Most know the story of Charles Chaplin who went to Hollywood in the early days of the motion picture industry, invented the “Little Tramp” character, and went on to be one of the biggest all time stars in cinema, at least in that era. Right? Well, not exactly. Charlie actually filmed “The Tramp” movie and others under Essanay Pictures in Niles, California in 1915. The iconic shots of the little tramp walking down a dirt road and along the railroad tracks was actually filmed in Niles Canyon. You can watch the entire movie here.
At the time, Niles Canyon with it’s railroad, Alameda Creek and other interesting terrain, was a major draw, and maybe close to becoming the film capital of the world, but Charles settled in Hollywood and Niles eventually became a suburb of Fremont. The railroad tracks though the canyon were the western termination of the transconinental rail of the US, and is still used today.
If Portola Valley is the bucks and brains of Silicon Valley, then Union City, Fremont and Milpitas could be called the valley factory. This is where many of the manufacturing and warehouses for the area are locatedâ€¦at least before much of it was shipped off to China!
I spent the day in Niles Canyon and did two paintings. One of my biggest problems in this project I am battling is getting access to the water. In the entire 6 mile drive between Sunol and Niles, there are only a few spots not marked “No Stopping”, “No Parking”, “No Tresspassing”, and/or fenced off.
I eventually found a turnout with a highway call box, so of course you could park there!
Here is a short video of Alameda Creek by where I painted. You could be almost anywhere in the wilds, but I was just a few miles from Silicon Valley suburbia! What an office!
Here is the painting. I kept some of the bridge in and am pretending it is a railroad trestle, as there actually was one right around the corner. You can click on any picture to view a larger size.
Lunch was in downtown Niles (now part of Fremont), where some of the buildings from Chaplin’s era are still standing, most of them turned into antique and memorabilia shops.
The next painting was right at the mouth of the canyon as it opens into the town of Fremont, and the greater bay area. This was a little easier access as there is a little park and a parking lot, called the Niles Staging Area.
Niles Canyon is one of the most beautiful places in the bay area and it is sad due to man’s carelessness and abuse that most of it is now blocked from the public. I used to live nearby and drive through the canyon coming and going to the Sierras for painting and camping, all the while thinking this little canyon is as pretty as anyplace in the wilderness.
This is about as far north as I will paint on the eastern side of the bay, and probably the upper limit of what they call Silicon Valley. A map of each painting location can be found here.