Archive for the ‘Old San Pablo’ Category

Since I have labored mightily for six days to create the wisdom of the ages, I have decided to rest and devote my energy to lighter matters.

I received a request yesterday for information about country music in the Bay Area, especially in and around San Pablo and Richmond. The reader expressly wanted to know if Maple Hall in San Pablo was once known as San Pablo Hall.

I had never heard of this before. It’s always been Maple Hall since I was a kid. Most of what I know about Maple Hall, I learned from my mother. But I’ve been there and hung around with hordes of other kids outside while the adults inside danced to the twangs of the country music icons of the day, got drunker than skunks, and occasionally spilled outside to continue the flailing they began inside. What’s a country music dance without a manly encounter or two over the course of a rousing evening?

As my mother related it all to me, some of the stars who appeared at Maple Hall were Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Spade Cooley the King of Western Swing, Hank Williams, and more.

Beyond Maple Hall, the length of San Pablo Avenue north from the El Cerrito city limits to the bottom of Tank Farm Hill, where civilization as we know it ended, was lined with clubs, bars, and just plain old beer joints. Almost all of them catered to country music lovers.

And in Richmond, country music clubs abounded the length of Market Avenue to Church Lane in San Pablo. An old Key System bus ran the length of this street, terminating in San Pablo, and several drivers used to announce the end of the line with the call “All out for Okie Town.”

Those were the days of thousands and thousands of “Okies” from states like Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and a host of others who were in Richmond and San Pablo to work in one of the five Kaiser shipyards constructed when the Second World War began. The area was covered with hastily-erected war worker’s housing, some of which still stand in Richmond and San Pablo.

I intend to provide my reader with more info later, but for now I just want to ask: Does anyone know if Maple Hall was once named San Pablo Hall?

If you do, let me know.


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A few days ago, a reader responded to a post about an old World War II defense workers’ housing project in San Pablo called El Portal Park.

Some of those old structures are still standing and people actually live in them. But most of the land that once comprised El Portal is occupied now by the Contra Costa Community College.

A few years ago, my sister and I drove through the area and snapped some pictures of a couple of remaining buildings. Then we visited the San Pablo City Hall to see if we could learn more about the history of the town.

We were pleasantly surprised when someone in the Mayor’s Office (I think it was the Mayor!) gave us a book prepared and published by the San Pablo Historical Society, which turned out to be richly illustrated with pictures taken as far back as the mid-1800’s.

From a Rancho to a City Called San Pablo is the book’s title. Although I had lived there for several years and my sister still lives nearby, both of us were surprised at our almost total ignorance about the town.

We learned that the old Rancho San Pablo’s boundaries, which were mapped in 1856, included the now-towns of Pinole, El Sobrante, San Pablo, Richmond, and El Cerrito.

And San Pablo Avenue was once an avenue for cattle drives and several saloons, prominent among them an establishment named Mother Young’s Saloon.

The first known photo of San Pablo Avenue, taken in 1870, below, includes a shot of Mother Young’s, the first building on the left. Somehow, this faded shot of a broad, unpaved dirt road evokes images of Wyatt Earp with his feet propped up against a post on the veranda of Mother Young’s.


Between 1870 and today, San Pablo made a smooth transition from an unincorporated area of Contra Costa County to incorporation in 1948. Following its incorporation, the city progressed rapidly to become the modern city of today.

Along the way, familiar geographical features such as Standard Oil’s Tank Farm Hill, shown below in 1938, gave way to homes and shopping center, culminating with the Hill Top Mall. The road running up the hill is San Pablo Avenue.


And El Portal Park has ceased to exist except for a couple of the old, beige barracks-style structures, which still house a few families. The picture below of one remaining building was snapped recently by my sister. The wooded hills to the left of the building were the site of the old oil storage tanks shown above.


There are many more pictures in the book, including shots of Maple Hall, the Pablo Theater, St. Paul’s Catholic Church on Church Lane, early pictures showing El Portal Park under construction, aerial photographs taken around 1956, grammar school class photos, and a few bars and restaurants. Pictures of many citizens are also included. Someone you know may be in one.

All told, the book is a trip down memory lane well worth its cost.

Black and white pictures are courtesy of the San Pablo Historical Society.

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The talking heads have driven me into the seclusion of my bedroom where I peruse an issue of Country Weekly Magazine, with a photo of country singer George Strait on the cover. I picked up the magazine earlier at a Safeway checkout counter, fully anticipating a political analysis phase-out period later in the day.

Country folks and their favorite artists are largely conservative and in this issue of Country, I found a couple pictures of George and Laura Bush. In one, the couple posed with George Strait. In another, Sara Evans was busily interviewing George.

As I leaf through the magazine, I notice how similar the people in it are to the Bay Area cool crowd. Country artists have their share of stubble-chic and open-necked white linen shirts worn outside their denim pants.

The country crowd also has its share of beautiful, well-shaped girls with perfect profiles. The magazine even had a whole bunch of straight-haired blondes who probably live in Tucson’s version of the Marina. Any one of them could ace out J.S. in a heartbeat.

About the only stylistic difference I could see between SF’s Super Chic and the common folk is in their favored headgear. Country boys prefer Stetsons and baseball caps worn the right way.

And the preferred means of locomotion for country boys is a horse or a Harley. If I were a country boy, I’d prefer a Harley. Horses have an odd habit of dropping steamy round pellets at awkward times and places.

George Strait has starred in one movie in his career, a hokey story called Pure Country about a world-famous country star who falls in love at first sight with a stunning redhead aptly named Harley, played by Isabel Glasser.

Their romance takes place largely on a Texas ranch owned by Harley’s father, played by once-handsome movie Star, Rory Calhoun. Do stunning redheads really live on ranches?

The Bay Area country scene seems to have shrunk over the years. At one time, Richmond was an Okie hotbed with honky-tonks running along 23rd Street north to San Pablo.

And every Saturday night, the stompers used to gather at Maple Hall on Church Lane in San Pablo and dance to big name country swing stars. Now, if you’re into country, you may need to look around for a good bar or hangout.

Funny how I grabbed Country Weekly this morning. I usually head for GQ. Delirium, I guess. Anyway, I think I have everything all worked out. Back to the Heads and more analysis.

Late Add-On

Brittney Gilbert of Eye on Blogs gave this post a shout-out, as she headed her comment Boot Scootin’ Bay Area and asked “Is there a country music scene in the Bay Area?”

Good question. Thanks, Brittney.

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SFist ran a blurb today about a shooting at the college. The shooter is unknown and a large-scale manhunt is underway.

The article drew my attention for a couple of reasons. The college sits on a site that once was known as El Portal Park, originally a World War II housing area for defense workers employed by the old Kaiser shipyards in Richmond.

Later the buildings were rented to returning veterans. At one time, my family lived there and surprisingly some of the old two-story barracks-style buildings and a few one story structures are still standing next to the college campus.

But the interesting part of SFist’s post was a single comment, quoted here for its pithy truths: “ever done time at a junior college in coco county. It’s high school with a bigger quad.”

I’ve often referred to community colleges as “grade twelve and a half.” Those I am familiar with have overly liberal grading policies, which have effectively rendered the grade of F redundant. Why would a college include F as a grading option when it is never used, or when it is, the student inevitably appeals successfully to a higher authority? Voila! Goodbye F, hello D (or higher).

Of course this is exaggeration, but not by much. The state of education in America today is widely regarded as abominable. A real undergraduate education doesn’t begin until graduate school. The prior four years have been one extended spring break.

On reflection, I should have screwed off and spent my time at SRJC inebriated. The outcome would have been the same.

Come to think of it, I did.

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A reader reached this site with the search term “1951 El Portal Park Housing” and then may have clicked on the link for the Richmond Historical Society.

If the reader is interested, my family (not me at the time) lived in El Portal Park around then. I once lived there as well, and I have a lot of info on the subject, including a book on the history of San Pablo with extensive coverage of El Portal Park.

If the reader will post a comment, I’d like to exchange info with them. My sister sill lives nearby and when I visited her a few years ago, we drove to San Pablo and found some old El Portal apartment buildings still there and inhabited.

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Occasionally I like to find connections between the East Coast and the West Coast. In a previous post, I talked about San Francisco Bay and the Chesapeake Bay. And I included some thoughts about U.S. 50, which originated in Ocean City, Maryland and once ended in San Francisco.

There’s another ex-Coast to Coast highway that I am somewhat familiar with. Stretching from Atlantic City, New Jersey, running 3,220 miles to San Francisco, U.S. 40 has since been shortened, ending in Silver Creek Junction, Utah.

Once, though, U.S. 40 ran through several East Bay communities such as Rodeo, Hercules, San Pablo, Albany, El Cerrito, Berkley, and Oakland, then across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco where it ended.

In those days, the East Bay portion of U.S. 40 was San Pablo Avenue. I first traveled on U.S. 40 as a very young child and today can hardly remember the drive from San Francisco to Kansas City. Later, I traveled regularly on the highway between San Francisco and Kansas City.

But more, for a long time we lived in San Pablo a few blocks East of San Pablo Avenue. One of my home chores in those days was running to the store for stuff like milk and bread. A Lucky Store was located on the East side of San Pablo Avenue, but my dad had a “bill,” in a small store located just across San Pablo Avenue owned and operated by a Chinese family. Throughout the month, I would buy items and say to the owner, “My dad said put it on our bill.” Then at month’s end, my dad would dutifully pay the bill.

San Pablo Avenue was fairly heavily traveled even then, with no stop lights or pedestrian walkways nearby. My method for crossing the avenue was simply to wait for a break in traffic and dart across.

On occasion, the traffic would be so heavy that I resorted to a more dangerous tactic. I’d wait for a break in the northbound traffic and then walk to the center of the avenue where I’d stand on the dividing strip and wait for a break in the southbound traffic. As I stood in the middle of the avenue and waited for a break, cars whizzed past me on both sides so closely that I could feel the wind and heat of the cars.

One day to my surprise, I heard a honking horn and looked up to see a car headed straight at me. I had visions of death right then and there. But suddenly the car veered away and passed with a honk and profane shouts from the driver.

The experience didn’t daunt me, however. I continued my foolishness until we moved to Oakland and settled in a quiet neighborhood with a small neighborhood store located next to our house.

I’ve never lived where U.S. 40 originates in New Jersey, but I’ve traveled various segments of the route many times and I always remember the day I almost wound up spattered on the front of a car in San Pablo.

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I ran across a CNN report today that labeled Honolulu a sophisticated city. Among the elements that constitute sophistication according to CNN were big-city offerings, a nearby rain forest, a huge shopping center with over 200 shops, night surfing, and some bars.

For some reason, I haven’t been able to reconcile these elements with sophistication. They all seem so open-ended and amorphously vague. Seems none of them in and of itself would constitute sophistication. Take a rain forest, for example. You might call it a nature’s wonder but it’s hardly sophisticated.

Anyway, this whole article set me to thinking about sophistication in general and sophisticated locales in particular.

Sophistication is a word that means different things to different people. For instance, the things I do are sophisticated. The things people I hate do are unsophisticated. See what I am driving at?

As far as sophisticated locales go, are all bars sophisticated or just some or none? One time I used to hang out at a bar called the Owl Club on San Pablo Avenue in San Pablo. I thought the Owl Club was the pinnacle of sophistication. It had a shuffleboard and a bunch of drunks playing poker in a back room.

Then later as a military guy in Japan I stumbled across the Cherry Bar. The bar’s motif, clearly stated on a sign over the bar’s entrance, was “Wiskey for everyone and only wiskey.” Inside, I didn’t find “wiskey for everyone,” but I did find a whole bar full of cherries. If that isn’t sophistication, what is?

Let’s segue forward to the 21st Century and evaluate Slide on Mason Street. Is this a sophisticated watering hole? There seem to be a lot of half-naked people lounging around drinking hard liquor, getting as drunk as skunks, and trying to score before the place closes. This place must really be sophisticated. It’s located in SF. But would it be sophistiated if it were located in Winslow, Arizona?

The funny thing about all of the places I’ve mentioned is the primary mission of the bar—to sell alcoholic beverages, If you get as drunk as a skunk and find a partner for the night or, if you’re really lucky to the nth degree, a life long partner with whom you can slide through life together in an inebriated state, its frosting on the cake of genuine sophistication.

I am bred to love sophisticated places and sophisticated people. They are so urbane, classy, and chic. They look and act classy even when falling down drunk and vomiting in someone’s lap.

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