Saturday, December 31, 2011

Vallejo: A Place of Rare Beauty

Perhaps it's true that some things never change. In 1883 the Vallejo Evening Chronicle described Vallejo as "a place of rare beauty," but cautioned that "there is room for a vast amount of improvement." Here is the complete article:

A Place of Rare Beauty

"There are few places in the world so finely situated as Vallejo. The town itself adds little to the lovely scenery that surrounds it. This is a pity, for a clean town with white cottages and church spires enhances the landscape. Still Vallejo is much superior to many of the towns of California and the West. Its yards are trimmer, its shade trees more numerous and the architecture of the cottages and the more pretentious houses more refined and varied. Before the doors of many workingmen's houses geraniums and tea roses are blooming and evergreen trees are carefully trimmed. Indeed the model home for the workingman might be found here in Vallejo, the product of the taste of some mechanic with fine artistic nature. There is a great deal of art displayed in the structure and setting of many of the cottages that cling to the hills. Although there is a great deal of beauty shown in some cottages such instances are too isolated, they are too infrequent. There is room for a vast amount of improvement. Some houses are slatternly kept and their untidiness mars the beauty of the town. Let a generous rivalry spring up between cottagers in the matter of improving their places. In doing this they would be cultivating art, which can find expression in a garden as well as on a canvas. It is a pity that anything is neglected which would add to the beauty of the town, for its location is perfect. The hills, the water, the Island and the colors over them are as beautiful as the most favored spots of Italy."

Friday, December 23, 2011

Vallejo Loses Historic Ship to L.A.?

The recent announcement by the Navy that the World War Two battleship USS Iowa would go to Los Angeles instead of Vallejo is not the first time that Vallejo faced the possibility of losing a historic ship to southern California. Nearly 100 years ago, in September, 1914, the Vallejo Evening Chronicle published an article about the fate of the Receiving Ship Independence, a historic vessel that had been a landmark on the Mare Island water- front since 1857:

"Would Save Independence: Los Angeles Starts Movement to Secure Old Relic From the Navy"

"If Vallejo and other cities in this vicinity do not want the old Independence as a relic there are cities farther away that do. Los Angeles has decided that the frigate would be of value at their port as shown by the following clipping taken from the Los Angeles Examiner."

"By resolution the City Council yesterday requested Mayor Rose to enter into into communication with Secretary of the Navy Daniels urging that official to donate the United States Steamship Independence, the historical craft built at the Boston Navy Yard in the early part of the last century, to Los Angeles as a relic. The resolution was presented by Minute Clerk Carroll at the request of Councilman Betokuski, who is now out of the city."

"The vessel is now at the Navy Yard at Mare Island."

"The resolution calls attention to the fact that the city's acquisition of this historical craft would be acceptable, as forming the nucleus of a naval museum at the Los Angeles harbor."

USS Independence was launched in 1814 at the Boston Navy Yard as the first ship-of-the-line in the U.S. Navy. After more than 40 years of service she was transferred to the Mare Island Navy Yard in 1857 where her upper decks were roofed over and she was converted to a receiving ship. The vessel was a well known landmark on the Mare Island waterfront for many years, but eventually time took its toll on the old wooden-hulled ship.In 1912, Independence sank at her moorings. Efforts to pump out and refloat the vessel were unsuccessful, and the Navy finally decided to scrap the old relic.

Ultimately, the plan put forward by Los Angeles did not come to fruition. Independence was towed out to the mudflats of the Bay and burned. Today, only photographs and a handful of artifacts from the ship survive.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

USS Tunny (SS 282)

Seventy years ago today, on November 10, 1941, a keel laying ceremony was held at Mare Island for the Gato-class submarine USS Tunny (SS 282). The United States' entry into World War Two was less than a month away, but already Mare Island was gearing up its production to meet wartime needs that seemed inevitable. Tunny was the 12th submarine built at Mare Island, but many more would follow once the U.S. entered the War. This is how the Vallejo Times-Herald covered the keel-laying ceremony:

"In a dramatic salute to Armistice Day, which the yard is observing tomorrow, Mare Island Navy Yard laid the keel of the submarine USS Tunny at 12 o'clock today"

"The keel laying of the Tunny marks the third submarine to occupy ways No. 3 during 1941 and the fifth submarine keel to be laid down during this year. The USS Gudgeon was launched from this spot on January 25 and the USS Trigger on October 22. Submarine keels laid during 1941 include the USS Trigger, laid February 1; the USS Wahoo and USS Whale, laid June 28; the USS Sunfish, laid September 25, and this, the USS Tunny, laid today."

"The brief formal program was void of speech-making or fanfare - it was a short, businesslike procedure - another job in the process of being done. Commencing at noon with a selection by the yard band, the actual keel laying commenced at 12:05 when Captain F.G. Crisp, U.S.N., yard manager, gave the order and the riggers hoisted the keel into position. Robert F. Cooke, foreman, electric shop, and W.N. Simons, chief quarterman, electric shop, acted as honorary welders by putting the first weld on the Tunny keel."

"At 12:15, upon completion of the welding, Lieut. Comdr. Leverett S. Lewis, U.S.N., acting hull superintendent, inspected the welds and reported: 'The keel is well and truly laid.' The national anthem by the yard band closed the ceremony."

USS Tunny was launched on June 30, 1942 and commissioned on September 1 of that same year. The submarine made nine war patrols in the Pacific during World War Two and survived the War, returning  to Mare Island for decommissoning in December 1945. The sub was later recommissioned and modified to serve in the Navy's experimental Regulus missile program. Tunny served through much of the Cold War and was decommissioned for the last time in 1969. She was sunk in 1970.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Prohibition Comes to Vallejo

Founded by German immigrants Charles Widenmann and Peter Rothenbusch, 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. Members of the Widenmann family were prominent in the area's political, educational, business, medical, and civic affairs for many years.

When Prohibition put the Solano Brewery out of business, the company's enterprising owners closed the Marin Street brewery and reinvented their business around the corner on York Street as the Solano Ice Cream Company. Nationwide Prohibition took effect in 1919, but in Vallejo taverns and breweries within five miles of Mare Island Naval Shipyard were ordered closed by the Secretary of the Navy in 1918 due to military restrictions imposed during World War I.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Delightful Miss Carrie

      Please join us at the Museum on Tuesday, August 30 at 6:30 p.m. for a very special program and book signing with author Sonja Bartimus. The author’s recently released biographical novel is “The Delightful Miss Carrie,” which recounts the true-life adventures of Carrie Watson Dinsmore, born in Vallejo in 1889, who had summed up her experiences as a “life tapestry of gold and gray threads.”
     After her mother’s death in 1897 when Carrie was just 8, her father came   to her and said, “I’ve discovered a gold mine! We’re rich!” Carrie’s adventures then unfold, taking her from the mines of California and two major fires at the family’s lumber ranch in Calaveras County, through the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Great Depression that robbed her of her fortune, and her eye-witness account of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Along the way,  her life was punctuated with London tea parties, ocean voyages, and the heart-rending losses of the two men she loved. “A story of an ordinary person living in extraordinary times –  a story well worth telling,” says the book’s editor.
     The author grew up on a northern Missouri farm, and as a teenager in 1956 had met Miss Carrie. Several years ago Bartimus had a chance to read her memoir, being safe- guarded by Miss Carrie’s granddaughter Carol Borchers, of Kansas City, Mo. They decided to honor Miss Carrie’s wishes by turning   her story into a book. Bartimus has worked as a reporter and written freelance articles for several magazines. “The Delightful Miss Carrie” is her first book.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bear in Mind: The Story of the California Grizzly

Although now extinct in this state, the grizzly bear has long been a central character in California’s history. Illuminating the story of the grizzly is our newest exhibition “Bear In Mind: The Story of the California Grizzly” which runs at the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum through September 24.
Over the centuries, the relationship that Californians have had with the grizzly bear has been one of dualities – expressed in both fear and fascination. The California grizzly possessed characteristics that we hold dear: independence, adaptability, resourcefulness, intelligence, and strong maternal care. Yet human interaction with the bears was often misguided, intolerant, and violent.
Scientists estimate that 10,000 grizzlies once lived in California, perhaps the densest population of brown bears on  the continent. However, through increased human settlement, loss of habitat, and hunting, by the early 1900s the California grizzly had vanished and could only be seen on the state flag. Although the loss of the California grizzly was a tragic lesson, we are not too late to save other threatened and endangered species.
Today, California grizzly bears only exist in our imaginations as symbols of things desired and things lost.  Since the mid-1800s, the grizzly has been used as an icon, advertiser, and entertainer, making the image of the bear a familiar one to most people. Little physical evidence remains of the grizzly bears that once roamed California. It is through stories, artifacts, striking images, and hands-on activities that the “Bear In Mind” exhibition provides an in-depth look at the history and science of California’s most revered and feared animal.
   The “Bear In Mind: The Story of the California Grizzly” exhibition is based on the Heyday Books publication,  Bear in Mind: The California Grizzly by Susan Snyder, as well as The Bancroft Library exhibition of the same name. “Bear In Mind: The Story of the California Grizzly” is produced and toured by Exhibit Envoy (formerly known as   the California Exhibition Resources Alliance). Don’t miss this fascinating new exhibit.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Bob Wills Swings Through Vallejo

On this day in 1945 Western Swing great Bob Wills, accompanied by his Texas Playboys, played two shows in Vallejo. During the afternoon the band played for more than 15,000 people at a huge Oklahoma-Texas-Arkansas picnic at Blue Rock Springs park. Many of the southwestern transplants attending the picnic had come to Vallejo at the outset of World War Two to work at the Mare Island Shipyard. The Texas Playboys performed a second show that evening at the Casino Ballroom in Vallejo.

Although dozens of different musicians passed through Wills' band over the years, the line-up in the mid '40s included Wills on fiddle, Everett Stover (trumpet), Less Anderson (steel guitar), Tiny Mott (saxophone), Louis Tierney (fiddle), Monte Mountjoy (drums), Rip Ramsey (bass), Jimmy Wyble (guitar), Tommy Duncan (vocals), Cameron Hill (guitar), Millard Kelso (piano), and Laura Lee Owens (vocals). That is the line-up pictured above, in a photograph taken in Los Angeles in 1944.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Buried Treasure in Vallejo?

   At the peak of World War Two nearly 50,000 people worked at the busy Mare Island Naval Shipyard. To accom- modate all of these wartime workers, the federal government built numerous defense housing projects throughout the city of Vallejo. The largest of those projects (pictured here) was Chabot Terrace, located in north Vallejo on land formerly owned by the Mini family. In late 1944 several boys who lived in the area found what they hoped would be a buried treasure. This is how the Vallejo Times Herald reported the story:

Treasure Hunt On At Chabot; Three $10 Gold Pieces Found

    "There's a treasure hunt on for buried gold pieces at Chabot Terrace.
    "It all started when four 10-year old boys, residents of the community, uncovered three gold pieces of the $10 denomination.
   "Now others in the community scratch about the excavation for the new athletic field in the hope that additional gold will be found.
   "Francis Kephart was the first to find treasure, a $10 gold piece dated 1853. Then Norman Chambers and William Parkerfound a coin dated 1881. A third $10 gold piece was recovered by a fourth boy whose name has not been obtained.
   "Encrusted with mud, the boys at first believed they were only metal slugs, but when the Kephart boy scratched the metal with a pocket knife and found "ten dollars" engraved on it, he knew it was more than a slug.
   "Then when the Chambers and Parker boys, together, found the second coin, others began to join in the search in the belief that the coins had been buried in an old tin can that had rusted and became scattered when the steam shovel struck it during excavation work.
   "The three boys named reported their find to the Vallejo Police Department and were advised to turn in the gold, which they did at the Mechanics and Merchants National Bank, receiving the equivalent monetary value in currency. The third coin, according to reports, is being kept as a souvenir.
   "But the hunt for buried gold continues at Chabot Terrace, with speculation rife as to who and when buried the treasure and how much there was when it was hidden."

The paper never followed up on whether more "treasure" was found, and the source of the coins was apparently never discovered.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blue Star Museums

This summer the Museum is once again participating in Blue Star Museums, a partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, and more than 1,000 museums across America, to offer free admission to all active duty military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day 2011.  We are proud to offer this program to the men and women who serve our nation, along with their families who often have a loved one deployed overseas. The free admission program is available to any bearer of a Geneva Convention Common Access Card (CAC), A DD Form 1173 ID Card, or a DD Form 1173-1 ID Card, which includes active duty military and their immediate family members, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard, and Reserves.    

"America's museums are proud to join the rest of the country in thanking our military personnel and their families for their service and sacrifice," said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman, who announced the program on May 23. "I cannot imagine a better way to do that than welcoming them in to explore and enjoy the extraordinary cultural heritage our museums present. The works of art on view this summer will certainly inspire and challenge viewers – and sometimes they will just be a great deal of fun."   

"There have always been wonderful examples of partnerships between museums and military installations, but the scale of this gift from the museum community to military families is thrilling," said Blue Star Families Chairman Kathy Roth-Douquet. "Military families work hard for this country, and it is gratifying for us to be recognized for that. We anticipate that thousands of military families will participate in the program and visit museums this summer – many of them for the first time. Blue Star Families will work hard to help our military families make the most of these opportunities."

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Louis Armstrong Plays Vallejo

On this day in 1942 jazz legend Louis Armstrong played at the ballroom of the Casa de Vallejo. That swank hotel, along with the Veteran's Memorial Hall, Farragut Hall, and other local venues, were popular stops for touring jazz and big band acts in the 1930s and 40s. The day before Armstrong's show, the Vallejo Times Herald promoted the concert with the following:

"Onward continues the parade of 'musical giants' in Vallejo as Frank Smith presents America's leaders on the Name Band horizon. Last week it was Paul Whiteman, "King of Jazz." This week it will be Louie [sic] Armstrong "World's Greatest Trumpeter." Armstrong appears in the Casa de Vallejo ballroom Friday evening with his celebrated orchestra. He is not only considered the world's greatest trumpeter but is also the world's highest paid colored musician. He brings with him his entire musical aggregation intact, with a galaxy of "swing" stars including his two famous and sensational vocalists Sonny Woods and Velma Middleton. Other stars with the band are Luis Russell, Paul Barbarin, Jay C. Higginbotham, "Pop" Foster, and Joe Garland. While Armstrong and his troupe have appeared here before, it will be the first appearance locally of his singing star, Velma Middleton. Those who have heard her singing with the band in engagements in Oakland and San Francisco rave about the excellent voice of this singer."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

8th Annual Vallejo Garden Tour

"A Community of Gardens" is the theme for the 8th annual Vallejo Garden Tour, set for Sunday, May 15 from 10:00 to 3:00. The tour will feature eight local gardens, featuring beautifully landscaped private homes and two Community Gardens - the Loma Vista Farm and the Vallejo Community Garden at Mare Island. The Tour also features a delicious buffet luncheon served at the Museum from noon to 3:00. Tickets for the tour are $30 general public and $25 for Museum members. All tickets are $35 on the day of the Tour. Tickets are available at the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum, 734 Marin Street, and at Zoey June Gift & Garden, 1426 Tennessee Street in Vallejo. All proceeds benefit the Museum.

Whether growing vegetables to feed the family or flowers to feed the soul, gardens enrich our lives and promote community through sharing. With the choice of this year's theme, the Garden Tour Committee hopes to inspire Vallejo citizens  to become more involved in their environment and community through their gardens.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Vallejo's Flour Industry

In 1860 Vallejo's founder, John B. Frisbie, chartered a ship to export wheat grown near Vallejo to Liverpool - the first shipment of wheat overseas from California. Captain A.D. Starr established Vallejo's first flour mill in South Vallejo in 1869. Flour shipped from the port of Vallejo would eventually travel to Asia, South America, and Europe as Vallejo became the largest flour-shipping port in California. The mill was purchased by the Sperry Flour Company in 1910 and later became the General Mills Sperry Division.

During WWI the Sperry Mills shipped tons of flour to Europe as part of the wartime relief effort. Employment at the mill increased from 125 workers in 1915 to 363 in 1919.

On August 30, 1934 a spectacular fire destroyed a large portion of the mill. Two marine elevators, 21 bins of grain, and 500,000 grain bags were consumed by the flames. Vallejo Fire Department crews were aided  by floating fire equipment from Mare Island. Explosions of grain dust blew huge sheets of corrugated metal off the roof of the mill and 6,000 tons of grain was destroyed before the blaze was finally brought under control.

The General Mills Sperry Division mill in Vallejo closed in 2004.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Romantic Affair: An Afternoon with Cole Porter and the Gershwins

Please join us at the Museum on Sunday, February 13 at 2:00 for "A Romantic Affair: An Afternoon with the Gershwins and Cole Porter" presented by SonomaSong with the John Simon Trio. The concert promises to be a special treat for the Valentine’s Day weekend. 


There's a special quality to a song by Cole Porter or brothers George and Ira Gershwin - a freshness, a personal melodic and rhythmic style, and certainly a lasting quality.  Porter and the Gershwins are known and loved throughout the world as the personification of the American popular song. They truly are American classics.


SonomaSong and the music of Porter and the Gershwins will fill the room with romance and send the audience away with smiles on their faces and love in their hearts.  Embraceable You, They Can't Take That Away from Me, Somebody Loves Me, I've Got You Under My Skin, I Get A Kick Out of You, The Man I Love, In the Still of the Night, and I Love Paris, are only a sampling of the dynamic 90 minute concert. 


“A Romantic Affair” is being presented by Kiwanis of Vallejo and the Vallejo Suburban Kiwanis with all proceeds benefiting the Museum. Tickets for “A Romantic Affair” are $35 (which includes wine, light hors d’ oeuvres, and sweets) and are available at the Museum or from Kiwanis Club members. Wine and hors d ‘oeuvres will be served at 2:00 with the concert starting promptly at 3:00.