Archive for the ‘The Dumbarton Loop’ Category

The Dumbarton Loop Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

Up the San Francisco Peninsula over the Dumbarton Bridge to Newark, Niles, Fremont, Milpitas and back through North San Jose,  Alviso,  Santa Clara and home, Sunnyvale. About 70 miles.

In my world there are boxes. Many, many boxes ordered in rows and columns. They are bonded together by a force which emanates from my being. They are re-ordered according to my interests, current needs and desires, my hopes and dreams, my successes and failures. They grow as I grow. This reticulated pattern is not static but in constant motion as I navigate through the ebb and flows of life. The rows undulate and the columns elongate but the bonding force brings all back in order. There are times, though, that this delicate and beautiful symmetry is disturbed and all is rendered in ghastly oranges and shadows and confusion and disjointedness and stress and distorted faces of anguish. That’s when I am at the edges of control, at the nadir of confidence or from another angle, my bios are low. My boxes are crashing into each other. There is no symmetry, or beauty, no ebbs nor flows. When I find myself in such a state I embark on my ‘happy ride’. No, not drugs or booze, but a simple bicycle ride which takes me far enough away to put perspective back in my life. Order to my boxes.

The South Bay Area. What a magnificent place. I suppose that from my perspective it’s a love affair. During the last forty five years I’ve gone through all the phases of love. I’ve been infatuated by it, I’ve grown disenchanted. I’ve hated it. I’ve abandoned it. I’ve missed it and been miserable without it. And I’ve returned with deep understanding of what it truly is and intention never to leave it. I love living here and now I delight discovering its bits of history which go unnoticed by the hectic bustle of high powered business.

Gorgeous U. Santa Clara Campus & Mission

Gorgeous U. Santa Clara Campus & Mission

I first came to Santa Clara Valley, the future home of Silicon Valley, in 1965 to attend the Jesuit run University of Santa Clara. With my laden four door, green Chevy Biscayne I traveled the hour and a half  from Marin County down Bayshore Freeway. Now it’s eight lanes of continuous traffic…but, back then it dwindled to two lanes with traffic light at the Santa Clara exit where I would drive through apricot, pear and prune orchards to exit onto El Camino Real to the university. The cities to the north, Sunnyvale, Cupertino,  Mt. View, Palo Alto, Los Altos were all separated by orchards as opposed to today’s continuous suburban growth to San Francisco.

Some of us are not cut out for the corporate life. You know, the meetings, the image and perception, the appearance of bus-i-ness and stuff. It was not me. So, one day, an associate and I bought a bankrupt bar and restaurant. We knew a little and were ignorant of a lot. But the place was smack dab in the middle of what was to be ‘Silicon Valley’ and after some experimental iterations we found the profitable formula. Silicon Valley literally grew around us and we prospered. We catered to Atari, Lockheed, Northern Telecom, National Semi, AMD and scores of other  nascent technical companies who would write Silicon Valley history. It was wild, unpredictable and always exciting. Money flowed freely and we were having the times of our lives. This era, of course, is one of the bonding elements which cemented the affection which I have for this little piece of the world which I now call home.

So, when I ride it’s more than physical exercise for the health, although that is important. It’s more than the enjoyment of the sights and sounds which the road presents. It’s more than the feeling of freedom which only an open road with no schedule can produce. It’s a link with the past, the discovery of the history, an appreciation of what life was like when there were only native Indians about the Bay, or the Spanish and Mission era or the agrarian roots of the early twentieth century, the railroads, the ferryboats from Alviso to San Francisco, the bordellos and hunting clubs of Drawbridge, the present effort to refurbish the eco-system of the Bay and many more. All layers which are there, real, waiting to be discovered and integrated into one’s consciousness and appreciated as one rides.

It had been a tough week of negotiations to close a real estate deal for a good client. The agent I was dealing with was combative and recalcitrant and made a simple transaction difficult and unpleasant. But….in the end my client got a good deal, the transaction closed and I was left emotionally spent. The stage was perfect for my ‘happy ride’.

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Steven’s Creek Trail

I began slowly on a breezy, sunny, Sunday morning. The air was washed clean from ten continuous days of rain. The bank and a bit of cash for lunch was my first stop on El Camino.  Then…onto the semi deserted roads of tech area of Silicon Valley to Steven’s Creek Trail. Slowly I would focus on lush vegetation and bushes in bloom, and a tidy unlittered path and occasional happy voices filtering through from nearby paths and…best of all the tension in my body eased and soon disappeared. I breathed deeply and filled my lungs and smiled as I began to think of the day’s itinerary. A full day of adventure and discovery. How exciting!

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 As I neared the Bay the path rose to provide a fine view of Hangar One and Moffet Field. Hangar One, built in the early thirties to house helium filled dirigibles used for reconnaissance, was the home of the U.S.S. Macon till its crash and demise off the coast of Monterey in 1935. During its brief history the Macon was used as a flying platform for its five ‘Sparrowhawk’ Biplanes which would be launched and retrieved mid-air using a hook and trapeze system. During WW II the hangar housed a small fleet of derigibles  used for submarine reconnaissance off the California coast. Since those days the iconic hangar has functioned in conjunction with NASA-Ames whose technology paved the way for Silicon Valley. Now it stands as a unique piece of architecture reminiscent of another era and visible from many spots around the Bay.

So, I arrive at the Bay. Some folks are taking fotos of nesting areas set in the marshes. Others are jogging or bike riding. A stream of cars head for the nearby Shoreline Golf Course beside the looming Shoreline Amphitheater. Off in the distance is the graceful rise of the Dumbarton Bridge fading into the eastern foothills of Alameda County. As I ride the levees water fowl rise and settle in nearby reeds and the occasional goose yields the path without concern. Placards with historical notes and various species to be observed are set at vantage points. I wind my way through a busload of senior tourists lead by a docent. Some seem to be annoyed with me as I weave though the lissome crowd. ‘There are sloughs and estuaries and nesting areas and ponds and such. I stop and smell wild anise growing in clumps with tender shoots and a wonderful sharp, fresh scent. The air is clean and a cloud cover casts a somber tone to the scene.

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Enjoying a nature walk on a Saturday morning.

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Southern Pacific track constructed in 1910 for trans-bay-East Palo Alto to  Newark-passenger service was closed in 1972.

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Safe and secure bike lane on the Dumbarton Bridge provides bird eye view of the South Bay.

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South Bay from Alameda foothills.

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 A dash of beauty along the way!

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 Along Paseo Padre Parkway in Fremont. A sea of mustard today…industrial park and hi-tek firms tomorrow!

So, I leave East Palo Alto, the city that never quite made it, and head over the Dumbarton Bridge to Niles, now a section of Fremont but formerly a town with an iconic history and a distinct flavor. The height of the bridge, the segregated path, the undulating waters below, the gusts of wind, the smells of the bay, the distant shoreline with noticeable landmarks all provide a surreal setting…a setting for the mind to wander untethered by the realities of life. The KGO radio station with its tall antenna stands on the east side and I wonder if it’s still in operations as it looks rather deserted. How does that work? Perhaps the studios are in San Francisco and this is a transmission point with the best vantage spot for the Bay. Levees meander in sweeping curves and separate and unite at the abandoned rail line with drawbridges upright and deserted buildings and all fade into the grays waters and mist.  Must be remnants of the salt ponds and are now being restored to eco friendly wetlands rich with water fowl and amphibian life and marsh creatures. Behind are the opulent cities of the San Francisco Peninsula, Stanford University, the upscale shopping centers, the folks who compost, the vegans, the politically correct, the upwardly mobile, the intellectually elite, the globally concerned, the multi culti and the greens and ahead are the rolling hills, a country feeling, less pretentious and more relaxed, not so manicured but more real. I stop in center of the span and look south towards Alviso but can’t see much…to the right I spot hangar one, small but distinct. The winds are quiet but in the afternoon they’ll be strong and traveling to the west will be challenging.

The Baylands along Paseo Padre Parkway, north of the bridge towards Union City are being prepared for the next extension of Silicon Valley. The roads with wide sidewalks and bicycle lanes and future road junctions are already in. There is convenient access to major road networks and are close but removed from the bustle of Silicon Valley. I muse that this would be a great investment in real estate if one had a long time horizon. I saw it happen in Silicon Valley and this has all the same earmarks. Now I enjoy the fields of vibrant mustard swaying to the gentle breezes and ride comfortably on the desolate road to Niles.

I approach the town from the north on Niles Boulevard. It’s main street lined by storefronts with nary a familiar chain to be seen. The architecture is western and Victorian with wide sidewalks and train station at the center. The sidewalks are not so tidy, the storefronts not so upscale and the residential neighborhoods just behind main street not so modern. It feels comfortable and interesting and a refreshing contrast to nearby areas. I ride into town slowly and survey each store and note distinctive names. My first stop is the Essenay Museum which is only open on weekends.

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Docents at the museum take you through Niles’ role in the silent movie industry from 1912 to 1916. Co-owner of Essenay Studios, ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson with a troop of fifty descended on the town, built studios and housing and put Niles on the motion picture map, for a brief moment. He shot and starred in scores of short cowboy movies both in glass enclosed studios and on location in nearby Niles Canyon.  The museum hosts silent films on week ends and displays period fotos of buildings and stars of yesteryear along with clothing and props of the early film industry.

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During the 1912-1916 film period Charlie Chapman came to Niles too. Here he made three films and developed the ‘Little Tramp’ character. These images adorn buildings on main street.

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At the center of town is the old train station now renovated and turned into a museum commemorating the importance of rail to the area. Niles was an important junction point from the north bay and the central valley to San Jose. Its rail history began in the 1870’s with the narrow gauge, steam powered South Pacific Coast Railroad which was eventually acquired by Southern Pacific and expanded to Los Gatos, Boulder Creek and Santa Cruz.

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 Main street, Niles. Storefronts on one side and railroad on the other. A true western town. In my travels I tell many folks of this little town and, and….no one has ever heard of it!

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In the center of town I lunch at Broncho Billy’s. How appropriately named. The walls are adorned with old cowboy movie posters and western props. It’s a perfect midpoint stop to refresh. A hearty sandwich and a glass of wine!

From Niles, Mission Boulevard provides a wide bike lane and rolling terrain. Long climbs and descents provide fine views of the hills and the bay. This was the home of the Ohlone Indians who fished and hunted about the bay-lands and traded with other tribes from the now Napa, Sonoma and Monterey Counties. During the ‘mission period’ they were organized to work on the Mission San Jose lands.  Unfortunately during the secularization of the 1830’s the mission was  closed and the Indians were left to fend for themselves. The Mission went into disrepair but was rebuilt in 1982. And… a fine structure it is!

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 I exit Mission Boulevard onto Paseo Padre Parkway and ascend into the foothills and upscale neighborhoods of Fremont with fine vistas of the bay. The climbs are pleasant and so are the refreshing breezes and eucalyptus scents; it’s a fine way to ward off the effects of lunch. I sweep back into the lowlands via Warren Boulevard and head south at Milpitas’ Dixon Landing  towards Alviso on sparsely trafficked frontage roads.

Dixon Landing??? Well, it seems that way back during the gold rush a guy, Matthew Dixon, built docks here  to ship hay via flat bottomed boats and two masted schooners to San Francisco. So, the name stuck!

At the bottom of the bay I follow Zanker road through rural bay-lands used to house water treatment plants, garbage dumps and other unsavory city functions. In a few miles I enter the streets of Alviso with its eclectic mix of ramshackle buildings and new housing developments. In the early 1800’s Alviso was quite the town with ferry boat service to San Francisco. It was the center of the south bay. But, with the railroad to San Jose in 1865 it lost its zing.

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A wall map highlights Historic Alviso. Note the railroad and small island in the bay. The railroad was the South Pacific Coast Railroad which connected Niles, Newark and north-bay and central valley to San Jose. The island was Drawbridge. It began with one employee living there to operate the drawbridge. In subsequent years there were duck clubs, and hotels and gambling and bordellos and saloons. It was quite the uproarious place and officials from nearby Santa Clara and Alameda Counties left it alone. The last permanent resident of Drawbridge left in the early 1970’s. Now the island sports decaying buildings  holding the many stories of its racy and colorful past.

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Looking out towards Drawbridge at the southern tip of the bay.

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Bayside Cannery operated in the early twentieth century and now  is a colorful relic.

 I’m now a few miles from home. So, I lean my bike by the back entrance of Vahl’s Restaurant and enter the old fashioned establishment for a brew. I love this place…not for the food, or the drinks, but for the ambiance. This place is Alviso. Established in 1940 and let me tell you, neither  the menu nor interiors have probably changed. It’s like and old book with dog-eared pages or heirloom furniture with a patina. It’s different and comfortable. I blend into the dark bar and chat with the bartender and friendly patrons. And…I reflect what a wonderful day it has been and how lucky I am to have experienced it. And…the cold beer, how good it tastes!!


The Cycling Tuscan

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