Gail and I rode to Benicia on May 16, 2010 to visit the numerous Historical Landmarks in this small town that is important in California’s history. (If you want to read about our trip, click here.) However, because there were so bloody many places to visit (and we started the day out with a quick ride out to Fairfield), we threw over visiting some of the Landmarks in town for Starbucks and ice cream. We couldn’t let that stand. Now was the time to see the others.
Since we were already in a visiting frenzy, after seeing several Historical Landmarks in Livermore, we decided that we should just get in the car and drive to Benicia. I know that many of our loyal followers (you are out there, aren’t you?) seem to think that we had planned to ride our tandem to visit all of the Historical Landmarks in California. While this might be a noble goal for some, we take a less dogmatic approach to this adventure. Ride if it makes sense. Drive if it makes sense. Why, we might even FLY if it makes sense. So, today, we were driving.
I am telling you all this even though we could have pretended to have ridden to Benicia from Livermore, into a stiff headwind, with smiles on our faces and determination in our hearts. After all, as the photos below demonstrate, we were wearing bicycling garb. In fact, we even had our tandem with us. A less honest adventurer might have taken the tandem off of the top of the car, wheeled it in front of the Landmarks, snapped some photos, and nobody would be the wiser. In fact, one member of our team even suggested something akin to that. However, we decided that we didn’t want to deceive you, our fair readers (or reader…thanks, Mom). Also, that damned tandem is HEAVY, so getting it off of the rack is a pain. So we just visited the places sans tandem, with me making a clean breast of it in this post.
We had left four Historical Landmarks unvisited our last trip. Our first stop was Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church (Historical Landmark #862). Designed in 1859 by Lt. Julian McAllister and built by shipwrights of the Pacific Mail and Steamship Company, St. Paul’s is an outstanding example of early California Gothic ecclesiastical architecture. Notable for its fine craftsmanship, this building has continuously served the Episcopal Church since its consecration by the Rt. Rev. William Ingraham Kip in 1860.
This place is very interesting. In addition to being a great-looking church, it had a labyrinth! Not some cheesy little maze cast into the concrete in front of the place but a full-fledged labyrinth with a brick path and gravel where one is not supposed to walk, right next to the sanctuary. I don’t know the reason that the church fathers (and mothers) decided to put this beauty next to the church but, to be brutally honest (which our readers know is our hallmark here at CALandmarks.wordpress.com), it seems a little un-Episcopal to have people wandering around in this maze, eyes down, meditating on the world around us. Not that that is a bad thing. It just seems a little out-of-place. That is just one man’s opinion.
And another thing: What exactly is a Rt. Reverend, anyway? The guy that consecrated this church had that title and I have been wondering about that. If you are not a Rt. Rev., does that mean that you are a Wrong Rev.? If you are not a part of the solution, are you a part of the problem? Comments from readers in the know would be appreciated.
Bottom line: this church is one that you should visit. Great architecture. A bitchin’ labyrinth. And, to top it off, it even had an official California Historical Landmark Marker! How can you lose?
Next on the agenda was a place that I had been looking forward to for quite some time: the First Building Erected in California by Masonic Lodge for Use as a Hall (Historical Landmark #174). This is the first Masonic hall built in California. It was begun in the summer of 1850, occupied by the lodge October 14, 1850, and formally dedicated December 27, 1850. This building served as the Masonic Temple for Benicia Lodge No. 5 until 1888, when the new temple was occupied. Used as a boys’ club prior to World War I and by the American Legion shortly after the war, it was reacquired by Benicia Lodge #5 in 1950.
Why, you might ask, was I so interested in seeing this place? Well, there is some backstory. When I was growing up, my father, William H. Monsen, had been an active member of the Masons, the Shriners, and heaven only knows what other types of fraternal organizations. He was, in fact, the Worshipful Master of Castro Valley Masonic Lodge #551 in either the late 1960s or the early 1970s. My uncle, Frank Diehl, was also the Worshipful Master of the same lodge. As spawn of a member of the Lodge that was progressing toward becoming Worshipful Master, our family (i.e., Mom and the 6 kids), got to attend numerous annual Installations, where new officers of the Lodge were installed. I made the mistake of bringing my girlfriend at the time and another friend to one of these events. When the antics started (e.g.., men prancing about in tuxedos with while wearing white loin clothes bearing obscure inscriptions, a dude wielding a sword, people walking solemnly from stations in the east to stations in the west, etc.), it was all Colleen and Jim could do to keep from howling out in shock and amazement. I had seen the scene before, so I was a little numbed and ready for it. The others were not. At one point, they had to put their heads between their legs to keep from bursting out laughing when the assembled mass celebrated the new officers with a “powerful battery of 3 by 3” (i.e., clap 3 times in a diagonal motion with your right hand above your left, 3 more times with your left hand above your right, and then 3 more times with your right hand above your left.)
As you can see, Freemasonry had a major influence on me as a youth and now it was time to visit where it all started in the Golden State. The building itself wasn’t ornate or mysterious in any way. It was nicely painted and had that weird symbol of Freemasonry (the divider and square with a capital “G” in the middle) on the front. However, there were not events happening when we were there, so Gail didn’t get to see any of the Freemason hijinx. Even so, it is worth a trip to see this place, especially since it is smack dab in the middle of downtown Benicia and you would have to work pretty hard to NOT see it.
Even though I wanted to hang out for a while longer at the Masonic Hall, Gail wanted to keep the show on the road, as it were. So, we were now off to our next Landmark: the Site of the First Protestant Church (Historical Landmark #174). On April 15, 1849, the Reverend Sylvester Woodbridge, Jr., organized the first Presbyterian Church of Benicia, the first Protestant church established in California with an ordained resident pastor. The church was disbanded in 1875.
I had not mapped out our route for these Landmarks and, as a result, we had to do some cruising around downtown to even find the park where the alleged Historical Landmark was to be found. It turns out that the book said that the marker was on K St. Unfortunately, as noted previously, the city fathers, using great vision and foresight, had given directions to each street (e.g., East K St., West K. St.) but didn’t bother to have just plain old K St. Thus, we had to do some amount of driving around before we found Benicia City Park, which is the location of this Landmark. When we finally found the park, there were the remnants of some sort of arts and crafts faire going on. We figured that we, in our bicycling duds, didn’t look any stranger than the locals with painted faces and native garb, so we plunged right in and found that Marker!
It is a little hard to get totally worked up about this kind of Historical Landmark, since there were no remnants of the church at the site. The park was pleasant enough. The funnel cakes certainly smelled good. So, on balance, if you can find the park, it is worth a brief visit. Oh, you can also walk your dog in the park.
One more to go. Even though Gail was grumbling about wanting to get some food, wanting to change her clothes, and just generally wanting to go home, I wanted to find that last Historical Landmark. I just knew it had to be close and so Gail gave in, we got back in the car, and started driving the mean streets of Benicia, in search of “City park, Military W St between 1st and 2nd Sts.”
Now, if you are puzzled by that last phrase in quotations, imagine our surprise when we found out that that was the address of our last goal: the Benicia Seminary (Historical Landmark #795). Remember my rant about how the streets in Benicia have directions? Well, it isn’t just the lettered streets that have directions: it is the numbered streets, too! However, the “directions” have to do not with the direction that the street is running (since the “letters” and the “numbers” cross, as happens in many cities, such as Hayward). The “direction” has to do with whether the street or road is on the east or the west side of 1st Street! I didn’t realize that until I started writing this post. It still doesn’t make any sense to me but at least I now know why the streets and avenues are named as they are.
We drove around the park where we had just been (which was bordered by Military W), thinking that there had to be another park. Perhaps it was between E. 1st and E. 2nd? No park there. So, finally it dawned on us that the “City park” in the address was the park that we had just been in! Luckily, nobody had taken our previous parking space, we parked, and set out looking for the Historical Landmark.
We were pretty keen on finding this one. Founded in 1852 as the Young Ladies’ Seminary of Benicia, Mills College was acquired from Mary Atkins by Cyrus and Susan Mills in 1865 and moved to its present site in Oakland in 1871. It was chartered as a college by the State of California in 1885. So, not only were we looking for a seminary, we were looking for the original home of Mills College! With that in mind, we started wandering around the park, looking for a Marker. Because the arts and crafts fair was still going on, we had the sick feeling that the Marker might be located inside (or under) one of the booths, which would have meant that we were going to have to ask each and every vendor to allow us to check out the grass under their booth. Gail was not happy about this. She was not happy that we were still wandering around after several hours of hunting Historical Landmarks. She wanted this day to be DONE and quickly, thank you very much! I, on the other hand, was being the persistent Norseman that my father was and was going to keep looking for that stupid Marker until we had searched the entire park or we died trying. It looked like a blow-up was imminent when, to our amazement, we found the Marker! Sweet Mary and Joseph, were we happy. Let’s take a photo and get out of here.I took out the camera, started to line up the shot, when the camera shut down.
Huh? Had I pushed the on-off button by mistake? I turned the camera on again, started to frame the shot, and the camera shut down again. The batteries were dying! We weren’t going to get the shot, which meant that we would either have to come back to Benicia (not an altogether bad option) or somehow get the photo before the camera shut down again. We framed the shot, turned on the camera, and pushed the shutter button. The camera shut down. We tried it again. The camera shut down.
At that point, we had no idea if the camera had taken the picture or not and we couldn’t even preview the photos, since the battery was so dead. We would have to wait until we got home and recharged the battery before we would know if we had got the shot. (As you can see, we did, in fact, get the picture, to the great relief of all involved).
As noted above, there isn’t anything in this park (other than the Historic Marker) that demonstrates that Mills College had once been here. However, it is pretty cool to know that it had been here, right next to the first Protestant Church. So, for that reason alone, stop by and visit. Just remember to charge your camera’s battery before you go.
If you want to see all of our photos from the events of the day, click here.