Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Posey and Webster Tubes

The Webster and Posey Tubes are submerged tunnels that pass below the Alameda Estuary. Planning for the creation of a submerged traffic route that wouldn’t interfere with shipping routes through the estuary began in 1908, and the Posey Tube was completed in 1928. Prior to the creation of the tunnels the crossing from Webster St. in Alameda to downtown Oakland was made on a swing bridge. The bridge placed limits on both vehicular and shipping traffic and its removal was heavily lobbied for by the Alaska Packer’s Association, a prominent salmon canning company that had it's processing facilities in Alameda and moored it's fleet in Alaska Basin, just off the Alameda Shore, in order to clear the estuary of obstructions to shipping. In 1922 the Alaska Packer’s Association announced plans to build a new $2 million packaging and processing plant to built in Alameda, but only if the tube bond issue that had been proposed a year earlier were passed.
On May 8th, 1923, Alameda voters approved $4,496,000 in bonds to build the tunnels. The following day, May 9th, the Alaska Packers Association announced the construction of it's new canning, packing, and shipping facility in Alameda. The tunnels are made of pre-cast concrete segments that were fabricated at the Hunter's Point Dry Dock in San Francisco. These tube segments were then fl
oated across the bay and sunk into a trench that had been cut through the estuary. The pieces were joined and sealed and the tube was then buried in material that had been dredged from the floor of the bay.
On October 27th, 1928 the Posey Tube opened to traffic. In a gesture of closure the City of Alameda auctioned off the Webster Street Bridge, a 980-foot steel span bridge, to the City of Sacramento for $3,100. Sacramento could easily be said to have gotten the better end of the deal since the bridge they purchased was less than two years old. During the construction of the Posey Tube, and while the Webster Bridge was still in use, a ship had rammed the bridge, damaging it beyond repair and forcing the City of Alameda to rebuild it at a cost of $134,000.
The Webster Tube was constructed later and opened for use in 1963. Interestingly, the second tube was built in exactly the
same manner, which I guess means that there hadn't been that many significant changes in the accepted method for building underwater tunnels.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Webster and Posey Tubes. There is some really compelling local history wrapped up in the creation of these tunnels, and you can't live in Alameda without having some kind of familiarity with them. However, I rode through the tunnel on my bike twice a day for almost two years and now, when faced with the choice of going through the tunnel or going six miles out of my way to ride across the Park Street Bridge, I usually take the long route. It sounds ridiculous, but a large part of why I chose to live at the other end of Alameda was so that I wouldn't have to ride through the Posey Tube every day. At the right time of day you can stand near the Oakland exit of the Posey Tube and see clouds of exhaust, thick black exhaust, billowing out of the tunnel.

The following photo is a historic postcard that I found at, your one-stop-shop for everything related to
Alameda history. I like that it shows what the area around the Oakland exit for the Posey Tube looked like before the construction of all the warehouses in Jack London Square and the highway overpass that stands over it today.

Getting There By B
You probably don't want to ride through the Posey Tube on a bike.
Most people do it once because they're convinced that it can't be as bad as people say it it is, but almost everyone who tries it will tell you they don't ever want to do it again. It's loud, the air is filled with exhaust and particulate, the walls are completely filthy with black smut that will stain your skin and clothing if you brush up against it, and there is a good chance that you'll come head-to-head with another cyclist or a pedestrian and have to negotiate past each other on the very narrow sidewalk. Long story short, it's not a good time. The buildings at the end of the Posey Tube are neat and are worth a ride out to see if you've never really looked at them before, but the tube itself is a bust. It's better to take the Park Street Bridge.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mission San Jose

Located 43300 Mission Blvd, Fremont CA. California Historical Sites plaque number 334 is located on a wall in front of the church building.

The Mission San Jose was founded on June 11th, 1797 by Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen. It is the 14th of 21 Spanish missions that were founded in California to enforce the Spanish claim to the territory and spread the Christian faith. Check Wikipedia for a complete list of the Spanish Missions.

In their heyday these missions were self-sustaining villages, with farmland and local industry that allowed them to be entirely self-sufficient. The Mission San Jose was one of the more prosperous California mission, and had, at its height, thousands of cattle and productive farm land on Mission-owned territory that stretched from present day San Jose up through what would become Oakland. The Mission San Jose had a successful community of Native American converts to Christianity and experienced rapid growth throughout the first third of the 19th century. Following the passing of An Act for the Secularization of the Missions of California by the Mexican Congress in 1833, the Mission San Jose went through a period of decline. The mission lands were parceled off to private owners and the local native population, no longer held at the mission by Spanish law, fled the community. The mission was eventually entirely auctioned off to private interests. During the California Gold Rush a businessman named H.C. Smith operated a successful general store to supply miners and explorers who were heading toward the southern mines. However, in 1865 President Abraham Lincoln restored the California missions to the Catholic Church and a local parish was re-established. In 1868 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake destroyed the original adobe church building. After the site was cleared a new Gothic church was constructed over the original red tile floor of the mission. In the 1980s a community effort, led by the Sons of the Golden West, was established to try and restore the site of the Mission San Jose to its original condition. In 1982 the Gothic church was relocated to another site across town and construction began on a replica adobe building that was intended to be an exact duplicate of the original. Finished in 1985 it is as near an exact replica as the architects and historians were able to construct. The new building incorporates a concealed steel frame to prevent damage from future earthquakes.

I really like the Mission San Jose. It's an absolutely gorgeous building set in a quiet and secluded corner of Fremont. The church grounds are well maintained, including a cemetery and the original Padre's residence, and the restored church is stunning on the inside. There's a small museum attached to the mission that details the history of the site and the surrounding community. It costs $3 to get into the museum and they take cash only, as I learned the hard way, but it's worth checking out if you've made the trip all the way down there. Besides, paying the $3 is the only way to get to see the inside of the church. One of my favorite parts of this historical site is that, in recognition of the history of the mission, they fly the Spanish, Mexican, Californian, and United States flags from the building.

Getting There By Bike...
This one is a bit of a stretch on a bike, since it's nowhere near a BART station. However, if you're willing to go for a bit of a ride it's totally possible to get to the Mission San Jose by bike. It's even a nice ride through rolling hills on lightly trafficked streets with big bike lanes. Here's how...
-Take the BART to Fremont.
-Leave the BART station, get on Walnut Ave. and head East towards Mission Blvd.
-Turn right on Mission Blvd and follow it for 3.3 miles.
-The Mission San Jose will be on the left.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Church of St. James the Apostle

Located on the corner of Foothill Blvd. and 12th Ave. in East Oakland. California Historic Site plaque number 694 is mounted to a freestanding monument on the side of the building.

The Church of St. James the Apostle was founded on June 27th, 1858, and has offered continual service to the community since that date. The church was opened under the authority of Bishop Kip, the first Episcopal Bishop to serve in California. The church was originally established to serve the community of Clinton, a small settlers town that has been absorbed into Oakland proper. The official account of the church's history on their website is oddly depressing and underwhelming, containing a lot of references to the ineffectual management and inward-looking management policies that have plagued the church since it was established. This is one of the oldest and longest-serving churches in the East Bay. There are a few that have a longer history, such as the Mission San Jose and a number of other Spanish Catholic institutions, but in the field of non-Catholic and non-Spanish churches there aren't many that can compete.

The building itself is sadly deteriorated and when I visited there was a lot of scaffolding surrounding the church tower and the exterior was not in great shape. This may be due to the fact that the church is located in a fairly blighted neighborhood. The church is neat, and is worth a visit, but there's not a lot else in the blocks surrounding it that make the trip worthwhile. There was a huge gathering of people in the parking lot when I was there, and the church community was participating in a foodshare and clothing donation drive. Even though the church building has seen better days, it was nice to see that the local community was still trying to help each other out.

Getting There By Bike...
There isn't really a great way to get here by bike. When I have to cruise around East Oakland I like to ride up and down Foothill Blvd. instead of International, just because there's less traffic. One thing that I do like about riding down Foothill is that you pass through three or four distinct ethnic neighborhoods on the way. There is a large Hispanic community in the neighborhood, but there's also a large Korean and Thai community, and the little markets and stores that line the street are fun to poke around in. If you're coming from downtown Oakland, the church is a straight shot down Foothill Blvd. As with all rides in East Oakland, be prepared for lots of broken glass in the streets. Good tires, or the ability to fix your own flats, are absolutely required if you're going to explore this side of town.
There are some other historical sites in the vicinity, but a lot of them have been swallowed up by the blight that is a continual problem in East Oakland. There's a beautiful Carnegie library on the corner of Miller and E. 15th St., though the building is currently closed and surrounded by chain link fence. There's another restored Carnegie Library at 35th and Foothill, though the neighborhood is pretty bad so it's not a fun place to visit. The remains of downtown Brooklyn, one of the first settlements in the East Bay, can be seen on E. 12th St. between 11th and 12th Ave. The buildings are neat, but even more interesting is how they've been repurposed to meet the needs of the local Korean community.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Paramount Theater

The Paramount Theater is located at 2025 Broadway in downtown Oakland. It's on the National Registry of Historic Places, it is California Historical Site number 884, and is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. The historic monument plaques are located around the corner from the main entrance.

The Paramount Theater was built in 1931 and, at the time of its construction, was the largest movie palace on the West Coast with a seating capacity of 3,476. The theater was designed by architect Timothy F. Pflueger, who also designed the Castro Theater in San Francisco, and is a stellar example of Art Deco architecture and style. The theater's main exterior sign is visible up and down Broadway and is notable for its 110-foot high mosaic. The interior of the theater is overwhelming in its opulence, with rare and valuable materials used everywhere.

The Paramount has had to close its door several times in its history, the first time coming just two years after it opened, in 1933. The era of the movie palace, and the Golden Age of Hollywood, was drawing to a close and the theater owners were unable to cover the costs of operation. After staying closed for nearly a year the theater would reopen without an orchestra or a variety show and focusing almost entirely on showing new movies. The theater closed again in 1970 when it became unable to compete against smaller, more affordable movie theaters located in the suburbs. The theater was purchased in 1972 by the Oakland Symphony Orchestra, but this would only last for two years before the symphony went bankrupt and was forced to sell the theater. The Oakland Symphony Orchestra offered the theater to the City of Oakland for the price of $1, with the only stipulation being that they would have guaranteed bookings at the Paramount for the next forty years. A group of citizens approached the city about the possibility of managing the theater as a city-owned non-profit and this management structure has remained to this day.

The theater is great, a monument to an era and a style from the past. If you're riding up Broadway and happen to be passing the theater, stop for closer look at the mosaic and entrance. If you're lucky enough to a show there, the interior of the theater is stunning. This is on the short list of historic sites that I've seen recently that I feel truly deserve their place on the NRHP and their status as a U.S. National Historic Landmark. Unlike so many other sites in the Bay Area that have been re-purposed, moved, or destroyed, the Paramount remains in its original location and looks as amazing in person as in the historic photos from the day of its opening.

Getting There By Bike...
The Paramount is smack in the middle of downtown Oakland, on the corner of Broadway and 25th. Just be careful about the cars running up and down Broadway and you should be fine. There's a lot of other historical sites in the surrounding neighborhood. Preservation Park is a few blocks off to the side, the Cathedral Building is nearby at the corner of 15th and Broadway, and Lake Merritt is just down the street. Chinatown, the Tribune Tower, and the original site of the College of California are also within easy biking distance.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

St. Mary's College (The Old Brick Pile)

Located at the corner of Broadway and Hawthorne St. The corner is registered as California Historic Site number 676, and a memorial plaque is located on the side of the Chevy dealership facing Broadway.

St. Mary's College is a private college associated with the Roman Catholic Church. The school is administered by the De La Salle Christian Brothers. It was begun in 1863 as a diocesan college for boys in San Francisco but was placed under the control of the De La Salle Christian Brothers in 1868 and moved to Oakland. The building, formerly located on the corner of 30th and Broadway, was referred to as "The Old Brick Pile". The college used this building as its primary site until 1928 when a fire severely damaged the original building. Following the fire the school moved east to the town of Moraga, where it is still in operation.

This site is on a really busy corner of Broadway and there's nothing remotely scenic or historic about the current surroundings. The Chevy dealership that stands on the site right now faces out onto Broadway and, unfortunately, the only remarkable thing about this historic site is the sound of heavy traffic rushing by.

Getting There By Bike...

The best possible way to get to this site by bike would be to approach it from the rear. Ride up Webster, climbing up over Pill Hill, and turn down 30th towards Broadway. The plaque is stuck on the side of the Bay City Chevy dealership, but don't expect too much. This is a site that has been swallowed up by history and development.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

US Coast Guard Lightship Relief (WLV 605)

Located at the northern end of Jack London Square in downtown Oakland at the foot of Clay St. California Historical Site plaque number 1036 is located on-site.

The lightship Relief is essentially a floating lighthouse that was used where it was too deep, expensive, or impractical to construct a traditional lighthouse. She was commissioned in 1951 and initially served at the Overfalls station off of the coast of Delaware. In 1959 the Relief was transferred to the Blunts Reef station off Cape Mendocino where she served for the next ten years. In 1969 she was designated as "Relief" for all West Coast lightship stations. She was retired from active duty in 1975 and now serves as a floating museum. The Relief is the last lightship in California and is one of only twenty-two remaining lightships in the United States.

I've never seen a floating lighthouse before and, before I visited the ship, I didn't even know such things existed. The Relief is a neat little ship and if you spend any time in Jack London Square it is worth the short walk to take a peek at her. She's moored right next to the Presidential Yacht Potomac so you can get a two-for-one historical experience. They also have a really great online tour of the ship with a bunch of neat photos and historical information.

Getting There By Bike...
The ship is moored at the northern end of Jack London Square. Get on the boardwalk and keep the water on your left. Start walking or ridding and you'll run into the ship before too long. You could also follow Clay St. until it dead ends at the bay and it should be right in front of you. If you go on the weekend, be prepared to push your bike through crowds of day-trippers out enjoying the sun and the views of the bay. Jack London's Cabin is down at the south end of Jack London Square if you feel like a five minute bike ride to take a peek.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

First Unitarian Church of Oakland

Located at the corner of 14th Street and Castro, just outside of downtown Oakland. California Historical Site plaque number 896 is located on the front of the building.

While not the oldest or longest-serving church in Oakland, the First Unitarian Church is an important site in downtown Oakland and has served as a cultural and religious landmark for over one hundred years. Designed in 1889 by Walter J. Matthews, and constructed between 1890 and '91, the church incorporates several design features that, at the time of its construction, marked it as radically different from other churches found across the Bay Area. The Romanesque architecture, seen in the arched portals and windows in the church, as well as the masonry walls, were dramatically different from the Gothic wood frame construction that had dominated California churches up to this point. The church also incorporated stained glass windows designed by Goodhue in Boston and had, at the time of construction, the widest arching spans above the nave west of the Mississippi. Aside from the stained glass, all of the materials used in the construction of the church are from California, including the marble pillars at the front of the sanctuary. Measuring 12 feet high and two and a half feet in diameter, they are thought to be the largest single pieces of marble ever quarried in California. The general contractor for the building, Peter Remillard, was an Oakland resident and supplied every brick used in the building's construction. His name can still be seen stamped on some of the bricks. As the owner of the only brick manufacturing plant in Alameda County, and others in San Francisco and Marin County, it was said that he had built San Francisco twice, once before the 1906 earthquake and once again after.

The history of the congregation dates to 1869 when Rev. Laurentine Hamilton, a Presbyterian minister, was convicted of heresy for his liberal religious views. He led his re-formed congregation as the Hamilton Free Church until his death in 1882. As a side note, this is the same guy that Mt. Hamilton outside of San Jose is named after. In 1886 the church was reorganized yet again and was recognized as the First Unitarian Church. Shortly after this, the church had the distinction of accepting Eliza Tupper Wilkes, the first woman to serve a church in the East Bay, to join in the ministry of the congregation.

The church is worth a visit in person to look at the stained glass and the stonework. Since it is still an active church that serves the local community the building is open and you can go inside and look around, but please try to respect when services are being offered.

Getting There By Bike...

The First Unitarian Church of Oakland is located on the quiet side of downtown Oakland. The two cross streets, 14th and Castro, are both fairly low traffic, but note that Castro involves some off- and on-ramps for the highway. When I rode by there was also some broken glass in the streets, so ride carefully. If you want to park your bike and take a look around I recommend a strong lock. It's not a bad neighborhood, but why take risks? If you're in the mood to explore, Preservation Park is just around the corner, as are the Pardee House and a handful of other privately owned historic homes.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The College of California

California Historical site plaque number 45 is located on the south-east corner of 13th and Franklin in downtown Oakland. It's on the side of the yellow parking garage opposite the Tribune Tower.

The plaque denotes the original site of the College of California, the predecessor of what would eventually become the University of California system. The College of California was started by Dr. Samuel H. Willey as a private educational enterprise in 1855, three years after the incorporation of the city of Oakland. The University of California was chartered on March 23rd, 1868, and continued to use the buildings owned by the College of California. Desiring a new location (the original site, bounded by 12th, 14th, Franklin and Harrison streets was considered too rowdy for legitimate study), the university purchased 160 acres of empty land in what would become the city of Berkeley in 1868. While the new university was under construction the University of California remained in downtown Oakland, officially transferring to the new location in September, 1873.

This site represents, to me at least, the continual re-purposing and re-development of land in the Bay Area to suit current needs. There are actually several sites for universities or historic institutions that have been completely leveled within the city limits of Oakland. The parking garage on top of the College of California is a great example, but there's also the car dealership that was built on top of the site of St. Mary's College, and the Alameda naval Air Base that stands where a whole bunch of other stuff used to be.

Getting There By Bike...
To be honest, there's not much to see here besides the plaques and the Tribune Tower, which is directly across the street. If you're going to ride through downtown Oakland during morning rush hour, be prepared for heavy traffic. The streets immediately surrounding the site are not the busiest in the area and there are lots of parking meters if you need to lock your bike up. If you're in the mood to make an afternoon of it, Preservation Park is just down the street,and Lake Merritt is close by as well.