Book explores Bay's architectural rootsBy Annalee Allen
Mitchell Schwarzer is professor of art and architectural history at California College of the Arts, where he is also chair of the Department of Visual Studies. A resident of Oakland, he has written extensively for architectural magazines, academic journals, and edited books on architecture and the built environment.
Schwarzer's latest book is "Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Area: A History & Guide," William Stout Publishers. The author will be appearing this Thursday at Builders Booksource in Berkeley at 7:30 p.m.
Architecture history lovers on your gift list will want to receive this compact, well illustrated guide that is easy to carry on self-guided walks around San Francisco and the East Bay.
The author notes that our area was one of the last places of the New World to be "discovered, conquered, and settled by Europeans."
Although the Bay is the finest natural harbor along California's 1,264-mile coastline, Schwarzer states, early explorers charting the western edge of the continent apparently overlooked it for centuries, likely due perhaps, to "the region's famous fogs," which prevented navigators from sighting the inland estuary.
The first record of the Bay was made in 1769 by members of an expedition led by Gaspar de Portola who hiked from the San Mateo County coast near present-day Pacifica, to the top of Sweeny Ridge. "From a promontory now known as the Discovery Spot," writes Schwarzer, "they saw to their astonishment a great expanse of water enclosed by mountains."
Over the subsequent 240 years, the lands surroundingthe Bay have become the second largest metropolis on the Pacific Coast of North America.
Yet the Bay Area wasn't built overnight, due in part to the difficulty of reaching the region, from the East Coast, as well as Europe. "One either took an eight-month sea voyage around Cape Horn, (which could be slightly shortened by adding a land journey through the Panama Isthmus), or an equally lengthy and arduous land crossing over the great plains and the formidable snow wall of the Sierra Nevada Mountains," writes Schwarzer.
But completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 meant the journey here could be completed in a little over a week - ending California's isolation.
"Later, with the advent of the Lincoln Highway in 1919, the Interstate Highway system in the 1950s, and jet airplanes in the 1960s, California became a central part of global routes of trade, tourism, and migration."
Schwarzer traces the East Bay's early development through the routes taken by that first transcontinental railroad line - from the Central Valley, through Jameson Canyon (west of present day Fairfield) to the Carquinez Straits, from which point ferries took passengers and goods to San Francisco; and the direct land route to Oakland, over the Altamont Pass and the Sunol Grade.
Today's 7th Street in downtown Oakland is where the final leg of the continent-spanning rail transportation link was laid out. A small depot building from that era still stands, as do the nearby restored landmark structures making up the Old Oakland Historic District which constitute "one of the finest blocks of Victorian commercial buildings on the West Coast," the author says.
The guide's easy to follow maps pinpoint various noteworthy landmarks, both historic and contemporary, such as the Italianate-villa Pardee House (1868), Oakland's City Hall (1911-14) and the giant Port of Oakland shipping Cranes (1988).
Also included in the guide is an examination of the birth of various neighborhood organizations in the late 1950s, protesting freeway plans - far too sweeping in scope - following the signing into law by President Eisenhower of the Federal Aid Highway Act.
"For the first time citizens saw the historic city fabric as an environment worth fighting for, says the author. Throughout the Bay Area, freeway plans were scaled back. In Berkeley for instance, a citizen's revolt stopped Highway 13 from boring down Ashby Avenue to connect with Interstate 80.
Not every freeway proposal was blocked, however. "Interstate 580 was rammed through Oakland's foothills during the 1960s," and the infamous Grove-Shafter connector (Highway 24) bisected North Oakland's Temescal and Rockridge neighborhoods, despite strong community protest.
Schwarzer also describes how BART, the massive rapid transit engineering project, approved by voters in 1962, transformed the region, and had some negative as well as positive impacts, particularly to downtown Oakland and West Oakland.
The author does not ignore California College of the Arts campuses (both its historic Oakland location on Broadway and its San Francisco headquarters in the former Greyhound Bus Company Building (1951), 1111 Eighth St.) The college will be celebrating its centennial starting in 2007.
Copyright ©2006 Oakland Tribune. Published 11/26/2006.