Sunday, November 28, 2010

Storyland at Roeding Park, Fresno

A few weeks ago I wrote about Roeding Park for my September 26th post. Today I want to focus on just one of the many features of this wonderful regional park – Storyland, which was a gift to the children of Fresno given by the Fresno Metropolitan Rotary in 1961. Storyland is now 49 years old and is a valuable contributor to our state’s cultural landscape. It would have been a strong contender in the national Theme Park Challenge initiated by the Northern California Chapter of the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) and sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Like Fairyland in Oakland, Storyland is a theme park for young children with exhibits based on familiar fairy tales. It is a richly stimulating environment with so many colorful and delightful elements that it can be overwhelming. Every detail is scaled to accommodate children – doorways are low, light standards short, benches and seats small, and pathways are narrow. Here adults have to stoop, bend down and crouch.

There are at least 25 fairytale exhibits including Little Boy Blue, The Old Woman In The Shoe, The Crooked Man who Walked a Crooked Mile, Mother Goose, The Wicked Witch at Candyland, Jack and Jill, Goldilocks and the 3 Bears, Miss Muffett, Alice In Wonderland, Humpty Dumpty, and The 3 Little Pigs.

There are at least two areas that families can rent for birthday parties or other special events. My favorite is the castle tower party room designed with a Camelot and Knights theme. Access to the castle is via a wooden draw bridge over the castle moat – beware of the sea serpent lurking in the moat near the bridge. A narrow passage way leads into the Camelot room that has a circular table for the knights, painted stone interior, colorful hanging banners, and a tall, carved chair for the king or queen.

The theme of the other party space is Alice In Wonderland where the White Rabbit presides at the entry and the 3 of Hearts stands guard. A large clock face is painted on the pavement and party tables are set inside a walled garden.

But there is much more at Storyland to explore. The multi-masted Pirate ship with its giant wheel and elaborate riggings is unlike anything you could every find in any pre-manufactured play catalogue today. This realistically detailed structure includes carved ornamentation, cannons protruding from the sides, a coat of arms, a lantern for night sailing, slides, shoots and hiding cubbies, chains and robes, a sliding pole for quick escapes, and a carved dolphins masthead.

There is a child-size train that you board at the Storyland Train Station opposite the entry ticket booth, and then take a ride around Lake Washington where you’ll pass by a wrecked pirate ship and beneath the canopy of Roeding Park’s wonderful trees. There is a stage with seating for theater performances and puppet shows. There is even a small scale chapel with stain glass windows made with primary colors and miniature pews with inscriptions like, “The world rests on truth and peace”.

Even the boys and girls restrooms are custom designed and scaled to accommodate children. The Tudor-style buildings enclose a brightly painted setting featuring the baker and boy with a goose – help me readers identify which fairytale this depicts – send a comment.

Storyland is laid out with curvilinear paths, of varying materials, colors and textures that lead to each of the exhibits. A man made, shallow, concrete-lined creek meanders through the site and at several spots one passes over a bridge to cross the creek. Each bridge is unique – one is a simple wood structure but others include bridges with colorful candy cane railings or gingerbread men. The best is an intricate, painted metal dragon with scales and loops on top.

Small, themed tables and stools are found along the paths for picnics or snack stops. Of course each is unique. The one near the 3 bears looks like mushrooms and the table top is painted with daisies. There are two styles of brightly painted mushroom seats – one with a table, and many other small details tucked into every curve of the pathway.

Storyland is worth a visit to Fresno if you have small children and for older children there is Playland with amusement rides, a water play area and another train. Of course there are other reasons to visit Fresno but Roeding Park is a must see for all ages.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Robson-Harrington Park, San Anselmo

One of the best parts of doing HALS work is visiting places you’ve never been to before – whether you are away from home on a trip for just taking a Sunday drive nearby. Robson Harrington Park in San Anselmo is just such a place – a great discovery practically in our backyard.

The front entry to Robson-Harrington Park is defined by a low stone wall with pillars at the corner and entry drive. A walk parallels the driveway and is made with terra-cotta pavers with a redwood grained motif. This material continues to the front porch where it is laid in a herringbone pattern. The front garden looks much like a traditional early 20th century garden with curving expanses of lawn, shrub beds and a variety of mature specimen trees, but once in the garden you discover a unique brick wall constructed with a combination of standard brick and irregular chunks of what look like molten brick or glass. These are combined in infinite variety changing height, width and detailing. The wall forms arches, lines steps and terraces, and defines a group barbeque area on the lower level of the sloping site. Along the way one discovers one-of-a-kind pieces of glazed terra-cotta medallions varying in size from 4" to 26" round and rectangular pieces. All are glazed in ivory and or blue. It is a fanciful and organic garden that invites exploration and discovery.

The property includes a large expanse of lawn surrounded by a small redwood grove and an assortment of other trees including an exceptional Cratagus cordata/Washington Thorn. Currently, the area adjacent to the house is used for community gardening in terraced beds.
The residence on this property was completed in 1906 and was built for Edwin Kleber Wood on a 2.68 acre parcel. Wood was the son of farmers who served in the civil war prior to starting a career in the timber industry. His lumber company grew to be one of the largest in Michigan. In 1885, he served in the Michigan legislature. At this time Wood expanded his lumber business to the west coast and moved first to San Francisco and then Oakland, California. His Marin lumber yard, which opened in 1905, was one of the largest in Marin County. In 1917 when Edwin Woods died the property was valued at $2 million.

In 1923, Wood's sons sold the property to Kernan and Geraldine Robson. Kernan was the son of Albert L. Robson and Frances Harrington. Kernan attended Wesleyan University, Harvard Divinity School and Oxford prior to becoming a Professor of English. Later he formed a real estate partnership.

The Robsons planted extensive orchards and a vineyard. They added the curving brick walls using bricks salvaged from property acquired by Kernan's real estate dealings. They built archways, fountains and elaborate niches throughout the property.

The property was deeded to the City of San Anselmo upon Geraldine's death in 1967.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wassama Village

Two weeks ago we drove to Yosemite to enjoy some fall color and a relaxing weekend. On the way we stopped at Wassama State Historic Park and found a gently sloping site with topography that steps down to the south. It is an oak-grassland with a few tall Valley Oaks (Quercus lobata) and other trees. The park is surrounded by a split-rail fence and beyond the park boundary there are rural, private properties. The distant view of hills, clad in Oak woodland is likely much as it would have been during the time that Native Americans used this site, when the roundhouse was originally built.

The main feature of the park is a 40-foot diameter roundhouse, actually an octagon-shaped building, that is sited on a level area of open grassland, adjacent to two mature oaks that shade the structure and a picnic area. The roundhouse has pine board siding, and a new shingle roof with a smoke hole.

The original roundhouse was a semi-subterranean building constructed in the 1860s that was used for ceremonial purposes by the Southern Miwok tribe of Native Americans. The site was known as Wassama Village meaning Falling Leaves. This structure was burned in 1893 by the native people, in honor of their leader upon his death – in keeping with tradition.

The new roundhouse, built in 1903 is an above-ground structure that utilized the original center pole in the construction. This roundhouse was restored in 1978 when state parks purchased the property, and is the only remaining Miwok roundhouse in California. The roundhouse is still used by Native Americans for religious ceremonies, dancing, and for interpretive programs. According to a monument at the site “Southern Miwok dances, including the 1870 Ghost Dance are known to have been performed in the round house.”

According to the Madera County Genealogy website, the roundhouse built in 1903 “was constructed of poles cut and hauled from Captain Jim Rohan’s 80-acre allotment three miles to the north. Rohan and Johnny Jacobs hauled all the material and directed the building. Other Indians who worked on it included Chief Peter Westfall, his sons Johnny and Eff, Jim and Sam Johnson, Charles Rohan, Frank Tex, Johnny Gibbs and Ben Jacobs. There were many more but their names are forgotten.”

Near the high point of the park, on the north side, there is a small burial plot (approximately 100’ x 60’) defined by a split rail fence with two horizontal members. Access to the cemetery is through openings on the west and east sides – there are no gates. A very subtle, eight foot wide dirt path, marked with rocks, leads to the west opening. One large oak at the center, casts shadow over most of the cemetery. The ground surface is covered by non-irrigated grasses and is without formal paths. Most graves are unmarked while a few have simple wooden crosses, and fewer still have upright or flat stone monuments.

The third feature is a grinding stone. This low, broad stone has more than 30 mortars of varying depths. The layout of the mortars forms an oval shape within the oval shaped stone.

Wassama Roundhouse is California Historical Landmark No. 1001. It is located in a beautiful part of California’s foothills and is worth a visit.