Archive for April, 2008

Knocker on display

17 April 2008


Mountain View Cemetery is a manicured showcase of the lower Oakland Hills. When Frederick Law Olmsted designed it he left the natural contours of the land, and to this day it’s the nearest thing to the original oak-dotted grasslands that the first visitors saw (although the abundant elk and grizzlies are long gone). And decades before the rock worshippers of the Gilded Age put their stamp on Berkeley’s hill neighborhoods, Mountain View left the knockers alone. There are outcrops of the wild variety up near the utility yard, a couple of chert boulders in charming neglect, and there is this splendid thing left in the middle of its own circle above the Henry Cogswell monument. I should put up shots of the rest of the cemetery’s knockers—I think I have them all.


Basalt masonry

15 April 2008


I took a walk this morning among my local steep hills. Near the Rose Garden, I spotted a resident clearing his front yard, which was full of Oakland-quarried boulders. He had dug out all the old junipers and was making terraces with the rocks. I told him they’re special now that Oakland has no working quarries. He said he’s trying to get his neighbors to tear out their junipers too—all the houses have these rocks, probably dating from the twenties when they were built. Then I crossed the Chetwood bridge into Adams Point and inspected a bunch of yards of the same vintage, where the same landscaping rocks were common. My guess is that the Leona quarry was the source. I still know little about the Hiller Highlands quarry, but the rock there is different. There are piles of old quarry rock in the slopes below Merritt College that match some of the stones I saw.

But after crossing to the Auto Row neighborhood via the Perkins and Frisbie stairways, I passed this exceptional house along Richmond Boulevard. The stone fence is noteworthy with its jagged top. I shot this picture in 2006; right now it’s covered in vines. And the porch behind it is a splendid example of stonemasonry. It’s all made of basalt stones, and I’m guessing that the rock came from the Round Top quarry (or conceivably the Rockridge Shopping Center quarry). But some time I need to visit the History Room at the main library and find out just what the local quarries produced and when they were active.

Firm clay

13 April 2008


On two occasions I’ve spotted construction sites on the fringes of Haddon Hill, once at the corner of MacArthur Boulevard and Wesley Avenue and once at the west end of Brookwood Road. I asked what the ground was, and both times the owners said the same thing: “firm clay.” There is no bedrock to speak of west of the Hayward fault, outside the Piedmont block and Toler Heights, up where 98th Avenue ends. It is safe to say that any Oakland neighborhood named “Heights” or “Highlands” has some bedrock under it, and some of the “-monts” do. But the rest of the hilly places that adjoin the flats are firm clay, with maybe a little sand and gravel. If the slope isn’t too steep, this soil is good for building.

All are part of a large alluvial fan dating from late Pleistocene times. It stretches from Pill Hill to Evergreen Cemetery, and its closest approach to the Bay is here at San Antonio Park, overlooking Coast Guard Island.

san antonio

Its sediments are said to contain “extinct late Pleistocene vertebrate fossils.” I haven’t read the literature, but that could mean anything from Ice Age mice to the mammoths, horses, camels, sloths and bison known from other Bay area sites, not to mention some extinct great cats. It’s worth keeping an eye on this stuff.

Geologic people

10 April 2008

A few months ago I attended a geology walk in the hills above Claremont Canyon, led by UC Berkeley’s Doris Sloan. Doris is not only a great teacher of geology, but the author of a great book, Geology of the San Francisco Bay Region by UC Press. It has enough content — maps, charts, text and John Karachewski’s superb photos — for several decades worth of day trips and outings and repeat visits. (Even so, the book has little about Oakland. Sibley Volcanic Reserve is in it, of course, but that’s mostly outside the city limits.) Hanging out with Doris, I felt like Watson next to Sherlock Holmes, but then look what a great career Watson had as Conan Doyle’s ghostwriter.

My point is, it takes more than websites, more than books, more than rambling in the hills on your own to learn geology. Tagging along with experts is a great help. If you get the chance, take a walk with one. Our area is blessed with good geologists at Cal and at Cal State East Bay, at Stanford and UCSF and many other institutions.