Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bernard Maybeck

Bernard Maybeck was born in New York City in 1862.  He was the son of German immigrants and studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.  The majority of his professional work is found in the San Francisco Bay Area where he was a professor of drawing at the University of California, Berkeley.

Maybeck is best known for his involvement with the Arts and Crafts Movement of the early Twentieth Century, and his role as a mentor to a number of high-profile architects, including Julia Morgan, another Bay Area notable.  His personal architectural style is considered an eclectic mix of several Bay Area building trends, including Spanish Mission, Gothic Revival, and Japanese influences.  He also favored native woods, generally untreated, large windows, and integrating the building within the local environment.

His best known work is the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Berkeley, which is the only building in Berkeley that is considered a National Historic Landmark.  He also designed a number of buildings on the UC Berkeley Campus, homes for wealthy Berkeley residents, and the Palace of the Fine Arts in San Francisco, which was originally built for the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915 and is the only remaining structure from that event.

I find it difficult to separate Maybeck's work from the Bay Area.  Some of his buildings, including the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Berkley and the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, are deeply tied into my vision of what I like about Bay Area architecture.  I've been known to go out of my way on the trip to work and visit the First Church of Christ, Scientist just to check in and make sure the building is still unbelievably gorgeous.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fort Mason

Fort Mason is a former army base located in the Marina District of San Francisco.  It was formerly known as the San Francisco Port of Embarkation and was an operational base for more than 100 years.  The entire base is considered a National Historic Landmark District and houses a number of buildings of historic significance.

The first military installations that were constructed in the area date back to the Civil War, when concerns over a possible Confederate attack prompted the construction of coastal defense batteries inside the Golden Gate. one of the batteries was built on the current site of Fort Mason in 1864. The fort experienced extensive development when the Endicott Board, established in 1885 for the purpose of modernizing the nation's coastal defenses, recommended extensive improvements to 22 coastal defense facilities.  The general size and shape of Fort Mason as it currently stands dates back to this period, with construction that began as early as 1912, and continued up through the first half of the twentieth century.  However, between 1915 and 1920 Fort Mason made an important transition from a coastal defense facility to a shipping and logistics facility.  Fort Mason quickly became essential to the increasing range of U.S. military activity in the Pacific.

During World War II Fort Mason became the San Francisco Port of Embarkation and was responsible for handling most of the materiel and troops that were sent to the Pacific Theater.  According to one source, during World War II the port at Fort Mason shipped out 1,674,174 passengers to destinations in the Pacific Theater, and an astonishing 23,589,472 tons of equipment and supplies.  These figures represent something like two-thirds of all the troops sent overseas to the Pacific Theater, and more than one half of all Army cargo that was moved through West Coast ports during the war.

The port at Fort Mason stayed active through the Korean War and up until 1965 was an important point of embarkation for army troops and supplies.  However, in 1965 the army command as transferred to the Oakland Army Terminal and Fort Mason was closed.  The National Park Service maintains the site as a Historical Landmark District and the lower part of the fort is now known as Fort Mason Center and houses a number of non-profit organizations and art galleries.

Getting There by Bike...
Since I'm horrible at bicycling directions in the city, and I tend to take the straightest line to where I want to go, my directions to Fort Mason may not be the greatest.  When I was working at Fort Mason I would ride up Embarcadero and make a left onto Bay St.  There is a really short, sharp climb to the top of Fort Mason, and then I would ride through the upper portion of the base, eventually descending down through the park that is above the piers.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sidewalk Stamps - George S. McMullin, 1931

George S. McMullin, 1931
This is another sidewalk stamp that I found on the same morning walk where I discovered the Ferrero stamp from 1870.  It was a good day for sidewalk stamps apparently.  This particular piece of concrete is starting to buckle and shift due to the large tree that's right next to it, and Alameda Public Works crews have been by to try and level the concrete, which explains the part of the sidewalk that has been ground away.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Cleveland Cascade

The Cleveland Cascade is an ornamental staircase near the eastern shore of Lake Merritt.  It is almost in the exact middle of the block of the block on Lakeshore Drive, between Brooklyn Ave. and Boden Way.

The Cascade was built in 1923 and was designed by Howard Gilkey.  The Cascade is a part of the extensive civic improvements that were built around the lake during the first two decades of the 20th century.  The pergola at the far eastern edge of the lake was built at approximately the same time, as was the Necklace of Lights which was first lit in 1925.  Also built at this time were Lakeside and Eastshore Park, the Oakland Civic Auditorium, and the Bellevue-Staten apartment building.  For more information on these topics, all of these sites are covered in a previous entry addressing many of the historic places around Lake Merritt.

The Cascade was designed as a water feature that mimicked hillside water features that are found in rural Italian towns.  When it was first opened, the Cascade had twenty concrete bowls that created a cascading waterfall down the side of the hill.  When it was at its peak, the bowls were lit by colored lights at night and the Cascade was considered a notable local landmark.

The heyday of the Cascade was relatively short though, since photos and city documents show that by 1950 the fountain had been switched off and the basins were overgrown with vegetation.  The community group that has taken over the task of restoring and maintaining the Cascade believes that wartime restrictions on personnel and resources spelled the end for the Cascade, as was the case for many other similar sites, including the Necklace of Lights which was turned off during World War II as a part of nighttime blackout restrictions.

By 2004, many Oakland residents had either forgotten or were unaware that this feature had existed, or had been anything other than a long flight of cement stairs near Lake Merritt.  A community group, a Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council from the surrounding area, met to discuss the eventual restoration of the Cleveland Cascade.  After a period of research and some generous donations off time and resources they have managed to excavate the Cascade in its entirety and re-establish the landscaped plantings that were originally on either side of the fountain.  The eventual goal of the Friends of the Cleveland Cascade is the full restoration and functionality of the fountain.  The City of Oakland has supported their goals with a sizeable chunk of money from Measure DD, and hopefully we'll see the fountain restored and flowing in the near future.

Getting There By Bike...
If you're around Lake Merritt, all you have to do is follow Lakeshore Drive around the eastern shore.  The Cleveland Cascade is a little bit below the pergola at the far shore of the lake, and sits between Brooklyn Ave. and Boden Way.  If you are looking for it, it's very obvious.  However, I rode by it for years on my way to and from work without ever realizing what I was passing.  The place is usually crawling with joggers and people running up and down the stairs so be sure to be courteous about where you stand and park your bike.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Coast Guard Island

Coast Guard Island is located in the Alameda Estuary and is the site of a number of Coast Guard facilities, including Commander of the Pacific Area, Commander of United States Coast Guard Sector Eleven, and several large cutter-class ships.

Coast Guard Island is an artificial island that was created when the Alameda Estuary was dredged in 1913, extending the Oakland Estuary and connecting it to San Leandro Bay.  Originally known as Government Island, it has been used by the Coast Guard since 1926.  In 1931 the USCG received official title to a 15-acre plot and permission to establish a permanent base and improve infrastructure on the base.  The base continued to grow and develop and by 1942 the Coast Guard had acquired the rights to develop the entire 67-acre island into an operational center and a training facility.

The island saw its heaviest use and quickest development during World War II when the training facility on the island was rapidly expanded to meet the nations increased need for service men.  The training center opened in 1942 and had facilities for 900 recruits.  Following the end of World War II the island remained an important Coast Guard training center.  During the next few decades the training center in Alameda remained the largest Coast Guard field unit on the West Coast.

In 1982 the training center was closed and training facilities were moved to another base in New Jersey.  Pacific Area Command moved from its site in downtown San Francisco and took up residence on Coast Guard Island.

Getting There By Bike...
I don't know that you're necessarily allowed to get onto Coast Guard Island unless you're a member of the Coast Guard.  However, you can get near it and see the Coast Guard cutters that they have stationed there, from a variety of directions.  If you ride across the Park Street Bridge on the west pathway you can see part of the island and the cutters that are moored in the Alameda Estuary.  If you cross the bridge and start riding down Embarcadero towards Oakland, there is a bridge that crosses over to Coast Guard Island at the intersection of Embarcadero and Dennison.  The intersection is just to the west of Union Point Park.  If you're in Alameda proper, you can go to the end of any street between Grand Ave. and Schiller and see the island and the ships.  The island is roughly parallel with these streets though to get a really good view you have to ride into the Marina.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sidewalk Stamps - Ferrero, 1870

Ferrero, 1870
I was pretty excited when I found this stamp.  It's very worn, but it does date to 1870 which makes it the oldest sidewalk stamp that I have found so far in Alameda.  I found it while walking down Lincoln one morning on my way to get coffee.  This is another example of a lot of new concrete that has been poured around a very old sidewalk stamp.  That's 142 years old!