Around the Bay – Man-Made Sites of Interest in the San Francisco Bay Region
I am writing to recommend a new book, Around The Bay, Man-Made Sites of Interest in the San Francisco Bay Region, published by The Center for Land Use Interpretation. This armchair tour of the Bay region’s margins traces the history of the continuous urban fabric that began to form in the mid-19 century and continues to evolve as a result of human activity and natural incidents.
Aerial photography in color makes the book’s 73 featured sites and their environs comprehensible to a degree not possible from a ground level point of view. A fold-out map with the guide’s 73 sites located on it by numbers is inside the book’s back cover.
The written commentaries on the pages opposite the photographs provide information that, combined with the photographs, contributes to a more balanced understanding of the region than that offered by, say, the usual list of sites-to- see generally recommended to tourists.
Many residents and visitors to the Bay Region have been informed about its historical highlights: the discovery and early settlement of the coastal areas, the drama of the Gold Rush, the consequent development of San Francisco as the premier city of the country’s west coast, the magnitude of its role in World War II and its participation in what President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously cited in his farewell address of 1961, the military-industrial complex.
What this guidebook explores are the underpinnings of this history: locations related to war and weaponry, sites of transportation, industry, and even waste disposal. All such activities have left indelible traces on the Bay shores, but they have rarely been deemed attractive to the general public.
Matthew Coolidge, the book’s author and a founder of the CLUI, has written about the Bay Region with discernment and a degree of perversity that I first enjoyed in the 2001 exhibition and catalog titled, Back to The Bay, Exploring the Margins of the San Francisco Bay Region. The region’s famous sights: the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, the Nob Hill mansions, Telegraph Hill, Twin Peaks, and so on were not included. Instead, the places listed were those usually found in publications with a specific or technical focus. Around The Bay describes these places in a deadpan tone that seems appropriate for such unconventional sightseeing.
The following sites were not selected for illustration because they are the best, but simply to provide a few examples among the many of the ways that the work of the Center for Land Use Interpretation enriches our experience of the earth’s places.
Castro Point, the cover photograph, was an important terminal for the Bay’s ferry service until 1956 when a 5.5 miles long bridge was constructed connecting Marin County to Contra Costa County and the East Bay. The former ferry terminal’s residue remains next to the bridge. The text that accompanies this image has more of Castro Point’s history.
The San Jose Treatment Plant, the region’s largest water pollution control plant, treats the effluent of Santa Clara’s population of more than 1.5 million people. The plant’s orderly composition abuts the sludge drying ponds next to it, which occupy nearly two miles.
The Bay’s most colorful site, the Cargill Salt operations, has been reduced to about 12,000 acres from the more than 40,000 once covered. Producing salt takes about five years and requires shifting the salt brine among the ponds shown here until it forms a crystal layer about 12 inches thick on the bottoms of the crystallizing ponds. Halophilic bacteria, which grow in saline solutions, tint the brine red. Finally, the salt is then scooped up, washed, grounds, and packaged, but only three percent of it is used for table salt.
Antioch’s three new gas-fired plants have made the six-mile stretch of shoreline between Pittsburg and Antioch the largest source of power for the Bay Area. Although some gas fields exist in the delta area northeast of Antioch, most of the gas for these plants comes from far away places such as Alberta, Canada.
Because of its architectural style, tourists have sometimes mistaken San Quentin for an ancient castle. A registered historic site, it opened in 1852, and is California’s first state prison. It also houses the state’s only male death row.
Fort Baker, was converted from a military base to a picturesque ensemble of modest buildings that now serve a variety of peaceful uses including the Bay Area Discovery Museum for Children. Though not obvious, evidence of its military past abounds in the many concrete gun batteries scattered in the surrounding hills.
If you value the kind of information about the Bay Region provided above, you will find Around The Bay both a source of pleasure and a way to follow the Bay Region’s continuing history.