Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Pony Express In Oakland

The Pony Express, an express mail service operated by the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company. It ran a route from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, and had further extensions through Oakland in to San Francisco. The Pony Express operated from April 3, 1860 through October, 1861 and used relays of fast horses to carry messages across the western United States. During the eighteen months that it operated it was the fastest and most efficient means to get a message from coast to coast, reducing the travel time for the message to approximately ten days. Truth be told, only half of this distance was covered by couriers, with telegraph service offering communication through the more populous eastern states and riders being used west of Missouri.

Oakland was host to a Pony Express ferry when the couriers missed the steamship that generally carried them and the mail down the Sacramento River to San Francisco. In the rare instance that a courier was not able to board the steamer, then they made the trip overland from Sacramento to Oakland, roughly a ten hour trip on horseback, and boarded a steam ferry, the Oakland, that carried them across the bay.

Getting There By Bike...
The monument to the Pony Express and the ferry Oakland is located in Jack London Square at the foot of Broadway. Ride down Broadway until you hit the water, find the small staircase leading down into the estuary, and there's the memorial plaque.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

First Church of Christ, Scientist, Berkeley.

The First Church of Christ, Scientist, is located on the northeast corner of Dwight and Bowditch in Berkeley, on the edge of the UC Berkeley campus.

This is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful buildings that I have seen in California. I've included more pictures than usual because none of them captured the whole essence of the building. I strongly suggest a trip out to see this building since my pictures do not do it justice.

This church was designed by Bernard Maybeck and is considered by many to be his masterpiece. It was built in 1910 in the middle of an established residential neighborhood that has been demolished to make room for buildings owned by the university. This building regularly appears in architectural anthologies and on lists of architectural achievements in the Bay Area, as well as in the US. The design fuses local and common materials in a blend of Japanese, Gothic, and Romanesque architectural styles and uses plants and greenery to add another layer of depth to the overall presentation.

The congregation has met here since 1910 and, when the university began acquiring properties in the surrounding neighborhood to begin expanding the campus, the congregants joined with the local residents to gain National Landmark Status for the building so that it would not be destroyed. This is the only building in the city of Berkeley to have been designated a National Landmark.

This building is one of my all time favorites. It's hard to describe why I think it's so neat. It is so imaginative and unique that it feels out of place in the heart of Berkeley, with People's Park directly across Bowditch and students wandering all over the place. Once again, go check this building out.

Getting There By Bike...
Assuming that you're starting from the Shattuck/Downtown Berkeley area, simply ride east on Dwight Ave. towards the campus and you can't miss it. Keep in mind that there is a fair amount of traffic on the streets surrounding the campus, and that students, intent as they are on filling their heads with knowledge (which is what we all did in college I'm sure) are not the best at using crosswalks or paying attention to traffic. A bell might be helpful.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Prow of the U.S.S. Indiana (BB-58)

The prow off the U.S.S. Indiana is located at the edge of a parking lot along Fourth St. in Berkeley, just south of the Fourth Street Shopping District and across the street from Spenger's Grotto.

The U.S.S. Indiana is the third U.S. Navy ship to bear that name. The first ship (BB-1), was a battleship constructed in 1895 that participated in the Spanish-American War. The second Indiana (BB-50) was begun, but construction was cancelled in 1924 due to the Washington naval Treaty.

The third Indiana was launched on the 21st of November, 1941, at the height of World War II. Shortly after her launch, the Indiana was sent through the Panama Canal to support fleet activity in the Pacific. She was used primarily to guard aircraft carriers and screen them from direct attacks by Japanese forces. The Indiana participated in several key operations in the Pacific, including the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and the invasion of Okinawa. Her duties and accomplishments are too many to list, but if you're interested Wikipedia has a very comprehensive page about this ship.

The Indiana was formally placed on reserve status in 1946 and formally decommissioned a year later. The ship saw no further active service and was eventually sold for scrap in 1963. However, a large number of pieces from the Indiana were removed and used as memorials or commemorative decorations. Her prow sits in Berkeley, but her anchor sits on the grounds of the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her main mast is erected at Memorial Stadium at Indiana University, and a large number of smaller relics were distributed through various schools and museums throughout the state of Indiana.

Getting There By Bike...
This site is really easy to get to. The prow is located directly across the street from Spenger's Grotto at the base of University Ave. in Berkeley. You can reach it either by riding down Fourth St. until you reach Spenger's Grotto, or you can ride straight down University until you reach the water. Hang a soft right around the base of the overpass and you should ride right up next to Spenger's Grotto.

The area is a pretty busy shopping district and traffic can be heavy during the weekend. Be sure to pay attention to the many stop signs in the area because, in my experience, the drivers down in this area usually don't.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Oakland Grab Bag, Redux

Another list of historical sites from around Oakland and Berkeley. These are all cool, and totally worth a visit, I just don't have enough to say about them to justify a full blog entry. Enjoy!

Founder's Rock, UC Berkeley
Founder's Rock is supposedly the spot where the twelve trustees of UC Berkeley first stood when they dedicated the university. It is also the spot where the city of Berkeley was named, taking its name from Bishop Berkeley, an 18th century philosopher best known for his theory of "immaterialism", which basically means that nothing exists unless it's being directly perceived by a reasoning being. Therefore, Founder's Rock, and the city that is named after him, don't exist if we don't perceive them every now and again. Do your part to maintain the physical existence of the city of Berkeley and go perceive Founder's Rock some time. It's located on the corner of Hearst and Gayley.

Ohlone Shell Mound
The Ohlone Shell Mound historical site is located in the Bay Street Shopping District in Emeryville. Once upon a time, this site was covered by a series of midden piles, basically kitchen trash, that had been accumulated over roughly 2,800 years by the local Ohlone tribes. It is estimated that the original hill stood nearly 60 feet tall, and some 350 feet in diameter. However, destruction of the site began almost as soon as Europeans started settling in the area. In the first part of the 20th century there was an amusement park and race track built on top of the site, then there was a variety of industrial facilities. In the late-'90s the city of Emeryville removed the industrial facilities and built the mall that stands there currently. The shell mounds are still there, under all of the construction, and any time there's construction or groundbreaking they call in archaeologists to check out whatever they dig up.

Union Pacific Depot

The old Union Pacific Depot is right in the middle of Jack London Square, on the corner of Third and Broadway. I rode by it many, many times without realizing it was a train station. The first time I went looking for it I thought to myself, "That's a train station. How on earth did I not notice that?" Oh well. It doesn't connect to any rails and has been converted to offices and commercial space.

The American Bag Company

The American bag company is known for having pioneered the re-using and re-selling of cleaned, repaired burlap bags, something that was shocking and new at the time. They primarily sold their products to rail and shipping companies and produced a wide array of bags and bag-like materials. The building is on the corner of Third and Jackson in Jack London Square.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Peralta Hacienda

The Peralta Hacienda was the site of the original adobe structure built by the Peralta family to stake their claim over the Rancho San Antonio after it had been given to them in 1820 by the last Spanish governor of California Pablo Vicente de Sola. The hacienda would serve as a base for the family's control over their lands and the people on them. At its height the hacienda contained two large adobe structures as well as twenty guest houses and was an established stop on the what was the only camino real, or royally sanctioned highway, in the East Bay.

The hacienda site consists of a public park maintained by the City of Oakland, one of the two remaining Peralta Homes, and a historical site detailing the events that took place on the property through the years. There is also a Peralta Creek Nature Area containing native plants and intended to show what the landscape was like before the creation of the city surrounding the site.

Getting There By Bike...

There isn't really a great way to get to this site by bike that doesn't involve riding through a good sized stretch of East Oakland and a few traffic heavy streets. If you can make the trip, your reward is a nice park, some neat local history, and a well-maintained historical home where they offer tours.

My two suggestions are either ride BART to Fruitvale and ride your bike from there, or ride from downtown Oakland. If you take BART, head up Fruitvale Ave. until you can make a right onto Farnam, just after International. Take your first left onto 33rd, and follow that up to Foothill Blvd, cross Foothill and make a slight jog to the right to continue on Coolidge. Coolidge will take you right to the park. If you're coming from downtown Oakland, take Foothill down to Coolidge, make a left, and head up to the park.

Pack a spare tube and know how to fix a flat if you're planning on riding to this site. There was glass everywhere when I was down there.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Alameda and the Alaska Packers Association

The Alaska Packers Association was one of the largest producers of canned salmon in the world during the first part of the 20th century. For the purposes of this blog we are only concerned with their presence in the San Francisco Bay Area, but for a complete corporate history you can see their Wikipedia page.

The Alaska Packers Association maintained a fleet of fishing ships and floating cannery ships that docked in the San Francisco Bay, in Alaska Basin off of the shore of Alameda to be precise. While the salmon packing industry was booming, the company exerted considerable political and economic influence within the communities of the Bay Area. The Alaska Packer's Associations mooring spot in Alameda, and their processing facility, was used as leverage within Alameda proper in order to attain their corporate goals. The most egregious example of this is when the company decided to build a new packing and processing plant in Alameda, but only if a bridge that they felt interfered with their shipping traffic was removed. Perhaps not so surprisingly, the money was found to destroy the bridge and build the Posey Tube, and the packing facility was announced the following day. Alaska Basin was where the Alaska Packers Association moored what is generally considered their greatest contribution to history, the Star Fleet, the last large fleet of sailing ships that was used and maintained for commercial purposes in the U.S.

The Star Fleet was actually built up and maintained because, as opposed to maintaining a fleet of steam ships, relying on the wind to push the sails was cheaper. The Alaska Packer's Association bought a large fleet of iron-hulled sailing ships and renamed them after various countries. The first was the Star of Russia, but the Star of India, now moored in San Diego, is perhaps the most famous. The other ship of note, the Star of Alaska was rechristened with its original name, the Balclutha, and is moored in San Francisco at the Maritime National Historic Park.

Getting There By Bike...
Unfortunately, there's not a lot left to see. Alaska Basin is simply a large pier in Alameda, and the packing facility has been torn down. I would recommend that, to get the feel of the ships, you go visit the Balcllutha at the Maritime National Historic Park. It's near Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, so put on your bike helmet, pack extra patience for the crowds of tourists that you're going to encounter, aand get out there and tour that ship. The docents and guides that work for the Park Service also work on the ships and maintain them, so they have a great working knowledge of the history of this vessel.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Neptune Beach

Neptune Beach was an amusement park in Alameda, CA that operated from 1917 to 1939. In its day it was the largest amusement park in the immediate Bay Area and attracted huge crowds of people to Alameda.

The park was built on land owned by the Strehlow family (what is now Crab Cove), and included an olympic sizzed swimmming pool, a roller coaster that provided views out over the San Francisco Bay, barbecue pits, vacation cottages, and a private beach. Neptune Beach also used to host celebrities and swimming exhibitions and races.

The park closed down in 1939 for a variety of reasons. The main reason usually cited was the Great Depression, but there are a number of other factors that affected the park. The increasing ownership of cars, and people's desire to travel farther afield, meant that there were other options for entertainment and travel. Prior to personal cars being common, Neptune Beach had benefited from a direct rail line to the park and from being, essentially, the only game in town. It's odd to think about this now, but in the 1920s and '30s, Alameda was essentially a resort town. With the rise of car culture, people began to explore the rest of California and Alameda became just another suburb.

Most of the buildings that made up Neptune Beach have been destroyed. The land that Neptune Beach was built on has been taken over by the city of Alameda and is now known as Crab Cove, one of the larger public parks on the island. The only buildings that I know of that still stand from the heyday of Neptune Beach are the Croll Building, and the Neptune Court Apartments. There are also some outbuildings behind the baseball fields in Washington Park.

Getting There By Bike...
Neptune Beach/Crab Cove is easy to find in Alameda. If you approach through the Webster Tube, continue down Webster until the street dead ends at Central Ave. If you come over the Park Street Bridge, continue down Park to Central and then turn right. Continue down Central until you reach the intersection of Central and Webster. On the corner you'll see the Croll Building. Keep heading west down Central and you'll pass the Neptune Court Apartments on the left. Turn left immediately after the Foster's Freeze Restaurant and follow the road back to Crab Cove. There are a lot of great places to ride your bike back along the beach. A big loop of the Bay Trail connects to Bay Farm Island and San Leandro, or you can keep heading west along the water and reach the Alameda Naval Air Station, where there are a number of historical sites.

Alameda is generally very bike friendly, but if you're planning on being there any time near dark, be sure to take some lights. The Alameda police like to write tickets for cyclists who aren't using front lights after dark.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rancho San Antonio

The Rancho San Antonio was the original land grant made by the Spanish throne to Don Luis Maria Peralta on August 3rd, 1820. The initial grant contained 44,800 acres and included the land that would become the cities of Oakland, Alameda, San Leandro, Emeryville, Berkeley, Piedmont, and Albany.

Don Luis was given the grant in recognition of years of service in the Spanish military. Though he never lived on the Rancho, his four sons, their families, and their employees established the first Spanish speaking communities of the East Bay. The Peralta Hacienda site, located on 34th Ave. in East Oakland, became the center of the Peralta family's operation in the East Bay.

In 1842, Don Peralta split the Rancho between his four sons, giving them each a quarter of the land. His five daughters received his cattle and the Peralta Adobe, along with a small plot of land. This division led to a great deal of familial strife that contributed to the breaking up of the Peralta family land. Following the conclusion of the Mexican-American War in 1848, the U.S. government recognized Spanish and Mexican land claims, but only if they could be proven in U.S. Supreme Court. In the years of litigation that followed, squatters lured in by the Gold Rush swarmed over the Peralta lands, claiming ownership and even subdividing and selling land illegally. Though the Peraltas would eventually prove their claims in court, it was too late and they had either lost much of their land to squatters or been forced to sell it to pay for legal fees and representation.

The family continued to lose land due to sales, legal troubles, and inheritance. In 1870 the last piece of land belonging to the Peralta family was sold to a developer.

The Rancho San Antonio is a huge part of the history of the East Bay. The families and settlers that moved to the area when it was under the control of the Peralta family were the first Europeans to live in the area, and their descendents are still resident in many cases, able to trace their families back to these initial settlers. The creation of the American communities of the East Bay, primarily Oakland but including a large number of satellite communities, is impossible to discuss without including the dissolution and sale of the Peralta's land and the United States actions to bring the Californios under government rule.

Getting There By Bike...
Chances are, if you're reading this anywhere in the East Bay you are probably in part of what used to be the Rancho San Antonio. There are a number of historical sites that are associated with the Rancho, and all of them are accessible by bike. The directly related sites would be the Peralta Home, the site of the Peralta Hacienda, and the memorial plaque in downtown San Leandro. There is also the Camino Real of the Rancho San Antonio, which can still be followed through Oakland and El Cerrito.

Taking the BART to San Leandro and visiting the memorial plaques and the Peralta Home would be the logical starting point. The sites are located about five blocks away from the BART station in a nicely maintained city park. The street that borders the park, E. 14th, is busy so be careful.
The Peralta Hacienda site is located at 34th Ave. and Coolidge in East Oakland. There is a great Italianate villa that was constructed by the last of the Peralta family, as well as a park that contains the original site of the Peralta family hacienda when they moved to the East Bay to claim their land grant. There are some interesting instructional materials scattered around the park that offer some insight into the history of the hacienda.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

It's a Grab Bag of Oakland History!

Here's a whole bunch of local Oakland historical sites. Every now and again I get overwhelmed by the number of sites that I visit and the photos that I take, and this is the easiest way to get through a bunch of material. Enjoy!

African American Museum and Library
The Oakland African American Museum and Library is housed in the Charles A. Greene Library building in downtown Oakland. The building was constructed with a Carnegie library grant and served as Oakland's main library from 1902 through 1951. The current collection contains material dedicated to preserving the history and experiences of African Americans in Northern California and the Bay Area. They have a large collection of scholarly material, as well as an archival and primary source collection containing diaries, letters, photos, and periodicals.

The library is literally just up the street from both Preservation Park and the First Unitarian Church of Oakland. Be sure to spend a little extra time and go see them as well.

Municipal Rose Garden
The Oakland Municipal Rose Garden is located at 700 Jean St., in the Grand Lake neighborhood of Oakland. The garden was built in 1932 as a project of the Works Progress Administration. The garden is a great little quiet area off in a residential area and makes a great place for a walk in the evening. There is a peak season for the garden, but I couldn't tell you what it is. The roses bloom all year round though, and the trees, water features and atmosphere make it worth a visit even if the roses aren't at their best.

The Cathedral Building
Originally called the Federal Realty Building, this beautiful skyscraper in downtown Oakland was built in 1914. It's on the National Register of Historic Places under the reference number 79000467. The building is located at Latham Plazza, right where Telegraph and Broadway split away from each other. Next time you're in the neighborhood, stop for a second and look up. The building is gorgeous, and looks particularly good on a sunny morning. I've ridden by the building literally hundreds of times and feel a little foolish that I didn't notice what a great piece of architecture it was before now.

King's Daughter's Home
The King's Daughter's Home is located at the corner of 39th and Broadway in Oakland. This collection of buildings was designed by noted architect Julia Morgan and was built between 1908 and 1912. The original buildings covered an entire city block and consisted of five brick masonry buildings surrounding a landscaped courtyard. The buildings were quite ornate, with polychrome accent tiles and iron lanterns. The entry way has a pergola with a tile roof and an ornamental iron gate. The King's Daughter's Home was a hospital that accepted cases that were turned away by other institutions. The buildings were eventually purchased by the Kaiser Foundation, converted to office space and partially demolished for parking space.

Site of Chabot Observatory
Originally called the Oakland Observatory, the Chabot Observatory was opened in 1883 with a large donation to the city of Oakland from Anthony Chabot. The original site for the observatory was located at the corner of Jefferson and 11th St. in downtown Oakland. It was moved to its present location in the Oakland hills in 1915 because of increasing problems with light pollution. The observatory has provided education and outreach to Oakland students and community members since its inception. The Chabot Observatory also served as the official timekeeping station for the Bay Area, since it possessed the areas only transit telescope.

If you have some extra time, the Chabot Observatory site is located right in the middle of Old Oakland. There are a lot of great historic buildings, and a lot of this neighborhood has been recently restored.