ThirtyThree: Sin City


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

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Alviso, the Port of San Jose
Alviso, the Port of San Jose

Well, ok, I am not talking about that Sin City. I’m talking about an all but forgotten settlement on San Francisco Bay in Silicon Valley, a little town called Alviso. (If you live in Alviso, apologies for the title, just making a rhyme about the past…read on.)

Settled in the early 1800’s, started in 1836, and incorporated as a town in 1852, it was once the bustling Port of San Jose. Steamships regularly plowed their way between San Francisco and Alviso carrying passengers, shipping agricultural products from Santa Clara Valley, the “Valley of Hearts Delight’, hides, tallow, grains, redwood timber, and mercury from the New Almaden mines. (I did paintings Eighteen and Nineteen near the old Almaden mines).

On April 11, 1853, a boiler on the steamboat, the Jenny Lind exploded, killing 31 passengers. Soon a railroad was built between San Jose and San Francisco, being much cheaper to operate soon doomed the Port of San Jose.

Over the years a number of notable industries were built here, including the third largest cannery in the world, the Otay Watch Company, flour mills, and more. AP Giannini, the founder of Bank of America, grew up and attended a one-room schoolhouse there.

However, in the Roaring Twenties and then the Great Depression (the 1920’s and 30’s for you youngsters), Alviso became sin city with saloons, dog tracks, bordellos, Filipino taxi-dance halls, and casinos. More history can be found here, and here. here. Well, it made a catchy title.

Listed as a National Historic District, Alviso is now part of the city of San Jose. High tech companies are being built right up to the town, and the residents don’t really like it. TiVo, Foundry Networks, and others are now listed under Alviso.

The old harbor fell into disuse except for a few boats, has mostly silted in, and filled with rushes and other natural vegetation. It is still used today for a few small boats. However, it is the mecca for naturalists who want to kayak, hike, and otherwise enjoy the nature of the southern tip of San Francisco Bay.

The Guadalupe River terminates here and empties into San Francisco Bay. Click on the below thumbnails for larger pictures***

Below are a couple panorama photos I took with my iPhone. Click on each photo to get the entire view—

The old Port of San Jose (Alviso Marina) now silted in and choked with vegetation.
The old Port of San Jose (Alviso Marina) now silted in and choked with vegetation.
A 180 view of the dock where I was painting.
A 180 view of the dock where I was painting.

I haven’t painted many boats, but for variety’s sake, did one today. It was an old shrimper boat called the Sea Dive. Although there is a ‘do not enter gate’ on the boardwalk/pier, a path right around it on the grass let me get on the dock to do the painting.

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

For the artists, a word about technique and brushes. I painted the entire boat with a #8 bright brush, which is about 2/3 inch across. The brand was Rosemary, which I have been trying out since purchasing a few at the Plein Air Convention, but my normal Silver Ruby Satin brushes would have worked just as well. You don’t need tiny brushes to paint details…in fact, the larger the brush you use the better.


Click this link for a map of all painting locations along with each painting.


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

Twentyone: Baylands Fun

Continuing the ‘Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley’ year long project. (Click here for complete info.)

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180 degree panorama from the Lucy Evans Center
180 degree panorama from the Lucy Evans Center

Ringing the lower San Francisco Bay is a wonderland of estuaries, marshes, ponds, tidal and fresh water habitats, accompanied by an amazing amount of small animals and particularly rich in bird life. It is a major migratory stopover on the Pacific Flyway and one of the best bird watching areas on the west coast.

The Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve is the largest remaing tract of undisturbed marshland in the San Francisco Bay area. Over the years, actually since the 1850’s, much of the bay’s shoreline had been converted to salt evaporation ponds for the production of sea salt. These are really quite pretty from the air. Much of that is being restored now to its natural state, but some still remain.

Once again, the Los Gatos group was out painting a place on my “to-do-list”, so I joined them again! We painted close to the Lucy Evans Nature Center. There was a good painting everywhere you turned. One friend in the Los Gatos group asked if this qualifies as a Creek or River in Silicon Valley. Most assuredly yes, I replied. The water is the estuaries formed by the San Fransiquito and Matadero Creeks as they empty into the bay.

Click this link for a map of all painting locations.

Some pictures of the day. You can now click on a thumbnail, then scroll directly from picture to picture—

I love the abstract shapes of the marshes with their islands of grass and the water reflecting the sky, so that was the focus of my painting. This is the first painting in the series which actually shows San Francisco Bay.

Baylands Fun, 8x10,oil on board
Baylands Fun, 8×10,oil on board

The distant shore is the East Bay Foothills above the Newark/Fremont area, and to the left going out of frame would be the Dumbarton Bridge. On the right distant shoreline, I indicated a few of the huge salt piles (which were really there). My guess is these are over 50 feet high. San Francisco Bay is the water just in front of the distant shore.

I plan on painting more around the bayshore before the project is finished. In fact will be painting on the distant shoreline looking back this way soon enough.