Grand Tour.13- Toddlin’ Along The Carquinez Strait

Happy New Year loyal reader. The Grand Tour starts anew in 2010, after the holiday recess. Actually, today’s post recaps a trek taken last year , a very long amble along the edge of the Carquinez Strait, from Martinez all the way to Vallejo, a 13 mile monster. Urban Ambles nearly required medical attention as it lumbered  on to the ferry for the ride home, though a soothing Pabst Blue Ribbon (yes, I was that thirsty) helped immensely. Here’s the route:

We accessed this route by train, hopping an early morning Capitol Corridor Amtrak train from Emeryville to Sacramento – it stops in Martinez. It really felt like we were going somewhere this morning, it felt positively Grand-Tourish, I mean the real kind. What is it about settling in on the train, (and I’m not talking about the whine of BART), but the 2-3 miles out of the station satisfying muted clickety clack of the rails beneath you. Seat, coffee, map, and book- check ,check, and check. Simple pleasures.

After heading inland from Emeryville, passing thru the industrial backyards of the East Bay, we return to the water’s edge, along San Pablo Bay. Eventually, suburbia’s enthusiasm for the Bay gives way past Rodeo, and the Bay narrows down to the Carquinez Strait, the entry  marked by the Carquinez Bridge. We continued on to our destination of Martinez, and its sharp new train station.

Disembarking in Martinez, we have arrived in the county seat of Contra Costa County. There is a pretty well-preserved downtown here, and, as it is a county seat, it’s a somewhat robust one. I am also told it was once home to John Muir  (his home is  a museum there). We make our way past the immediate retail zone, and into a very pleasant residential neighborhood, it populated with great examples of early California Victorian vernacular homes, all part of a historic district, itself worth more exploration. Eventually , one ascends the hill at south edge of town, its edge marked by a somewhat scraggly cemetery:

Martinez Victorian
Martinez Cemetery




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Grand Tour.9-Escaping To Treasure Island

Do not fear loyal reader -The Grand Tour (Recession Version!)  continues, after a brief hiatus. To recap, we have made our way south from the Golden Gate Bridge,to the south bay, and back up to the through East Bay. Part 9 takes us to our second island on the tour: Treasure Island. Here’s the route:map

As most know, Treasure Island is a man made island, linked by a causeway to the the “natural” Yerba Buena Island, through which millions of us have passed through on  arriving in San Francisco .The impetus for its creation was the hosting of the 1939-40 World’s Fair.

Being held as it was at the end of the 30’s; the World’s Fair  perhaps unintentionally marked the wind down of the glorious deco/moderne period in American architecture, a period of highly-stylilized and geometrically chiseled building facades and sculptural figurines. There is currently a show at the Presidio Officer’s Club that has some outstanding photos, guidebooks, and maps commemorating the 70th anniversary of the fair. Here’s a few remarkable excerpts.



The World's Fair- buildings to lower right still exist
The World’s Fair- buildings to lower right still exist
The promenade to Pacifica-goddess of the fair
The promenade to Pacifica-goddess of the fair
Pavilion buildings with moderne sentries
Pavilion buildings with moderne sentries

The plan at the time of the island’s inception was  to host the Fair, and then turn the island into the main bay area airport. But the navy offered  a land swap to the city, for some of their land on the penisula, (the future SFO). Treasure Island thus became a naval base, and stayed that way until it, along with the Presidio, were decomissioned in 1996. The island is part of the city of San Francisco, and while the Navy has not yet officially handed over the island, it functions as part of the city. It is home to about 1,500 residents housed in former naval housing, along with the Treasure Island Job Corp, and a film studio. There are very few services on the island, and public transit is limited to one Muni bus line- the trusty 108- that connects it to the city.

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Grand Tour.6- Alviso and the Slough

































Do not fear intrepid reader, the popular Grand Tour (Recession Edition) of San Francisco Bay  has continued unabated. The author has just been too busy to provide updated entries. To recap, we have made our way down the peninsula, and entry number 6 marks our southernmost point in the journey, a visit to the interesting little bayside enclave of Alviso, and the adjacent Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge.

Getting here from San Francisco required a trip on CalTrain to Mountain View, and then transferring to the south bay’s VTA light rail system; which takes one from  Mountain View to Great America Amusement Park. Instead of walking into Great America, we walk the opposite way. The walk was about 10 miles round trip. Here’s the route:Alviso Map
This route begins in an area very typical of North San Jose, 6-lane arterial roads lined with office parks, bland multifamily housing, and the occasional amusement park.  Getting to Alviso from light rail requires a walk from Tasman Blvd.; either along an arterial, or  adjacent to the Guadalupe River, about as unpleasant a riverside walk as you could imagine. This was the view from the riverbank: some new condos with a nice view of a salvage yard. Junk

We stagger on, thinking what a bad idea this hike was, and then, everything changes. You reach the settlement of Alviso, and you are in another place, and time. Continue reading “Grand Tour.6- Alviso and the Slough”

The Grand Tour.5- A Detour to Stanford

Part 5 in the the Bay circumambulation is a bit of detour inland, to Stanford. I have never really walked around this campus much, though I did a bit of work there  a number of years ago. The campus is studded with buildings by rock-star architects, but  the original quad is the most compelling part of the campus. The trip also included a visit, and tour, of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hanna House nearby. I’ll write about that later on. It was about a 5 mile saunter, down and back from San Francisco on Caltrain. Here’s the route:


First, a bit of background on Stanford.  Stanford was founded by railroad kingpin Leland Stanford, and named the school in honor of his only child, Leland Jr, who died of typhoid at a young age. The campus owns over 8,000 acres, making it the largest campus in the world in terms of contiguous land.  The initial conceptual planning was done by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead (of Central Park fame, among others). The University began accepting students in 1891, with the inner quadrangle completed (almost) for the opening. The quadrangle is rendered in the Mission Revival style; golden sandstone, muscular arches, deeply recessed windows, and red tile roofs. It establishes the character for the rest of the campus.


Stanford was on break the week I was there ( at least I assume so- it was a gorgeous day and no one was around- maybe a vastly more studious bunch than I imagined). As a result, this part of the campus felt extra Mission-y, one could imagine oneself living the monk’s life, quietly contemplating the deeper questions of life in the cool shaded arcades. On a depopulated day like this, the experience was memorable.

One of the challenges with a campus that has a very clearly defined(re:limiting) vocabularly, is how to add to it. A walk through the campus reveals the challenge of this, both the successes and failures, even for Star-chitects. Here’s Sir Norman Foster’s (they don’t mess around at Stanford) 2003 Biomedical Sciences Building; my favorite- a sinuous glassy u with offices and classrooms opening to the court on the inside, foster-3foster01,yet respectful of the campus rhythyms on the outside. One great thing about pristine glassy school buildings where students and profs work and teach, is all the interesting ‘lived-in’crap that ends up at the expensive glass facades; stuffed animals, pizza boxes, even skeletons.

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