Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Cycling Through History Challenge

A shamefully long time ago my friend Alex, fellow cyclist, appreciator of things historic, and general all around mensch, offered this challenge to me:
I offer you an East Bay historical cycling challenge. Bring me the homes of Phillip K Dick, C.S. Forrester, Jay Ward, and Thorton Wilder. If the homes are not mobile, pictures of your bike in front will do. Please feel free to challenge me on finding a piece of obscure East Bay history as well. This could get interesting.
Of course I accepted and immediately dove into the interwebs to see what I could find.  Then I got lazy and, after finding all the homes of the local notables mentioned, never got around to going and taking photos of them.  Yesterday I managed to kick my ass into some kind of productivity, so here are the results.  I hope they entertain.
1126 Francisco t., Berkeley, CA
1126 Francisco St.
This was the longtime home of science fiction author Philip K. Dick and his second wife, Kleo Apostolides.  Dick had settled in Berkeley with his mother following some early moves across the country and the family ended up staying in the area.  He graduated from Berkeley High School (where he was a member of the same graduating class as Ursula K. LeGuin though they didn't know each other), and briefly attended UC Berkeley before dropping out due to unexpected anxiety issues and a dislike of the mandatory ROTC training.  Dick lived in this home from approximately 1950 through 1958, which encompassed some of his most difficult years as a writer.  Until 1952 he was working at two area record stores, University Radio and Art Music, in order to pay the bills while working on his fiction at home.  This period in his writing can be seen as a preliminary step before his greatest literary successes.  While living on Francisco Street, Dick published a number of novels including Solar Lottery (1955), The Cosmic Puppets (1957), and Time Out of Joint (1959).  In 1959 Dick and his wife moved to Pt. Reyes Station, CA.  Though his second marriage would end almost immediately after moving Dick's time in Pt. Reyes would be the most productive period of his professional life, publishing sixteen novels between 1959 and 1964.
 1570 Hawthorne Terrace, Berkeley, CA
1570 Hawthorne Terrace
1570 Hawthorne Terrace was the home of author Cecil Louis Troughton Smith, who published under the name C.S. Forester.  His most well known works are the Horatio Hornblower series of novels which follow the eponymous British Naval officer through the Napoleonic WarsHis other well known work includes The African Queen, the film version of which is a classic of golden-era Hollywood, starring Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. 
Forester was British, but came to the United States during World War II in order to write propaganda to encourage the U.S. to join the war on the side of the Allies.  He initially worked in Washington D.C. but settled in Berkeley and remained there for the rest of his working life.  The house on Hawthorne Terrace was the site where Forester wrote almost all of his novels and is the home of the C.S. Forester Society, which is managed by the current resident.  I'd be curious to know if the owner of the house became a C.S. Forester fan after purchasing the house, or was already a fan and the head of the C.S. Forester Society and jumped on the chance to buy the author's former home.  The house is very nice, and Hawthorne Terrace is a cute little street with lots of older handmade rock retaining walls and interesting architecture.
2675 Parker Street, Oakland, CA (1906-1910)
2350 Prospect Street, Oakland, CA (1913-1915)
Former site of 2675 Parker St.
Former site of 2350 Prospect St.
These two houses were the childhood residences of playwright and author Thornton Wilder, winner of multiple Pulitzer prizes and best known for his novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey, and the plays Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth. Wilder spent a part of his childhood in China, because of his father's work with the U.S. Diplomatic Corps, but returned to the United States with his mother and siblings.  They settled in Berkeley at the Parker Street address, on the south side of the UC Berkeley Campus, from 1906 through 1910.  Wilder's family remembers that it was at this home in Berkeley, when he was only 13 years old, that he started writing plays for the family to perform.  In 1911 the family returned to China had moved back to the United States within two years.  Settling in Berkeley again, they took up residence at the home on Prospect Street.  He enrolled in Berkeley High School for his junior and senior years, but never thought fondly of his time there since he was socially inept and cruelly treated by his classmates.  Wilder's passion for theater deepened in high school and he began seriously writing plays, some of which were performed at Berkeley High School, and some of which were published later.  After completing high school in 1915, Wilder left Berkeley to attend Oberlin College, Yale, and travel the world.

And finally, though it pains me to admit it...
I was unable to find the house of Jay Ward, creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and a long list of classic cartoon characters.  Despite extensive internet searches, using all the dark secrets and tricks of the librarian trade, I could not find his home.  Which is entirely frustrating since, not only was he a native son of Berkeley, Jay Ward was also a  lifelong Cal booster, had an intense love for the East Bay, was an incredibly successful business owner in Berkeley (he owned a highly successful real estate firm, J.T. Ward Realty and Insurance.  Even when the checks were rolling in he never thought of animation as anything more than a hobby), and his family still lives in the area. Even after he moved to Los Angeles for professional reasons, he stayed closely tied to Berkeley and his home community.  
But here's what I did learn.  Jay Ward was the son of Juanita Ward, a well known local dancer and rooming house owner in Berkeley.  She owned a home on College Avenue where she rented rooms to travelers and students, though I was unable to find an exact address for Jay Ward's childhood home.  The Moose That Roared, the biography of Jay Ward, describes Jay's family life, and in particular his mother and her rooming house, in great detail, but does not offer an address.  As a student at Cal Jay Ward lived on and near the campus and was a well known site as he zipped around town in his right-hand drive MG convertible with his enormous sheep dog sharing the front seat with him, but I was not able to find any addresses for his homes while at college.  His professional offices, where he ran the J.T. Ward Realty and Insurance Company, were at 3049 Ashby Street, at the corner of Ashby and Domingo.  The animation studio that he began using when Rocky and Bullwinkle were being created was at 111 Sutter.  Ward did not want to rent this expensive office space for something he regarded as a hobby, but his partners thought that the professional looking office would help them land a backer for their cartoons. 
Thus ends the first ever Cycling Through History Challenge.  I had a ton of fun doing this, so I guess if anyone else has any ideas about things that they would like to see dug up and exposed to the light of day, then please email me.  Thanks for reading!

The San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers

  The Conservatory of Flowers is located in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, CA.  It is the oldest building in the park, with construction completed in 1878, and is listed, rather exhaustively, on the National Register of Historic Places, the California Register of Historic Places, as California Registered Historical Site No. 841, and as a designated San Francisco Historical Landmark.

Entrance to the Conservatory.
The building is historically and architecturally interesting for a number of reasons.  The building was originally purchased by James Lick, a very successful, and very eccentric, local businessman, who had intended to place the greenhouse on the grounds of his San Jose mansion.  When he died in 1876, the building was sold in its entirety to a group of wealthy San Franciscans who then gave it as a gift to the city of San Francisco.  Architecturally, the building was essentially designed as a giant erector set, with tons of prefabricated and ready to assemble parts that could be shipped anywhere.  Since construction had never begun at Lick's mansion, the pieces were packed and shipped to the building's current site in Golden Gate Park.  Interestingly, no one has been able to find out exactly who designed the greenhouse or where it was purchased.  It shares many design and aesthetic similarities with a number of greenhouse designer's work, both within the United States and overseas, but there is no hard evidence that any one architect can be credited with the work.

The building is largely modeled after the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, located in southwest London.  The construction of the Conservatory of Flowers at the end of the 19th century, as well as its connection to Kew Gardens, illustrates an important point of historical context regarding rapid urbanization in the first fifty years of San Francisco history.  One of the civic responses to rapid urbanization and industrialization was the construction of parks and green space within city limits in order to break up an otherwise monotonous facade of brick and concrete.  On a tangential note, the rise of landscape architecture as a profession can be traced to the end of the 19th century, where garden designers who had previously only been employed by wealthy individuals to design private landscapes were increasingly hired by city governments to participate in urban planning and park design. Large scale park design quickly became the apex of the profession, with San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and New York's Central Park as the best and largest examples of city funded park design.
California State historical marker.
19th century American greenhouses and conservatories are largely the result of city planners and wealthy citizens attempts to import what was largely a European trend into rapidly developing U.S. cities.  In addition to providing a valuable contribution to the development of park and green space within a city, a well maintained and funded conservatory, chock full of exotic flowers, was a sign that a city was cosmopolitan, successful, and cultured.

The Conservatory of Flowers has had some serious ups and downs in its time.  The structure was damaged by fire in both  1883 and 1918 and has undergone significant reconstruction several times.  The largely wooden construction, combined with the humid internal environment and the San Francisco weather, makes rot and decay an inevitability and the frequent preventative maintenance that is required to keep the building in tip top shape hasn't always been forthcoming.  This all came to a head during the winter of 1996 when 100mph winds blew out a majority of the glass panes in the green house, with the resulting damage and loss of climate control in the conservatory resulting in the destruction of roughly 15% of the buildings collection of plants.  A massive reconstruction effort took place which resulted in the Conservatory of Flowers being more or less completely restored to its former glory.

The Conservatory of Flowers.
Getting There By Bike...

I have a very limited sense of direction when riding my bike around San Francisco and tend to pick the most straight forward path, which usually leads to my climbing large and steep hills while trying to get across town.  The way that I usually get to Golden Gate Park does involve climbing one hill, but after that it's very straight forward.  I prefer to take Fell St. all the way out the park, which has a nice big bike lane and then parallels the Panhandle which has bike paths running through it.  Once you reach the park, the Conservatory of Flowers is in the northwest corner.  Just follow the signs, it's a hard building to miss.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Alameda Estuary

The Alameda-Oakland Estuary is a tidal channel that was separates the island of Alameda from the Oakland Shore.

The East Bay in 1844.
The channel was dug in 1902 in order to better control tidal flow and sedimentation within the Oakland Harbor.  Prior to the creation of the channel, Alameda was a small peninsula that defined the southern curve of the Oakland Harbor.  Shipping traffic, in the first half-century of commercial and shipping development in the East Bay, entered the Oakland Harbor near where the Port of Oakland currently stands, and traveled through the San Antonio Slough, docking along the Oakland waterfront near the 5th Ave. Marina.  The map to the right shows the Oakland shore, including Alameda, in 1844, well before the California Gold Rush and the incorporation of either Oakland or Alameda as proper cities.  As shipping increased, and the waterfront continued to develop, the decision was made to dig a channel that would simultaneously sever Alameda from Oakland and use a combination of backfill and landfill to turn Bay Farm Island, originally an island, into a peninsula.  The map below shows the current state of the channel.  The map dates to 1908, and it's important to note how little Alameda has changed in over a century of development following the creation of the channel.  The majority of the streets were already laid out and, chances are, you walk and drive along exactly the same roads and sidewalks, and in some cases exactly the same pavement, that Alamedans used over a century ago.

Alameda, circa 1908.
The Oakland Waterfront and the Estuary have a significant role in the development of the shipping industry in the East Bay.  Access to the Oakland and Alameda waterfronts through the channel allowed heavy ship traffic to use warehouse and docking space along both sides of the water.  Alameda became one of the favored winter docking sites for some of the last whaling fleets on the west coast, specifically for the Star Fleet of the Alaska Packing Company, the last large sailing fleet in the west.  Easy access to shipping facilities tied in neatly with the continued development of rail service throughout Alameda and the East Bay.  The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, which had its first terminus in Alameda, and the growth of rail service throughout the Oakland Waterfront, made it only logical for shipping companies to establish facilities in the area. The role that shipping and manufacturing played in the local economy can be found in the creation of the Webster and Posey Tubes that connect Alameda to Oakland by running underneath the channel.  In 1923 when the Alaska Packers Union, who were heavy users of the channel, declared their intention to build a new $2 million processing facility in Alameda, but only if the Webster Street swing bridge, which they felt interfered with shipping traffic, was demolished and a new underwater tunnel were created, the Alameda city council almost fell over themselves trying to dismantle the bridge.  On a side note, the creation of the Webster and Posey Tubes contributed to the development of the modern Port of Oakland by prohibiting deep-draft shipping traffic through the estuary.  It's interesting that a project that was intended to encourage the development of shipping facilities in the estuary ended up, after the development of containerized shipping methods and massive container ships (pioneered in Alameda!), limiting the use to which the Alameda and Oakland waterfronts could be put.
A view of the estuary from the Park Street Bridge.
The waterfront currently houses numerous docks and warehouses in various states of decay.  Much of the waterfront has been re-purposed, with medium and light industry occupying a prominent place along the waterfront, though there are significant stretches where the buildings have been turned into commercial and office space, parks, and residential areas.  An unfortunate side effect of the years of heavy industry is that Alameda now contains significant numbers of so-called "Brownfields", otherwise usable land that has been contaminated, to some degree, by industrial waste.

Getting There By Bike...

An antique shipping crane near the Alameda ferry station.
The Estuary is problematic for cyclists, especially those that live in Alameda.  If you live in or near Alameda or the Oakland waterfront then you doubtless have tons of real world experience with the Estuary.  To get there by bike I would suggest either riding along the Oakland Embarcadero, which gives a great view of the Estuary though the road itself is not at all scenic, or getting over to Alameda and riding along the portion of the Bay Trail that follows the course of the channel.  This is actually a very underutilized trail that has some great views of the East Bay Hills and the marinas that line the channel.  There is some very visible history there as well, since the remains of many old docks and warehouses remain along the waterfront.  If you are in East Oakland or you want a slightly longer bike ride the best way to get to the Bay Trail is by crossing the Park Street Bridge and then heading west on Buena Vista.  Make a right turn on Hibbard St., immediately after Grand, and follow this little neighborhood street around until you find a small park.  The Bay Trail picks up in this park and follows the water all the way up into the remains of the Alameda Naval Air Station.  If you don't want to ride down Embarcadero I would normally tell you to ride through the tube...But not any more!  There have been significant recent changes and the city of Alameda now offers the Estuary Shuttle, a free bus service that runs from Laney College, in downtown Oakland, to the College of Alameda.  This shuttle is totally great, and, though it's not a perfect solution, it's better than riding your bike through the Webster Tube.  The west end of the Bay Trail picks up directly in front of the Pasta Pelican Restaurant at the far western end of Mariner Square Dr.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sidewalk Stamps - V. Dizillo, 1938

V. DiZillo Cement Contractors, 1938.
I found this stamp right outside the door of U & I Liquors, near 49th and Telegraph in scenic Temescal.  It was obvious that most of the sidewalk around the stamp had been replaced in the relatively recent past, but the crew had taken pains not to ruin the stamp.  For some reason I really like the thought of a construction crew cutting around this two foot square piece of pavement so they could leave a 73 year old sidewalk stamp in place.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Idora Park

Postcard from Idora Park
Idora Park was the largest "trolley park" in the East Bay, as well as the earliest and most popular amusement park in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The park was built in 1904 on the north banks of Temescal Creek. Much like Neptune Beach in Alameda, Idora Park thrived when most people used the Key System or other Bay Area rail networks to get around.  The park's location on a central rail line, bound by Telegraph and Shattuck and between 56th and 58th streets, made it easy for weekend vacationers to get to and from the site.  The advent of personal car ownership and the ability of vacationers to easily travel beyond the boundaries of the trolley lines dealt a crushing blow to Idora Park, Neptune Beach, and various other local Bay Area amusement facilities.  Idora Park's fortunes quickly deteriorated in the first quarter of the Twentieth Century and the park was finally razed in 1929.

The Realty Syndicate of Francis Marion "Borax" Smith and Frank C. Havens built Idora Park outside of downtown Oakland.  The construction of the park went hand in hand with their larger plan of tying rail service in with local vacation or recreational sites.  Other rail line attractions that the two rail and realty magnates built included the Claremont Hotel and the Key Route Inn.  Idora Park's site included an opera house, greenhouses, parkland, a collection of traditional amusement park rides (including five different wooden roller coasters over the lifespan of the park), a race track, a dance hall, and the largest roller skating rink west of Chicago.  In 1904 a 3,000 seat baseball park was built and after 1904 Idora Park played host to the Pacific Coast Baseball League.

Panoramic shot of Idora Park.
Idora Park lays claim to a number of firsts and significant events.  Magnavox installed their first ever public address system at the park.  Idora Park also owned the first radio theater in the west.  It was the first, and largest, amusement park in the Bay Area.  Following the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, the park hosted a large number of refugees from the city, allowing displaced San Franciscans to camp on the park grounds.  The park also took in many performers from the San Francisco Theater community, and hired them to perform opera and comedy routines for the park's guests.  Aimee Semple McPherson held what was then the largest outdoor baptism to date in the Idora Park swimming pools.  10,000 spectators watched as she baptized followers after her return from evangelizing in Asia.

Fairytale cottages.
After the park was torn down in 1929 there were a number of plans for the property that the park had stood on.  An extensive business park with mixed use commercial and residential spaces was proposed, but the Great Depression kept any significant investment from taking place.  Instead, a small neighborhood of storybook-style homes was built, and these homes are still what makes up this particular neighborhood.  This particular neighborhood was supposedly the first neighborhood in the Bay Area to utilize underground utilities and it is a treat to ride through this neighborhood and not have a web of overhead power lines all over the place.

Getting There By Bike...
It couldn't be easier to get to the site of Idora Park.  The ground that the park stood on is very clearly defined by Shattuck and Telegraph Avenues on the west and east sides, and 56th and 58th streets to the north and south.  Nothing remains of the park since it was completely torn down in 1929, but the neighborhood that replaced it, complete with unbelievably quaint storybook cottages, still stands.  It's actually a very unique neighborhood and one that's worth riding through.  Be careful on both Telegraph and Shattuck as they can be traffic heavy, but the Idora Park neighborhood is as quiet as can be.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sidewalk Stamps - L. Scaramelli, 1943

L. Scaramelli, 1943
Found this one right in front of my neighbor's house, on the curb in front of their driveway.  I can't tell if that was the company that did the work, or the name of the original home owner.  It could go either way since the stamp kind of has pride of place directly in front of their house.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Key Route Inn

Entrance to the Key Route Inn.
The Key Route Inn was a large hotel that stood at the corner of 22nd and Broadway in downtown Oakland.  The hotel was built by Francis Marion "Borax" Smith and his business partner Frank C. Havens as an extension of their interests in East Bay rail and real estate development.  The inn opened on May 7, 1907.  It was built in an open-timbered style that was reminiscent of English Tudor-style architecture.  The hotel was designed to be a large and luxurious resort that served Key System passengers and visitors to Oakland.  The buildings most remarkable feature was a large archway through which trains passed and where passengers and guests boarded and disembarked.

The Key Route Inn was a landmark in downtown Oakland until it suffered major damage in a fire on September 8th, 1930.  Though the building was not completely destroyed, the damage was extensive and, as the fire occurred during the Great Depression, the money required to rebuild the Inn was not readily available.  This situation worked in the favor of the city of Oakland, since city planners were interested in opening Grand Ave. and 22nd St. to through traffic, a situation that was not possible with the Inn still standing.  The Key Route Inn was completely demolished in May of 1932.

Getting There By Bike...
There's not much to see if you try to ride your bike to the Key Route Inn.  The building site was completely demolished and has been absorbed into the commercial corridor along Broadway.