Sunday, April 25, 2010

Frank Raines Park, Stanislaus County

Today we did one of my favorite day trips to Mines Road in Livermore and Del Puerto Canyon Road where Alameda, Santa Clara, San Joaquin and Stanislaus Counties converge. We go there almost every spring for birding, and to see the wildflowers. It is a good place to see Western Bluebirds, Lewis’ Woodpeckers, Phainopepla, Western Kingbird, and if you are lucky, which we were today, Black-headed Grossbeak and Wood Duck. We missed Roadrunner though. I expected the wildflowers to be spectacular given our very wet winter, but while the wildflowers were good – I’ve seen better in this area in previous years.

Every time we do this day trip I am struck by how remote this place seems, knowing we are less than an hour from home. The birds, the profusion of wildflowers, the rocks, the terrain are so profoundly different from where we live it is like being in another state. After driving for miles, taking in a new scene with every turn in the narrow road, you come to Frank Raines Park, and though I know it’s there – it has been for the 26 years we’ve been doing this trip, I am always a bit surprised to see it, because it appears in the middle of nowhere.

To make my point, a site on Google identifies the nine closest towns, they are: Ashrama, Westley, Patterson, Solyo, Grayson, Jet, Ohm, Vernalis, Crows Landing, and Stomar. Other than Patterson, have you ever heard of any of these towns?

Frank Raines Park is 2000 acres. It is best known as an off road vehicle park – not exactly my kind of place, but I am glad these sort of parks exist, because it provides a place for those who enjoy the sport to do their thing, without destroying sensitive habitat outside the lands set aside for off road biking. The part of the park we always stop at is a traditional county park with picnic facilities, bar-b-ques, a restroom and baseball field.

The park was dedicated in 1953 and what I like about it is all the stone work. There is a stone wall with monumental columns along Del Puerto Canyon Road, at either side of the entrance to the park. Within the park there are stone walls that define the picnic and parking areas. There is a round, raised stone planter built around an Oak tree, and a curved stone wall with built-in seat walls on both sides. All this stone work reminds me of the stone work done by the CCC during the depression, but according to a Stanislaus County website, it was built by county personnel.

So, who was Frank Raines? Now, this is the great thing about writing a blog. I have visited this park literally dozens of times, and to be honest I never really thought about Frank Raines before, but it’s the weekend and I try to post to my blog every weekend. That means I need to come up with a topic, and this weekend Frank’s my man.

Thanks to Google, I now know that Frank Raines was born in Vallejo, California in 1876. He first arrived in Stanislaus County in 1895 and was a man of many trades – a farmer, a fireman, a telegraph operator, a first baseman and short stop baseball player, and a publisher. He published the only newspaper ever published in Grayosn, the Try-Weekly, oh, and he also raised turkeys. But Frank’s real claim to fame is that he served on the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors for 36 years – from 1916 to 1953 – the same year the park was dedicated.

The other bit of history about this park is that in includes a historic marker for the Patterson and Western Railroad. The inscription on the granite monument reads in part as follows: “The narrow gauge railroad winding some 25 miles from Patterson through Del Puerto Canyon operated from September 20, 1916 to August 14, 1920. During World War I, the railroad brought the much needed minerals of magnesite, manganese chrome and quicksilver down the rugged canyon to the processing plant. The railroad served dozens of mines. There was a 3000 foot tramway up to a mine high up on the side of the canyon.” Erected 2001 by Estanislao Chapter, E Clampus Vitus.

This is an interesting day trip through rugged cattle ranchland, that offers glimpses of a different lifestyle and a different time. It’s a beautiful drive and a favorite of cyclists and motorcyclists on cool spring days.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Doyle Drive HALS

I started this blog in October 2009, and now realize I have posted very little about the Doyle Drive HALS project my firm has been working on since November 2008. I believe it’s the largest HALS project currently underway in the United States and as such has been a thrill to be part of. Doyle presented us with several unique challenges and has been tremendously satisfying to work on. In my career the projects I have most enjoyed are those that have been large and complex - given that criteria Doyle Drive is the ultimate challenge and has been immensely satisfying.

The Presidio was designated as a National Historic Landmark (NHL) in 1962 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) are in the process of replacing Doyle Drive that traverses the Presidio of San Francisco and connects to the Golden Gate bridge in order to improve the seismic, structural and traffic safety of the roadway. As part of the environmental review the Finding of Effect document acknowledged that the project will impact cultural resources.

Historic Documentation
ICF International was retained to complete HABS (Historic American Building Surveys), HAER (Historic American Engineering Record) and HALS documentation as part of the mitigation for the impacts on the cultural resources. The HALS team is being directed by Dana McGowan, Archaeologist with ICF. ICF is doing the historic research and will prepare the historic narrative component of the HALS documents. Brian Grogan has been engaged to complete the HALS photography and PGAdesign is doing the measured drawings. Landscape Historian, Meg Scantleberry is the point of contact for Caltrans and is working closely with the ICF team.

The Project
Doyle Drive is 1.2 miles in length. Portions of the roadway are at grade and much of the highway is on an elevated structure constructed in 1936. The cultural resources that will be potentially impacted by the replacement project include buildings, roadways, stone walls and curbs, concrete batteries, views and historic forests all associated with the Presidio’s 169 year military history. The period of significance is from 1776 to 1945. The project is divided into six planning districts that correlate with districts defined in the National Register nomination.

When we started the project we sought samples of similar work to use as a model, but because the HALS program is so new we found little that was relevant. The project schedule was urgent so we set about creating a methodology that seemed logical and well suited to the task. Our previous work doing cultural landscape inventories (CLI) and reports (CLR) and contributions to historic structures reports (HSR) provided some guide. Our experience with HALS of three of the four California sites was also tremendously helpful, but those sites were all very different and thus not directly applicable to Doyle Drive. Our work on Piedmont Way in Berkeley, California is a surface road – a X block curvilinear parkway conceived by Olmsted. This was our most relevant HALS experience.

Normally the first task in for any cultural landscape documentation effort would be familiarization with the site’s history and a methodical review of existing documentation and historic records and photographs, but because of the immediate urgency of this construction project PGA was forced to start the existing conditions field work without the benefit of such preparation.

Our first task was to decide on what scale the field recording should be done at, what sheet size our final documents should be, and to lay out sheets to cover the irregular but generally linear site. Ultimately 82 sheets were needed to depict the site.

PGA plotted sheets for the area first scheduled for tree removal and got to work. Had time allowed we would have developed our methodology, field tested it, made refinements and retested until our recording techniques were well developed. Without the luxury of time we started our field observations and recording and refined the process each day. This approach resulted in some inconsistencies in recording methods which ideally would have been avoided.

We plotted two sheets for each area; one to record softscape features, i.e. plants, non-paved surfaces, and topography and the other for hardscape features. While in the field we worked in teams of two; one person drew what they saw on the plan sheet while the other made notes on the field inventory form we had created for the project. These teams of two proved an efficient working group and also helped with decisions on what and how to record features. They also provided a degree of safety that was reassuring while working in overgrown areas hidden from view.

The softscape team had existing surveys for tree locations and species identification. We field verified this information making corrections as needed. Shrub and ground cover masses were sketched on the plan while species were identified and listed on the inventory forms. Initially, we recorded a list of species for each sheet, assigned numbers and noted the plant numbers on the plan sheets. After a few days in the field we were able to prepare a plant list of the species we had found in the field. We then assigned each species a two-character acronym for the shrubs, perennials, ground cover and vines, and we used a four-character designation for trees. Cotoneaster lacteus became CL while Pinus radiate/Monterey Pine was PR/MP.

The hardscape team went through a similar process starting with field sketches and written descriptions of features such as curbs, stone walls, rails, lights, etc. Many of these features were occurring repeatedly, so to reduce the time needed to record duplicate descriptions the team developed a system of abbreviated codes and organized them by feature type. This not only reduced field recording time it also improved consistency for how things were being recorded.

These improvements in recording efficiency enabled the observers more time to capture more detail and to do more than just see the site at a micro level of detail. I now had time to look at the whole site and record impressions of what I was seeing. I made notes on what stood out in this piece of the Doyle Drive puzzle trying to capture the character of the site. Later, the pieces of the puzzle would need to be assembled in order to read the whole landscape

Field Photography
To augment the official, large format, black and white photography I used a digital camera to record the existing conditions. I took several types of photographs: 1) detail shots such as manhole covers and concrete stamps which provided data such as dates, contractor and manufacturer’s names, individual plants, signs, rail details, etc; 2) images of individual features like buildings, specimen trees and historic stone walls, 3) overviews of large areas, 4) multiple shots of panoramic views, 5) distant views from particular vantage points, and 6) shots that show topographic changes in the landscape.

Each field day I took 150 – 275 images. At the end of the day I named each image or group of images with a name intended to help the viewer understand what they were seeing and where it occurred.

Collecting the existing conditions data, with our four person crew, took the bulk of two months. Doing the work in winter provided the added challenge of needing to dodge rain and drizzle since we were unable to record field notes if the paper was damp. Rain days actually proved to be good because we used that time to organize material collected and to prepare for the next field day. More on Doyle in a future post.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Pig Palace - Jack London State Historic Park

My business partner, Cathy Garrett is actively working on a cultural landscape report for Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, Sonoma County. Yesterday, I visited the park to take photographs and measurements of some of the features in the study area. The 1400 acre park occupies land once owed by author Jack London, and is where he and his wife Charmian lived between 1911 and 1916. Its association with London is what makes it a historic site, and it is also a good example of a farm of that period. He named the property “Beauty Ranch”.

There is a lot to see in the park and ten miles of trails traversing oak woodland and mixed evergreen forest – almost too much to see during a single visit. I’ve been to the park four times in the past two years and I’m beginning to feel like I know the core of the park. I have not explored any of the back country trails beyond London Lake.

The Londons lived in the cottage and Jack had an addition built onto the cottage where he wrote. There is a nice perennial garden associated with the cottage; unfortunately, the park service did not restore the garden that is featured in historic photographs – it is a modern garden unlike the one that existing while the London’s lived there. The park also includes the House of Happy Walls, built by London’s widow and where she lived until her death in 1955. It now houses a London museum. You can walk down to the ruins of the Wolf House, which was built to be their permanent home but it burned to the ground, leaving only the stone walls and fireplaces, the night before they were to move in.

There are several barns and stone buildings associated with various aspects of the winery, and other structures used in the farming operations. A pair of 40-foot, cement-block silos stand between a vineyard in the foreground and an oak woodland background, providing a prominent and picturesque landmark.

My favorite part of the park though is the Pig Palace. Who would have guessed, an astoundingly prolific writer and an adventurer, would have had time to devote to farming, or interest. If you visit the site you will learn that Jack London practiced “scientific agriculture”. He was applying all kinds of innovative techniques to improve farming methods. The museum and interpretive signs, posted throughout the park, provide a wealth of information on this and other topics. Did you know that London developed a spineless cactus?

The Pig Palace, so named by locals who scoffed at London’s methods, is a beautiful structure sited on a knoll and shaded by overhanging branches of oaks. Yesterday, the light shone through the new leaves of the oaks, creating a stunningly beautiful effect. The Palace is laid out in a circle for efficiency. At the center is the two-story feed tower. Feed is loaded in the upper portion and pours into buckets when the farmer opens a shoot. The ground floor has troughs and a tub for bathing the pigs. Sanitation was an important part of London’s method and enabled him to avoid the cholera that was killing his neighbor’s animals.
Surrounding the feeding tower are individual suits for pigs. Each has an iron gate and a two-part stone enclosure. The inner portion is open air and has a built-in concrete food trough and a separate water bowl. Galvanized water lines and hose bibs, mounted on the stone walls, are there to fill the water bowl and to clean the enclosures. An opening leads into the second part of the enclosure, which has a roof to provided shelter from cold or heat. From that space each enclosure has a private, fenced-in exercise yard. London’s objectives with this unique design were two-fold: to provide a facility that would function efficiently for the farmer and to develop an improved breed of pigs for the market.

If you visit the park and take the walk to London Lake be sure to take the short trail to the Pig Palace. Oh, and one more tip – don’t bring a picnic lunch from home – instead stop at the Glen Ellen Village Market, just before you take the road up to the park. They have the greatest deli that makes wonderful sandwiches and the chocolate mousse cake is perfection.