"The weekend I spent in 1905"
by Theresa Stuart
(Littlerock, CA USA)
Main Street in Richmond, California
Friday evening, driving eastbound over the San Rafael Bridge, leaving San Francisco and Oakland behind me, the blue green water of the bay below. Basked in hues of deep orange, reds, yellows and violets as day comes to an end. Thirty minutes to the far end of the bridge and my destination.
Nestled in the foothills above the bay in Contra Costa County is Point Richmond, formally known as “East Yard”. Built in 1890, its name changed in 1900. It is one of the few places where all original buildings still stand, having made it through the earthquake of 1906. Two of the city's churches, Our lady of Mercy and the United Methodist church, took in and housed the injured and homeless from that disaster, who watched the flames from across the bay burn for days.
Local businesses still operate from buildings more than 100 years old that have stood here since before the incorporation of the town itself. Architecturally, you find a mix of craftsman style, Queen Anne, Victorian and Neoclassic row houses built at the turn of the century.
In 1890, the flat area below the town was abandoned farmland; the San Francisco-San Joaquin valley railway purchased 57 acres to build a rail yard - hence the name. At the same time on the other side of the ridge, Pacific Coast Oil (later Standard Oil, now Chevron Oil) acquired a large parcel and built a refinery. After completion of both the railyard and the refinery in 1905, available jobs brought residents to the area. Both businesses are still in operation today.
Grassy knolls, mature trees and landscape in all directions, the smell of a dozen varieties of flowers linger in the air. Foot and bike paths meandering from town both into the hills and to the water's edge. Birds, reptiles, chipmunks, and assorted other animals can be observed along the way. Cool, salty breezes blow on shore, your mind finally begins to unwind, finding relaxation from the hectic week.
On any given day there are numerous towns activities to amuse even the most particular of tastes. From the mundane to the gourmet you will find something that pleases both your mood and palate.
The Roadside Café features sandwiches made from fresh baked breads, local grown vegetables and meats. The theater for the preforming arts still has daily dramatic, musical and variety acts for a fun diversion. If that is not to your taste, Point Richmond Historical Association depicts the growth of this hamlet from inception in 1872 to present day. Several public beaches allow swimming and fishing for stripped sea bass. You can also visit the Golden State model railroad museum, the shipyards near the marina that house the SS Red Oak Victory ship, Rosie the Riveter WWII national historic park, and the Yacht Club.
On Saturdays and Sundays Town Square is filled with a vast array of local grown foods, flowers and other goods at the open-air farmers market. You’ll find a strong sense of community here, neighbors help each other and everyone knows the names of those who pass by.
There are a number of choices for lodging, and especially noteworthy are the old boarding houses that keep with the town's atmosphere. One is the Hotel Mac, a four-story brick and mortar structure over 100 years old. Its 1920s sitting room is filled with rich velvets, mirrors, green and gold chintz pillows and tiffany-style lamps. When the hotel was first built, women were not allowed to have gentlemen visitors on the upper levels, where the rooms are.
The other hotel is East Brother Light Station out on the cay. Built in 1872, the old lighthouse is now a B&B. It is in grand style, with fixtures from the turn of the century, beautiful hand-tooled woodwork, attention to every detail, and welcoming staff.
Take an evening stroll down Main Street under the flickering gaslights casting shadows against the early 20th-century architecture, beautiful storefronts of glass and handcrafted wood and antique shops. In summer enjoy music in the square under the huge magnolia trees, hydrangeas, roses and green shrubs. It is as if time has stood still for this little community, giving the illusion you have somehow gone back to a slower and simpler place.
Theresa Stuart runs www.LifeSkills-Coaching.webs.com