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Sunday, August 29, 1982

Changing Landmarks

Ernest D. Wichels

Not just the present generation of teen-agers but all of us perhaps do not recognize some of the everyday scenes of a century ago.

One of the important businesses in every Napa and Solano communities of any size was the livery stable.  In Vallejo in 1900 there was J.J. McDonald and Sanford & Gill. Coincidentally, these two firms as well as others in Suisun City and Napa were undertakers.  Undertakers no one in those days ever heard of a mortician or a funeral parlor had to have horses for their hearses so a livery stable sideline was a perfect match.

A century ago- there were “oyster saloons” in Benicia; Suisun City, Napa and Vallejo. In Vallejo there were four: Wallace Borden, R. Greenway, B.A. Lucy and George Williams. Fresh oysters were shucked for you as you drank your beer. Some of the evidence of early-day installations are still visible today, although most of us do not recognize it - such as the last stone bridge (which spanned Austin Creek), still intact at the Southern Pacific crossing on Springs Road.

Also, Vallejo’s first tennis court, at the northwest corner of Louisiana and Monterey streets. More than 80 years ago this court was built not with any taxpayers’ monies, but by volunteer donations and the labor of players like Bert Diamond and Ralph Finnell.  To this very day, the original blacktop surface of the court is still there, but the chicken wire fencing is long gone.

How many recognize the city’s first city-owned City Hall, built some 75 years ago? It is 715 Marin Street, now occupied by the E&J Travel Agency.

Another bit of history partly in existence is the 23 sycamore trees remaining out of an original planting of 48 to form a memorial lane. The lane -honors the 48 Solano County boys, with names likes like Fleming, Rago, and Christopher, who died in World War I.

These are on Fifth Street between Magazine Street and Maritime Academy Drive in South Vallejo. Vallejo Post No. 104 of the American Legion sponsored the project and the planting was accomplished by a team that included Thomas Horan, Milt Evatt, Dr. John W. Green, and others in 1922.

Fifth Street was then part of US-40, or Lincoln Highway.  More recently, but given no thought by most of us, is part of the Bay bottom which we know as Lake Dalwigk, out by Lemon Street.  Most observers think of it as a manmade reservoir to catch the storm drainage from east Vallejo and then pump the water into the Bay.

In 1914 and 1915 the city of Vallejo built a bulkhead along Mare Island Channel and pumped in the mud to form the area now the site of Kaiser Steel, the sanitation plant and South Vallejo Industrial Park. But the mud refused to “run” beyond the railroad tracks.  So the original Bay bottom, which included part of Lemon Street at any high tide, remains to this day.  Perhaps some oldtimers remember when the present site of Larwin Plaza and the Fry’s-Long’s Plaza was a huge- peat bog a big pond in winter and dry in summer and fall. Kids used to build a fire in the dry peat and it would burn and smoke until winter rains came. The peat would burn many feet below the surface.

Between 1890 and 1905 (long before Model Ts and Hondas) the craze locally was in bicycle transportation. They-were called “wheels.”  Vallejo had several bicycle clubs, as did Napa and Benicia.  The leading Vallejo club was called the Ariels. One of its most active members was Sam Copper, a Mare Island design. engineer whose father was the city’s leading hatter.  Napa had the Eagle Cycling Club, whose road-master for years was Tony Smith. (Norm Smith of that family is now the popular manager of the Vallejo Elks Club.)  What will undoubtedly amaze some of the younger generation, however, is that members of the local bicycle clubs built a bicycle path between Vallejo and Napa bridges and all, and most of it covered with cinders to permit mudless travel in rainy weather.

The Napa Club cooperated with the Vallejoans in this 14-mile project.  Some of the grading of this hand-engineered bicycle track was recognizable until a few years ago over the Greenwood Hill (Kelly Drive) just west of the airport.  And speaking of bridges, it has only been about 20 years that the city removed the Venice-styled bridge that took Georgia Street over the railroad tracks for more than a century.  Among the most apparent sights in our city are the rock outcroppings on Hunter’s Hill east of Interstate 80 and at Blue Rock Springs.

These are serniporous, brownish-colored rocks once widely used in Vallejo for ornamental effects in home gardens.

These rough stones are cinnabar¬? the ore from which mercury or quicksilver is made. Hunter’s Hill is one of the largest deposits of quicksilver ore in California and once had three large mines in operation.  Napa County at one time had 21 mines. One of them, an immense operation at Knoxville 12 miles north of Lake Berryessa, is now in the hands of the Homestake Mining Corp. Homestake is seeking gold, not quick-silver, in the ore.  In Vallejo, Good Templars Orphans Home raised silkworms in the 1870s, and they were fed by mulberry leaves. One of these 110-year old mulberry trees still exists in the lawn, southeast corner of El Camino Real and Camino Alto.