Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas at Mare Island, 1945

From the Mare Island Grapevine, Friday, December 21, 1945:

"Mare Island employees were ready this week to celebrate their first peacetime Christmas in four years.

"Although a hangover of war shortages made Christmas presents scarce, most workers planned to celebrate Christmas in the traditional manner with their families.
Many families are together for the first time in many years, as Mare Island employees greeted their relatives from overseas.

"The proximity of the Mare Island area to the major Pacific ports made transportation difficulties minor for employees with sons returning from the Pacific, although many servicemen were reported stranded on the coast because of the transportation tie-up.

"Few parties were planned in Mare Island shops and offices because the special extended holiday schedule moves Christmas four days after the last Yard work day, and because of restrictions against parties on government time.

"The traditional Christmas trees and Yule decorations however were much in evidence all week.

"Many shops, offices and individuals on Mare Island helped make the season a happier one for patients at Mare Island Naval Hospital by planning parties for men in the wards.

"At the hospital it was reported that wards were competing against each other for Christmas decoration honors, with patients being assisted by corpsmen and nurses."

Pictured above is a menu from the 1945 Christmas dinner at the Mare Island Hospital. The dinner included Grape Fruit Maraschino Cocktail, Saltines, Cream of Tomato Soup, Celery, Olives, Pickles, Roast Young Turkey, Oyster Dressing, Giblet Gravy, Cranberry Sauce, Snowflake Potatoes, Corn Niblets, Buttered Cauliflower, Lettuce and Tomato Salad with Mayonnaise, Fruit Cake, Ice Cream, Hot Mince Pie, Hot Parker House Rolls, Coffee, Butter, Cigars, Cigarettes, Assorted Nuts and Hard Filled Candy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

USS Sperry

The sub- marine tender USS Sperry was launched at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard 68 years ago today, on December 17, 1941. Sperry was the first ship launched at Mare Island following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th. Usually, the launching of a new ship at Mare Island was accompanied by ceremony, celebration, and widespread press coverage. But the launching of USS Sperry was different. The declaration of war and the fear of more Japanese attacks made the launching a low key event. The Vallejo Times-Herald published only two photos of the launching ceremony, instead of the usual lengthy news story. Information about shipyard activity was kept to a minimum due to newly imposed wartime security restrictions. The brief radiogram shown here, sent by the Secretary of the Navy, touted the Sperry’s ability to meet the wartime challenge. Note that the message was sent to “All Navy Yards Except Pearl Harbor and Cavite.” Those bases were still reeling from the recent Japanese attacks and were under blackout conditions.

USS Sperry was one of five submarine tenders built at Mare Island. She was named for Elmer Ambrose Sperry, an inventor of precision instruments and a pioneer in American submarine construction. The sub tender was christened by Sperry’s daughter, Mrs. Helen Sperry Lea. California Governor Culbert L. Olson also attended the launching ceremony.

USS Sperry served throughout the Pacific during WWII and had a lengthy post-war career. She was eventually decommissioned in 1982, following a career of more than 40 years. Among her post-war commanding officers were renowned WWII submarine skippers Richard O’Kane and Eugene B. Fluckey.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Youth and Vice, 1887

In December 1887, the Vallejo Evening Chronicle reported on the following scandalous situation in San Francisco:

“The father of a child attending the public school in the Western Addition, called Wednesday on Secretary Bennett of the Society for the Prevention of Vice, to make a complaint against the indecent pictures circulated in cigarette packages. He brought a handful with him which he had taken from his little boy who was making an album of them after the manner of postage stamp collectors. He said the other boys were doing so, and exchanging with each other when they had two or more of a kind. The worse the pictures were, or the more female nudity they displayed, the more they were in demand, his son told him, and boys who did not smoke cigarettes themselves rivaled each other in begging the pictures. This he thought was a fruitful cause of demoralization among the youths of the city, and he asked if something could not be done to stop the sale of such pictures in cigarette packages. Mr. Bennett said that as the packages were not put up here but at the East mostly in New York, it would be difficult to reach the evil, which he recognized as a great one, but he would write to Anthony Comstock about the matter at once, and see if something could not be done to abate the unbearable nuisance.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cemeteries and Brickyards

This article from the Vallejo Evening Chronicle (August 20, 1918) refers to the original Vallejo Cemetery, which was located where the present-day railroad cut runs under Sacramento Street, just north of Tennessee Street.

"There need be no surprise that the workmen grading near the Vallejo & Northern cut unearthed skeletons. All old-timers remember that the original grave yard of Vallejo was located on the hill adjoining the fence bounding the Austin, later Carter, ranch on the south. Up to the year 1870 there remained the picket fence enclosures surrounding some of the graves. Nearly all the bodies are removed to the Carquinez Cemetery on the Benicia Road, but a few were allowed to remain there. A different and stronger growth of weeds and wild plants has always indicated where the ground had been dug up on the old grave yard site."

"This pioneer cemetery was in what was called the "brick yard." When one speaks of the brick yard to newcomers, they think of the brick works further north,* but the "brick yard" of old was the flat through which the Vallejo and Northern, now the Northern electric, excavation was made. It was so called because the soil in the vicinity was adapted to brick making and bricks were there made and sun dried. A pile of these old bricks stood there up to comparatively recent times. The Astor House** on Virginia Street was built of these bricks of home manufacture."

"The Vallejo soil is good for the making of ordinary brick. That is why so many efforts have been made to establish brick works here. They have failed because of the lack of some important element which had to be imported, thus increasing the cost of manufacture and making it impossible to compete with other places where conditions were more favorable."

"The present public cemetery, the Carquinez Cemetery, was donated to the City of Vallejo in 1857 by John B. Frisbie. When donated a road ran through the center, dividing the 25 acres equally between the Catholic and Protestant population. This caused the desertion of the cemetery which has just been unearthed."

* That brickworks was located on the northernmost end of present-day Wilson Avenue, along the Napa River.

** Now demolished

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Basil Rathbone at Mare Island

During WWII, patriotic rallies and War Bond drives at Mare Island inspired shipyard workers to give their best and to support the war effort. On October 7, 1944, sixty-five years ago today, British actor Basil Rathbone was one of the featured guests at a noontime rally at the Shipyard. The day before the rally, the Mare Island Grapevine reported on the upcoming show:

“Basil Rathbone, noted stage, radio and screen personage, heads the list of stars and celebrities who will appear here tomorrow noon in a huge War Fund rally for Mare Island. The rally will be staged between drydocks 3 and 4, east of Gishville.”

“Monte Blue, star of silent films and one of Warner Brother’s first Vitaphone talkie heroes, also will be on the bill.”

“Rathbone, known internationally for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes on the screen and radio, is president of British War Relief in southern California.”

“One thought worth considering,” Rathbone said at the rally, “is that to whatever ally our War Chest dollar goes, it is the greatest way we can expand our way of living to other countries.”

“The suave British actor said that there were a million people destitute in London, because of robot bombs,” the Grapevine continued. “He told, also, of the desperate need in Athens, Rotterdam, and Poland.”

“We have so much to live for,” he concluded dramatically, “Let’s give them hope!”

Many other actors, musicians, and celebrities visited Mare Island during WWII to help boost morale. A partial list of those visitors includes Bob Hope, Shirley Temple, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Alistair Cooke, Louis Armstrong, Kay Kaiser, Bob Wills, Robert Taylor, Charles Laughton, Eleanor Roosevelt (and her husband), Jack Teagarden, Hattie McDaniel, Cab Calloway, Joan Blondell, Ann Rutheford, John Garfield, Una Merkel, Lionel Hampton, Jack Dempsey, and Arthur Rubinstein.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Vallejo African American Pioneer

John Grider – Shedding New Light on an Unknown Vallejo Pioneer with Statewide Significance

On Saturday, September 19 at 1:00 p.m. the Museum will host the first in a periodic series looking at Vallejo’s Unknown Pioneers. Local author and researcher Sharon McGriff-Payne will tell the story of John Grider, one of Vallejo’s most significant African American pioneers. The program will be held as part of the Museum’s monthly Free Family Day.

Ninety-five years ago John Grider, one of the last surviving members of the Bear Flag Party, was honored at a huge Admission Day celebration in Vallejo.

The September 12, 1914 event attracted more than 40,000 people from all over the state to Vallejo’s downtown and was hosted by the Natives Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, Parlor 71. Grider, an African American, was then in his early 80s.

Nearly 70 years earlier, on June 14, 1846, Grider was among a small band of about 37 men who wrestled control of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo’s ranch at Sonoma – an incident that would come to be known as the Bear Flag Revolt. The incident would help to lead to California statehood and the American takeover of western territory, which was then owned by Mexico.

Grider, who moved to Vallejo in 1850, told a writer who interviewed him shortly after the 1914 parade that he was one of about seven black men who participated in the Bear Flag incident. He found the paint for the original Bear Flag, a symbol of the short lived Bear Flag Republic. The Bear Flag continues to serve as our state flag. Grider also served as a flag bearer on the day of the Bear Flag Party takeover.

Grider was about 98 years old when he died at the Fairfield County Hospital on December 23, 1924. He is buried in the Suisun-Fairfield Cemetery. He was the lone African American in the Society of Vallejo Pioneers, a distinction given to pioneers who were in Vallejo prior to 1859. Grider was a well-respected figure throughout his long life in Vallejo. He spent most of his work life working for area livery stables, farms and the Vallejo Steam Laundry.

Learn more about this fascinating Vallejo pioneer on Saturday, September 19 at 1:00 p.m.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Solano's Fair Exhibits

The 2009 California State Fair ends on Labor Day and, as always, Solano County has entered one of the best County Exhibits of the event. California’s State Fair dates back to 1854 and over the years the Sacramento fair other regional fairs have celebrated the state’s agricultural bounty.

On September 5, 1887, the Vallejo Evening Chronicle described Solano County’s entry at the Mechanic’s Industrial Fair held in San Francisco. The Fair featured agricultural exhibits along with displays of the state’s industrial output:

“The display of Solano County products at the Mechanic’s Fair is located left of the main entrance, and is tastefully arranged. Festoons of vines laden with grapes are hung above the tables which are grouped around a large pyramid, not yet completed, but which is to consist of fruit in glass. The exhibition is under the supervision of J.B. Robinson of Vallejo, who is assisted by H.C. Blake of Vacaville. Among the displays now on the tables are the following: J.G. Edwards of Suisun, a collection of apples and pears; James McNulty, Suisun, grapes. A.T. Hatch, one of the most successful fruit growers in the state has a display of fruits, grapes and almonds. C. Reaves, Suisun, handsome grapes. M.G. Shilebar, Suisun, peaches and pears; G. Plaisted, Suisun, Japanese persimmons, garlic, walnuts; L.B. Abernathie, Suisun, Texas pecans figs and nuts; Joseph Dawlson, Suisun, Kelsey Japan plum and other fruits; J. Wing, Fairfield immense pears; Joseph Armstrong, Suisun quinces and pears; C.W. Samelson, Suisun oranges, grapes and fruits; B.N. Sheldon, Solano, apples and a particularly fine display of other fruit; H.W. McEwen, Suisun, peaches and pears; W. Foster, Sloan pears in great profusion; J.H. Banman, Suisun, pears; Mrs. G.M. Blake of Pleasant Valley has a display of fruit rivaling any other in the Fair; James R. Collins, Blue Mountain, shows two cucumbers twelve inches in circumference. W.H. Webb has some very fine pears and Joseph Blake of Vacaville displays luscious-looking nectarines.

A prominent feature of the display is a collection of sun-dried fruits. They were contributed by A.T. Hatch of Suisun, and from Vacaville J.B. Merchant, E.R. Thurde, Mrs. George M. Blake and J.H. Webster. In addition to the fruit, basalt paving blocks and native onyx are shown. It is complained, both by Mr. Robinson and Mr. Blake, that the fruit men are all so busy with their orchards now that they will not take time to send samples or come themselves.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Adventures Afoot

Local hike leader Doris Klein has put together a series of short (3 to 4 mile) historically-themed hikes that will be held on Wednesdays from mid-August through the end of October. Registration for the entire series of eleven “Adventures Afoot” guided hikes will be $10 for Museum members and $15 for the general public, with all proceeds benefiting the Museum. Hikers will carpool from the GVRD parking lot at 401 Amador Street in Vallejo every Wednesday morning at 8:15 a.m.. Register for the “Adventures Afoot” hikes at the Museum or call Doris Klein at 643-4468 for more information. Pre-registration is required. Here is the schedule of hikes:

August 19th - Muir Woods: A cool, less-than-four miler on lesser known trails to hear the story of this beautiful redwood canyon and its 100 years of fame. A car fee (about $5) or free parking if someone in your carpool has the National Park’s Golden Age card. A little tiny hill; at our placid rate we’ll hardly notice it.

August 26th - Cool Coastwalk at Limantour Spit: Explore the lagoons behind grassy sand dunes for birds and sea-going wildlife – and a look-see at the inlet where Sir Francis Drake careened the Golden Hind in June of 1579. Four miles, sand-walking, both wet and dry.

September 2nd - Lynch Canyon: Opposites attract! This is 15 minutes away, no shady conifers, but there is always a welcome breeze. And this has special, local history. Play Cowboys and Indians today as we admire sleek cattle and admire Wintun artifacts. Three miles, some hills, but the view is ours, and Our Own Open Space may be less open in days to come.

September 9th - Samuel P. Taylor: Back to shady redwoods and a cool creek, and look for early salmon as we walk the Pioneer Tree trail and the old railroad grade. History galore! Sailing around the Horn. Gold dust. His favorite mule, “Barnaby”. The old hotel. Young San Francisco’s paper industry. One modest hill, nicely graded, less than four miles today.

September 16th - Pinole: East Bay Regional Park’s shady trails near our breezy bay. About four miles, no hills, and perhaps a Monarch Butterfly tree. Lots of history, and only a short drive.

September 23rd – Mt. Tamalpais North Side: Lakes on Mt. Tam? Yes, there are several, and we’ll circum-ambulate one, and see another. We’re close to the coast, so a mile of morning sun will be kind, and the afternoon will be shady, and no hills to speak of. About 4 miles. Try for a full carpool, as this Water District land has a car fee.

September 30th – Carquinez Strait Overlook: A short drive to walk on Vallejo’s “opposite coast.” Our towns look so different from there! Absorb the story of the gallant sailing ships that sailed back and forth to Europe and around Cape Horn, taking grain from our great valley. Reminisce about the whales who’ve swum up here. See a ship or two. A short walk up and down the old streets of Port Costa, though that does call for a short hill-climb.

October 7th – Jack London’s Home: Beauty Ranch, in the Valley of the Moon. A walk up a mild hill to savor the vineyard’s fall colors, and discuss the historic and colorful past of this “sailor on horseback.” We pass ranch buildings and the old house where he wrote. The car fee includes a walk to the ruins of Wolf House, and their museum home, filled with artifacts of a fascinating life.

October 14th – Bothe/Napa State Park: The site of Lily Hitchcock Coit’s summer place. Drive through Napa Valley at harvest time to walk in the cool forest, alongside a cool creek. No hills! We may hear the cry of the pileated woodpecker, and see red poison oak climbing 60 feet for sunlight.

October 21st – A Visit to Sand Hill Cranes. Cosumnes River, for the feel of fall, at the Nature Conservancy’s lovely preserve of the only un-dammed river in California. Such fun to see and hear these great birds who fly down from northern climes to over-winter here. And to see beaver evidence, other birds, a passing train, and to think how it would be to kayak or canoe here on this slow and lovely river.

October 28th – Admiral Nimitz Way. Level walking on a view hill from Inspiration Point, almost to the old Nike site. San Francisco Bay and Richmond’s old shipyard in full view for our history lesson, and a visit to the Peace Grove to ponder. This is Tilden, East Bay Regional Parks District’s first.

Remember, these trips are by carpool, so please be prepared with enough gas in your tank so you can do your part. Your passengers will be grateful. Doris says: “I’m looking forward to sharing some of my favorite places with you. May we walk together in good health, and learn what a truly interesting region we live in, while supporting our own Museum. For information, please feel free to call me anytime.”

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Drydock No. 1

On this day in 1872, work commenced on Mare Island’s first permanent drydock. It would take nearly 20 years to complete the massive stone drydock, the first of four that eventually served the Shipyard. Drydock #1 was lined with enormous granite blocks, quarried near Rocklin, California, and brought to Mare Island by rail and barge. The excavation of the dock was done with horse drawn scrapers, ox carts, and wheelbarrows.

Prior to the construction of this drydock, ship repairs at Mare Island were done in a floating sectional dock, built in New York and brought around the Horn to California in the early 1850s. Construction of the permanent drydock forced the removal - and eventual destruction - of this original historic floating drydock.

On Wednesday, August 14, 1872, the Vallejo Evening Chronicle offered this account of the beginning of construction of drydock #1:

“The proposed location of the stone dry docks will necessitate the moving of the sectional docks down stream several hundred feet. Men are now engaged in drawing the timbers out of the boom, and storing them away in the timber shed.”

“The government dredger will be put to work in a few days scooping the mud from the bottom of the basin.”

“Ground was broken on Tuesday [August 13] for the dry docks, under Foreman Sargent. The work thereupon is not to be done by contract, as at one time reported.”

The final paragraph of the article shows that some things never change:

“All of the men in the Construction Department will probably lose five days this month on account of the appropriations being overrun.”

The original hand-drawn plans for drydock # 1 are in the collection of the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum.

Below left: Sectional Drydock
Below right: Drydock #1 in 2005

Sunday, July 12, 2009

New Exhibit at Vallejo Museum

A new exhibit opening at the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum on July 18th will give visitors a fresh perspective on Mare Island. “Walk the Island: Photographs by Mike Narciso” features a series of black and white images of Mare Island buildings and landscapes taken over the past several years by this outstanding California photographer.

“I moved to Vallejo in 1990, my wife’s hometown,” says Narciso, “We moved up from Los Angeles where we were both pursuing art careers. Nancy was expecting our first son and she needed to be close to family. I didn’t know much about this area or Mare Island, but from across the channel it looked like a great place to explore. One day I found myself working in Shop 680, cleaning up after a movie crew. I brought my camera and took a few photographs. The large milling table, lathes and other machines were still there at that time. I wanted to come back and seriously photo-graph the buildings and the Island in general. I didn’t get that opportunity until 2000, when I started “walking the Island.” Since then I have collected a few thousand images, most of which have yet to be edited.

“Each year the work developed into a new group of photographs. This exhibit is a sampling of the various groups of images taken over the last seven or eight years.”

“I started documenting the Island and ended up with a completely different point of view. So, these photographs are not really about the structures on Mare Island, they’re about the memories we see through the crumbling facades, the rusted steel, the ships resting along the docks. These photographs are about the shapes and textures, the light and shadows, of a once thriving community. They’re photographs taken today looking at the Island’s past; looking at it’s rich history. Each year from the end of fall to the beginning of spring I found the right conditions to walk in. The shadows seem heavier, the rain and fog add to the darkness of the day, and the black and white film blends it all together.”

“I love black and white film. Although I’m scanning and printing my negatives digitally, these days, I’m still processing film. After all these years it’s a ritual that has stayed with me.”

Mike Narciso has exhibited throughout California and his Mare Island images were most recently featured in a one-man exhibit at the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara. “Walk the Island” runs through September 5th. The Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum is located at 734 Marin Street, Vallejo, California. Call (707) 643-0077 for more information.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

USS Grayback (SSG 574)

On July 2, 1957 – 52 years ago today – Mare Island launched the USS Grayback (SSG 574). The Grayback was the first submarine entirely designed at Mare Island and marked an important transition in submarine warfare. While Grayback was the last conventional diesel-electric powered sub built at Mare Island, she was also the first Mare Island sub designed to launch guided missiles. The two Regulus missiles carried by Grayback were housed in a hanger on the sub’s foredeck. Within a few years, vertical launch, ballistic-missile carrying, nuclear powered subs would become the standard bearers of the U.S. fleet, but when Grayback was launched, she was considered state-of-the art Cold War technology.

The submarine was christened by Mrs. John A. Moore, widow of the skipper of the first USS Grayback (SS 208), a sub lost in the Pacific during WWII. Principal speaker at the launching ceremony was Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, USN (ret), who had commanded the U.S. Submarine Force Pacific Fleet during the war. Lockwood’s comments underscored the intense fear sweeping the world as the U.S. and the Soviet Union escalated their nuclear arms race. The Grayback’s nuclear missile capability, said Lockwood, “reduces, by comparison, the atomic bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the level of Fourth of July firecrackers.”

In his speech, Lockwood warned against the dangers of Communist propaganda. “You may be assured,” he told the 7,000 people gathered for the launching, “that the current Communist drive to outlaw nuclear weapons is not motivated by love of humanity. Their purges in Russia, their ruthless slaughter of Hungarians, their slave labor camps, and the recent boastfully announced executions in Red China, all clearly show their real feelings toward humanity.”

Lockwood’s lengthy speech concluded with an assurance that “the good Lord, who has brought us up from a mere handful of colonists to our present world stature – and with whose divine aid we have won all our wars – gave us that weapon (the fissionable and fusionable atom), as a sword and shield with which to protect ourselves against the godless hordes of Communism.”

Although the Regulus missile program would prove to be short-lived, the USS Grayback would have a long and distinguished career. Her later conversion to Special Operations and Amphibious Transport duties kept Grayback on the front lines of the U.S. Navy’s submarine force throughout the Cold War.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mare Island Boiler Shop, 1901

Mare Island grew in importance as a shipbuilding and repair facility following America’s naval victories during the Spanish-American War. In July 1901, workers from the Navy Yard’s Boiler Shop posed for this photo in front of a massive riveted ship’s boiler. Shop employees, from left to right, included (front row) George Boyle, William Kelly, Jackson W. Oliver, Richard Caverly, Edward Fugier, John Sherry, George J. Campbell, William Robb, John F. O’Keefe, Robert Bruce, Isaac Shaw, Elmer Gormley, Richard Ryall, John J. Nolan, Orville Tobias, Thomas McDonough; (second row) John Hughes, John Healy, Patrick Hefferman, Frank R. Klotz, William Conboy, T. Brosnahan, John Mangold, James Earley, Fred Brown, Henry Mackenzie, Mike Conley, Grant Allen; (back row) John Witt, P. M. Barrett, James McCue, Edward Kavanagh, S. J. Reardon, George Day, William Taliaferro. Standing in the rear is A. J. Noble, Jr.

Monday, May 25, 2009

John B. Frisbie

General John B. Frisbie died one hundred years ago this month – in May, 1909. Although the City of Vallejo is named for General Mariano G. Vallejo, it is Gen. Vallejo’s son-in-law, John Frisbie, who is widely accepted as the city’s true founder. John Frisbie was married to Vallejo’s oldest daughter, Epifania, also known as Fannie. After his father-in-law donated land to the State of California for the construction of a new state capital, it was John Frisbie who set out to make the city successful by promoting business in the fledgling community. He donated land for the construction of Vallejo’s first public school, city park, and cemetery. Frisbie also donated land to many of Vallejo’s early churches for the construction of their houses of worship. Frisbie’s death was reported in the Vallejo Evening Chronicle on May 11, 1909:

"J.R. English received a telegram this morning from J.B. Frisbie Jr. announcing the death of his father, Gen. J.B. Frisbie, which occurred in the City of Mexico at 3 a.m., today. And with his passing one of the founders of this city was numbered with the great army of the dead, for during the years that he made Vallejo his home General Frisbie worked untiringly for its good. He was the builder of the Bernard Block, and developed the White Sulphur Springs, his original investment there exceeding $100,000.

"The deceased was a native of Albany, New York, where he was born May 20, 1823. He studied law and enjoyed a lucrative practice in his home state until 1846 when he was elected captain of the Van Rensselaer Guards, acknowledged then to be the best drilled body in the state. War then existed with Mexico and as many of the young men of Albany were desirous of entering the service in defense of their country, Captain Frisbie recruited a company, which under the name of Company I, joined Col. J.D. Stevenson’s regiment at Governor’s Island and, embarking for San Francisco, reached the little hamlet of Yerba Buena after a six month’s trip.

"The regiment continued in service until July 1848 when it was mustered out, General Frisbie then associating himself with General Vallejo and occupying himself with the management of the latter’s extensive estates. From that time dated Frisbie’s extensive work for the advancement of the interests of Vallejo and Benicia. He was largely instrumental in securing Mare Island as a location for the navy yard and was also the promoter of the California Pacific Railroad, designed to connect Vallejo with the interior of the state, touching at Marysville, Sacramento and other points. The road was speedily built and, with indications of its success, it was further extended, the plan being to run branches into Napa Valley, Sonoma and the Russian River territory.

"The project was too great for that time, however, and it brought financial embarrassment to those who had hoped for so much from it. General Frisbie was not the man to succumb to temporary embarrassments, and the fact that he was at this time dispatched by the President and Secretary of State to the City of Mexico, where his missions resulted in amicable relations being established between the two countries and the government of General Diaz being recognized, led him to determine to make that land his adopted country and it it there that he has since made his home.

"In Mexico, as in California, he was ever a progressive, enterprising citizen, and his loss will be felt by many. He is survived by three sons and four daughters, all married and all residents of Mexico." [note: Fannie Vallejo Frisbie preceded her husband in death, passing away in 1905. Both are buried in Mexico City].

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Vallejo's Wartime Housing

America’s entry into WWII brought drastic changes to the City of Vallejo. Temporary defense housing projects sprang up almost overnight as people from nearly every state in the Union came seeking jobs at the Mare Island Navy Yard. The City's population exploded from approximately 30,000 residents in 1939 to nearly 90,000 in 1945. Wartime housing projects were often built of prefabricated sections and used innovative new building materials and techniques. Several well-known architects were involved in Vallejo's wartime housing boom, including William Wurster, who later became dean of the University of California Architecture School at Berkeley.

By far the largest of Vallejo's defense housing projects was Chabot Terrace, located north of present day Highway 37 and east of Broadway. By late 1944, nearly 11,000 people were living in this project. Other wartime housing projects in Vallejo included Federal Terrace, Roosevelt Terrace, Guadalcanal Village, Carquinez Heights, Floyd Terrace, Hillside Dormitories, Northside Dormitories, Amador Apartments, Solano Apartments and Victory Apartments. Nearly all of these were torn down soon after the war ended.

In 1945, a report by the City of Vallejo declared that the city had "undergone one of the most radical changes of any community in America in the past four years. Nowhere else has the impact of the war, with all of its resultant confusion, congestion, and expansion been more direct." Many families who lived in Vallejo's temporary defense housing projects later built or bought their own homes in the community. Others returned to their home states once the war had ended.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Symphony of Gardens

“A Symphony of Gardens” is the theme for the sixth annual Vallejo Garden Tour, scheduled for Sunday, May 17th from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The tour is a benefit for the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum. Sevens gardens laced with music, gazebos, fountains and shady places, plus a tour of Mare Island’s Alden Park and the historic mansion gardens, hit the high note for the tour this year. From a garden that feels like a walk in the redwoods, to the ultimate outdoor garden dining room, to fabulous garden art, and then some… make this a “don’t miss” event.

At historic Mare Island, costumed docents will serve lemonade, accompanied by period music. A sumptuous buffet luncheon, served between noon and 3:00 at the Museum, is included in the ticket price and Master Gardeners will also be on hand at the Museum to answer questions. In the Museum parking lot, vendors of garden-related products such as garden art, orchids, plants, etc. will offer their products during the hours of the tour. Zoey June Gift and Garden on Tennessee Street will participate in the tour again, offering a variety of interesting home & garden gifts and collectibles, and serving as a pick-up point for tour maps. The 2009 Garden Tour is co-sponsored by the Museum and the City of Vallejo’s Beautification Advisory Commission. Garden Tour chair Joyce Venturini and her committee have been working for a full year to make this event a fabulous showcase for our community.

Tickets for the 2009 Garden Tour are $30 for the general public and $25 for Museum members and are available at the Museum, 734 Marin Street, or at Zoey June, 1426 Tennessee Street. For more information call (707) 643-0077. You can also visit the Museum website at or the special Garden Tour site at

Monday, April 6, 2009

Aerial Bicycle Club

The Aerial Bicycle Club was one of several popular bike groups in Vallejo around the turn of the 20th century. The clubs took bicycle excursions to surrounding communities and held races at the Cyclodrome, which was located near the present day intersection of Georgia Street and Wallace Avenue.

The Aerials eventually built a 14-mile cinder bike path between Napa and Vallejo, complete with wooden bridges over the small streams.

In April, 1896 the Aerials proposed a race between area clubs from Calistoga to Vallejo. The Vallejo Evening Chronicle reported on the planned event:

“The Aerial Bicycle Club are endeavoring to complete arrangements for a fifty mile relay race to take place some time in May. The course proposed is from Calistoga to Vallejo, and the boys are in hopes of having the clubs of Napa and Solano counties represented. Last year an effort was made by the Aerials to have a relay race, but the other riders did not seem anxious to participate in it.

“Sunday Harry Wilson and Ed McGettigan were in Napa getting the views of the Napa cyclists on the matter.

“Should the event come off the road is one that will try the mettle of the riders, who are selected to ride from Napa to Vallejo, but the Aerials are second to none on that particular road and we will expect to see the maroon sweater with the A.B.C. [Aerials Bicycle Club] in the lead.”

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Barrel Club

A local landmark for many years, the Barrel Club was established in 1938 on old Highway 40 (now Interstate 80) near Benicia Road. The popular restaurant and nightspot brought in top name entertainers from across the country. The distinctive barrel design was a familiar feature that welcomed many visitors to Vallejo, particularly during WWII. The Barrel Club was operated by the Curtola family until it was torn down in 1964.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Vallejo's Iron Houses

Some of Vallejo’s earliest structures were made of corrugated iron imported from Liverpool, England. Corrugated metal was a cheap and versatile building material. It was easy to transport by ship and could be adapted to a variety of sites and building needs. In his book "Mountains and Molehills" author Frank Marryat describes how these buildings came to be erected in Vallejo in the early 1850s:

“About this time a store-ship, laden with iron houses... sunk at her moorings during a heavy gale. When raised she was so full of mud, clay, and small crabs, that there was no possibility of rendering her cargo fit for sale at San Francisco. The bright idea occurred to me of landing these muddy materials at Vallejo, and, after allowing the tide to clean them, to convert them to some use in assisting to erect this capital that was to be “made to order.”

“Landing my cargo on Vallejo beach at low water mark... I ordered the tide to complete the very dirty work I had set before it, which it did, and, to finish the story here, in the course of six months I erected a very handsome hotel out of the materials. I felt rather pleased when it was finished, and painted, and handsomely furnished, to think what a butterfly I had turned out of the very dirty grub I had found in the hold of the old hulk."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lincoln and Vallejo

What do a ship, a shawl, and a school all have in common? They are just three things that connect Vallejo with President Abraham Lincoln. Today marks the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Although Lincoln never visited the City of Vallejo – or California for that matter – there are still several interesting connections between the community and our 16th president. The ship was the nuclear submarine USS Abraham Lincoln (SSBN 602) that was overhauled and refueled at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in 1972-73. The shawl is one purportedly once worn by Lincoln and now part of the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum’s permanent collection. The school is Vallejo’s Lincoln Elementary School. Here are the stories of those, and other, local Lincoln connections:

Lincoln and Mare Island

Although the Mare Island Navy Yard was less than ten years old when Lincoln was elected, the President nevertheless had an influence on the distant California base. During the Civil War Lincoln authorized $50,000 for the construction of Mare Island's first Marine Barracks. Lincoln also authorized the funds to build Mare Island’s Hospital.

When news of Lincoln's assassination reached Mare Island in April 1865, work was suspended for three days. Military salutes were fired every thirty minutes from sunup to sunset. A memorial cortege led by Mare Island sailors wound through the streets of downtown Vallejo.

In Washington D.C., one of the 22 honorary pall-bearers at Lincoln's funeral was Admiral David G. Farragut, Mare Island's first commanding officer.

General Mariano G. Vallejo and President Lincoln

General Mariano G. Vallejo traveled to the East Coast in 1863 and, according to Vallejo family lore, met with President Lincoln on several occasions. One purpose of Vallejo's visit was to lobby the federal government on behalf of his disputed California land grants.

General Vallejo purportedly shared this humorous anecdote with Lincoln, much to the President's amusement. Vallejo praised the spirit of Yankee innovation: "The Yankees are a wonderful people - wonderful! Wherever they go, they make improvements. If they were to emigrate in large numbers to Hell itself, they would irrigate it, plant trees and flower gardens, build reservoirs and fountains and make everything beautiful and pleasant, so that by the time we get there, we can sit down at a marble-topped table and eat ice cream!"

Lincoln School

The oldest public school in Vallejo is named Lincoln School, in honor of the 16th President. Three different school buildings have occupied the site near the corner of Sonoma Blvd. and Carolina Street. The current Lincoln Elementary School was built in the 1930s.

Lincoln's Shawl?

A wool shawl now in the Museum’s collection, was found in Vallejo's Lincoln School. It was donated to the school by an elderly lady who told of a family tradition concerning Abraham Lincoln and the shawl. She said that the shawl had been owned by her great-aunt, a resident of Illinois, who lived on a farm where Lincoln often stopped overnight on his way to Springfield. The shawl, she claimed, was frequently loaned to Lincoln to put over his shoulders on cold Illinois evenings. Could this be Lincoln’s shawl?

The Lincoln Highway in Vallejo

The Lincoln Highway was America's first coast-to-coast highway. In California, the highway originally headed south from Sacramento and traveled through Stockton, where it turned west and then crossed over the Altamont Pass.

With the completion of the Carquinez Bridge in 1927 the Lincoln Highway was re-routed to a more direct route through Solano County and Vallejo. In Vallejo, the highway followed present-day Broadway and Alameda Streets to South Vallejo, where it followed Fifth Street to the Carquinez Bridge. Concrete posts emblazoned with a brass medallion of Abraham Lincoln marked the route across the country.

USS Abraham Lincoln

A final local connection is the nuclear submarine USS Abraham Lincoln (SSBN 602). The sub was one of the "Forty-one for Freedom" - subs names for American leaders and heroes. USS Abraham Lincoln was based at Mare Island during 1972 and 1973 where it received an extensive overhaul and refueling.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Snowstorms and Movie Stars

A few tidbits of local history from 91 years ago:

From the Vallejo Evening Chronicle -
February 19, 1918

"5 Inches of Snow in Green Valley at Noon Today"

“Five inches of snow at the city’s property in Green Valley with no indication of the snow storm abating was the news received here at 12:30 today from C.W. Douglass in a telephone message to his family. This is one of the heaviest snow storms the valley has experienced in several winters and aside from making the mountains particularly beautiful in their white mantle, means much for the water supply."

From the Vallejo Evening Chronicle -
February 27, 1918

Fatty Arbuckle, motion picture star, spent part of yesterday afternoon at the Mare Island Barracks, helping the marines provide some good publicity in the shape of motion pictures to be used in recruiting work, and incidentally giving the children of the station the event of their young lives."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Robert Louis Stevenson in Vallejo

Scottish-born author Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) was one of the greatest story-tellers of the English language. Stevenson is known for such classic tales as “Treasure Island,” “Kidnapped” and “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” In 1879 Stevenson traveled from Europe to the west coast of the United States, hoping that California’s moderate climate would improve his fragile health. More importantly, Stevenson was pursuing the great love of his life, Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne, whom he had met in France in 1876. Finally reunited in California, Fanny and Robert married in May of 1880 and embarked from San Francisco on a honeymoon adventure to the rugged slopes of Mount St. Helena near Calistoga. The trip was later immortalized in Stevenson’s book “Silverado Squatters.”

After departing from San Francisco the newlyweds traveled by ferry boat and train, eventually reaching South Vallejo, where they spent their first night. In “Silverado Squatters” Stevenson later described their uncomfortable stay in Vallejo:

“South Vallejo is typical of many Californian towns,” Stevenson wrote, “It was a blunder. The site has proved untenable; and, although it is still such a young place by the scale of Europe, it has already begun to be deserted for its neighbour and namesake, North Vallejo. A long pier, a number of drinking saloons, a hotel of a great size, marshy pools where the frogs keep up their croaking, and even at high noon the entire absence of any human face or voice — these are the marks of South Vallejo. Yet there was a tall building beside the pier, labeled the STAR FLOUR MILLS; and sea–going, full–rigged ships lay close along shore, waiting for their cargo. Soon these would be plunging round the Horn, soon the flour from the STAR FLOUR MILLS would be landed on the wharves of Liverpool. For that, too, is one of England’s outposts; thither, to this gaunt mill, across the Atlantic and Pacific deeps and round about the icy Horn, this crowd of great, three–masted, deep–sea ships come, bringing nothing, and return with bread.

The Frisby House, for that was the name of the hotel, was a place of fallen fortunes, like the town. It was now given up to labourers, and partly ruinous. At dinner there was the ordinary display of what is called in the west a TWO–BIT HOUSE: the tablecloth checked red and white, the plague of flies, the wire hencoops over the dishes, the great variety and invariable vileness of the food and the rough coatless men devoting it in silence. In our bedroom, the stove would not burn, though it would smoke; and while one window would not open, the other would not shut. There was a view on a bit of empty road, a few dark houses, a donkey wandering with its shadow on a slope, and a blink of sea, with a tall ship lying anchored in the moonlight. All about that dreary inn frogs sang their ungainly chorus.

Early the next morning we mounted the hill along a wooden footway, bridging one marish spot after another. Here and there, as we ascended, we passed a house embowered in white roses. More of the bay became apparent, and soon the blue peak of Tamalpais rose above the green level of the island opposite. It told us we were still but a little way from the city of the Golden Gates, already, at that hour, beginning to awake among the sand–hills. It called to us over the waters as with the voice of a bird. Its stately head, blue as a sapphire on the paler azure of the sky, spoke to us of wider outlooks and the bright Pacific. For Tamalpais stands sentry, like a lighthouse, over the Golden Gates, between the bay and the open ocean, and looks down indifferently on both. Even as we saw and hailed it from Vallejo, seamen, far out at sea, were scanning it with shaded eyes; and, as if to answer to the thought, one of the great ships below began silently to clothe herself with white sails, homeward bound for England.

For some way beyond Vallejo the railway led us through bald green pastures. On the west the rough highlands of Marin shut off the ocean; in the midst, in long, straggling, gleaming arms, the bay died out among the grass; there were few trees and few enclosures; the sun shone wide over open uplands, the displumed hills stood clear against the sky. But by–and–by these hills began to draw nearer on either hand, and first thicket and then wood began to clothe their sides; and soon we were away from all signs of the sea’s neighbourhood, mounting an inland, irrigated valley.”

Despite the fact that Stevenson described South Vallejo as “a blunder,” his brief visit here is nonetheless a reminder that Vallejo once hosted one of the great wordsmiths of the 19th century.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ned Buntline

On this day, 140 years ago, the well known dime-novelist and Western raconteur Ned Buntline gave one of his famous Temperance 'lectures' in Vallejo.

Following his lackluster reception on this 1869 California tour, Buntline would meet up with Buffalo Bill Cody and begin to publish the popular stories that made Cody famous and Buntline rich. The Vallejo Daily Chronicle advertised Buntline's performance as follows:



How to do it most genteelly is the question


Associated with the greatest violinist of the age


Will give a chaste popular entertainment at Vallejo on Saturday evening Jan. 16th. The performance will consist of an address entitled “California 25 years ago – Now – 25 years hence” by Col. Judson, followed by violin solos by Geo. Edmonds, “stories in character” French, Dutch, Irish, Yankee and Quaker, also


The Red Man’s Tale

A wild story of wrong, given in full Indian costume and paint by Ned Buntline.

ADMISSION 50 cents

Children 25 cents

Front seats reserved for Ladies

A few days later, the paper had a more critical appraisal of Buntline's show:

“Ned Buntline, the notorious, was here last Saturday night. To style his blathering a “lecture” would be burlesquing the English language. Buntline may be a hero and a man respected in his own land, if so, we advise him to travel home instanter. The Order of I.O.G.T. made a bad hand of it when they started that polluted and nonsensical piece of humanity around the State to preach temperance and morality to Californians. A man must practice what he preaches, and the people saw in his countenance that his sermons and his actions were not alike. His modesty was like the points in his ‘lecture’ – had none. His Indian costume consists of a pair of dirty drawers and undershirt, a meager head-dress, something thrown over one shoulder, and in this rig he calls a ‘Comanche costume’ he appears before the people and makes a speech. Ned Buntline you won’t do!”