Saturday, January 30, 2010

Alviso Adobe Community Park

As history plays out on the land, it leaves its mark. Sometimes the land remains relatively unchanged from generation to generation, but more often, changes accumulate in layers. In areas of extensive human activity the landscape often appears as a patchwork, with elements of older layers “poking through” newer layers, and surviving side-by-side with the elements of the newer layers. A useful analogy is that of the palimpsest, from a Greek word meaning “scraped or rubbed again.” A palimpsest is a writing material such as parchment from which writing has been partly or completely erased to make room for another text. Older writing can often be discerned under the newer writing. Landscape change occurs in a similar way with elements of past landscapes visible amidst more recent additions.” Quote from “Guidelines for Documenting and Evaluating Historic Military Landscapes: An Integrated Landscape Approach”, by Suzanne Loechl, Samuel Batzli and Susan Enscore.

The Francisco Alviso Adobe site in Pleasanton, California is a palimpsest with three eras of history. If you visit the park today you will see a Native American rock feature - similar to a grinding stone - that was used in ceremonies by the native people. You can tour the now restored Alviso Adobe, from the early Californio period – when California was still owned by Mexico. From 1898 to 1917 the Kroeger family, tenant farmers, lived in the adobe.

All photos used in this post were provided by the City of Pleasanton. This photo shows the Kroeger family in front of the adobe.

The park includes a reconstructed milking barn from the Meadowlark Dairy era. Meadowlark started in 1919, and was known for producing the highest quality milk available until it was closed in 1966. The barn and all the associated dairy buildings were demolished in 1968.

In 1995, my firm, PGAdesign was invited to work with the residents of Pleasanton to develop a master plan for the 7-acre Alviso Adobe Community Park. During community meetings discussion focused on which historic period to feature. Fortunately, the decision was to include them all. The extant adobe – built in 1854 was an obvious choice, and the addition of the milking barn created a new community space for events and performances. This is an excellent example of how history is not always simple and neat. Typically, history is multi-layered with interwoven relationships, and while interpreting these sites is challenging the result is more dynamic.

PGA retained Dan Quan to design the interpretive exhibits. Dan collaborated with Pleasanton staff and residents – some of whom had worked in the dairy, and their stories bring life to the exhibits.

Alviso Adobe Community Park is a perfect day trip for Bay Area residents. Plan a picnic in the park followed by a hike on Pleasanton Ridge. But, this is not a HALS site. One of the criteria for HALS is that the landscape features must have historic integrity. The California Register of Historical Resources defines integrity as "the authenticity of an historical resource's physical identity evidenced by the survival of characteristics that existed during the resource's period of significance." Other than several large native oak trees, little of the historic landscape remains from the Alviso era, and archaeologists were unable to find any significant features from the Meadowlark Dairy era. This site may not qualify for HALS documentation, but the adobe is a State Landmark No. 510 - that, the interpretive exhibits, and beautiful site make this park well worth visiting.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Children's Fairyland

While doing HALS research is a serious and important endeavor, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fun. Hopefully, you’ve figured that out if you’ve read any of my postings. There are few sites more fun than Children’s Fairyland in Oakland’s Lakeside Park. Fairyland was the first storybook theme park in the United States, and one of the main inspirations for the development of Walt Disney’s Disneyland amusement park.

Children’s Fairyland is the first amusement theme park created to cater to families with young children. The park’s ten acres include small rides, play sets, and animals. It is home to the Open Storybook Puppet Theater, one of the oldest continuously operating puppet theaters in the United States.
Fairyland was researched by Jennifer Liw of PGAdesign and when her submission was presented to the Northern California chapter of HALS, the group was so enthused they got the idea to issue a challenge to the rest of the nation to submit HALS inventory forms for theme parks in their state. Submissions will be displayed at this year’s American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) annual conference in Washington DC. Anyone can participate. For more information visit the group’s website at: www://

While visiting the Detroit Children’s Zoo, Arthur E. Navlet, founder of Navlet’s Garden Centers saw a group of nursery rhyme themed buildings, and was inspired to create large sets for children in Lakeside Park. He presented the idea to the Lake Merritt Breakfast Club and William Penn Mott, Jr., then the director of Oakland’s Parks Department, and later director of the National Park Service. Navlet and the Breakfast Club raised $50,000 to create the park. They hired William Russell Everett, a fantasy architect to design the sets. Initially, Everett presented 17 original models with straight-sided buildings of gingerbread and candy, which he later gladly destroyed, after learning the buildings were too reserved. He created new sets featuring buildings with no straight sides decorated with bright and unusual colors and textures.

The park opened on September 2, 1950. The park’s entrance, the shoe from The Old Woman in the Shoe nursery rhyme, was sized for children; adults needed to bend over to get through. The original sets of the park included Pinocchio’s Castle, Thumbelina, Three Billy Goats Gruff, The Merry Miller, The Three Little Pigs, and Willie the Whale, in addition to the Old Woman and the Shoe.

Over the years, the park has added features including The Open Storybook Puppet Theater in 1956 and the Fairyland Talking Storybooks with Magic Keys. Today Aladdin’s Genie overlooks the park entrance along with The Woman In The Shoe. The ticket booth is guarded by fairies floating in a domed ceiling. Once inside The Man on a Flying Carpet flies overhead, Mother glides on her goose in the top of a live oak tree, while the tail of a brightly painted dragon coils around the base of the oak. A giant toadstool offers shade opposite a drinks stand housed inside Cinderella's pumpkin. Willie The Whale still invites guests into his belly as does the White Rabbit to venture down the hole from Alice In Wonderland.

There are 3 separate stages for live performances and guests can reserve a party area with a Cinderella theme that includes a slide built into her slipper. The Three Men in the Tub have not sunk at the Merry Miller, and Alice and her Seven dwarfs still greet visitors. Miss Muffet is still frightened by a spider. River Rat's house is tucked under a tree and even the boys and girls restrooms are decorated with fanciful entries. Children climb up to an elevated pagoda where they view over the tree tops to the park and city beyond, and they can also climb the mast of a pirate’s ship laden with trunks of treasure. The Crocked Man's House is still standing lopsided as ever. A fanciful train - The Jolly Trolly, a merry-go-round, and snack counters have been added. The park includes a small petting zoo near a little red schoolhouse. Children’s Fairyland continues as a popular family attraction drawing visitors to more than 50 exhibits.

To visit Fairyland you must be accompanied by a child, so get your kids, grandkids or family friends and be prepared to be enchanted in this fanciful cultural landscape.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

China Camp State Park

Of all the sites I’ve visited since I got hooked on HALS one of the most intriguing is China Camp in San Rafael. One of my three nephews from Australia, Shaun Robinson, was visiting and we needed something to do, so I suggested a visit to China Camp. My Mom had told me about it years before. She said, “You’ll love it.” Of course, she was right.

China Camp is located on Point San Pedro in Marin County on the San Francisco Bay. It is a 1512-acre State Park. During the California gold rush Chinese immigrants came to California from Canton on the delta of the Pearl River where their families had been shrimp fisherman. After the gold rush some of these men became laborers at the McNear family brick plant in San Rafael in 1868. From there they started shrimp fishing and ultimately created a community.

The workers developed special bag nets and emptied their catch onto junks and sampans – traditional flat bottomed fishing boats. They sold the shrimp to local restaurants for food and flavoring and made the tails and exoskeletons into chicken feed.

During the 1880s nearly 500 people lived at China Camp. Several buildings and structures remain today including the 1895 general store originally owned by Quan Hung Quock and now operated by his grandson Frank Quan. The shrimp drying shed, a 305 foot pier, a shrimp drying platform, two floating houses, a shrimp grinding shed and several residences also remain.

Ultimately the Chinese were driven out by a combination of discriminatory legislation that forbade traditional Chinese fishing techniques, limited the fishing season, prohibited the export of dried shrimp and restricted the size of the catch, and deterioration of the bay waters.

China Camp has a good, but not great interpretive display. Some of the exhibits are exposed to the elements, in the open air buildings, and have some deterioration, but the content is well-presented and interesting.

China Camp is part of a larger state park with open space and hiking trails. It is right on the water and a wonderful place for a day trip or picnicking. Its scenic landscape attracts artists. The day we visited a group of painters were there, which added to the ambiance.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Another place we visited during our Spring HALS vacation in 2009 was the town of Ferndale. The town of Ferndale is State Registered Landmark No. 883. Dozens of ornate homes and commercial properties line Main Street, mostly built in the 1890s. Mark Williams, in his book “Northern California Off The Beaten Path” describes Ferndale as, “the best preserved Victorian town in California.” Ferndale is located on the “Lost Coast” in an area of dairy ranches, and it is a fascinating place to visit.

I decided to check out one property in particular known as Fern Dale or Shaw House. It was the home of Seth Lewis Shaw, who founded the town of Ferndale in Humboldt County. His Gothic-style Victorian Home is the oldest structure in Ferndale, which was named after this property. The eighteen room home with its gables, balconies and bay windows was fashioned after the House of Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts. Construction was completed in 1866. Shaw called his home “Fern Dale” because many huge ferns grew along the creek (Francis Creek), that ran through his property.

The home was owned by the descendents of Shaw until 1967, and is now a bed and breakfast, so when you visit Ferndale, you can plan to stay there.

The most prominent feature of the garden is a white picket fence along Main Street. The fence consists of 6” wide horizontal boards at the base up to 18” high. These boards are routed in a way to make them look like stone blocks. A top the horizontal portion of the fence are 2x2 wood pickets, with four sided angled points. Every other picket is 3” shorter than the higher pickets. The entire fence is painted white.

This fence appears in the drawing of the property at the top of this post. The drawing is dated 1900. For a modest fee, I was given a digital copy of this photo at the Ferndale Museum, and was able to see and read about the property. I am finding that just about every small town has their own museum with good local exhibits and staff, or more likely volunteers, who are eager to answer questions. This is one more way that doing HALS research is enriching my vacation experience.

From the entry gate, a 4 foot wide concrete path leads directly towards the main gable of the front of the house. The path Ys, with one half leading to the front porch and the other to the garages. A triangular planting bed is formed by the Y. This alignment of walk and planting bed is clearly visible in a 1900 drawing.

The front garden is planted in lawn, and within the lawn many round and curvilinear planting beds are cut out. Most of these beds include a specimen tree with understory ferns, perennials and shrubs. There is also a linear planting bed inside and paralleling the front fence along the sidewalk. Plantings here include: Anemone, Lavender, Dicentra, Dahlia, Amaryllis, Sword Fern, Camellia, Buddleia, Rose, and Lilac – all species appropriate to a garden of the period.

To the left of the front gate is an exceptional Buckeye Tree (Aesculus californica) with a gnarly trunk 4 feet in diameter. The tree is low branching, with a well-balanced canopy that extends over the sidewalk and to the middle of the street. Other trees on the property that appear to be original are: Redwood, Walnut, Big Leaf Maple, Birch, Crataegus, Monterey Cypress, Holly, and one apple tree.

The garden has several mature, old fashioned shrubs some of which may be original. These include: old roses, a Viburnum, and a large rambling Fuchsia. There are also several trees, shrubs and perennials that are recent additions.

The property was designated as a state historic landmark on February 13, 1982, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 13, 1984, and is well worth a visit.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Meyers House

Well, it’s a new year, and what better way to start the New Year than visiting a historic garden for HALS. Last year we drove to Fremont, California on January 1st and visited five historic sites. This year we are a bit slack – it’s already January 3rd and we only went to one local site, but it was a dandy.

I’ve known about the Meyers House for awhile and wanted to visit it for some time. Today, my last day of the Christmas – New Year holiday was the day. My firm, PGAdesign worked on the Meyer family summer home in Union City, but I’d never seen the family home. For the summer home we helped the East Bay Regional Park District, that now owns the property, to identify the species of plants originally planted by the Meyers family by studying historic photos, and we created a plan for the restoration and maintenance of the garden. More about the summer home later.

Today was a lovely day to visit the family home in Alameda – a light sweater day in California – sorry, friends (Loren and Jorge) in Minneapolis where it was minus 9 degrees. The garden was far more than I’d imagined. The house, a colonial revival is rather ordinary, but the garden is wonderful. The most striking feature is that it is apparent that the garden was all designed as a coherent composition, and fortunately, the garden’s integrity is very much intact.

Integrity, hum, there’s another one of those words. Integrity means the ability to convey the design features that reflect the period of significance, or are the features that make this garden important still present? At the Meyers House those features are present and in good condition. A richly detailed arbor and gate separates the front, public garden from the private garden. It is painted white and highly detailed. These details are repeated in a smaller fence and arched gate that defines the opposite side of the garden, in the property line fence, and they can be seen in the garage. The entire property is one cohesive design and as such very pleasing.

Henry H. Meyers, a local architect designed and had his family home built in 1897. He and his family – a wife and four daughters, lived at the property from 1897 to 1993. A plaque in the front of the home, now owned by the City of Alameda, notes that Meyers designed the portals to the Posey Tube – an underwater tunnel that connects the City of Alameda to Oakland – one of 4 connections this island city has to the rest of the Bay Area. Interestingly, my paternal grandfather helped build the Posey Tube – he was part of the crew who poured the concrete. In this photo, my grandfather is 6th from the right.

Meyers also designed the Alameda Veterans Building and Methodist and Presbyterian Churches. One of his four daughters also became an architect.

So, Happy New Year – I hope you’ll enjoy many visits to your local historic sites.