Fifty: Ghost City


Continuing the ”Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley” year long quest.

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There is a bonafide ghost town right smack dab in the middle of Silicon Valley!

Many don’t know about the little town of Drawbridge, a once thriving community located on the cusp of southern San Francisco Bay in what is now Fremont, California. It is now a ghost town sinking into San Francisco Bay.

 

 

Beginnings
Drawbridge got it’s start in 1876 when a narrow-gauge South Pacific Coast Railroad was built from Santa Cruz to Alameda. The ‘town’ initially consisted of one small cabin on Station Island for the operator of the railroad’s two drawbridges (they were actually swing bridges, but the name stuck), crossing Mud Creek Slough and Coyote Creek Slough.

It didn’t take long for others to join him for some drinking, hunting, and fishing, and soon it became a regular train stop. By the 1880s, upwards of a thousand would come on weekends for the abundant hunting and fishing. Soon 10 stops a day was common for passenger trains up and down the track, which was the only way into town other than by boat.

 

 

By the 1920s, the town had reached its heyday, growing to about 90 buildings including a couple hotels and restaurants, many with wells and electricity. During prohibition, the town gained a reputation for having speakeasies, gambling, brothels, and heavily armed residents. The residents were split into two communities: The Protestants lived in North Drawbridge, and the Catholics resided in South Drawbridge. While there was quite a bit of feuding, they also had “tide parties” where residents would row to neighbors’ houses for socials at high tide.

In 1955 the trains no longer stopped in Drawbridge, and all but two last residents moved away. The last resident left around 1979.

 

 

There is quite a bit of information on the Internet if you google “drawbridge ca”. Some of the better links are here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Huel Howser’s Golden California TV Series did an episode on it which can be found here.

A video from a trespasser can be found here.

 

Today
Drawbridge is now part of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge (painted in FortySix: Don’s Sunrise Pix and FortySeven: Hunter’s Heaven) and they are letting it slowly sink into the wetlands. There are about 20 buildings left, many had burned down, some are sinking into the mud, but a few remain high and dry.

It is now closed to the public, and hefty fines can be levied if caught there, however, people do go there all the time, mainly kids I think, looking for an adventure, gather relics, and to leave graffiti. A rave party was reportedly broken up there awhile back. The closest legal way to see Drawbridge (other than from a train) is trekking over two miles on the Mallard Slough Trail from the Alviso end (painted in ThirtyThree: Sin City) of Don Edwards Preserve.

The location of the ghost town can be found on my interactive map here. (Look for the red X right in the middle).

 

Reconnaissance
Drawbridge has been on my list from almost the start of this quest and I spent more time researching it than any other painting. Since it is closed to the public, and can be dangerous, I asked special permission from the Public Affairs Officer of the Wildlife Refuge to go paint it for a day, but the Manager of the Refuge turned me down. Although they were quite interested in my quest, the answer was eventually no. Time for Plan B.

Last Saturday I took a tour sponsored by the Wildlife Reserve and conducted by Ceal Craig, president of the San Francisco Bay Wildlife Society. After a historical presentation, the tour takes you via van to a viewpoint where you can see the remains across Coyote Slough. (If you are interested in a free tour, space is limited and you have to sign up, but do it early as they always sell out. Click here for more information.)

Here are a few pictures I took on the tour prior to going out and painting, using a zoom video camera to take some of these pictures– Click on a thumbnail to open up a larger picture and slide show***

 

 

There are plenty of other, better closeup pictures on the web, many taken by what I am guessing are trespassers. If interested, start here.

 

Painting
Since it wasn’t legal to go into town, I did the next best thing and painted it from across Coyote Slough. This greatly limited what I could do with the composition, but had to go with what was practical. It would have been nicer to paint right in the town for a better composition, but I wasn’t interested in getting caught by the feds!

On painting day, rode my bike the over two miles on the dirt levy trail to the viewpoint. They recently built some informational displays and a park bench, which came in handy. To keep light weight, I took my mini Open Box M pochade box and just sat on the bench and painted. Not another soul was seen the entire time I was there. It was really windy, and had to constantly monitor my materials to make sure they didn’t blow into the slough!

How great it was to be way out in the marshlands with only the sounds of the tide going out and an occasional waterfowl winging by! I probably spent as much time just sitting there soaking the environment as painting!

Here’s a few pictures on painting day– Click on a thumbnail to open up a larger picture and slide show***

 

 

Here’s a 180 panorama of the scene. The railroad trestle on the left replaced the old swing/drawbridge many years ago. Click on the picture to view a larger version–

Panorama of Coyote Slough.
Panorama of Coyote Slough.

 

Ghost City, 8x10, oil on board
Ghost City, 8×10, oil on board

It’s a little tough to paint what should be an expansive scene on an 8×10 canvas, but tried to include as much as I could without it looking too ‘busy’. In the back upper left is the entrance to Niles Canyon painted in Nine, Ten: Charlie Chaplin. The city of Fremont is also in the background, and we could see the new Tesla Plant with the naked eye. I made sure to include the train tracks on the left, as that is why the town is there. There is just a peek of Coyote Slough at the bottom which Coyote Creek empties into. This is the fifth painting in this quest of Coyote Creek as it is a major creek and one of the few which runs year round.

 


Click this link for a map of all painting locations along with each painting.
Click on this link for a Pinterest catalog of all paintings so far.


***Email subscribers may not see all pictures. Just click on the title for a link to the online version.

FortyNine: Fog Time


Continuing the “Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley” year long quest.

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San Francisco peeking above the fog.  Photo courtesy Scott Loftesness*
San Francisco peeking above the fog. Photo courtesy Scott Loftesness*

 

The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.

Although some have attributed this quote to Mark Twain, he probably didn’t say it. Anyone who has lived in San Francisco or visited during the summer agree with that old saying.

 

Much of the coldness can be attributed to the fog which rolls in almost daily during the summer months along much of the coastline of California. The frequency of fog is due to a particular combination of factors peculiar to the region. San Francisco is bordered on three sides by water. Morning sun heats the ground further inland with temperatures reaching into the 90’s and 100’s. The hot inland air rises and the heavier cold ocean air rushes in to replace it. This flow from the high to the low pressure zone pulls the marine layer through the Golden Gate passage and into the bay. The marine layer is basically a layer of fog which hangs out in the Pacific Ocean.

I painted 49 by the Docktown Marina in Redwood City. Docktown consists of about 60 floating houses which are not quite houseboats and not quite houses, but they do float on the water. Lately the marina’s longevity has come under a cloud and it’s days may be numbered as Redwood City would really like to get rid of it. Redwood City used to have three waterfront communities where people lived aboard their boats or in floating homes, and Docktown is the last that remains.

Docktown sits at the mouth of Redwood Creek, a 9.5-mile-long stream which starts in the Santa Cruz mountains, and flows through the towns of Woodside and Redwood City before discharging into San Francisco Bay.

Signs of Silicon Valley are all around. Lowlands are being converted to houses and condos, with high tech companies popping up all over. Oracle, the worlds second largest software company, is just down the road. Oracle software is used to store much of the information on the Internet.

 

Click on a thumbnail to open up a larger picture***

Although it was quite overcast when I got to Docktown, the fog and clouds quickly dissipated. I have been wanting to include more wildlife in some of these works, so painted a white heron which was scouting nearby. The sun was just starting to peek through the fog.

 

Fog Time, 8x10, oil on board
Fog Time, 8×10, oil on board

 

    Coming up: Ghosts!

 


Click this link for a map of all painting locations along with each painting.
Click on this link for a Pinterest catalog of all paintings so far.


*Photo courtesy of long time friend and excellent photographer, Scott Loftesness. You can see more of Scott’s photos on his weblog here, or Flickr stream here.

***Email subscribers may not see all pictures. Just click on the title for a link to the online version.

FortyEight: ‘The Jungle’ Fate


Continuing the ‘Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley’ year long quest.

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The largest homeless camp in the United States is right in the heart of affluent Silicon Valley*. Situated just south and less than a mile away of downtown San Jose, there are up to 350 residents living in “The Jungle”, as it is locally called. Just a few yards away, across Story Road, is the beloved kiddie amusement park and zoo, Happy Hollow, and is one long block from the city’s municipal ballpark and San Jose State University’s stadium. The Japanese Friendship garden painted in TwentySeven: Koraken is less than a block away.

The Jungle in essence is a city for the homeless on the banks of Coyote Creek. (Coyote Creek was previously painted in this quest at other stretches in Eleven: Christmas Day, Twelve: With the Los Gatos Elves, and ThirtySix: El Toro.) Driving by on Story Road, you would never notice the despair below under the trees as cars, buses, and minivans of families head to Happy Hollow Park and Zoo.

Most of the residents are San Jose locals. Snaking trails wind through trees and bushes, with Spanish-speaking sections and neighborhoods like Little Saigon, where Vietnamese residents have dug large rooms into steep hillsides. There are makeshift shelters, tents, hand-dug latrines, tree houses, piles of human waste, cast-off clothing, lots of shopping carts, car parts, and discarded food rots. There are cats and kittens, dogs large and small, chickens, ducks, even a bunny. There is a large drug culture in parts of the camp.

There are numerous other camps all over Santa Clara County, some at times get cleared and cleaned out, but The Jungle is entrenched. Santa Clara County has the dubious honor of having the fifth-highest homeless population in the nation. A report, released by the city of San Jose, found 7,361 homeless individuals around the county with 4,770 people identified in San Jose.

Many more news and other articles are available about The Jungle, a few are here, here, and here.

A number of government and private groups are helping. You can read about a few here, and here.

 

Here are some of my personal photos of The Jungle, albeit mainly around the perimeter–
Click on a thumbnail to open up a larger picture and slide show***

 

To see more inside and closeup click this link, for some better photos right in The Jungle. It is startling.

 

Painting The Jungle has been on my list almost from the beginning of this quest. Besides showing the beauty of the creeks in Santa Clara Valley, I wanted to show some of the grit along the waterways. I have reconnoitered the area several times, but never actually gone in. While doing research, a knowledgable friend strongly advised me not to go into it and do a painting by the creek. The area is lawless and not safe, including a lot of drug trafficking. Although groups of aid and other workers visit, I didn’t really want to bother anyone to form a posse of bodyguards, so put on my scraggiest clothes (actually my normal plein air garb) and walked around parts of the perimeter and in a little ways to get a feel for the place, take pictures, and color notes, etc.

I spent as much as I could on-site gathering information, but this painting is not plein air, and is the first, and hopefully only non-plein air painting in this quest. I would have liked to paint right on the creek, and wanted to include it in my quest, so painted it alla prima (all at once) in my normal plein air style in the studio.

 

"The Jungle" Fate, 8x10, oil on board
“The Jungle” Fate, 8×10, oil on board

 


Click this link for a map of all painting locations along with each painting.
Click on this link for a Pinterest catalog of all paintings so far.



*Considered by most as the largest, but the population varies.
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FortySeven: Hunter’s Heaven


Continuing the ‘Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley’ year long quest.

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Hunter's Heaven, 8x10, oil on board
Hunter’s Heaven, 8×10, oil on board

 

Yes, there’s even duck hunting in Silicon Valley! Historically, the Ohlone Indians thrived on the wildlife and plants in the South San Francisco Bay. Later on, as immigrants populated the valley, hunters would spend days camping in these small cabins, shooting ducks and other fowl that would make up the bulk of meat products for Gold Rush Era San Francisco. They supplied 1000 ducks a week to San Francisco restaurants in the 1890’s. Waterfowl hunting is still permitted here on approximately 10,000 acres of tidal areas and salt ponds of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge and is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Duck blinds can be spotted around the south bay, and from what I can determine are for public use, first come, first served. There are also many duck clubs. To some, a duck club may seem nothing more than a mosquito-infested swamp inhabited by stealthy men in camouflage holding shotguns. But in the San Francisco Bay area, including Silicon Valley, duck hunting has been a bailiwick of established money for more than a century.  Many of San Francisco’s prominent families have a duck club (or two) among their assets.

 

I posted quite a few pictures from the morning’s painting excursion in the last post, FortySix: Don’s Sunrise Pix, but here are a few more–

Click on a thumbnail to open up a larger picture and slide show***

 

Continuing my morning painting excursion at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, painting 47 is of an old duck hunting cabin preserved close to the headquarters area. The cabin was built by Joe Pine of Niles who lived there until the late 1960′s. I painted and wrote about Niles and Charlie Chaplin in Nine, Ten: Charlie Chaplin.

Newark Slough can be seen in the background, and is fed by the Sanjon de los Alisos Creek and a number of unnamed engineered channels and culverts.

 


Click this link for a map of all painting locations along with each painting.
Click on this link for a Pinterest catalog of all paintings so far.


***Email subscribers may not see all pictures. Just click on the title for a link to the online version.