Category Archives: Historical Landmarks

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!

For more photos, visit my Picasa site.

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…

For more photos, go to my Picasa site.

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…

For more photos, go to my Picasa site.

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…

For more photos, go to my Picasa site.

Where can I find the landmarks?

Once Gail and I decided to visit all of the Historical Landmarks in California, we needed to get the “official” list of the things. After a bit of flailing around, we located the definitive book on California’s Historical Landmarks, titled “California Historical Landmarks,” published by the Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Here is a link.

The book is a little dated (last publication date was 1996). However, it has lists of all of the landmarks sorted in useful ways: by county, by number, and by name. In addition, the book has enough information (addresses, small hints) to help amateur explorers to actually find the bloody markers.

Shell Mound interpretive center at Bay Street Mall

It turns out that finding the markers is not always as simple as you might expect. For example, one fact that we discovered while out on our first official ride to find Historical Landmarks in the Emeryville/Oakland/San Leandro area was that not all landmarks even HAVE a marker! Of course, had we bothered to actually read the book, we might have known this before we spent about 45 minutes riding around the Bay Street Mall in Emeryville, which is the home of Historical Landmark # 335, the Site of Shell Mound. We were on Shell Mound Street in Emeryville, we were at the 4600 block, which is where the book says the site is located, but there we couldn’t find a marker!

We circled the Ikea. We rode through the parking lot. We rode into the Bay Street Mall. We got off the tandem and hiked around a bit. No marker. Imagine our disappointment when we were batting .000 on finding Historical Landmarks.

Even though we had struck out on finding the official marker (which, it turns out, didn’t even exist!), we did find a very nice interpretive display that the developers of Bay Street were obviously forced to put up as mitigation of the construction of the mall over the top of the shell mound.

What were the lessons learned?

  1. It is occasionally useful to try to figure out what the little cute symbols in the book mean before heading out.
  2. It is also helpful to have a printed map so that you are not guessing about the address of a landmark.

For more photos, go to my Picasa site