Archive for the ‘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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Mt. Diablo High School in Concord wants to build a fence around its campus to keep hookey players in and outsiders out. The City Council is prepared to spend $43,000 on the project.

The story struck a spark in me because I was once a professional hookey player. My career began in the 10th grade when I attended Richmond Union High School.

In those days, nothing deterred me from leaving the school grounds when the mood struck, which was frequent.

I first fell into my evil habit by simply walking off of the school grounds at lunch. Apparently I was lucky the first three or four times. But one day a monitor stopped me at my favorite exit point and escorted me to a detention room.

The following day, I tried another convenient walk-away spot and figured I’d made it when a completely different monitor stepped from behind some shrubs about a block north of the school on 23rd Street.

After that, I cooled it and spent several days walking around the campus, alert for other potential exits as well as for patterns of behavior by the monitors.

A couple of things caught my attention. The monitors were actually teachers. As such, they were required to be in their classrooms when classes began again at 1 p.m. They’d usually leave their posts 10 to 15 minutes beforehand, providing an ample window of opportunity for me to escape.

However, a smart assed teacher figured it out and nailed me by feigning a return to his class but actually stepping behind a tree on my accustomed route and laying in wait.

Still, my developing brain continued its never ending search for a method of avoiding the monitors.

One day as I wandered along the perimeter of the school grounds, I stumbled across an old path that led behind the industrial arts building and through a wall of thick, overgrown bushes bordering the school’s South boundary.

Once through the hedges, I was completely out of sight of the school, which enabled me to walk a circuitous route to my favorite hookey hangout, a library in San Pablo where I’d disappear in a corner and read mystery novels.

For the balance of my time at RUHS, I escaped whenever I wanted, although the thrill of it soon waned and I looked for other exciting pursuits like working algebra word problems.

The Concord City Council and the Mt. Diablo High School are going to learn some interesting lessons after their fence is constructed.

There never was a monitor or a fence that could contain the restless minds of adolescent.

Off Topic. I used to have hair like Aaron Peskin’s. Everyone accused me of wearing a hairpiece. I also had a salt and pepper beard like his and black, bushy eyebrows. To top it off, I wore the same kind of glasses.

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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 Bay Area is literally swimming in recruits these days despite it’s reputation as a hotbed of anti-military sentiment and a flap over the Marine Corps Recruiting Station in Berkeley.

However, contrary to outside perceptions about the Bay Area’s anti-Americanism, the facts tell a different story, as this report from he Contra Costa Times informs us.

The Times has assembled a phenomenal collection of military enlistment statistics from every Bay Area County and all of the area’s major cities. Here’s how some selected communities shape up. The numbers represent first time enlistees only. No data were reported for those reenlisting after having previously served.

  • Berkeley, 15
  • Fremont, 101
  • Hayward, 100
  • Oakland, 89
  • Pittsburg, 39
  • San Pablo, 30
  • Napa, 47
  • San Francisco, 182
  • Manteca, 90
  • Daly City, 66
  • Mountain View, 24
  • San Jose, 369
  • Fairfield, 93
  • Vacaville, 131
  • Vallejo, 65
  • Santa Rosa, 100

Unfortunately, the Times report gives no indication of the time period of the data or a breakout by service, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Army, or Coast Guard.

Even so, some of the data surprised me. What is it about Vacaville, for instance? Two possibilities come to mind. The town is about ten miles from Travis Air Force Base. Maybe the sons and daughters of airmen are enlisting.

Or could it be connected to those 8,888 people in state prisons in Vacaville. The armed services have discussed lowering enlistment requirements regarding certain crimes. Maybe the new policy is in effect now.

Mountain View and Palo Alto seem anomalous, also. They are situated in the heart of Silicon Valley with its millionaires, expensive toys, elite schools, and out-of-sight real estate. One wonders.

And Santa Rosa with 100. What’s the deal with Santa Rosa? This is a predominantly middle-income town as is Napa, although Napa has its share of rich out-of-towners with ritzy Tuscan villas. Every time I drive through Napa Valley, I expect Diane Lane to leap out of a vinyard.

And how about San Francisco and San Jose? Popular mythology tells us that men and women from lower income areas are the most likely to enlist. Surely no one residing in Pacific Heights signed up. Perhaps if we knew more about the geographical distribution of the enlistees in SF and SJ, we might be able to make sense of the numbers.

All in all, it seems to me that the data in the Times report add up to a picture out of sync with Heartland perceptions.

My guess is that the sensational media reports about Berkeley and the Marines have something to do with it.

So, all of you inlanders in garden spots like Cyclopic, Arizona, and No Where, Texas, Tell it to the Marines.

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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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