Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Launch Site for the Doolittle Raid

The memorial plaque is located at Pier 3, in the former Alameda Naval Air Station, right next to the U.S.S. Hornet. The plaque commemorates the site from which the bombers and their crews left U.S. soil on their way to complete their mission over Japan.

The Doolittle Raid was the first U.S. air raid to strike at the Japanese home islands during World War II. On April 18th, 1942, sixteen B-25 bombers were launched from the U.S.S. Hornet in the western Pacific Ocean. The raid, planned and led by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle, was intended to boost American Morale following the attack on Pearl Harbor, as well as rattle Japanese defensive forces with an attack on their home territory. Given the limited range off the B-25 bombers used in the raid, the plans called for the bombers to attack Japan and then land in China, with the crews making their way by land back to U.S. controlled territories. All of the aircraft used in the raid were lost and 11 crewmen were captured and killed by Japanese forces. One of the aircraft landed at Vladivostok, Russia where the bomber was confiscated and the crew were interned for a year.

Nearly fourteen entire crews, out of the sixteen that flew the mission, returned to the U.S. safely. The raid caused negligible damage to Japanese cities, but it led to several changes in their overall battle plan, most notably the withdrawal of the Japanese Naval Aircraft force from the Indian Ocean to protect the Home Islands. In retaliation for the Chinese assistance that was offered to the American flight crews, the Japanese occupation forces killed nearly 250,000 Chinese civilians.

Getting There By Bike...
The plaque is located right next to the U.S.S. Hornet. There are a number of other sites nearby; Alameda Terminal, and the memorial for the flight of the China Clipper are on the base.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Fox Bros. Construction Company

The Fox Brothers Construction Company was active form 1924 through 1953. They left a number of cottages and somewhat anachronistic buildings throughout the immediate East Bay. The architectural style that the firm employed has been called variously Tudor Revival, Mother Goose, Fairytale, Doll House, or Storybook.

Fox Common
Fox Common is located at 1672 University Ave. and consists of a small collection of rustic, Tudor Revival cottages wedged between a couple of modern commercial buildings. The cottage at the front of the lot was built in 1940, while the cottage at the back of the lot was built in 1931. Today, these buildings are listed on the Berkeley register of historical buildings and house doctor's and accountant's offices. The lot is very quaint, with heavy shade form several large trees. The buildings are amazing, with incredible detail and do not fit in with the rest of the neighborhood at all.

Fox Court
Fox Court is another collection of storybook cottages that is located at 1472 University Ave. This group of buildings is much more private, and had a locked gate that prevented my exploring it more fully. However, the buildings that face the street are still interesting, and showcase the same general aesthetic and architectural style that the Fox Bros. Construction Company was known for.

The Berteaux Cottage
The Berteaux Cottage is located at 2350 Bowditch St. The building is owned by UC Berkeley, and was originally located at 2612 Channing St., but was moved to the new location in 2001. I particularly liked the chimney on the Berteaux Cottage, and the wavy leading used in the paned front window. It's obvious from the construction methods used in these buildings that there was a pretty significant amount of extra work that went into these buildings looking intentionally asymmetrical, handbuilt, and artisanal.

G. Paul Bishop Studio
The G. Paul Bishop Studio is located at 2125 Durant Ave. It was built in 1939, and is the most atypical of the Fox Bros. buildings that are still standing in Berkeley. It looks like an early 19th century mill or blacksmith's shop more than anything else, and doesn't have the same rustic touches that the other cottages do. It's interesting that I never noticed the building before, especially since I've been up and down this stretch of Durant more than once, and the building kind of sticks out like a sore thumb.

All of these buildings are really unique and made this day of seeking out historical sites in Berkeley really memorable. It's a real treat to be riding through a busy university or downtown area and turn a corner to find these picturesque little cottages. I'm going to chalk up the presence of all these unique, completely out of place and time cottages as yet another Berkeley thing, and just appreciate the fact that someone out there thought that the community needed a touch of rustic Old English style.

Getting There By Bike...
All of these cottages are located in either downtown Berkeley or close to the UC Berkeley campus, and are easily visited on a single trip.
Fox Commons and Fox Court are both located on University Ave., on the south side of the street, and are a couple of blocks apart. I used Addison St., which is one block to the south, to get around the neighborhood. It was a lot better than trying to ride up and down University Ave. All of these buildings house businesses, so please try to respect the fact that people may be trying to work while you're visiting.
The Berteaux Cottage is on Bowditch St. between Durant and Channing. It's really close to the university so expect poor driving and students on bikes going every which way. I like to have a bell for situations like this, if for no other reason than a bell says "Hey, get out of my way!" in a much nicer manner than yelling at someone. While you're in the neighborhood, make sure to take a peek at the First Church of Christ, Scientist that is around the corner at 2619 Dwight Way. It was designed by Bernard Ralph Maybeck, and is the only building in Berkeley to be registered as a National Historic Landmark.
G. Paul Bishop Studios is found at 2125 Durant, between Shattuck and Fulton St. It's hard to misss, it's the only red brick building on the block. Traffic here is less than wonderful, and when I visited there was a lot of street construction taking place. After you've taken a look at the building, turn around and notice the former Howard Auto Co. Showroom, now a Buddhist bookstore. It's a beautifully restored Art Deco building with some really great tile work.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Samuel Brannan

Samuel Brannan was a prominent San Franciscan settler, and is widely known for popularizing the Gold Rush in the Sierras and for being the first millionaire of the Gold Rush period.

Samuel Brannan came to San Francisco in July of 1846 in the company of 240 other settlers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This settlement was intended to remove the church population from the government and military control of the United States and place them in a territory where they could live by their religious laws. Their timing was poor though, since they arrived just in time to witness the Bear Flag Revolt and the seizure of the Mexican territory of Alta California by the United States Government. Upon arriving in the San Francisco Bay, Samuel Brannan is said to have remarked on seeing "that damned flag again" flying from the ships of the U.S. Navy that had taken control of the area. The settlers arrived in Yerba Buena and immediately tripled its population.

Brannan has a long list of important firsts attached to his name, and it's hard to over-emphasize how important he was to the early history of San Francisco, and Northern California in general.
  • He brought a printing press with him when he settled in San Francisco and founded the city's first newspaper, The California Star, in 1846.
  • He founded San Francisco's first public school in Portsmouth Square in 1847.
  • He was the first person to publicize the discovery of gold in the Sierra's, speaking to crowds in Portsmouth Square. This was, of course, after purchasing every shovel in San Francisco in order to re-sell them to prospectors and opening a general store near Sacramento to supply miners with supplies and tools. Ironically, his newspaper couldn't publish news of the discovery of gold since the staff had already left to make their fortunes in the gold fields. His store would make $150,000 a month in 1849 ($3.7 million in current terms).
  • He was elected to the first town council in San Francisco and was a key part of organizing the San Francisco Committee of vigilance, a de facto police force for the city. After a squatter was murdered by the vigilante group, Brannan was held accountable for the violence and was excommunicated from the LDS.
  • He founded the city of Calistoga in 1859 and built a resort there. He also founded the Napa Valley Railroad Company in 1864 to provide an easier way for tourists to reach the springs.
  • He built the first incarnation of San Francisco's Cliff House in 1858.
  • He divorced his wife in 1872, lost most of his personal fortune, and drifted to San Diego, where he became a brewer and engaged in land speculation with the Mexican government.
  • He, along with William Tecumseh Sherman (of Civil War fame), William Ord, and John Augustus Sutter, Jr., laid out the subdivisions for what would become the city of Sacramento.
Getting There By Bike...
Most of the sites associated with Samuel Brannan are located near Montgomery Street and Portsmouth Square. There are several monuments associated with him in Portsmouth Square, and lots of contemporary monuments and buildings are within walking distance. Much of this area has been extensively redeveoped, but there are still some great back alleys where you can see original storefronts from the 19th century.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saturday Bonus Site; Lotta's Fountain, San Francisco

Lotta's Fountain is located on the corner of 3rd and Market in the Financial District of San Francisco.

I spent the day playing tour guide to a couple of friends that were visiting from out of state. Before I met them at their hotel I rode my bike around downtown San Francisco and explored as much as I could before the streets got too crazy with weekend traffic. There are so many great things to see downtown, but traffic is usually bad enough that riding a bike around, sight-seeing, and taking photos just isn't feasible. However, early morning on a Saturday turned out to be great; empty streets, no tourists, and the city all to myself. While I was riding around I found Lotta's Fountain on the corner of 3rd and Market and decided that this place is worth a bonus blog entry.

Lotta's Fountain is a sculpted cast iron pillar with a drinking fountain in the base, it was erected in 1875 on Market Street, at the intersection of Geary and Kearny Streets. The fountain was donated by the entertainer Lotta Crabtree, known as "Miss Lotta, San Francisco's Favorite", and "The nation's Darling". She was a dancer, singer, and banjo player who made a name for herself by touring the mining camps of the Sierras during the California Gold Rush. Lotta left California in 1863, but used her fortune to dedicate fountains and endow charities in a number of cities.

Lotta's Fountain survived the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and, in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, served as an informal meeting place for individuals and families who were looking for lost or missing persons. A commemoration of the earthquake, as well as a gathering of earthquake survivors, is a yearly event that takes place at the fountain at 5:12 AM on April 18th, the anniversary of the 1906 disaster.

This fountain was a totally unplanned find, and a great way to underscore what I love about the history of the Bay Area. While riding my bike through San Francisco I'm passing through more than a century of local history, of success, survival, and the busy day-to-day lives of generations of San Franciscans. I've learned a ton about the history of the Bay Area in the last year, but there are still times when I feel overwhelmed by the stories and the experiences that are accumulated in a city such as San Francisco. Part of what I love about this project of mine is that I don't think I'll ever get to the bottom of it, and the Bay Area will never stop dishing up history and stories that are worth studying.

Getting There By Bike...
Easy as pie. Take BART to Embarcadero and head straight up Market Street until you see the intersection for 3rd st. Lotta's Fountain is on a crosswalk island on the north side of the street. Be careful of high-volume traffic on Market Street if you go in the afternoon, or on the weekend.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower

Telegraph Hill is one of San Francisco's 44 hills and is one of the original "Seven Hills", with the others being Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Rincon Hill, Mount Sutro, Twin Peaks, and Mount Davidson.

Telegraph Hill has had many different names over the years. Originally called Loma Alta by the Spaniards, it was then called Goat Hill by the early San Franciscan settlers, and only became known as Telegraph Hill after 1849 when a large semaphore was built at the summit. The semaphore was used to signal the type of ships coming through the Golden Gate to the town below. The signals became so well known over time that merchants and speculators watched Telegraph Hill to see what ships were coming in, and what goods they were carrying, in order to speculate on goods and adjust market prices accordingly. In the early days of San Francisco, rock was quarried from the side of Telegraph Hill to provide ballast for ships departing the San Francisco Bay. You can still see the remains of the quarry from the Filbert Steps, and the quarry was the site of a rock slide in 1997 that damaged homes and forced people to evacuate the neighborhood.

Coit Tower
Coit Tower sits in the center of Pioneer Park, on top of Telegraph Hill. It was built by the City of San Francisco in 1933 with money bequeathed by Lillie Hitchcock Coit. Coit left one-third of her fortune to the city "to be expended in an appropriate manner for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city which I have always loved."
Coit was a local eccentric, noted for smoking cigars, wearing trousers, being an avid gambler (and cross-dressing so she could get into male-only casinos), and her love for, and interest in, the San Francisco fire departments. She loved to chase fires in the years before San Francisco had an official fire department, and was particularly associated with the Knickerbocker Engine No. 5, a local fire company that she frequently rode with. She was made an honorary firefighter and is still honored by the San Francisco Fire Department for her support.

Coit Tower also houses a number of murals, which were some of the first projects created by the Public Works of Art Project, a New Deal program that was intended to provide federal employment for artists. Many of the murals incorporate Leftist political sentiments, an artistic response to the destruction of Diego Rivera's mural Man at the Crossroads by the Rockefeller Center, the original patron for the piece, for its inclusion of an image of Lenin. The murals are great, and make the trip worth the time. They are also free to view. The murals, plus the park, plus the Filbert Steps, plus the views from the top of the hill, all make Telegraph Hill a worthwhile trip. And there are parrots living up there.

Getting There By Bike...
Bring a bike with hill-climbing gears, and pack your legs and your lungs, because it's a steep climb to the top of the hill. Expect tourists, slow moving rental cars, and people wandering blithely across the street in front of you as they take in the views. But after all of that, it's a great climb and a beautiful place to check out the city and the bay. Be careful coming back down the hill, since the people driving poorly on the way up haven't improved their skills since you went by the first time. If you feel like being touristy, Lombard Street, the Filbert Steps, and North Beach are all close by.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Niantic Hotel

The ship Niantic is buried beneath 505 Sansome St. in the financial district of San Francisco. There is a commemorative plaque located on the outside of the building.

After Sam Brannan wowed the crowds of Portsmouth Square with the gold that he had mined in the Sierras, San Francisco exploded with prospective miners. The township of Yerba Buena had approximately 200 residents in 1846, but had over 36,000 by 1852. The massive influx of people to Bay Area completely overwhelmed the community and San Francisco became known as the "instant city" because of the rapid, and completely haphazard, way that the city sprung up.

The Niantic was a whaling vessel that came to San Francisco, like many others, drawn by the tales of the Gold Rush. Following a speedy conversion form a whaling ship to a passenger liner in Panama, the Niantic carried 246 passengers to San Francisco, arriving on July 5th, 1849, becoming one of the first ships to bring gold seekers to San Francisco. The ship was docked in San Francisco and almost immediately abandoned by her crew as they all ran off to the gold fields of the Sierras. Lacking a crew, the captain was instructed to sell the vessel. As a result she was floated on a high tide into shallow water and was run hard aground near the intersection of Montgomery and Clay Streets.

A Note About the San Francisco Shore
The shoreline in San Francisco used to run along Montgomery Street. Everything to the east of Montgomery has been reclaimed from the Bay. In the early days of the Gold Rush there was a surplus of ships arriving in the bay, and a lack of buildings or materials to continue developing the city. As such, people tended to moor their ships and then live out of them. Couple this with the fact that ship's crews regularly abandoned their vessels and ran off for the gold fields, as did the crew of the Niantic, and you have a fairly active waterfront with lots of deserted vessels. Many of the deserted vessels were run aground and converted to other uses, such as stores or hotels. The wharves were simply extended past the abandoned ships so that the shore could remain active. One of the wharves, known as the Long Wharf, extended over 2,000 feet into the Bay and was used as the mooring point for U.S Postal Service vessels and international shipping lines. Over time, as these abandoned vessels were blocked in by other ships that arrived after them, and as the bay was slowly filled in with materials removed from inland, these ships became landlocked.

This, in a nutshell, is what happened to the Niantic. After being run aground she had a door cut in her side and made the transition to a warehouse, store, and hotel. Access to the ship was initially by way of a pier over the tidal shallows, but as the bay was filled in and the Niantic became landlocked, she became just like any other building fronting on Montgomery Street. The ship was partially burned several times in the fires that plagued San Francisco during the Gold Rush years, and she was continually rebuilt, though she looked less like a ship each time.

The ruins of the original ship have been rediscovered several times during development of the site. In 1872, when the old Niantic Hotel was demolished, construction crews found the hull of the original ship. In 1907 the ship was discovered again during reconstruction following the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. The ship was rediscovered again in 1978 during an excavation for the Mark Twain Plaza Complex next to the Transamerica Building. The remains of the ship are still located beneath the building and currently sit about six blocks away from the waterfront.

I couldn't tell you exactly why, but this is one of my favorite bits of local San Francisco history. There are actually a large number of ships buried beneath the financial district and there is a really great map that details their locations. There are oodles of other sites and historical plaques within shouting distance of this building, and it's worth a walk around to check some of them out. The original building of the San Francisco Mint, Portsmouth Square, the sites related to the Montgomery Landing, and all kinds of early San Francisco business history are nearby.

Getting There By Bike...
The plaque is at 505 Sansome, in the financial district off San Francisco. Be careful of traffic and general downtown craziness. If you can't find the plaque, the guys at the security desk were very helpful and pointed me right to it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Montgomery Landing

There are two sites associated with the Montgomery Landing. The first, where Montgomery landed his sloop Portsmouth is on the south east corner of Montgomery and Clay in the Financial District of San Francisco. The second, where Montgomery raised the United States flag for the first time in San Francisco, is in Portsmouth Square, on Kearney between Clay and Washington.

These two sites encapsulate an important episode in San Francisco, and California, history. Captain John B. Montgomery, and his ship, the United States sloop-of-war Portsmouth, arrived in the San Francisco Bay in early June of 1846. He arrived just in time to be a witness to the Bear Flag Revolt and the popular insurrection, largely led by American citizens, that led to the United States Army seizing control of Mexican controlled territories in California. As a representative of the U.S. government Montgomery was approached by representatives of the revolt, of the Mexican government, and by other agents of the United States government, to investigate the situation and try to gain control over it.

On July 9th, 1846, Captain John B. Montgomery landed the Portsmouth at what is now the corner of Montgomery and Clay (the shoreline used to run along Montgomery. Everything east of Montgomery has been reclaimed from the bay). Leading his troops inland, he raised the United States Flag over what was then called the town of Yerba Buena, but would become officially known as the city of San Francisco in 1847. With the raising of the United States flag at Yerba Buena, the leaders of the Bear Flag Revolt were instructed to lower their sovereign flag and fly the red, white, and blue instead. The territory

These are seminal events in the growth of United States control of Northern California, and are important events in the Mexican-American War. The flag flown by the leaders of the Bear Flag Revolt became the blueprint for the state flag of California and the seizure of the territory by the United States government paved the way, following the conclusion of the Mexican-American War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848, for the creation of the state of California on September 9th, 1850. The town square where Montgomery raised the flag would remain an important site in the then small community, housing the state's first public school, the terminus of the state's first cable car line, and was where, on May 11th, 1848, Sam Brannan displayed the gold that he had mined in the Sierras and sparked Gold Rush fever throughout the country. Portsmouth Square would remain an important site for popular demonstrations. My two favorites are a citizen's demonstration on July 16th, 1849, to rally against the depredations of a lawless local group known as the "Hounds", and an oration delivered on September 18th, 1859, by Colonel E.D. Baker as he literally stood over the body of U.S. Senator David C. Broderick, killed in a duel with Chief Justice David S. Terry.

Getting There By Bike...
These monuments are in the thick of downtown San Francisco and so all the warnings about heavy traffic, fast cars, one-way roads, and all the other hazards of city riding should be considered. To be honest, there are a lot of sites that are located in really close proximity to each other in the neighborhood immediately surrounding Montgomery St. I actually locked my bike up at the Transamerica Pyramid bike racks and walked to most of these sites because it was easier than either fighting my way through traffic, figuring out how to get places on the one-way streets, or pushing my bike from site to site when they were only half a block apart. Use your best judgment. Avoid the area during rush hour of course, but it doesn't get much better during the off hours unless you're there on a weekend or a holiday.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Peralta Home

Located at 561 Lafayette Ave., San Leandro, CA. California Historical Landmark plaque number 285 is located on the front of the building.

This is one of the two remaining homes in the East Bay that were owned by the immediate descendents of the Peralta family, recipients of the original land grant from the Spanish crown. This is also the first brick house ever built in Alameda County, completed in 1860, and designed and constructed by W.P. Toler, a San Francisco based architect. The house was originally owned by Ignacio Peralta, son of Don Luis Maria Peralta, who had received the Rancho San Antonio in 1820 and had then divided the land amongst his four sons.

The house is beautifully restored and is a treat if you like Spanish Colonial or 19th century architecture. It's also located in a great part of San Leandro (did I just write that? But really, there is a neat part of San Leandro) that has lots of historic buildings and some important historical landmarks that relate to the East Bay. Just down the street from the Peralta Home there are monuments to the Rancho San Antonio, the De Anza Expedition, the Estudillo home, and a collection of other privately owned 19th-century buildings.

Getting There By Bike...
Take the BART to San Leandro. When you leave the building, cross San Leandro Blvd., hang a right on Estudillo Ave., and the turn left on Hays St. Cruise through the City of San Leandro Root Park and check out the monuments and plaques located in its center. Turn left on E. 14th St. and then another left on Dutton. The house will be slightly to the right of where Dutton dead ends.
This is an easy ride, and incorporates a good number of historical sites packed into a small distance. I had a lot of fun with this area, though I did get chased by a small dog for a block or two.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Downtown Brooklyn

The city of Oakland is made up of a large number of smaller communities that were either annexed or absorbed by the city's growth and development. Many of the neighborhood names that still exist, such as Temescal, Clinton, Brooklyn, Piedmont, Claremont, etc., are legacies of the original independent cities that sprouted up all over the East Bay once settlers started moving in beginning in the late 1840s. Brooklyn is one of the more historically important communities that was absorbed into Oakland proper. Comprising most of what is today considered East Oakland, Brooklyn began on the south side of the San Antonio River and extended East to the hills and south to the San Leandro border. There's a neat historic map off the area that you can see here if you're interested.
Brooklyn came into being when two smaller preexisting communities, San Antonio and Clinton, amalgamated in 1856, four years after the incorporation of the City of Oakland. Brooklyn continued to develop and absorbed the neighboring city of Lynn in 1870. In 1872 the residents of Brooklyn voted for annexation by the city of Oakland.

The remains of downtown Brooklyn are still standing on E. 12th St., between 11th and 12th Ave. This row of buildings dates to at least the 1870s, but there's been a great deal of renovation and reconstruction so it's difficult to claim that these buildings are truly historic any longer.

Brooklyn and Oakland were the two largest communities in the East Bay, at least initially, and they were sister cities whose borders meet at the San Antonio River and the opposite shores of Lake Merritt. The need to travel between the two cities led to the creation of a toll bridge at what is now 12th St. The bridge was built and controlled by Horace Carpentier, an East Bay lawyer who was responsible for a whole host of shady dealings, including fleecing hundreds of acres of land off of the Peralta family, original holders of the Rancho San Antonio and most of the land in the East Bay, by representing them in federal court and accepting land grants as payment. He also controlled the Oakland waterfront through semi-legal back room deals, and was the primary mover behind the incorporation of the City of Oakland, which was, at least initially, accomplished to suit his political and personal goals and was pursued largely without the consent of the residents of the city. The toll bridge that Carpentier built was tremendously unpopular and was a site of populist unrest, including community rushing of the toll booth, boycotts, and the creation of competing bridges. The toll bridge was finally removed when Samuel Merritt, the mayor of Oakland, donated the land and the money to create both Lake Merritt and the 12th St. bridge and dam.

Getting There By Bike...
It's probably easiest if you take 12th St. straight south from downtown Oakland. The buildings are located between 11th and 12th Aves on the east side o the street. There's a whole host of Korean businesses in the buildings now and it's kind of neat to think about how this community has changed over the years and has been made to meet the needs of whatever people are living here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

It's a Lake Merritt Grab Bag!

There are a lot of sites surrounding Lake Merrit that are worth taking a look at. Lake Merritt was the central park space in downtown Oakland for a long time, and even today still serves as the city's primary open space, providing residents with a place to walk, run, picnic, row, and generally enjoy the sunshine.

The Camron-Stanford House
The Camron-Stanford House was built in 1876 on the Western shore of the Lake. Tax records suggest that Samuel Merritt paid for the construction of the house in order to jumpstart the development of the property surrounding the lake. Since Merritt was primarily responsible for the construction of the lake, and had in fact donated much of the land that the lake would eventually cover, he had a vested interest in developing the area. In 1877 the house was purchased to Alice Camron. The Camron-Stanford House is the last of what was once a large number of fine homes that lined the banks of Lake Merritt.

The San Antonio River
The San Antonio River was the original inlet from the San Francisco Bay into what would become Lake Merritt. Prior to the damming and construction that limited the affect of the Bay's tides on the lake, the San Antonio River was used as a shipping lane, with ships from San Francisco carrying goods across the bay and docking at the far end of the lake, where the El Embarcadero Promenade now stands. The river still exists and is surrounded by a nice little park, though it will doubtless become nicer once the construction and improvements are finished at the foot of the lake. You can follow the path of the river out into the bay if you follow the footpath that cuts underneath Seventh Street, near Laney College.

The Necklace of Lights
The Necklace of Lights is a chain of Art Deco lampposts that stretches along the Western shore of Lake Merritt. The Necklace incorporates 126 lampposts and 3,400 individual bulbs hung on strands between the posts. The Necklace of Lights is one of my personal favorite sights in Oakland and is worth a trip out at night to see them reflected in the lake. The Necklace of Lights was first lit in 1925 as a part of the Dons of Peralta Water Festival. Individual lampposts were paid for by charitable residents and organizations. The lights were turned off in 1941 as a part of the blackout restrictions that were put in place during World War II. The Necklace of Lights remained derelict for nearly thirty years until, after nearly a decade of community campaigning, they were re-lit in 1985.

Lake Merritt Bird Sanctuary
Lake Merritt has the distinction of being the nation's oldest wildlife preserve, created in 1870 to protect migrating waterfowl that nested around the lake. In 1963 the Lake Merritt Wild Duck Preserve became a National Historic Landmark. The bird islands are made of material that was dredged from the bottom of the lake, part of a continual process of dredging that was required for the century of the lake's existence since it tended to fill up with sediment and runoff from the city's sewers. The first island was built in 1922, and the remaining four were built in 1956. Since the water in the lake is brackish, the islands have fresh water piped out to them to fill small pools for the birds.
The geodesic dome in the sanctuary is the first ever geodesic dome built based off of blueprints and plans created by Buckminster Fuller. The parts for the dome were created by an engineering class at the University of California, Berkeley, and the dome was built in less than a day.

Lake Merritt and the "City Beautiful" Movement

The City Beautiful Movement was a trend in civic planning that emphasized the creation of beautiful civic surroundings that would elevate and improve the moral, cultural, and social life of the city and it's residents. This movement flourished during the 1890s and the early 1900s, right when a large amount of development was taking place in Oakland, and specifically around Lake Merritt. There are a number of changes and buildings that took place surrounding the lake that were in response to, or because of, this movement. The pergola at the north-east tip of the lake was built on the site of the original docking point for ship travel into the lake from the bay. Adam's Point was cleared of houses and was redeveloped as Lakeside Park with large lawns and imported trees. Eastshore Park was built and the Oakland Civic Auditorium opened its doors.

The Bellevue-Staten Building
The Bellevue-Staten Building is one of the most notable sights along Lake Merritt's shores. Completed in 1929, the 15-story building is a blend of Art Deco and Spanish Colonial styles, and is clearly visible from any point on the lake. The building also serves as the focal point for the Adam's Point/Lakeside neighborhood, which was once one of the wealthiest and most prestigious areas in Oakland.

Getting There By Bike...
All of these sites are located along the shores of Lake Merritt and are all easily visited in a single casual bike ride. Beware of pedestrians and joggers on the paths that surround Lake Merritt, and don't be surprised if you end up walking your bike through some of the more highly congested areas.