the activity that took place here, launching ships into the somewhat protected waters in a natural bay. There were a bunch of guys fishing when we rolled in. They seemed none too concerned about us and our bicycle, as it was late in the day. The views from the Landmark are great: you can see the Carquinez Bridge (aka the Alfred Zampa Memorial Bridge), which links Crockett and Vallejo. You can also see Port Costa across the Straight. If you are in Benicia, it is worth the short trip to the outskirts of town to see this place. If you hurry, you can also see an insane-looking home remodeling project that is just a few blocks from the Landmark.

Next on the list was the Historical Landmark that I had known about before we started this adventure. Benicia had been one of the cities that had been California’s capital in the early days of the state. Why exactly Benicia got picked for this honor is not clear. However, as a friend of mine says, “The facts are the facts,” and those are the facts. We rode back into downtown to find the Benicia Capitol (Historical Landmark #153). Erected in 1852, ostensibly as Benicia’s City Hall, this historic building was one of the four locations of the “Capitol on Wheels” from February 4, 1851 to February 25, 1854. It was deeded to the State in 1951. We got to the Capitol sort of late and, as a result, the park ranger was not available to give a tour. Since we had several other places to visit (as well as heading back to Nourot), we decided to take a pass on the admissions (a reasonable $3 per person), with the goal of coming back later. The Capitol has been refurbished and, from the entry hall, it appears to be very interesting.

As noted above, you can’t swing your purse in Benicia without hitting some sort of landmark. Right next door to the Benicia Capitol is the Fischer-Hanlon House (Historical Landmark #880). In 1849, Joseph Fischer, a Swiss immigrant, came to Benicia. After joining a butcher partnership, Fischer purchased this lot on July 1, 1858 and move the house, reputed to be an old hotel, onto it. The building, an outstanding example of East Coast Federalist styling, illustrates architectural diffusion during the Gold Rush.

This house looks so out-of-place in Benicia. It looks like someone picked up a house from Boston and plopped it onto the lot. However, that isn’t the only thing that sets this place off. It also has an extensive garden of cacti and succulents. Why they decided to have such a garden, I have no idea, but it is very cool to see these plants essentially on the shore of the Carquinez Straights. The building itself was closed, so we didn’t get to go inside. However, from the look of it, one could spend some time poking around in it.

At that point, we still had a long list of Landmarks to visit, it was getting late, and we needed food. So, we called it a day and headed back to Nourot to get the car, give them the perfume bottle, and find some food. We would have to wait for another time to visit the rest of the Landmarks.

History in our own backyard…

We live in Richmond, the so-called “City of Pride and Purpose,” which is located in southwestern Contra Costa County, or CoCoCo to us locals. Having toured most of the Historical Landmarks of our neighbor to the south (i.e., northwestern Alameda County), we decided it was time to see what our fine county had to offer. As we are quickly finding with this landmark business, it was a mixed bag.

We hopped on the tandem and headed out to the first spot, which is only about 4 miles from our house. The Alvarado Adobe (Historical Landmark #512), was built in 1842 by Jesus Maria Castro for his mother, Dona Gabriela Berryessa de Castro, widow of Francisco Maria de Castro, who had been granted Rancho (Cuchiyunes) San Pablo in 1823. When Don Gabriela died in 1851, the adobe became property of her daughter, Martina Castro de Alvarado, wife of Juan Bautista Alvarado, who was Governor of California from 1836 to 1842. The adobe has become the centerpiece of the the City of San Pablo’s civic center. San Pablo has decided to carry over the adobe theme to the rest of the civic center structure. The book claims that there is a Historical Marker at this site but neither Gail nor I were able to find it. There is, however, a very attractive sheet metal sign (like the ones you see on the highway telling you that you are approaching a Historical Landmark) slammed onto the side of the adobe. Heaven only knows where the plaque went…

Since both Gail and I are working stiffs, we typically have to do our Landmark adventuring on weekends. Thus, we hit this one on May 1. After finding that the adobe museum was closed and that no tours were being offered, we started to do a little exploring of our own. The parking lot (on the north end of the civic center) was closed off and several of San Pablo’s finest were guarding the entrance. After checking out the Blume House, which is next to the adobe, from the outside, we rolled over to the officers and asked why the parking lot was closed off and if they knew where the plaque was located. After a little friendly back and forth (“We closed it off for you.”), one officer told us it was on the ground by the adobe. The rest nodded their heads in agreement. Not wanting to be contrary (since they had closed the parking lot in our honor), Gail and I rode back to where we had just been to “look again.” Not surprisingly, the plaque STILL wasn’t there. I sure hope that when it comes to taking evidence and investigating crime scenes that these guys do a better job of observing their surroundings.

After we waved goodbye to the officers, we rolled up San Pablo Avenue toward our next destination, the Site of Giant Power Company (Point Pinole) (Historical Landmark #1002-1). Even though we had left Richmond to go to the Alvarado Adobe, we were now heading into another part of our fair city, which is a sprawling town with industrial, urban, suburban, and rural areas.

I had high hopes for this landmark, given the description from the book: “Pt. Pinole is the last site of the Giant Powder Company, the first company in America to produce dynamite. Following devastating explosions in their san (sic) Francisco and Berkeley sites, the business moved to this isolated location in 1892. Incorporating the established Croation community of Sobrente, the company town of Giant quickly grew into one of the North Bay’s industrial centers. Explosives were produced here until 1960 and were essential to mining, dam and other construction projects throughout the Western Hemisphere.”  Explosives! Devastation! Now we are talking!

(A short side note to the observant reader: do you really believe that this company used to make high explosives in SAN FRANCISCO and BERKELEY??? Just imagine trying to get a permit to do that today. It makes the head spin…)

Unfortunately, the reality wasn’t quite as thrilling as the write-up had led us (or at least me) to believe. When we arrived at the “location” of the Landmark (the corner of Giant and Atlas Rds…how great is that for an address?),  we found a very nicely landscaped industrial park. No sign of the town of Giant. No craters from high explosives experiments gone terribly wrong. And no plaque. Just a locked gate across one road (maybe where the carnage was to be found?), a road into the industrial park, and Giant Highway. We didn’t feel like hopping over the gate and the industrial park didn’t look too promising, so we took off down Giant Highway, hoping to find some evidence of the town. No such luck. Nothing to suggest that there ever was such a place or a plant. The photo tells the whole story.

We were 0-2 on the plaque count for today’s adventure (for those of you keeping score at home). Ever the optimist, I said that we should continue on to Crockett, which was the next landmark on our list. Gail was skeptical but since we had only ridden about 10 miles so far, she relented and off we went (I also tempted her with the prospect of lunch at the Nantucket restaurant). It turns out that I had actually seen the sign for the next landmark when riding through Crockett in the past so I had reason to believe that we would find something interesting. Even if the landmark (“The Old Homestead” – Historical Landmark #731) wasn’t very interesting, we would get a chance to ride past a cool oil refinery (the ConocoPhillips Rodeo Refinery, which is on both sides of San Pablo Avenue in Rodeo) and, as an added bonus, get to see the C&H Sugar Refinery in Crockett! (If it wasn’t obvious, I have a professional interest in both oil refineries and the C&H Sugar Refinery, having had both as clients in the past).

“The Old Homestead” didn’t disappoint. Standing in the shadow of the C&H Sugar Refinery, “The Old Homestead” was the first American home in Crockett, located on an earlier Indian village near the Carquinez Straights. Constructed in 1867 by Thomas Edwards, Sr., on land purchased in 1866 from Judge J. B. Crockett, its timbers, some of them brought around the Horn, have been well preserved. The grounds were very pretty, with flowers bursting out all over the place. As we rolled into the parking area, we got some quizzical looks from a number of people milling around “The Old Homestead” as we dismounted and strolled in. It turns out that there was some sort of event planned for the day and our attire wasn’t quite up to snuff (although I thought we looked pretty good, all things considered). Gail, being more proper than me, felt that it would be a stretch to ask if we could go into the building (which is apparently open for wedding, bar mitzvahs, and other events). Thus, we snapped a bunch of photos from the outside.

From Crockett, there are a couple of ways to get to Martinez by bicycle, which is where the next landmarks are located. Those that are faint of heart can head back past the oil refinery and ride surface streets to Franklin Canyon. Those with a bit of an adventurous streak (i.e., Gail and me) can take one of two roads to Martinez. Both involve riding on Carquinez Scenic Drive. On one route, you ride on this road until cars can no longer pass, then you walk your bicycles through a landslide, sneak through a fence, ride through an industrial facility, and blast down into Martinez through a park and some city streets. The other route involves less hijinx but has its share of drama: you get to ride the notorious McEwen Road, which is an integral part of the Grizzly Peak Century bicycle ride. The road isn’t L’Alpe d’Huez but the bugger is steep. I have ridden it a number of times and have seen many a couple dismount their tandems and walk them up. Gail opted for McEwen Road. We didn’t tear up it but, I am pleased to announce, we didn’t walk and we didn’t even “paperboy” at all.

Both routes take you past the town of Port Costa. Even though Port Costa wasn’t on the itinerary, we felt that a side trip was in order. Gail had never been there before and, after all, the whole point of this landmark thing was to stop at places that looked interesting. This sleepy little hamlet is nestled in a canyon that runs down to the Carquinez Straits. If you take a train to the San Francisco Bay Area, you will see Port Costa as you cruise along the water between Martinez and Richmond. You have to look quickly, however, since the town itself isn’t too big. Even though Port Costa is small, it is proud. It has a hotel, a couple of bars, lots of motorcyclists, and (allegedly) a warehouse that was the first fireproof building in Contra Costa County (which is now a bar and restaurant). There was an arts and crafts show going on when we were there. Also, the flowers were blooming like crazy down by the railroad tracks, so I had to go and take a peek. I can’t vouch for the food or drink in Port Costa, but from the looks of it, people are willing to travel a ways to get here. I am glad that we stopped.

From the top of McEwen Road, we headed down to Franklin Canyon Road and into Martinez, which is not just the county seat for CoCoCo but is also a font of history. The flowers on Franklin Canyon Road were pretty amazing…

In the shadow of the Union Pacific trestle and State Highway 4 sits two great Historical Landmarks: John Muir Home (Historical Landmark #312) and Vicente Martinez Adobe (Historical Landmark #511). Both are on the same site. However, if you want to do more than just look at the plaques (yes, there were plaques!), you have to pay a nominal entrance fee (the John Muir House is also a National Historic Site). It is well worth the price of admission.

The John Muir Home is a ranch home of John Muir, 1838-1914, explorer, naturalist, author and foremost advocate of forest protection and of national parks. The John Muir Trail through the high Sierra, Muir Woods National Monument, and Muir Glacier in Alaska are named for him. As you would expect for a National Historic Site, the house is just great: period piece furnishing, a very informative ranger staff that were more than willing to put up with pesky questions from the tour group, and a really, REALLY great attic and widow’s watch. Gail and I did a self-guided tour through the house, with us trading off being tour guide and tour. One cool feature of the house was a sliding window that slid to the floor, so that when it was raised, it became a doorway to an enclosed porch. It turns out that Muir was not just a famous naturalist and do-gooder: he was also in the farming biz and had quite the operation. His farm was successful enough to fund his more altruistic efforts later in his life. This is a must-see place that is easy to find.

In the rear of the grounds of the Muir Home is the Vicente Martinez Adobe. In 1849, Vicente J. Martinez built this adobe on rancho Pinole, which had been granted to Ignacio Martinez in 1836. In 1853, Vicente sold the adobe to Edward Franklin, who named the canyon in which the adobe is located, and the adobe was known as the Franklin Canyon Adobe. At first, it wasn’t totally obvious to us that this landmark was here. In fact, I went into the visitor’s center and, like a dope, asked the ranger for directions to the adobe. Seeing that I was a little sweat-stained and a little confused, he gently informed me that the adobe was on the same grounds as the Muir Home. Gail, being the quicker of the two of us, had found the plaque, which was located directly next to the plaque for the Muir House.

The adobe is not in great shape. There is some cracking and it looks a little worse for wear. However, there are some interesting old maps and a “peephole” into the wall of the adobe, for those that are interested in that sort of thing (I found it quite fascinating). The grounds consist of fruit trees and look like they are available for hire. However, your event would be set in the field of a farm, not in lush flowered gardens.

At this point, we were kind of tired and had a choice: do we ride a bunch of not easy miles into a headwind to go to ride to Orinda to see a landmark without a plaque or do we call it a day, ride BART home, and get frozen yogurt. Option #2 won out. Orinda will have to wait…

For more photos, see my Picasa page.

Central Coast Sampler

I was able to convince Gail to take a day off from work and come with me to the Central Coast. We would spend a night in Paso Robles, take a ride on our tandem, check out some Historical Landmarks, and then head to Buellton, where I would ride the Solvang Double Century and she would relax and enjoy a day exploring the local scene.

We had only been to Paso Robles once before (also associated with one of my double century rides), and I was in no shape to do any exploring after that ride, so I was looking forward to seeing the sights. We hopped on the tandem and took a nice 30 mile ride in the hills to the west of Paso Robles. The hills were almost a surreal shade of green, the roads were empty, and we stopped at a very nice winery for cheese and crackers. The pictures don’t really do it justice.

After returning to the hotel, getting changed, and killing the car battery, we were ready to see some Historical Markers. Since we had already done a ride, we decided to drive to see these places. Since we had killed the battery, we had to leave the car running at each stop to ensure that we wouldn’t need to call the road service fellow again. As a result, we only visited a few spots in San Miguel, Paso Robles, and Atascadero.

San Miguel is about 15 miles north of Paso Robles. The Amtrak rolls through here but the freeway (US 101) skirts town. At one time, it was a stopping point for travelers heading north or south in the Salinas Valley. The Spanish missionaries knew a good thing when they saw it and, as a result, established Mission San Miguel Arcangel in San Miguel. Near the Salinas River, Fray Fermin Francisco de Lasuen (the second president of the California missions), founded San Miguel Arcangel on July 25, 1797. The Franciscans evidently took a run at converting the local Salinan Indians and the mission was home base for those efforts.

Just down the road a bit from the Mission was the Rios-Caledonia Adobe (Historical Marker # 936). Just as the missionaries knew that San Miguel was a logical stopping point, Petronilo Rios built this just great example of California’s Mexican-era architecture, a 2-story adobe that was his house, the center of his sheep and cattle operations, and, ultimately, a hotel and stop for the stagecoach route between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Given the proximity of the train tracks (i.e., they are within 50 yards of the adobe), it seems that the train might have stopped there at one time, too.

The adobe was really excellent. The locals had been doing a fair amount of restoration on the building itself. In addition, the grounds had a nice collection of local plants (identified in a handy map).  Since the adobe is set back a good distance from the parking lot, I got to stay with the car while Gail did some exploring. The museum was closed (a not uncommon problem with a number of these landmarks…no budget to keep them open for very many hours per week). After Gail had seen the sights, I got a chance to wander around a bit, too. One can just sense how this place was a refuge for hot and dusty stagecoach passengers on a sweltering day in the Salinas Valley.

We headed south from San Miguel to find the only Historical Landmark in Paso Robles: the Estrella Adobe Church (Historical Landmark #542). We got sidetracked a bit when we came upon the Firestone winery’s tasting room. Given that we had landmarks to see and had some miles to drive to get to Buellton to get me signed in for the ride, we decided to take a pass on a tasting, even though both Gail and I have fond memories of an excellent Sauvignon Blanc from Firestone that we had in Buellton on our bicycle trip in September 2009.

This Historical Landmark is easy to miss. When coming from Paso Robles, it is on the right. The parking lot was closed, so we parked on the road and slid through the gate. The folks that built this church were Protestants and the structure show it: it is a relatively simple building. No real ornamentation on the outside. Just a place to gather and worship. It had to be a pretty lonely existence as a Protestant in 1878, given the mission up the road. The current members have done a nice job of renovating the building.

I was getting antsy and wanted to get on the road to Buellton. Because of car uncertainties, we decided to hit one more Historical Landmark on the way south and to skip the Landmarks in San Luis Obispo on this trip. We swung off Highway 101 in Atascadero and immediately got lost (see my prior post regarding maps and knowing where to go…I still wasn’t following the rules). It wasn’t just my fault: the directions in the guidebook left something to be desired.

Once we got re-oriented, we found the Administration and Veteran’s Memorial Building (Historical Landmark # 958). This relatively new structure was dedicated in 1914 and completed in 1918. It served as the headquarters for the Atascadero Colony, a model community envisions by Edward G. Lewis, who was some sort of visionary that seemed to have a bad habit of getting indited and declaring bankruptcy. The building was built of reinforced concrete and is quite handsome. Unfortunately, it appears that the reinforced concrete didn’t quite stand up to a strong earthquake on December 22, 2003 which resulted in the building being closed (note the chain link fence). Although you can’t see it in the photo, there is a very pretty village green facing the building, where we saw local youth hanging out, smoking, and playing hackysac.

We headed south from Atascadero, taking a risk on stopping the car’s engine in San Luis Obispo so that we could get some dinner (it did start again) and rolled into Buellton in time to get me signed in, in bed, and ready for the ride the next morning…

For more photos, visit my Picasa site.

The other end of the camino…

San Leandro is a bedroom suburb to the south of Oakland. I grew up in Castro Valley, which is a bedroom suburb of San Leandro. While growing up, I viewed San Leandro as a place to go to the mall (Bayfair), the drive-in movies, and fine dining (Pring’s…RIP). When Gail and I rode to SL to check out its history, I had my eyes opened.

We had three spots on the agenda for San Leandro: the San Leandro Oyster Beds (Historical Landmark # 824), Rancho San Antonio (Historical Landmark # 246), and the Estudillo Home (Historical Landmark # 279). The first stop was the Oyster Beds.

A word of advice to others that hope to find these Historical Landmarks: make sure that you know where the bloody thing is supposed to be and then be a little creative when it isn’t there. I violated rule #1 but redeemed myself by applying Rule #2.

I knew that the San Leandro Oyster Beds marker was supposed to be in the San Leandro Marina. I also knew that I grew up in Castro Valley which means that I, by definition, knew how to locate any particular point of interest in Alameda County. Gail was skeptical but I was confident. After quickly finding the San Leandro Marina, we took a few spins up and down the main road, expecting to see some sort of sign pointing toward the Historical Landmark. No such luck. I finally gave in and called our directional consultant (Avery), who told us how to find North Dike Road, the alleged location of the Historical Landmark.

If you sense a note of skepticism, that is because Gail and I did a little research while at lunch at the Oakland Grill (i.e., we took out our book). Given the inconsistent placement and lack of existence of Historical Markers, we wanted to know if the ride to San Leandro was justified or not. If we were just going to ride down to San Leandro and not see any markers, then we were going to blow it off. San Leandro is a nice town and all but we wanted tangible results.

What did the book tell us:

  1. Not all Historical Landmarks have markers (duh!).
  2. Not all Historical Landmarks are created equal.

We saw that each of the Historical Landmarks in San Leandro in fact had markers, so we were good to go. We found North Dike Road and rode to the south end, which is where the marker is supposed to be. What we saw was a bunch of guys fishing, a large parking lot, and a really great mosaic showing men scooping oysters out of San Francisco Bay. What we didn’t see was a marker. We walked around the mosaic. We walked past the fishermen. Nothing. I wanted to at least look at the mosaic for a bit and when I was staring at it, I noticed an area that was slightly discolored. Looking closer, I saw that there were four large holes at the corners of the discolored section. Ah Ha! The marker had been yanked out of the mosaic (probably by a group of local history buffs looking for a souvenir from their visit to the Oyster Beds).

It seems that the Oyster Beds were quite the industry for San Leandro. The San Francisco Bay was the single most important fishery in California during the 1890s and San Leandro was a big part of this. Moses Wicks is alleged to have brought seed oysters around the horn and plant them in San Leandro. Unfortunately, pollution in San Francisco Bay killed off the oyster biz after 1911. The water must be much cleaner now, given the number of fishermen at the San Leandro Marina. I sure hope so.

From the Marina, we headed off to find the site of Rancho San Antonio (the Peralta Grant). For those that are following along, earlier in the day our first “Landmark” was the Camino of Rancho San Antonio. Well, San Leandro was the south end of the land grant, which extended to Berkeley and El Cerrito. This Historical Landmark was very impressive. San Leandro had a very nice park with statuary, monuments and more plaques than you could shake a stick at. After the Oyster Beds, this was a vast improvement and we were very pleased with ourselves and with the city fathers (and mothers) of San Leandro.

We headed out for the last Historical Landmark on our list (the Estudillo Home). It turns out that I didn’t do a very good job of identifying the landmarks in San Leandro: we missed one (The Peralta Home (Historical Landmark # 285). Don’t worry, we will visit it another time. After getting a little lost (we discovered that West Estudillo is not the same as Estudillo), we finally found this place. Jose Joaquin Estudillo was the grantee of Rancho San Leandro. The Historical Landmark is the site of their last home (built around 1850). He and his wife founded San Leandro, built a hotel, and donated a bunch of land to the City. The marker is at the site of St. Leander’s Church, a very beautiful structure at the bottom of West Estudillo Ave., right across from the San Leandro BART station.

Even though Gail was ready to leave, I noticed an informative sign in front of St. Leander’s Church. Aside from all of the Historical Landmarks in San Leandro, it turns out that San Leandro was at one time a thriving industrial city. It is the original home of Caterpillar, Inc. and the California Packing Company (which became the Del Monte company). It also had a Dodge manufacturing plant and a Friden calculator manufacturing facility. Most of this stuff is now gone, having been replaced over the past 30 years by retail and small manufacturing.

Gail finally dragged me onto BART and we headed back to Richmond. It was quite a day and really helped me get a better grasp on how northern Alameda County and southern Contra Costa County evolved. I can hardly wait until we get to visit the wineries!

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Now we’re cooking…

After the Paramount, we still had two more sites to visit in downtown Oakland before hitting the road to San Leandro. Little did we know that we would find one Historical Landmark that wasn’t in the book and one place that should be in there.

In its heyday, downtown Oakland was a commercial and residential center.  As a result, the downtown has a number of large churches that used to serve the local residents. One such church, which is right next to Interstate 980, is the First Unitarian Church of Oakland (Historical Landmark # 896).

I have worked in downtown Oakland for 21 years and I could not for the life of me remember this church, although I am sure I have driven past it a bunch of times. It is a beauty. The book describes it best:

“Designed in 1889 by Walter J. Mathews, this solid masonary Romanesque church departed radically from California’s traditional Gothic wood frame construction. Noted for its world famous stained glass windows produced by Goodhue of Boston, and for arching redwood spans, the widest at that time west of the Rockies, the church remains a significant cultural and architectural landmark.”

Unfortunately for us, it was President’s Day and the sanctuary was closed. We will certainly go back again to see those redwood spans and stained glass windows. And, as the picture above notes, there is in fact a Historical Marker here. Booya!

Gail said that she had seen one of the ubiquitous highway signs announcing this particular Historical Landmark. So, we did a little exploring to try to find it (so we could take a photo). No such luck. Instead, we found the Pardee Home Museum, which is on the corner of Castro and 11th (also next to I-980). This place wasn’t in our book of Historical Landmarks but it sure had all of the trappings of one: lovely grounds, locked gate, tours. No sign here but, after a bit of sleuthing, we discovered that the Pardee House was added to the list of Historical Landmarks in 1997 (i.e., after the printing of our book, the Pardee House became Historical Landmark # 1027)! Gail and I are still discussing how this might change our plans for this adventure (e.g., Do we just do the sites in the book or do we get an updated list for completeness? What do we “mark off” if we visit a site not in the book?). We never saw a sign for this place, although I assume that one exists, unless it was stolen (more on that in a later post).

From here, we tooled over to 12th and Franklin to check out the initial home of the College of California and the original campus of the University of California (Historical Landmark # 45). After seeing the spectacular Paramount Theatre, the Unitarian Church, and the Pardee House, we were somewhat let down by the initial home of my alma mater. The picture to the left doesn’t do this site justice: the place is a parking ramp! Located kittycorner from the Oakland Tribune tower, there is not much to say about the site other than it took us a little while to find the plaque, since we were expecting some sort of grand structure. Interestingly, .the administrative offices of the University of California are just up the street, having bailed out of Berkeley a few years ago. This site was the first example where the plaque was more impressive than the site itself. I suspect that there will be others that fall into that category as well.

All of the “Dora the Explorer” activity makes one hungry, so before we headed south to San Leandro, we needed food. Where to eat on President’s Day? Most places were closed and those that were open appeared a little shady. Thinking that we were going to have to tough it out and find food on the road, we headed toward Jack London Square when, to our delight, we saw that the Oakland Grill was open! Now, I hate to admit that I have lived in the SF Bay Area for almost 55 years and had never actually eaten at the Oakland Grill. However, they used to have the funniest ads in the local free paper, so Gail and I always talked up the idea of dining there. Well, here was our chance. In summary, the waitstaff was really nice, the food was good, and the mural on the outside wall was great (if you look closely, you can see Oakland luminaries such as Jerry Brown, Ron Dellums, and Jack London, along with a husky that has its eye on a pelican). Now that I think about it, the waitstaff was terrific: they noticed that I had left my wallet on the table and our server came sprinting out of the restaurant with it, catching us as we started to pull away on the tandem. For that reason alone, they deserve another visit as well as designation as a Historical Landmark!

On to San Leandro…

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Finally! A marker…

We rolled down Harrison Street from Historical Landmark #299 (Camino of Rancho San Antonio) like a bloodhound chasin’ down a hoodoo there. No longer would we be denied. A Historical Landmark with a marker was in our sights.

This was not just any old Historical Landmark. It is the Historical Landmark in downtown Oakland: The Paramount Theatre (# 884). At one time some overly optimistic city planners felt that the Paramount would single-handedly revive Oakland’s slumping downtown. The grand old dame didn’t have shoulders quite broad enough to carry what weight. However, it has brought a ton of people into Oakland to see music, comedy, lectures, and dance. Here is a link to the Paramount’s website.

The place is a dream, a flashback to the days when kids would take the trolley into the big city to watch a movie and hang out with their friends. I have sat in my office many a night, watching the amazing art deco sign on the front of the Paramount flash and sparkle and shimmy.  I can only imagine what less jaded children in the 1940s used to think when they turned onto Broadway and saw the incredible mosaics and the wild neon lights. Our kids still remember going to the Paramount to see old movies and listen to the guy play the pipe organ.

To top it off, we were now on the scoreboard! We had a picture of a marker! This was sort of a relief since we were now sure  that the markers did, in fact, exist and weren’t just part of a cruel joke being played by disturbed employees of the Department of Parks.

Two more in downtown Oakland and it was time for lunch…

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Who knew that a freeway underpass would be a place of historical significance?

Undeterred by our failure to find a sign denoting the Historical Landmark at Shell Mound (aka Ikea/Bay Street Mall), we continued on our ride. I had assembled an impressive list of places to visit on our first official exploration. All were in Alameda County, all were in the flatlands (for easy access on our tandem), and I knew approximately where they were located.

Pushing off from the Shell Mound, our next stop was Site # 299: Camino of Rancho San Antonio. This would be simple, since I work just down the hill from this place. We had a little difficulty in getting onto Santa Clara Ave. in Oakland, since it is one way. However, after a couple of missed turns, we arrived at the place: “SW corner of Oakland and Santa Clara Aves, Oakland.” At least that is what the book said. What we saw was a busy intersection with a gas station, a bakery, and a freeway underpass.

Standing on the SW corner, we were next to an ivy-covered underpass for Interstate 580. “Don’t worry, hon. The marker has to be under the ivy.” Being a man of action, I waded through the underbrush to the wall and started tearing at the ivy, certain that the State Parks folks that administer the Historical Landmarks had just neglected this place for a bit. Nope. Nothing except green hands and shoes.

Needless to say, we were getting a little worried. Two Historical Landmarks and absolutely nothing to show for it except some green fingernails and a few miles on the cyclecomputer. This was not what we had in mind.

The astute reader already knows the punchline to this cruel joke: this site was yet another of the Historical Landmarks that didn’t merit a sign. In retrospect, I think that it should have one. This San Antonio fellow owned a huge amount of land and the spot under the I-580 underpass was a spot on one of his farm roads (his Camino) from southern Alameda County to the cooler climes of Oakland, Berkeley, and El Cerrito, which were all a part of his land holdings.

We were a bit shaken but knew that our luck would turn at the next Historical Landmark, since we had both actually seen the sign in the past…

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