October 15 – our trip to Napa in 1949

Napa

How all this began….

Well, I haven’t written for a while, been pretty busy at Mary S. Doten School, but we have a weekend free so we’re hopping in the car to go see Grandma in Petaluma. Petaluma’s a little farm town right next to Napa and we’ll go through Napa to get there. Mom was born in Petaluma; her mother – my Grandma – came with a whole bunch of sisters and brothers from Ireland to be school teachers in the Valley of the Moon, but a few moved from Asti to Petaluma and Napa so I have relatives all over Sonoma County!

I should tell you that Dad just came home with a new car, a 1948 Dodge sedan, gray. He keeps leaving the back-up light turned on and killed the battery a couple times. Our neighbor John Sala gave it a “jump.” We’re loading up the new Dodge to go to DodgeGrandma’s in Petaluma. My little sister Marilynn is old enough now to ride in a car seat hung over the front seat of the car. It will take about seven or eight hours to get to Petaluma; one of these mornings I’ll write about the Giant Orange and the stuff along Highway 40.

We’re off now – and I’ll fast forward the trip, took over seven hours this time, we stopped along the way a couple of times. When we got to Stornetta’s Dairy on the Napa Highway we knew we were close! (I heard that the dairy would be lost to a fire many years later, and it was as popular with the residents as were the California Missions and the wineries…) I wish I could write you more about that big fire, but this is 1949 and it wouldn’t happen for many more years so I don’t know anything about it.

We pass through Napa after turning off the old picturesque Highway 12. Napa is a tiny little town, like so many along our way. It’s got one main street and everything on the street caters to agricultural stuff – a John Deere dealer with big green and yellow tractors sitting outside. Boot and clothing stores, hand tools. Many signs are in another language, Dad says Spanish but Mom, who grew up 12 miles away, said they leaned toward the Portuguese language, as the town of Napa was heavily-Portuguese occupied. She said her hometown, Petaluma, was mostly Italian and Irish. There were many other little towns along the way between a place on the main highway called the Nut Tree that opened in 1920, and Petaluma to the north toward the Redwood Highway – Highway 101.

JohnDeereWe got through Napa and saw many grapevines along the way – acres of wooden frames with the vines hanging from them. There were big propellers every once in a while, and a lot of little pots. Dad says the pots burned kerosene and the big fans blew the heat over the vines to keep them from freezing. We went into Petaluma by a beautiful old brick building that looked like the Southern Pacific engine house in Sparks next to the roundhouse that was being torn down. The big building was the bag mill, where the bags for the crops and grain that supported all these little towns, were woven. The building was a real beauty.

Petaluma is a nice little town, much like Napa, with almost no one except for the full-time residents living there. Petalumans raised chickens and was known as the egg-capital of the west coast. McNear’s Mill processed the grain from all over the valley, and shipped it every morning aboard the Steamer Gold, from the end of the Petaluma River. Napans raised grapes, mostly for dining but also finding their way into the wine industry. People had been drinking wine for years but I guess never put much interest into grapes and wine – wine was red, and blush. A smattering (like that word? I’m not supposed to use it according to my teachers…) of men from San Francisco and Europe were starting to take more interest in grapes and wine, and were slowly moving to Napa. There were already some beautiful old buildings there operated by the few “vintners,” a hoity-toity word for grape growers. But I don’t recall wine as being that big a deal. But they sure had some pretty buildings and ranches – it would be a shame if a fire ever came along and burned them – they’ve been there since before WWI, some of them.

And I should write you that one of the big industries was making kegs – wooden barrels – out of oak wood for the wine to age in. This industry was really taking off! One guy even had an orchard for cork trees, because corks were necessary for bottling wine and most of them in 1949 came from Portugal. Hence, the Portuguese influence in Napa.

And speaking of wine, when we arrived in Petaluma, Dad sat on the front porch of Grandma’s house on Harris Street, which was an old railroad house that was moved across town and my mother came home from the hospital to it in 1916. Grandma joined Dad on the porch with a bottle of red wine that Dad picked up down Western Street at Volpi’s, and they laughed and giggled as usual while Mom freshened up.

Later that night, we loaded up in the Dodge, and with my great-aunts Isabel and Marge and Iola and uncle Vic and Earl and a few other relatives, in a couple other cars, and we all took off for dinner at the Green Mill Inn, which was a pretty popular roadhouse in Cotati. We went through Sebastopol, Calistoga and a few other old towns, all with some beautiful homes and businesses dating back to the turn of the century, and even to California’s statehood. Sonoma, for sure; Rutherford – we passed through them all.

And we’d do it many times again in the years to follow – Dad and Grandma on themost happy fella porch with a jug of red, Mom freshening up, all the old ladies sitting around Aunt Kate’s Bosendorfer upright piano that had come ‘Round the Horn from Galway, all singing the old songs they’d learned as children. Or, they’d have more red, all together, and commandeer the Green Mill Inn’s piano and sing of the Emerald Isle. Good times, in the Sonoma Valley. Possibly the prettiest part of California, I’d probably get an argument to that from Santa Barbarans, where I was born ten years before. In 1955 Frank Loesser would even write a Broadway musical about it, “The Most Happy Fella” (in the whole Napa Valley..)!

fireNapaBut beautiful country, old buildings, tree-canopied streets, some picturesque old rock wineries and quaint downtowns – Napa, Sonoma, Petaluma, Calistoga, Sebastopol, Stornetta’s Dairy, the bag mill, McNear’s grain elevator – I hoped that nothing would ever come along to alter it…..

C’mon back in a while, we’ll ride Highway 40 or walk the Truckee’s banks – I never know ‘til I start writing

POSTSCRIPT: I WAS REMINDED THAT MY “LITTLE SISTER MARILYNN” REFERRED TO AS “NOW OLD ENOUGH TO RIDE IN THE CAR SEAT,” RETURNED TO NAPA AFTER COLLEGE AND, WITH HUSBAND ERIC, TAUGHT IN THE NAPA COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT FOR OVER 30 YEARS!

Napa schoolhouse photo credit AP

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Where the China Clippers lived

ClipperCoveOK, pressed for time on a gray day, lousy for taking a few pictures I’m after, I go to the archives for this one taken a couple years ago over Yerba Buena Island in the San Francisco Bay. Note the new bridge coming from Oakland; it’s quite a bit further along now with one tall tower supporting the whole span. The storied Pan American Clippers of the 1930s moored in the bay we see here, known as Clipper Cove. Pan Am built the island to the left – Treasure Island – starting in the early 1930s, planned as the future San Francisco airport. The curved building on the lower corner of the artificial island was built for the 1939 World Exposition, the statuary in front of it created by Oakland’s Sargent Claude Johnson, a decade before he would create the Harolds Club mural from a Theodore McFall painting.The two major building east – (above) – that curved building were hangars and maintenance centers for the Clipper aircraft. The planes lacked landing gear; a ramp from Clipper Cove (near the present yacht harbor in this view) enabled them to be beached on a dolly and taken to the hangers.

BoeingClipperThe airport on Treasure Island never materialized – the island was used by the Navy for many years after its construction, and was turned over to San Francisco in 1996. A major rebuild of the island is in progress, with upgrades to the existing infrastructure and planned creation of many new residences, leaving many wondering how in the world access, which is limited in either direction off the Bay Bridge, will be affected.

And most importantly, my grandson Andy plays Little League (catcher) at a park on the east side of the island, with an absolutely grand view over the right field fence at the skyline of the Oakland hills!

Pump Station #2

PumpWallpaper<

Earlier this week I activated a page on the dreaded Facebook in hopes of getting a few more people aboard this website, and make it worth my while to maintain. Almost immediately I received several e-mails, like four, asking what the little Mission Revival building I used on the Facebook page was, on the water, below a verdant hillside and with a city rising up in the background. OK, not a part of Reno’s heritage, but here goes:

The knee-jerk answer, the building is the San Francisco Fire Department’s Pump Station #2 – or at least it was for a hundred years, before being turned over to the SF Water Department a year or so ago. It’s easy to see; from Aquatic Park at the foot of Hyde Street, a hoot and a holler from the Buena Vista Saloon and its Irish Coffee – just look to the left at the spit of land forming one side of Fort Mason. Take a walk over; it’s not that far.

Shortly after the Great Earthquake of 1906 it was decreed by the citizenry of San Francisco that never again would the town be gutted by fire following an earthquake, for lack of water to douse the flames with. The pumps, which serve in concert with another station downtown, houses, or one time housed, three boilers at the right side of the building as viewed in this picture (a 30-foot masonry smokestack once graced the southeast corner of the roof, to the viewer’s near left.) The boilers’ steam powered an electric motor through a steam turbine, which motor turned a pump, which could raise sea water to the 10-million gallon Twin Peaks reservoirs, at an elevation of almost 800 feet above the bay level, and pump it at the alarming rate of 10,000 gallons a minute. That sea water could then be dropped by gravity down to smaller reservoirs in Ashbury Heights, the Hippies’ domain in the 1970s, or another reservoir on Nob Hill.

The machinery was incredibly beautiful to view – I was fortunate to get inside the building numerous times prior to the Water Department’s acquisition of it – and the 1909-era massive pumps, generators and boilers, with their dramatic “General Electric” brass nameplates, “Schenectady, NY” –  and switches and valves reminiscent of Captain Nemo’s bridge on Jules Verne’s Nautilus, were a treasure to behold. And most of that remains, I’m told. Sadly, following 911 the building’s SFFD signage and its very existence and function became clouded in the name of homeland security and I haven’t been able to BS my way back inside (yet!) since 2008.

But I saw its machinery operate, several times – elevating water 800 vertical feet takes some incredible power, and the century-old equipment in this building is amply up to that task. The reservoirs are fresh water, feeding hydrants easily spotted by their larger size, three valve outlets and red, black, or blue caps, delineating the reservoir that serves them. But – in the face of a large fire, like that anticipated after the Loma Prieta earthquake, the plant is fired up (modern diesel-powered generators have replaced the three boilers, creating electricity to run the pump.) Fresh water is preferred, due to the absence of galvanic action to screw up the fire trucks’ plumbing, but in an emergency the system kicks in sea water (San Francisco’s two fireboats can also pump sea water into the pump station or other risers along the Embarcadero.)

It’s a little San Francisco treasure that a thousand people walk past every weekend on their way up the path to the right of the pump station visible in the photograph, to a magnificent view over Fort Mason and the Marina. Pity they can’t see the century-old low-tech being tested and operated daily in the little building at the bottom of the hill…

If you’re after the 1950 Thanksgiving flood piece, click here

Our own favorite America’s Cup skipper

Goodyear_blimpEndeavourKathyStars

The challenge for the America’s Cup rules the high seas, or at least the high Bay of San Francisco. Traffic, lodging costs, restaurants and life in the City generally are screwed up to a fare-thee-well as this continues, and will continue through September.

We of the Black Bear Diner Gentlemen’s Coffee, World Dilemma Solutions, Laudable Opinions, If-a-rumor-is-not-heard-by-9:00 a.m.-sharp-we-start-one, and other general BS as may properly come to our attention, have our own favorite skipper, in a shot taken when she was at the helm of an America’s Cup yacht, the one that won in 1987, the Stars & Stripes; she’s seen here putting it into a tight upwind turn, the 110-foot mast heeled over, the “grinders” cranking on the windlasses, a lass thoroughly in charge.

As a matter of fact, she actually took the conn of the vessel a few years ago in San Diego Harbor, where it is made available for day tours by its owners, who I don’t think now include Dennis Connors, its master in 1987. But I could be wrong.

She’s a local lady of my acquaintance since our childhood, and did indeed several years ago crew the return of a Transpacific race yacht back to the Mainland, a journey that many forget must occur after the Transpac races, that eastbound journey into far less hospitable seas than the more publicized westbound race to Hawai’i.

She’s definitely no stranger to Blue Waters. We’ll just know her as the Lady of the Stars & Stripes (by the way, the accompanying photograph is of the Endeavour, a 1932 defender of the America’s Cup.)

And here, we’ll do a little lobbying: The boats currently pitch-poling all over the Bay, fighting with each other like wee kiddies on Jessie Beck Elementary’s playground and going through the owners’ money like shit through a tin horn, don’t have names. They’re known collectively as Emirates, the Kiwi team, and as Luna Rosa, the Italians, but with no names on the transoms. (Actually, no transoms either, but these are sailboats in name only.) What happened to yacht names like Stars & Stripes? Proud names that went into sailing history – Dauntless, Defender, Resolute, Mayflower…? Courageous and Intrepid? (Twice each, twuly…)

Goodyear Tire, shortly after WWI, decreed that its publicity balloons, slow and stately, emulated blue-water sailing ships, and so would be named for America’s Cup defenders, and called their first airship Puritan, after an early Cup defender. Ranger, Enterprise, Columbia, America and Stars & Stripes, and a few more, and the ones named in the last paragraph, followed the Puritan into the early 2000s – “Spirit” took over the series of names, “Spirit of….” the three airships based in the United States.

Now, what would Goodyear had done with the names in use today, or rather, not in use? Shameful, I say.

And the final Goodyear blimp note: Years ago, Goodyear was successful in wresting from the FAA a series of consecutive tail numbers for its blimps, through, I think N2A through N12A. Lowest numbers in America, save for one, that one emblazoned the tail of a DC-3 donated to the FAA by Standard Oil.

And recently, the FAA ceded that coveted number to Goodyear, for airship Spirit of America, November-One-Alpha.

Cool.

Sail on, Lady of the Stars & Stripes – blue waters ahead, fair winds, and a following sea….

Seen at Lotta’s Fountain on Market Street

Fountain

On April 18, 2006 we journeyed to San Francisco to be part of the 100th commemoration of the Great San Francisco earthquake, and in the early hours of that morning, commensurate with the earthquake a hundred years before, this image was taken at Lotta’s Fountain on Market Street which was about the only thing that wasn’t demolished in the ‘quake, and remains the meeting spot for the earthquake survivors, who now number, two. Two people still alive, that were alive that fateful day in 2006.

The real reason for posting this is to see if the site is working better than it was the last time I posted, at which time it wasn’t working for shit, er, worth a damn. If the photo posts and the text reads right, I may go back into business with a website.

This is a test. That’s all…

A dog’s life

MarinaDog

This is a re-do of the post that went with this photo of the supine canine on Chestnut Street in San Francisco. The animal shown, a large dog, is alive; we think. A beautiful animal indeed . ’nuff said

The Cardinals come to San Francisco

Vatican Pope

This scene, captured last Friday by Ol’ Reno Guy staff photographer Lo Phat outside the Coventry Motor Lodge on Lombard Street, catches the mood of five Cardinals who were denied a room by the Christian Scientist desk clerk as they head for the 30-Stockton Muni bus to seek other lodging.

“They said at the motel when we made reservations in February that they knew the Cardinals were coming to town,” lamented their leader, Enzo Maserati. “Holy Cow,” he added with some authority.

Unfortunately, the desk clerk did know it but there was some confusion; the St. Louis Cardinals came and did indeed clean the Giants’ clock, 3-of-4 in the Giants’ home opener.

Not a great weekend to be a Cardinal in Baghdad-by-the-Bay…

An American coin for Casey

Casey copy

I have for many a moon prided myself in sharing Ernest L. Thayer’s Casey at the Bat with whoever would listen, or wouldn’t listen, or who’d prefer not to, or who’d heard it before – I didn’t give a damn, I’d recite Casey at the slightest provocation.

I held out Ernest L. Thayer, who wrote the poem for the San Francisco Examiner in 1888, as my hero. A guy who loved baseball, who could write. I noted in a column 15 years ago that his poem, written when he was a teen-aged flack in the Examiner’s sports department and casually offered to his editor – “Use it if you want to” – put him into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I was contacted by the Baseball Hall of Fame three days after my column was published, and told that only players, managers and owners are “enshrined” in the HOF. As a matter of fact, Thayer is better than “enshrined” – a statue of his Mighty Casey graces the entrance to the Hall.

Now, the U.S. Mint is vetting baseball players worthy of having their visages struck onto US coins. I have nominated, through Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle’s sports department, Mighty Casey, with Ernest L. Thayer’s likeness in a half-tone in the background.

And in closing, I note many readers’ opinions that Scott Ostler himself be included in the Hall, as a Ford Frick Award recipient – where baseball’s writers and announcers are included (can’t use the word “enshrined,” I’ll get jumped on again!)

The Ground Cow moos again!

Ground Cow copy
Off to Old Sacramento this weekend, and should have stopped and taken a photo of a sight we noted in Penryn, just a hoot-and-a-holler west of Auburn. As all readers of this site recall, the old Ground Cow we remember from Auburn moved to Penryn ca. 1962, as the Ground Cow. In years to come, it would become about three different restaurants with three different names, all of them lousy.
Now, the once-Penryn Ground Cow is re-named the Ground Cow (hell, this could have happened a year ago and I didn’t notice it. But I don’t think so.) One would hope it is as good as the old one was in Auburn, and when it first moved to Penryn these 50 years ago.
A bit more background: I researched the place once and if I ever wrote a column I can’t find it now. The original Ground Cow, I learned, was in Oakland, opening a second location in Auburn sometime after WWII. And yes, there was a third location in Reno, that one up in the northwest near where Keystone Avenue – then known as Peavine – crossed West Seventh Street – a site that became a casualty of the I-80 freeway construction.

Happy Birthday, Ron!

RonTruck

He was 8 years old when I took this picture, now he’s turning 47 this week. Our ’72 Ford pickup’s gone; Larry Hicks won his District Attorney race (the bumper sticker in the back window!), the binoculars sitting on the water cooler just out of view, still work, as does the VHF aircraft radio sitting on the roof

Ron was illegal as hell out where this was taken, at the Home Pylon of the air races where I was the flagman for 28 years (as he got older – and bigger – he gave me a hand. As did his younger brother Brent). The FAA turned their heads when he sat in the truck, all day, at the races, surely the best seat in the house

He’s in San Francisco now with wife Amy, daughter Jackie (14) and son Andy (12 yesterday). Happy Birthday, Ron!