Sunday, July 1, 2012

China Camp HALS

The Pier at China Camp
In January of 2010 I wrote about China Camp State Historic Park in San Rafael. It is one of the 70 California Parks that was threatened with closure but thanks to the Friends of China Camp and others this unique cultural landscape will remain open ….. for now anyway.

A few months ago the Northern California chapter of HALS selected China Camp as our 2012 project. Ellen Joslin Johnck volunteered to lead an effort to prepare a set of standard HALS documents – that involves completing three elements: a written historic narrative, measured drawings and HALS quality photographs. Saturday morning a group of HALS members met at the cove where years ago Chinese immigrants ran a successful shrimp harvesting business until they were driven out by discriminatory laws aimed at destroying the thriving business.

David Kaplow, Jennifer, Cathy, Ellen (back to us) Janet Gracyk,
Frank Quan and Steve Deering.
 We could not have hoped for a more perfect day on the bay. It was warm but not hot and not windy. The air clear and the colors of the water, the hills in the distance, and the trees, growing on the steep slope that protects the cove, were rich and vibrant. Near the end of the day I was looking up that slope and was awestruck by a massive 10 trunk California Bay Tree with a broadly arching canopy.

Shade structure decorated with abalone shells

Our group gathered at 10:00 and had the opportunity to talk with Frank Quan, a descendant of one of the original residents, and Steve Deering with Friends of China Camp. They answered a few questions and led a short tour of the site before we convened to finalize our plan for the day. Jennifer deGraff with PGAdesign Landscape Architects had prepared base sheets that showed the basic outline of each extant building, the edge of the beach, the fishing pier and the topography of the slope. She had divided the site into four sheets – 3 for the buildings and the pier on the fourth. We divided into teams of two supplied with measuring tapes, pencils and scales and headed in opposite directions to take measurements.
Shrimp drying brick building

As we were planning for the day I thought there wasn’t much there and it might take a couple of hours to get the job done, but by noon we were ready for a lunch break - we had made a good start but were far from being finished collecting and recording the existing conditions. My group started by locating one side of the foundation of one of the “lost” buildings. Cathy Garrett and Jennifer figured out the purpose for and route of two sets of train tracks that were used to move shrimp off the boats and into a long, narrow brick building where the shrimp were dried, and the third group were most intrigued by an overgrown set of stone steps that ascend the slope.

Boats and equipment on the beach

During lunch we were very fortunate to get to see the Grace Quan, an authentic replica of a Chinese junk, sail into the cove from the east. This reconstructed ship was built at China Cove under the direction of John Muir a curator and boat-builder at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. The junk is completely black – the hull and broad mast and stood out prominently in San Pablo Bay.

Cathy adding notes to the field plan with
HALS members Jennifer, Braan Collett and Janet.

By 3:00 we finished measuring and drawing the details of what remains of China Camp – a collection of artifacts and a living history museum. Throughout the day we were joined by many park visitors who came to explore this uncommon cultural resource, to picnic and relax on the beach. It was a perfect day at China Camp – a day that demonstrated why our state parks are treasured and why we must find a permanent solution that will keep these places open now and for future generations.


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