Archive for the ‘oakland stone’ Category

Some East Oakland stones

31 January 2015

Oakland’s rocks aren’t all in the ground. They’re in our yards and homes, too. Here are a few presented in the order I found them lately.

There’s a house on 60th Avenue that stopped me in my tracks, its walls studded with stones. A neighbor down the block told me “Oh yes, those are wonderful! We looked at that house when we were buying in this neighborhood. The owner’s daughter runs a preschool across the way.” Click that one for an 1100-pixel version.

morse-at-60th-450

A few weeks later I visited Best Avenue, high in Maxwell Park, and was arrested by the front yard here. Sometimes rocks, like people, look best with painted faces.

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A block away is another property treated by the same decorator.

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And just yesterday this basket of painted stones seized me by the eyes. It’s at the Free Oakland UP gallery and workshop, in the Loard’s plaza at Coolidge and MacArthur.

oakland-up-rox

Our local fill

23 December 2014

There’s a little corner of Lake Merritt that the improvers haven’t gotten around to, on the north shore by the pergola. Here the concrete walkway gives way to a stretch of old fill.

lakemerrittchert

The original wetland that became Lake Merritt was known as San Antonio Slough. From Oakland’s earliest days, the locals kept trying to “reclaim” it by turning it into dry land, just as they did all around the bay. The whole waterfront is reclaimed land. The basic technique was to haul dirt and rock and rubbish down to the water, shove it in and tamp it down. In Gold Rush San Francisco they’d use abandoned ships for fill, but Oakland’s founding fathers had advanced beyond such crude strategems.

Some of this material came from the holes dug for building foundations, but it also came from quarries in the local hills ranging in size from little borrow pits to big enterprises like the Blair Quarry (now Dracena Park) in Piedmont. Not just stone, either—Oakland had abundant gravel nearby, too.

If they weren’t trying to fill it in, the makers of Lake Merritt were trying to elevate its mucky shoreline and civilize it. The rocks in this part of Lake Merritt appear to be good old Franciscan chert, possibly from the “phthanite” diggings that Walter Blair exploited in today’s Moraga Canyon. It made quality fill, hard and clean and compact. I don’t know how long it will stay visible as we continue to civilize the lakeshore. Visit it some time when you’re on a walk around the lake and the ground is washed clean. The more we kick it and scuff it and curse it for stubbing our toes, the more its polish gleams.

Oakland City Hall: Stone and structure

24 November 2014

A few weeks ago I set foot inside our City Hall—for the first time, I’m embarrassed to say. I hope you will step inside before you’ve lived here 25 years, like me. I’ve always known we have a gorgeous building, and now I’m amazed. C’mon in.

cityhallcorner

First we’ll have a look at the structure’s famous seismic retrofit. See the light-colored strip at the foot of the walls? That’s a steel apron that covers an air gap all the way around the building. That gives the structure room to shimmy and sway on its fancy rubber feet during a severe earthquake. You can see it better by the side door, on 14th Street.

cityhall-skirt

Notice the bellows-style barrier on the building below the street level, filling that air gap.

When you go inside there’s a little exhibit space that has, among other interesting objects, this cutaway model of the base-isolation pads.

cityhall-pad

There are more than a hundred of these under the building, each one the size of a cafe table, made of thick rubber and lead plates. In the early 1990s, when City Hall was retrofitted, no one had ever used this technology at such a scale before. Since then many other precious historic buildings have used it. Hearst Mining Hall on the UC Berkeley campus is one.

OK, now comes the luscious stuff. The interior is beautiful in the way people favored a hundred years ago. Here’s the grand stairway leading from the front door up to the City Council chambers.

cityhall-balustrade450

Click the image for a large version. The balustrade is translucent marble on top, ceramic tiles on the sides. The stairs are marble. The ornamentation on the walls is plaster.

Here’s a skylight on the upper floor, edged in black marble.

cityhall-skylight

And this thing is a large lighting fixture that illuminates the rotunda. Click that photo for a large version. It was futuristic in 1914, and it’s still futuristic today.

cityhall-light450

There are other, smaller fixtures elsewhere on the ceiling that are worth searching for. The bronze ring suspended above the big ball depicts personifications of the planets—eight of them, from Mercury to Neptune, just like today.

Local stone

31 March 2014

I always get a kick from old walls around Oakland that are made of local stones. This one is on Loma Vista Avenue, in the upper Laurel.

lomavista-stonewall450

Click the image to see a 1000-pixel shot of the whole thing. The mix of blue Franciscan rocks, golden Tertiary sandstones and the occasional reddish chert is distinctive, and it’s nothing that a local landscaping yard would ever offer. Its charm is homely and understated, but authentic.

We haven’t had a working quarry in Oakland for many years, so a lot of these walls are old, or rebuilt. Lovers of local stone today have to scavenge what they can from recycled rocks or their own cellar holes.

Rock yard

23 August 2013

Years ago, a homeowner installed this yard facing Humboldt Avenue. I think of it as a California zen garden.

humboldtrockyard

These days, landscapers are obliged to buy rocks that come from out of town, produced in anonymous quarries by the big-rig load. This yard could have been furnished with stone from just a couple miles away. One of my many pipe-dreams is to set up a stoneyard where I’d salvage and sell recycled rock from local sources. The market would be vanishingly small, but if just a few people cared that might be enough.


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