Friday, December 26, 2008

A Christmas Soliloquy

This poem by Tom Masson appeared in the Vallejo Evening Chronicle on December 24, 1891.

To A Spray of Mistletoe

One year ago above the door
You hung, and she was there
I kissed her then, because of you
And then upon the stair

We sat and talked. Because of you
My arm stole round her waist.
And then, because of you once more,
I kissed her. This in haste:

For her poppa was up above,
And down the stair he came.
This was last year, and yet I'm still,
Because of you, quite lame

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Buffalo Bill Comes to Town

Buffalo Bill Cody (1846-1917) was a legendary figure of the American West who popularized a mythic vision of the American frontier through his famous traveling Wild West Show. His immensely popular troupe of showmen, actors, fancy shooters, trick ropers, American Indians, cowboys and more traveled across the country and throughout the world during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1902 they made a stop in Vallejo, performing two shows on the outskirts of town. The Vallejo Evening Chronicle of Saturday, September 6, 1902 reported on those shows:

The Big Show: Magnificent Audience Witness the Evening Performance

A Most Realistic Exhibition of Life in the Wild West – Daring Feats of Horsemanship

"Although the afternoon performance was the most slimly attended of any performance ever given by the Wild West Show, the attendance in the evening was much better, there being a vast crowd of spectators."

"Although considerably handicapped by the poorness of lighting of the big arena, which was due to a disarrangement of the electrical plant, the program was evidently appreciated by the audience."

"There were no doubt many who fully expected to see a circus performance, with trapeze artists, clowns, trained horses, fairylike soubrettes flying through hoops, who were disappointed; but to those who wanted to see a complete and magnificent reproduction of life on the frontier, daring feats of horsemanship, a splendidly conceived and dramatically and effectively carried out reproduction of San Juan Hill, fine marksmanship , a splendid and instructive representation of the life-saving apparatus, the exhibition was loudly praised."

"Previous to the opening of the evening exhibition Colonel Cody courteously received a Chronicle reporter in his tent. He said that he was very much disappointed at the matinee attendance, which was the smallest audience ever present in the history of the Wild West. He said their tour so far had been a triumphant artistic and financial success, but he was feeling the fatigue of traveling to fulfill engagements at “one – night stands” and was glad to have the San Francisco engagement, which opens Saturday, which will give him an opportunity to be in one place for a week. Colonel Cody takes all the people he has now under engagement to England with him, sailing for there on the 10th of December, and opening at the Olympia, London, for a ten week’s engagement on December 26th."

"The Olympia is one of the finest and largest amusement pavilions in London and seats about 7,000 people. He charges eight shillings, equal to $2, for the best seats, and will give two performances each day."

"During Colonel Cody’s New York engagement the show appears in Madison Square Garden, and the house is always packed at $2 for reserved seats, so that Vallejo saw the big show for just one-half the price that New Yorkers pay for reserved seats."

"Colonel Cody has met many old friends during his tour of the west and he said he had at least fifty callers yesterday whom he had met in various parts of the State."

"Miss Irma Cody, daughter of the Colonel, is on a short visit to her father."

"Miss Cody is a most attractive and handsome girl, and is evidently very proud of her distinguished father. She is loud in her praises of California and its people."

"The aggregation headed by Colonel Cody will no doubt retain the universal popularity it has so justly earned."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Farm House Recipes

In celebration of Thanksgiving, here are a few historic recipes that originally appeared in the Vallejo Evening Chronicle in 1881, under the heading “Farm House Recipes.”

Minced Fowl

Take the remains of a cold roast fowl and cut off the white meat, which mince finely without any skin or bone; but put the skin and bone into a stew pan, with an onion, a blade of mace, and a handful of sweet herb tied up. Add nearly a pint of water. Let it stew for an hour, and then strain and pour off the gravy, putting in a teaspoonful of Worcestershire sauce. Take two hard-boiled eggs and chop them small, mix them with the fowl, and salt, pepper, and mace, according to taste; put in the gravy, also half a teaspoon of lemon juice, two tablespoonfuls of flour, made into a smooth paste with a little cold water, and let the whole just boil. Serve with snippets of toasted bread. Some persons prefer cayenne to other pepper.

Stamscott Buns

Buns are easily made, and are excellent when this recipe is followed: Take one cup of yeast, one cup of sugar, one of butter, three cups of sweet milk: mix at night, omitting the butter and sugar; make a very soft sponge, let it stand till morning and then add the butter and a pinch of soda and the sugar; let it rise again, until it is very light, then knead lightly and put into tins. When light enough bake in a moderate oven till the top is dark brown; while hot rub over the top with a little bit of butter, this makes the crust tender and smooth. If you choose you can add English currants, and when brought to the table warm they are said to resemble the wonderful tea cakes of Mrs. Southey, which Shelly, having once tasted them, wished his wife to serve for supper ever after.

Manchester Pudding

Line a pie-dish with a good short crust, and then a layer of jam; take a teacupful of warm milk, and mix with three ounces bread crumbs, three ounces of butter, three ounces of white sugar, the rind and juice of a small lemon, the yokes of three and the white of one egg. Stir all three together until it becomes a kind of custard, then pour the mixture into the pie-dish, and bake one hour and a quarter; serve very hot with the whites of two eggs whipped up on the top.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Winter Sunset in Vallejo

This beautiful postcard of a winter sunset was published c. 1900- 1910. The green hills in the background are the southern tip of Mare Island, site of the Naval Ammunition Depot. On the far left are the buildings of the Sperry Flour Mill. This photo provides one of the clearest views of the low, swampy bay that once separated Vallejo and South Vallejo. A thin black line through the water may be the beginnings of the dike that was built to enclose this inlet. The bay originally reached inland to the area known today as Lake Dalwigk. When the dike was completed around 1915, the bay was drained, then filled to create new usable land for the city.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Earthquake of 1868

On this date in 1868 a massive earthquake struck northern California, centered on what is now known as the Hayward Fault. Damage was extensive throughout Contra Costa and Alameda counties as well as in Oakland and San Francisco. Vallejo, located just north of the quake’s epicenter, was badly shaken but not severely damaged. The Vallejo Weekly Chronicle reported on the effects of the temblor:

“About 8 o’clock Wednesday morning, the city of Vallejo felt the effect of the earthquake that proved so destructive to San Francisco, Oakland, San Leandro, and other towns in the counties of Contra Costa and Alameda. The shock was of longer duration and severer than any experienced in the State heretofore, and having a vibration from northeast to southwest. Lighter shocks followed at 25 minutes to 9; 15 minutes past 9; 20 minutes past 10 (was sensibly felt); 3 minutes to 11. The introductory or heaviest shock occasioned considerable alarm among our citizens, as it commenced with an easy motion but gathered strength and greater activity in every quiver in its duration, and almost everyone having the idea that it would culminate in a general destruction of buildings. Many ran out into the streets, others of less excitability stayed where they were; some remained in their apartments on account of their not being able to present a very respectable appearance outside in way of toilet. No damages or injuries were sustained by any building or person in Vallejo, probably owing to the firm foundation upon which the buildings of the place are erected. The following ‘shakes’ caused an involuntary start by most everyone. At any rate the agitation of mother Earth was the topic of conversation during the balance of the day, completely absorbing politics. At almost any hour of the day a small number of men could be seen standing in different parts of the street relating their ‘experience’ to one another. The annexed are incidents that came to our knowledge:

A number of people were at breakfast, some of which were seized with a nauseating sensation, so much so that they had no desire to complete their meal. (Page says he made money by the ‘shake’).

A man lately from Peru was writing at the time - he didn’t appear to notice it, as he did not lift his pen off the paper. He is regarded as a natural curiosity by some.

The Bulletin says many chimneys were toppled down in Vallejo. A mistake, as no chimney was injured, if we except that of a dwelling on Virginia street, which lost two or three of its topmost bricks.

A partition in Bacheller’s building on Georgia street was slightly displaced.

The plastering in the public school house and in Capt. Wood’s dwelling on Capitol Hill, was cracked but not displaced.

A young man working in the Chronicle office considered it dangerous to continue work in a brick building; but upon being assured there was no likelihood of another quake he returned to his labors. However, the shock of 20 minutes past 10 ‘undone’ him. With a countenance expressing misplaced confidence and disgust for the country he left us.

Persons on the ferry-boat felt the shock, and say the effect was as if the boat’s bottom was bumping on a rock.

An officer on the Yard reports a wave of a foot in height. It was noticed by a number of officers, both at the City front and at the Railroad Terminus.

Nicholas, a hunter, was in Tules, about three miles above town, and reports the effects as startling; the banks of the small creeks closed and opened at short intervals. The tules having the motion of the swell of the ocean.

The water in the well on the property of the Rainbow Restaurant acted in such a manner as to cause the owner to have a disgust for the place, and advertise his place for sale, preparatory to leaving the country.

Thursday night at 15 minutes past 2, we experienced another ‘quiver,’ which lasted about five seconds, but was of a light character. At 20 minutes past 7, yesterday morning, a slight shock was felt.

One of our City Fathers was in the fifth story of the Cosmopolitan Hotel of San Francisco. He sat on the side of the bed and rode the shock out, making no effort to dress himself, probably thinking he was as well clad for leaving this world as many others.

A friend informs us that the scenes in the Occidental Hotel were both humorous and appalling. Men, women and children, completely paralyzed with fear, running frantically around the halls in their night clothes. He was partially dressed and consequently he got out into the hall with toilet very near complete; but he hardly made his appearance when an unknown female with toilet very incomplete caught him around the neck begging him to save her. Being a young man, and very modest, the ‘situation’ quite overcame him; and the only consolation he could offer was to assure the lady that it was only an earthquake; there was no danger, ‘for we’ll all die together!’ The young man hardly knew what he did say, for he was more scared by the woman than by the earthquake.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

FDR at the Mare Island Hospital

During President Roosvelt's brief visit to Mare Island in September 1942 he visited wounded sailors at the Mare Island Hospital. The Vallejo Evening Chronicle carried a brief account of Roosvelt's visit with a sailor who had been wounded aboard the USS Houston:

President Chats with Wounded Man at M.I.

“The story of a sailor aboard the USS Houston who was wounded 25 times while two nearby ‘buddies’ were killed instantly was told in person by the enlisted man to President Roosevelt when he visited Mare Island last Thursday.

“Details of the conversation were revealed today at the navy yard here simultaneously with announcement in Washington by the White House that the Chief Executive of the nation inspected Mare Island while on a tour of U.S. defense plants.

“The wounded sailor is Thomas Borghetti, Jr., 35, fire controlman, first class. His home is Marseilles, Illinois. He has served in the Navy for the last 14 years, aboard the USS Salt Lake City, USS Colorado and the USS Houston, the latter when she was sent to the bottom during the Java Sea battle.

“The Houston was steaming into Macassar Straits to attack a Japanese convoy when she, herself, was attacked by an air fleet of 57 Japanese planes.

“Borghetti was wounded 25 times by shrapnel when an 800 pound bomb exploded nearby.

“Two buddies, names not revealed, who were standing only three and five feet away, were decapitated by the bomb explosion.

“Borghetti has five sisters and two brothers at home in Illinois. His father operates a grocery store.

“The greeting between President Roosevelt and Borghetti, as reported officially at the navy yard, was as follows:

The President smiled.

‘I’ve seen you before,’ he said.

‘Yes, Mr. President,’ replied Borghetti, ‘I made three cruises with you on the Houston.

‘It was too bad about the Houston,’ commented the President.

‘Yes,’ answered Borghetti. ‘She was a fine cruiser and a great crew. She gave the Japs all she had as long as she lasted, which was plenty.’

‘Where were you hit?,’ inquired President Roosevelt.

‘Twenty-five different places, most seriously in the arms and legs,’ answered the sailor.

‘What hit you?’ queried the President.

‘The doctors decided it was an 800-pound bomb,’ answered Borghetti.

‘Was that all?’ mused the President as he shook Borghetti’s hand and wished him good luck.

‘I hope to get well soon and go back to fighting the Japs again,’ concluded Borghetti.

An additional note: Wounded sailor Thomas Borghetti Jr. of the USS Houston was hospitalized on Java following the loss of his ship. When the Japanese invaded the island, Borghetti and other casualties were evacuated through the heroic actions of Dr. Corydon M. Wassell. The doctor’s story was praised by President Roosevelt in a radio address in April 1942. Wassell’s story was then made into a Hollywood movie directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Gary Cooper as the heroic doctor. In the movie (The Story of Dr. Wassell, 1944) Borghetti was played by actor Mike Killian.

To learn more about the USS Houston follow the link above or visit

Monday, October 6, 2008

FDR at Mare Island: Part Two

During President Franklin Roosevelt’s brief visit to Mare Island in September 1942, he viewed two submarines – one Japanese and one American. The name of the U.S. submarine was not reported due to wartime secrecy. The Japanese sub was a small two-man vessel captured at Pearl Harbor and subsequently sent on a fundraising tour to U.S. military bases around the country. The photograph that accompanies this post shows Roosevelt in his car with Mare Island Commander RADM Willhelm Friedell as they stopped to look at the Japanese sub during the President’s visit. Reporter Merriman Smith of United Press reported the visit as follows:

U.S. Sub That Bagged Jap Ships Viewed by President at M.I.

“President Roosevelt looked today with great satisfaction upon two submarines – one Japanese craft captured at Pearl Harbor, the other an American sub with nine Japanese flags painted on her conning tower. Touring the San Francisco Bay Area, the President saw graphic evidence of the war in the Pacific, including sea-beaten submarines, wounded marines and sailors and supply ships loading for another long haul to the fighting fronts.

"Moving down the Pacific coast and the western sea frontier of the nation, the President paused for an afternoon’s inspection of installations in the San Francisco area, which showed plainly the signs of high-gear war activity.

"Inspecting the Mare Island Navy Yard and the embarkation station and naval supply depot at Oakland, the President got a good and realistic picture of the work involved in keeping forces of the United States in top combat condition.

See Historic Sub

"At Mare Island on San Pablo Bay, the Chief Executive saw one of the nation’s most active navy yards. Fighting ships of varied type were in for service, but the ones that caught the President’s eyes were two submarines – Japanese and American.

"The Japanese undersea craft was caught at Pearl Harbor. Small but menacing, she carried a crew of two men.

"A few minutes later Mr. Roosevelt saw a weather-streaked American sub moored at the navy yard and paused to look at her conning tower which bore nine red-and-white Japanese flags, each indicating a victim and probably ranging from small cargo craft to big Nipponese fighting ships.

"There were other fighting ships at Mare Island for repairs and supplies and the President examined each one as closely as his limited schedule would permit.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

FDR at Mare Island

On this day in 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited the Mare Island Navy Yard. Less than a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mare Island was then at the peak of its wartime production. Thousands of defense workers toiled round-the-clock to build and repair ships for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Although Roosevelt’s visit was the talk of Vallejo, wartime news blackouts kept official word of the visit out of the local newspapers for a week. Finally, on October 1st, the Vallejo Evening Chronicle told the story:

“One of the biggest stories in the town’s history became public property today,” Will Stevens wrote. “What every Vallejoan and his brother has known since Thursday, September 24, the White House officially revealed this morning. The President of the United States was here on that day, toured Mare Island Navy Yard for more than an hour, and was ‘astonished!’ at the growth of America’s No. 1 Navy Yard.”

“Newspapermen across the country – including, of course, Vallejo newspapermen – two weeks previous to the visit had been told by the Office of Censorship that the President planned to inspect various war camps and navy yards, that nothing was to be said about it until the tour was over.”

“As early as Thursday morning, when the President arrived in this area, not even a whisper had preceded his visit – except in those official Army and Navy circles in this area whose job it was to guard the safety of the chief executive.”

“At 11 a.m., preceded by a flock of Army chiefs and command cars, loaded to the hilt with guns and live ammunition, the Presidential automobile – fidgety secret service men hanging onto the side – sped down Tennessee Street headed for Mare Island. At the Causeway gate, Rear Admiral W.L. Friedell, commandant of the Navy Yard, greeted President Roosevelt, welcomed him to the Yard, climbed in the front seat of the Presidential automobile. For an hour – or more – the Navy had “taken over” from the Army.”

Precautions Taken

“It can now be revealed that the most extreme precautions were taken prior to the inspection trip of the President – and in direct contrast to his visit here several years ago it was really a secret until authorities were ready to let out as much as they wished the public to know.”

“Even now, the precise line Mr. Roosevelt toured through Mare Island cannot be revealed, but it can be reported that he stopped briefly in front of Shop 31, and again at the Mare Island Naval Hospital.”

“The scene at the Hospital was particularly dramatic.”

“Long before the Presidential car, still flanked by its vigilant secret servicemen, arrived on the Hospital reservation, American lads, wounded on this nation’s far-flung battlefronts, had been wheeled out by smartly clad nurses, brightly colored blankets thrown over the knees of the boys. Directly behind them stood the sailors in their whites. And directly facing this group was a trim line of medical officers, all attached to the hospital. Then came the hospital nurses, flanking the officers and the young, wounded heroes in their wheelchairs.”

“Next, a company of U.S. Marines marched up to the scene to form an Honor Guard for the President when he arrived.”

“And at last, he arrived, grinning and apparently very happy. The Marines presented arms, the officers saluted, even the wounded boys in their wheelchairs straightened their shoulders – and returned the confident grin of their Commander-in-Chief.”

Welcomed to Hospital

“An executive officer of the Naval Hospital reservation, Captain Walter A. Fort, Medical Corps, USN, welcomed the President, shaking hands heartily while the officers, nurses, white-clad sailors stood at stiff attention.”

“One of the wounded lads – his buddies chided him afterward for shaking hands ‘with the boss’ – was wheeled up to the Presidential car and greeted by the President.

“From hundreds of rooms in the hospital buildings, other lads – unable to be on the scene, looked down from windows, getting a thrill matching even those they had found ‘somewhere in the Pacific.’”

“And then, seemingly in three seconds, the Presidential car had been turned around, the nervous secret servicemen still 100 percent on the job, and the President and his car had disappeared, a dutiful Army jeep full of cameramen and Washington correspondents following.”

“At one point during the tour the President declared: ‘I thought we had seen all the workmen there are – but here are thousands more!’”

“At another point on the tour the President said: ‘I am astonished at the expansion of Mare Island Navy Yard since my last visit here.’”

“The chief executive, it was learned, left no doubt of his complete realization of the great job being accomplished at Mare Island Navy Yard, one of the nation’s biggest and most important defense plants.”

Pleased With Yard

“Indeed the general - and unofficial – impression was that the President was very pleased with what he saw in this area, only one of the many points visited on his nationwide trip.”

“Meanwhile, even before the President came along Highway 40 from Carquinez Bridge and then rode down Tennessee Street toward the Causeway, word had spread around town that ‘something big is doing’ – but what no one knew.”

"They knew only that Tennessee Street was being cleared by soldiers and Army jeeps – being cleared in a hurry for dome mysterious reason. Traffic along the thoroughfare halted right now, cars were shunted over to the side of the street, and the drivers told to stay where they were. They did.”

“The extremely effective veil of secrecy which characterized the early phases of the President’s visit to Mare Island was purposely dropped shortly before his arrival at 11 a.m., and office personnel at the yard were told of his visit, given permission to stand in one spot – and look when the chief executive passed by. Hundreds did look – and got a thrill they’ll never forget.”

“It was the general impression of onlookers that the President was in excellent health, a judgment confirmed by those who met him personally.”

“The tour of the yard completed, the Presidential car started toward Vallejo again. At the Causeway gate, Admiral Friedell left the car, and bade the President farewell, and the Army again took over.”

Saturday, September 13, 2008

USS Woodrow Wilson

Mare Island celebrates its birthday on September 16th. It was on that day in 1854 that Captain David G. Farragut arrived at the then- remote outpost to establish the first U.S. Navy Yard on the Pacific Coast. But in 1961 Mare Island celebrated its birthday three days early. It was on this day, 47 years ago, (September 13, 1961) that a keel laying ceremony was held for Mare Island’s 8th nuclear submarine, the USS Woodrow Wilson (SSBN 624).

Shipyard Commander RADM L.V. Honsinger presided over the brief noontime ceremony. After the Vallejo High School Band played, RADM Honsinger introduced the four honorary keel layers: E.J. Murray, Foreman of Shop 67; Edward Beutel, Foreman of Shop 72; E.C. Jensen, Deputy Chief Design Engineer; and Keith Kimball, Master of Shop 02. The keel was then “well and truly laid.”

After 17 months of construction, USS Woodrow Wilson was launched on February 22, 1963 and commissioned in December of that year. The Lafayette-class ballistic missile submarine departed Mare Island in January 1964, transited the Panama Canal, and eventually was homeported in Charleston, South Carolina. During her long career the “Woody Woo” made 71 deterrent patrols, in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. In 1990 she was converted from a ballistic missile sub to an attack sub and re-designated SSN 624. USS Woodrow Wilson served the Navy for 30 years, until her deactivation in 1993. The sub was decommissioned in 1994 and later scrapped. Former crew members still uphold the proud traditions of the Silent Service.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Aviators and Airports

Pilot and airplane builder Rueben Coombs built Vallejo’s first airplane with his partner Paul Butler around 1910. The plane was made of bicycle parts and the enterprising builders had a Grey Eagle engine shipped out from Kentucky to power the machine. Their early “airfield” was located on the Hann’s Ranch, which today is the area at the end of Nebraska and Illinois Streets, near Interstate 80. Pilot Coombs is shown here with the plane.

Vallejo has also had several small airports over the years, including Sky Harbor, established just after WWII about two miles north of the city. Another of Vallejo’s early landing fields was Knight’s Airport, located near the present day intersection of Sacramento Street and Highway 37, where early day pilots often had to dodge jackrabbits scurrying across the landing strip. A further drawback was the fact that the field was frequently submerged under two to three feet of water after heavy winter rains. The Mini Airport was located near the intersection of Highway 37 and Broadway. Tall eucalyptus trees (a few still there) presented an interesting challenge for incoming pilots.

Friday, August 29, 2008

HMS Berry and USS Doherty

Sixty-six years ago today, on August 29, 1942, the U.S. Naval Shipyard at Mare Island launched a ship for the British Navy. The HMS Berry was the second of 24 destroyer escort vessels that Mare Island planned to build for the Royal Navy under President Franklin Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease program. Berry’s sister ship, HMS Bentinck, had been launched only a week previously.

The construction of British ships at an American shipyard was only one of the unusual aspects of this destroyer escort program. In addition to their British pedigree, Bentinck, Berry, and other ships of the class were unusual because they were primarily built high in the Rocky Mountains near Denver, Colorado. The “Shipyard in the Rockies” program consisted of prefabricated parts built in Colorado and brought by rail to Mare Island for assembly and eventual launching. Denver was selected because of its largely untapped labor force and the prevalent affordable housing available for its defense workers.

HMS Berry’s sponsor was Mrs. Robert E. Moreland, wife of the Master of the Joiner and Shipwright’s Shop at Mare Island. At the launching, Mare Island’s commandant, Rear Admiral Wilhelm H. Friedell, emphasized that America’s homefront shipyards bore a major responsibility in supporting the war effort. “We, who are on the production end of this titanic struggle, must ourselves maintain an ever-present offensive,” Friedell proclaimed. “We must win. We must survive.”

However, HMS Berry would never serve in His Majesty’s Navy. As the U.S. Navy struggled to rebuild after Pearl Harbor it became apparent that more American ships were needed to fight the Axis Powers in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. HMS Berry was retained by the U.S. Navy and rechristened as USS Doherty. She served as an escort vessel in Arctic and Pacific waters throughout the war and was eventually decommissioned and then scrapped at the war’s conclusion.

As one of the many hundreds of ships built at Mare Island, the HMS Berry -USS Doherty might best be remembered as a symbol of the cooperation maintained by the United States and her allies during WWII.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Casa de Vallejo Fire

One of Vallejo's most distinctive landmarks, the Casa de Vallejo, suffered a major fire during the early morning hours of August 15th. Three residents of the senior housing complex died and m0re than a hundred were left homeless. Casa de Vallejo was built in 1919 as Vallejo's Industrial YMCA. The building was purchased by hotelier Harry Handlery in 1928 and converted into Vallejo's first luxury hotel. Casa de Vallejo has been a senior residence complex since 1978.

The Casa de Vallejo is located on Sonoma Blvd. in Vallejo, immediately adjacent to the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum, which is located in Vallejo's historic Old City Hall. Fortunately for the Museum, rapid response by fire crews from Vallejo and surrounding communities prevented the fire from spreading to adjoining buildings.

The accompanying photographs show the beautiful mission style interior of the Casa de Vallejo. Hopefully reconstruction of the building will preserve these unique historic features. Click on the photos for an enlarged view.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vallejo Women Struggle to Win the Vote

Over the next few weeks both the Democratic and Republican Parties will hold their national conventions to select candidates for the November presidential election. Other political parties (the Green Party, Libertarian Party, Peace & Freedom Party, etc.) have also recently chosen candidates to vie for the top office. The right to vote for our political leaders - whether conservative, liberal, or elsewhere on the political spectrum - is a right that far too few Americans exercise. And for many Americans that right was only attained after years of struggle.

In Vallejo, as in the rest of the United States, women fought for decades to win the right to vote. The women’s suffrage movement in California was strident, vocal - and ultimately successful. California women gained the right to vote in 1911, nearly a decade before passage of the 19th amendment granted that right nationwide.

The women’s suffrage movement came to Vallejo as early as 1870. Recently, Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum researcher Marilyn Armstrong uncovered this interesting article from the Semi-Weekly Vallejo Recorder of January 7, 1870:

Lecture On Woman Suffrage

“We listened last evening to a portion of the lecture delivered by Mrs. Gordon at Eureka Hall on the subject of women’s rights. The audience was quite meager showing that our citizens are not duly interested in the movement. The lecture possessed some merit and was delivered in a calm dispassionate and graceful manner, but had evidently been well studied, cut and dried. The object of the lecture was explained fully which was to keep up the agitation of the question. Many of the positions taken by the lecturess were untenable and the conclusions drawn were fallacious. She rehashed much of that nonsense and simple stuff which has long since become ‘weary, stale, flat and unprofitable’ and attempted to answer the arguments which any sensible person who is opposed to woman’s transcending the sphere for which she was intended by nature, could urge. No doubt Mrs. Gordon is a woman of some education and accomplishments but that she has mistaken her calling is apparent."

Questions arise:

Did the otherwise unidentified “Mrs. Gordon” live long enough to exercise her legal right to vote in California nearly forty years later?

Did the editors of the Vallejo newspaper rethink the condescending attitude shown in this article and eventually come around to support women’s suffrage?

Have women’s voices (and votes) influenced the course of American politics since this important right was attained?

The lesson learned?

Get out and vote!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

What’s Going On? – California and the Vietnam Era

The landmark exhibition “What’s Going On? – California and the Vietnam Era” is currently featured at the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum . “What’s Going On?” provides a timely examination of the impact of the Vietnam War on California life and culture. Home to numerous defense contractors and military training centers (including the Mare Island Naval Shipyard and Travis Air Force Base), the state also served as the primary portal for both returning soldiers and Southeast Asian immigrants following the fall of Saigon. As the epicenter of the war’s home front, California became a hotbed of social and political movements that spread across the county, and ultimately redefined what it means to be an American.

The exhibition focuses on events in California from the 1950s Cold War era to the present, with special emphasis on the tumultuous years from the Vietnam conflict’s escalation in 1965 through its end in 1975. During that time, California was the epicenter of the war’s domestic front. The state was the staging ground for most of the nation’s defense contractors, the location of principal military centers where troops were trained and transported, and the base of legendary peace protests and New Right politics ushered in by Reagan’s gubernatorial election in 1966.

The exhibition includes historical artifacts, photographs, and documents interwoven with oral histories contributed by veterans, activists, and former refugees. Based on a larger exhibition of the same title developed by the Oakland Museum of California, this 1,000 square-foot exhibition provides visitors an opportunity to consider and ask question about this important period in our nation’s history.

The exhibit has been supplemented with material from the collection of the Vallejo Naval & Historical Museum reflecting the impact of the Vietnam conflict on Solano County. Much of Solano County’s history has been defined by the strong military presence of the Mare Island Navy Yard, Travis Air Force Base, and the Benicia Arsenal.

The exhibit has been further enhanced by the addition of historical and artistic works by Amerasian artist Ruth Moss, a Solano County native whose work reflects the impact of the era on her and her extended family. Moss’ father served in the US Air Force in Vietnam. Her mother is Vietnamese. After coming to the United States the family helped literally hundreds of Vietnamese immigrants who came to California via refugee camps in Guam, the Philippines, and other locations.

Currently scheduled for installation at more than 10 museums across the state over the next three years, “What’s Going On?” will continue at the Vallejo Museum through September 6th.

The “What’s Going On? – California and the Vietnam Era” exhibition tour was organized by the California Exhibition Resources Alliance (CERA) in concert with the Oakland Museum of California. CERA is a network of professionally operated museums and cultural organizations that collaborate to create and tour smaller, affordable, high quality exhibitions that enhance civic engagement and human understanding. The Oakland Museum exhibition was made possible with support by the Oakland Museum Women’s Board, the National Endowment for the Humanities, The James Irvine Foundation, The Clorox Company Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

The Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum is located at 734 Marin Street, Vallejo. For more information call (707) 643-0077.

Photo caption: U.S. Marine and Vietnamese refugees at Camp Pendleton refugee center, 1975. Stephen Peck, photographer

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Ink Bottle House

The Octagon House was an unusual but popular style of architecture in the mid 19th century. The style was most common in the East and Midwest, but there were also a few examples in the West. Five octagons are known to have been built in San Francisco, and two still survive - the Feusier House and the McElroy House. Vallejo's Octagon was known as the "Ink Bottle House” and stood on the south side of Florida Street, between Marin Street and Sonoma Boulevard. According to the Vallejo Times-Herald in 1936, the unusual house was built around 1865 by "an eccentric sea captain whose name even the old timers have forgotten.” In later years, the Daley and Colton families lived in the house. The octagon was torn down around 1908, though some accounts have it standing - abandoned - into the 1910s.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Vallejo's First 4th of July Celebration

When the young city of Vallejo became California’s state capital in 1852, the future looked bright. The fledgling town, located midway between the bustling port of San Francisco and the gold fields above Sacramento, seemed poised for greatness. But unfortunately the State Legislature departed Vallejo after only two abbreviated sessions in 1852 and 1853. Nearby Benicia became the seat of California’s government and Vallejo was rapidly depopulated.

So by July of 1853 the state legislature had fled Vallejo and the U.S. Navy had not yet arrived. More than a year would pass before Captain David G. Farragut would establish the Navy Yard at Mare Island in September 1854. In the summer of 1853 only two families and a handful of bachelors remained in the struggling town. Vallejo’s future seemed grim.

But those early settlers remained patriotic. In The History of Solano County, published by Wood, Alley & Company in 1879, we find an account of the first 4th of July celebration in Vallejo:

“On July 4, 1853, we find the first celebration of Independence Day, in Vallejo, by a dinner at the Vallejo House [a hotel] and bonfire. At the former there sat down two ladies and eight gentlemen, Mrs. Robert and Thomas Brownlee, Captain Stewart, Squire Hook, Edward H. Rowe (elder), West Rowe, Lemuel Hazelton, B. F. Osborne, with Robert and Thomas Brownlee. At an early hour Captain Stewart had donned his full uniform and called on all to celebrate the day with becoming ceremony. A few tar barrels had been procured from the dry-dock and dragged up to what is now called Capitol hill; a pile of brushwood was heaped up to an immense height, and ‘lashings of whisky’ had not been forgotten. At dark the hill was ablaze, making the surrounding country as light as day. Success to the Union was drunk amidst much enthusiasm; the glass and merry song went round; speeches were the order of the day, or rather night, while intense loyalty gave place to noisy enthusiasm, to be replaced by morbid toast making, until one by one the heroes who had braved so many dangers sank to rest on the bosom of mother earth in a slumber which the mighty Bourbon had invoked.”

Happy 4th of July, Vallejo!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mysterious Death of the Saginaw's Skipper

Two earlier posts (May 24 & 28, 2008) related stories about the sidewheeler USS Saginaw, the first ship built at the Mare Island Navy Yard. During 1868-69 the Saginaw cruised in Alaskan waters, returning briefly to Mare Island for reprovisioning in the fall of 1868. During the first part of that Alaska cruise, the Saginaw was under the command of Commander John G. Mitchell. Unfortunately, during her return visit to Mare Island, Saginaw’s skipper met with an untimely end. The Vallejo Weekly Chronicle of Saturday, October 24, 1868, provided an account of the incident.

Mysterious Affair – Death of Commander John Mitchell

“Commander John Mitchell of the United States Steamer Saginaw was murdered in San Francisco, at the corner of Sutter and Stockton streets, at half past seven o’clock last Wednesday evening. The only witness to the deed was a young lady. She was passing down Sutter street near to the place, when she noticed three men standing at the place before mentioned; loud talk was going on when one of the men struck the man standing in the middle a heavy blow on the head knocking him down. The third man instantly took to his heels. The assailant stopped to strike his victim several blows as he lay on the ground, and then ran off in the opposite direction from that taken by his accomplice. As soon as possible the lady gave the alarm. When assistance came the man was found lying across the railroad track in a dying condition. He was removed to a grocery store near by, where he soon expired. Upon examination, strange to say, no marks of violence were found on his person (contradicting the first report). A gold watch and $29.50 in coin was found in his clothes, showing that no robbery was intended. He left the Navy yard on the morning boat to attend some business in the City. Two men were seen in the company of the deceased, a short time previous to the occurrence. Mitchell had apparently been drinking; he expressed his dislike to the company which was seemingly forced upon him. The whole affair is a complete mystery. A Coroner’s inquest was held on the body Thursday. The two men have been arrested, who gave their names as savage and Elias, which are thought to be fictitious names. Commander Mitchell has been a long time on the coast. He was the executive officer of the Active, under Commodore Alden, on the Coast Survey. On the breaking out of the war he was ordered East, where he took an active part in naval operations, and after the close of the war he came back to this coast as chief officer of the Pensacola. From this ship he was transferred to the command of the Saginaw something over a year ago; and was expecting to be relieved from the latter named vessel in a few days. He was a gentleman and an officer in every sense of the word, not only here, but everywhere his position called him. We are told he was a native of Massachusetts, and he leaves a wife and family in the East.”

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Vallejo in 1852

In March 1852 Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion reported on the vast influx of people into the new state of California following the discovery of gold a few years before: “How many poor people have become enriched, and how many have lost their lives in their mad zeal to obtain a hoard of the glittering dust. No modern event has ever been the cause of so much romance in real life...."

The article also described the new capital city of Vallejo: “Our artist presents a very fine view of Vallejo, the new capital of California. It is pronounced by persons who have visited and are familiar with the spot, as singularly accurate and faithful. The members of the California legislature when they first met were compelled to sit on nail kegs, with a board placed across the open head, or upon temporary benches, which now and then broke under the weight of legislative dignity, and let down a row of honorable gentlemen flat upon the floor, to the great hazard of the gravity of the house. This was in consequence of the unfinished state of the capitol. The boarding-houses were not much better prepared for the reception of the public dignitaries, and in many instances members had to take turns in occupying chairs during the night. However, as soon as it was decided that the government would remain at Vallejo those inconveniences were removed…. The State House, on the summit of the hill, the public offices, hotels, and every tenement in the place is presented, together with much of the surrounding scenery, constituting as it does one of the most beautiful points in the entire state of California.”

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Old Times

The Vallejo Evening Chronicle of May 22, 1877 published the following column under the heading of “Old Times”

Events of Early Days in Vallejo

"Several days since a number of questions were propounded to the Chronicle relating to early events in the history of Vallejo. We herewith give the desired information in the order of request."

Mare Island

"The tract of land embodying what is known as Mare Island was sold by Victor Castro in the year 1850 to John B. Frisbie and a man named B. Simonds, for the sum of $7,000. About one year thereafter these parties sold the property to Messrs. Aspinall & Birrell, of New York for $17,500 and the latter named sold the Island to the Government for $80,000. The property was taken possession of by the late Admiral Farragut for Navy Yard purposes in 1854."

"The largest number of workmen ever employed on the Yard was in 1869 when there were about 1,750 men on the rolls."

"The Saginaw was built of Pacific Coast timber in the year 1859."


"The first newspaper published in Vallejo was a weekly called the Bulletin No. 1, Vol. 1, of which appeared November 22d, 1855 and was published by Messrs, Eaton & Cox. The latter is resident of Napa."

"There was an amateur journal printed on the Navy Yard about three years subsequent to the Bulletin, by a lad, M. L. Hanscom."


"Before the settlement of this section by the whites, this immediate section was inhabited by a tribe of Indians called the Soscols. From the best information it is believed there is no remnant of them left."

Political Incident

"James Buchanan was hung in effigy immediately after his election, it was supposed by some members of the Filmore club. The stuffed figure was run up on the flagpole that now stands at Connolly’s corner, and the halyards were cut away. The Democrats had great trouble in getting the effigy down. It remained there for nearly forty-eight hours; several sailors form off one of Uncle Sam’s ships essayed to climb the pole and cut the offending figure down, but all failed. Finally, a young man was found who accomplished the much desired object, and was paid $20 for his work."

Public Schools

"J. G. Lawton was the first Superintendent of Public Schools in Vallejo and the first Board of Education was composed of the following: J. G. Lawton, Chairman; I. S. Halsey, B. S. Osborn, E. M. Benjamin and M. J. Wright, Secretary. Their first meeting was held June 23d, 1870. Prior to this Board the schools were managed under the general State law by three Trustees. The first Principal was G. W. Simonton, both under the Board of Education and under the Trustee management."

Burning of The Old State House

"The old State House was situated on the very summit of the hill back of the Eureka Hall. It was a tall, two story structure, with from forty to fifty feet in up to its eaves, and forty by fifty feet in other dimensions. It was a frame building and had a zinc roof. The Senate used to meet in the upper story and the Assembly in the lower; below the latter was a half-basement, devoted to what purpose we cannot say. The building had belonged to General Vallejo, who gave the use of it to the State. After the removal of the Capitol it reverted to Vallejo, who owned it when burned. At the time of the conflagration, J.B. Frisbie and Burcham had a considerable quantity of hay stowed in the basement. The day before an incendiary attempt on Georgia street had aroused apprehensions among the citizens, and Mr. Topley and some others who had examined the State House with the possibility of a fire there in view, found evidence of the occupation at night of the place where the hay was stored. They nailed up everything securely so that no access was offered to the hay, and left. It was on the next day after-the morning of August 20, 1859, that the building burned. The flames first broke out on the water-side and were seen first by a man in a sloop on the bay. The alarm was given and the people rushed to the spot. But there was no fire apparatus in that day and the building burned to the ground before their eyes. There was a report at the time that those who first reached the burning house found a hatchet lying on the outside and evidences that a way had been forced into the basement nailed up the day before. But this is apocryphal. Anyhow, an incendiary attempted followed the night after, and then the people met and formed a police organization, which saved them from further fires for some considerable time."

Vallejo Rifles

"The Vallejo Rifles were organized in 1861 with J. B. Frisbie as Captain and John King, First Lieutenant."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Another USS Saginaw Story

The sidewheeler USS Saginaw achieved fame for both her beginning and her ending.

In 1859 the Saginaw’s launching was celebrated as the very first at the Mare Island Navy Yard. The ship’s ending in 1870 - wrecked on a Pacific island - resulted in one of the great sea rescue stories of all time. In between those two events Saginaw had an important career as a symbol of the U.S. Navy’s ever-expanding presence in the Pacific.

In April 1868, USS Saginaw steamed northward to Alaska, exploring along the coast of this newly-acquired American territory. She would remain in Arctic waters for the next year, with one brief return to Mare Island for repairs and provisioning. It was during that return trip to Mare Island (from September through November 1868) that the following interesting account appeared in the Vallejo Evening Chronicle:

November 9, 1868

Lo! The Poor Indian

“It is not generally known that our Government has been obliged to resort to a new method to prevent crime. We have noticed for some time, three Indians walking our streets, dressed occasionally in marine or sailor clothing of the U.S. Navy, but not until quite recently were we aware of the fact that these Indians were Chiefs of some tribe in our new possessions in the North and were held as hostages on board the USS Saginaw. It seems that a discovery of coal was made by the Saginaw’s officers, and a small party was left in charge of the stores on some part of the coast of Alaska, until the return of the Saginaw to that place; on return it was found that the Indians had been somewhat troublesome and had appropriated the stores without the consent of those in charge; a new supply was landed and placed in charge of a few men who consented to remain until the Saginaw had made a cruise to the Mare Island Navy Yard, and back to Alaska; but to prevent any more depredations, three Indian chiefs were taken on board the Saginaw, to be held as a guarantee that the stores of the party remaining behind might be safe from the incursions of the Indians in that locality. These are the main facts in the case, and we understand the Chiefs are getting very anxious to return to the bosoms of their families, but the Saginaw remains yet at the Yard. They may be seen almost daily walking our streets, and at times present rather a ludicrous appearance in their new costumes, they are rather intelligent looking individuals, and we do not know but that it would be a good plan for our Government to import more of them on the same terms and make sailors of them. Seriously, however, this is a matter that deserves attention, if our information is correct, and may be the cause of some trouble in the future.”

The three Alaskans eventually returned north aboard the Saginaw. One of those Alaskan chiefs, named Kitcheenault, was later popularly known as “Saginaw Jake.” (photo above courtesy of Alaska State Library Historical Collections) Only a few stories mention these Alaskan natives held hostage, and most indicate that they were “imprisoned” during their stay at Mare Island. The above account from the Vallejo newspaper would at least seem to indicate that they had the freedom to move about town without restraint during their stay here.

An excellent account of the voyage is the 1997 book USS Saginaw in Alaska Waters: 1867-1868 by Robert N. DeArmond.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

William Halford and the USS Saginaw

The USS Saginaw was the first of the long line of ships built at the Mare Island Navy Yard. The steam-powered sidewheeler was launched in 1859 and served her entire career cruising in Pacific and Arctic waters. The story of her wreck on Ocean Island in 1870 is one of the great tales of rescue in U.S. naval history. The hero of that rescue was Lieutenant William Halford, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts. Following the rescue (described below) Halford continued his long career in the Navy, working at Mare Island’s ammunition depot, where he retired 105 years ago this week, in May of 1903.

From the Vallejo Evening Chronicle May 23, 1903:

Gunner Halford, U.S.N.

His Departure Recalls the Story of the Wreck of the Saginaw, in which the Heroic Old Veteran Figured

Chief Gunner William Halford, U.S.N., who has been on duty at the magazine at the Mare Island Navy Yard for the past ten years, having reached the age limit, has been placed on the retired list and with his family will make his future home in Oakland. The retirement of this heroic old veteran recalls one of the tragedies of the sea.

“In 1870 the United States sloop-of-war “Saginaw” wrecked on Ocean Island [also known as Kure Atoll]. The crew was threatened with starvation. The ship’s gig, of which Halford was then coxswain, was decked over, provisioned, and started for the Hawaiian Islands, 1400 miles distant, to secure relief for the stranded mariners on Ocean Island. Halford was one of the crew of six that manned the relief expedition, and he was the only man of the six that reached the Hawaiian Island alive. His strength and fortitude rose superior to intense privations and sufferings. For his heroic work Halford was appointed a gunner in the Navy, having declined to be named as a master on the retired list of the service.

“The boat in which he made the perilous trip is now exhibited among other objects of national note in Washington, D.C.”

William Halford died in February 1919 at the age of 77. He is buried at the Mare Island Cemetery.

The Saginaw’s gig was later moved from Washington, D.C. and placed on display in Saginaw, Michigan. In recent years efforts have been made to return the gig to Mare Island.

The wreckage of the Saginaw was found in 2003.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Casa de Vallejo

Built in 1919 as the Industrial YMCA, the Casa de Vallejo was acquired by Harry Handlery in the 1920s, redecorated with a Spanish theme, and reopened as a luxury hotel in 1928. Throughout the 1930s and 40s the Casa de Vallejo hosted many of the top entertainers of the Big Band Era. A major expansion took place on the eve of WWII, and the hotel remained a thriving center for community events through the 1950s and 60s.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"I was proud!" - A Yardbird's Story

The archives of the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum are filled with treasures of local history. Recently a letter was received from Dick Marquette of Marysville, California, sharing his own personal story of working at Mare Island during WWII. Mr. Marquette wrote:

"To the historian ...

"When I was quite young I worked at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. I went to the Apprentice School there and studied to be a machinist. I worked in Shop 31, which was the machine shop, and said to be the largest machine shop west of the Mississippi. While there I worked all shifts. I had a white badge with Shop 31 in big black letters and two black bars on top, which meant I was working in Shop 31 and on the swing shift. Three bars meant graveyard, or 12:00 to 8:00 shift.

"I worked on all [the] machines and was at times called upon to make parts for French ships in port (metric parts). Sometimes I was called upon to work outside on a ship in dock and was then given a blue badge with black numbers which was Shop 38, the outside machine shop.

"My dad worked as a burner out of the welding shop and their headquarters was called “the snake ranch” because of all the welding hose there. Uncle Will was on the U.S.S. California which was built [at Mare Island]. He was on that ship for almost 38 years.

"We mostly went to work in the big gray Navy busses, of which there were 300. We could go to Sacramento on those busses or many other cities. One night our driver (a lady) was murdered in the bus lot in San Francisco.

"Marine guards had a booth at the north end of Mare Island and all busses stopped for the guard to come aboard for a walk-through. If you looked suspicious, he would order you to go through an “electric-eye” at his station. Every morning Marine guards marched prisoners (Marine/Navy) down past Shop 31 to their work details. They had a big P stamped on their uniforms. Coming from Georgia Street, Vallejo, the little ferry cost 10 cents and was [an] easy way to get to work. I remember the good cafeteria on the south of our shop and how good the food tasted.

"Every noon hour on Mare Island there was a lot of wonderful Patriotic music over the loudspeakers. It was called “shipping over music.” There were also boxing matches every noon. Sometimes girls boxed.

"There were air raid shelters for everyone those days and we all knew which one we were to go to in case of a raid. Also there were “barrage balloons” floating above the base, anchored by cables, and spotlights were everywhere. Thousands of people worked there and it was truly an exciting place during Wartime.

"One night Port Chicago blew up and many folks thought it was a Japanese two-man sub. But how could it have breached the net put out from the Navy at Tiburon? Another time there was an explosion inside of Shop 31 from accumulated gas fumes while machining a large propeller. I think two men were killed because of that.

"In the end, I have my check stubs [and a] letter of award from the Admiral because I never missed one day of work. Also I received two pins, which were Naval “E” for excellence awards. I was proud! I still have some of the old newspapers, called the Mare Island Grapevine. Those were wonderful years for those of us who were lucky enough to work at Mare Island!!"

Dick L. Marquette

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Vallejo Garden Tour 2008

The 2008 Vallejo Garden Tour is right around the corner and tickets are selling fast! The tour will be held on Sunday, May 18th from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and is sponsored by the Vallejo Naval & Historical Museum and the Vallejo Beautification Advisory Commission. Our beautiful garden tour poster was designed by artist Carlo G. Carlucci and it perfectly captures this year’s theme of “The Glory of the Garden.”

Nine gardens splashed with color, imagination and personality will be featured on this year’s tour. Master Gardeners will be available at some of the gardens, as well as at the Museum, to answer questions and provide helpful gardening hints.

A delicious buffet luncheon will be served at the Museum from 12:00 to 4:00 as part of the tour. Tickets for “The Glory of the Garden” are $30 for the general public and $25 for Museum members and are available at the Vallejo Museum 734 Marin Street or at Zoey June Gift & Garden, 1426 Tennessee Street, in Vallejo. For more information call (707) 643-0077 or visit

Friday, May 9, 2008

Vallejo's Thriving Salmon Industry

On this date in 1890 the Vallejo Evening Chronicle reported that striking salmon fishermen had reached an agreement with local canneries and had returned to work:

Friday, May 9, 1890: The Strike Ended

The strike of the Fishermen’s Union against the canneries has at last terminated, and a compromise been effected satisfactory to both. On Monday the fishermen were selling salmon to the cannery at Martinez in large numbers, and several teams were engaged in hauling the fish. The catch on Monday was unusually large, and upwards of 1,000 salmon were landed at the wharves. Of this number, between three and four hundred were shipped to the city, and the cannery handled the remainder. The terms of the compromise as near as can be ascertained are three cents per pound and an agreement on the part of the canners to take the entire catch or as near so as possible. The run of fish is good at present, and if it continues times will be lively in this industry. The fishermen have acted sensibly by compromising matters with the canneries, but for a time it looked as though they would stand firm and demand the terms of the strike, which was four cents a pound, or cease fishing altogether. The salmon along the straits are said to be in better condition than those taken in the river, many of the fish landed on Monday weighing as much as 25 pounds.

During the late 19th century, salmon fishing was one of the mainstays of the local economy. Salmon canneries employed workers throughout the region, with canneries located in Benicia, Antioch, Martinez, and Rio Vista. The F.E. Booth Company established a salmon cannery in Collinsville in 1873, ultimately reaching production levels as high as 20,000 cans of salmon per day. A salmon cannery was started in South Vallejo around 1875. Many of the workers at that cannery were Chinese immigrants. Fishermen working the Carquinez Strait and the Sacramento River competed with each other, but they also faced competition from hungry sea lions that became entangled in the fishing nets while attempting to feast on the salmon.

Record salmon catches like the 1,000-fish day described above continued into the 20th century. In September, 1913, the Vallejo Evening Chronicle boasted the following headline: “Fishermen Get 18 Tons of Salmon as One Day's Catch.” The accompanying article stated:

“The Englebre Wiese Salmon Packing Company at South Vallejo is running full blast and during the last few days some unusually large catches have been made. Yesterday the fishermen brought in eighteen tons of salmon, one of the largest catches ever recorded in this vicinity, and it is believed the factory will be taxed to its full capacity during the remainder of the season. The salmon packing concern is one of the important industries of the south end, employing a large number of hands.”

In more recent years, water diversion, dams, over fishing and pollution have all but eliminated these vast numbers of salmon in the Delta region and along the Pacific Coast, resulting in a total ban on salmon fishing in 2008. But in earlier days the salmon industry helped cement Vallejo’s reputation as a thriving maritime city.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Early Vallejo Breweries

Founded by German immigrants Charles Widenmann and Peter Rothen- busch, the Solano Brewery was renowned for its Solano Steam Beer. By 1891 the Marin Street facility had a brewing capacity of 6,000 barrels a year and boasted its own malting house. Charles Widenmann later bought out his partner and continued operating the brewery until 1918. Like many cities, Vallejo boasted several small breweries in the years prior to Prohibition. Among these were the Solano Brewery on Marin Street, the Pioneer Brewery at the corner of Marin and Carolina Streets, and the Philadelphia Brewery in South Vallejo.

Friday, May 2, 2008

USS Sunfish (SS 281)

During its 142 years as an active military base, the Mare Island Naval Shipyard built nearly 50 submarines for the U.S. Navy. Many of those subs were launched during the tumultuous years of WWII. On this date in 1942 Mare Island launched the submarine USS Sunfish (SS 281), a Gato-class, diesel-electric vessel that would serve heroically throughout the War.

At 4:15 on that sunny May afternoon, Mrs. J.W. Fowler christened the sub with the ceremonial bottle of champagne and sent her down the ways. Shipyard Commander RADM Wilhelm Friedell hailed the Sunfish as “another answer by Mare Island to what we think of the Axis powers.” As a further demonstration of the Shipyard’s dedication to the war effort, USS Sunfish was completed a full eight months ahead of schedule.

USS Sunfish made eleven war patrols during WWII and earned nine battle stars. She returned to Mare Island for overhaul in May 1945 and departed for Pearl Harbor on 31 July. While Sunfish was preparing for her 12th war patrol, the war ended and she returned instead to Mare Island where she was decommissioned on 26 December 1945.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Vallejo's Movie Palaces

The Hanlon Theater at 414 Virginia Street was built in 1920 and was one of Vallejo’s most popular movie theaters for nearly 35 years. In this 1949 photo, the Hanlon featured the Oscar winning WWII classic Battleground, starring Van Johnson. The Hanlon Theater later closed after a fire and the building was then used as a warehouse. Eventually the building was torn down and replaced by a parking lot.

Vallejo movie palaces opened and closed and underwent frequent name changes over the years. In addition to the Hanlon, other movie houses in Vallejo included the Marval, the Fox Senator, the Victory, the Rita, the Empress, the El Rey, the Valmar, and the Strand. All of Vallejo’s downtown movie theaters are long gone, with the exception of the historic Empress Theater, built in 1911 and recently renovated.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Glory of the Garden

Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Glory of the Garden” sets the theme for this year’s Vallejo Garden Tour, sponsored by the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum and the Vallejo Beautification Advisory Commission The tour will be held on Sunday, May 18, 2008 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Nine gardens splashed with color, imagination and personality will be featured on this year’s tour. This year, Master Gardeners will be available at some of the gardens, as well as at the Museum, to answer questions and provide helpful gardening hints.

A delicious buffet luncheon will be served at the Museum from 12:00 to 4:00 as part of the tour. Tickets for “The Glory of the Garden” are $30 for the general public and $25 for Museum members and are available at the Vallejo Museum 734 Marin Street or at Zoey June Gift & Garden, 1426 Tennessee Street, in Vallejo. For more information call (707) 643-0077 or visit

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Current Exhibit: Beyond the Badge

The Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum’s current exhibit, “Beyond the Badge,” has been drawing enthusiastic visitors since its opening in late January. The exhibit offers an up-close look at the Vallejo Police Force using historical archives and freshly created artwork. These paintings, photographs, photo essays and rarely seen artifacts help visitors explore the human dimensions of the very important job of police work.

Visit the exhibit and spend a moment of reflection at a replica of the City's Memorial to its fallen heroes; see the stories of the Vallejo Police Department’s trailblazers; learn about the K-9 Corps, and much, much more. Major portions of the exhibit change every 3 to 6 weeks to cover new material, so repeat visits will reveal something new each time.

Special “Citizen Participation Days’ are held on the third Saturday of each month during the exhibit. The programs feature interesting demonstrations and candid talks on issues of interest to the average citizen. They also offer a great opportunity to get informed, ask questions, and express your concerns. Each session will begin with a 20 to 40 minute introduction by one of the Police staff, followed by 30 to 60 minutes of audience participation: questions and answers, demonstrations, or projects. “Beyond the Badge” continues through June 28th in the museum’s Hall of History. For more information about the exhibit visit The museum is located at 734 Marin Street in Vallejo, California.

Upcoming programs include:
Saturday, May 17th – “Internal Affairs” 1:00 p.m.
Saturday, June 21st – “Recruitment” 1:00 p.m.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

USS Preston (DD 379)

On this date in 1936 the destroyer USS Preston (DD 379) was launched at the Mare Island Navy Yard. She was the second ship launched at Mare Island within a two-month period, following her sister ship USS Smith. Just before 3:00 p.m. on April 22nd Mrs. Edward Hale Campbell of San Francisco christened the ship and the 1,500-ton destroyer slid down the ways. The Vallejo Times-Herald described the scene:

“The crowd stood in admiration as the navy yard’s latest addition to the Navy’s fighting forces afloat started down the ways. As her stern hit the water, cheers broke from the crowd.”

When USS Preston was launched the United States was in the depths of the Great Depression. Fortunately for the city of Vallejo, Mare Island remained active throughout those dark years, building or repairing destroyers, cruisers, submarines, tugs, and a variety of other vessels.

USS Preston served in the Pacific for her entire career. At the outbreak of WWII she was assigned patrol and escort duties. In November 1942, during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, she was one of four destroyers escorting the battleships USS Washington and USS South Dakota. The Preston was hit by enemy fire and sank, carrying 116 crew members to their deaths.

You can learn more about USS Preston at the U.S. Naval Historical Center’s website: or at “Tin Can Sailors: The National Association of Destroyer Veterans”