A Travellerspoint blog

April 2013

Marin County Courthouse

(Frank Lloyd Wright), also brief visit to Robert Louis Stevenson Museum and dinner at Culinary Institute of America (CIA)

sunny 70 °F

Tuesday was an errands day, so I didn't write a separate blog entry for it.

Today however was a major day for me on this trip. I finally made it to the Marin County Courthouse, which was the last Ebuilding designed by Frank Lloyd Wright! I didn't just make it to the courthouse, I took the docent tour - and loved every minute of it. This was a big deal to me, this building is to blame for my closet obsession with FLW. When I was a kid, we occasionally drove up Hwy 101 north of San Francisco to visit my Mom's relatives in Petaluma and Glen Ellen. Every time we drove through San Rafael, I'd see this most unusual building and was fascinated by it. Later I learned it was a Frank Lloyd Wright building, and while I was no longer in this part of the country, I did have the opportunity to visit his original home in Oak Park, Illinois and also walked around several of the homes he designed in that area. Later I had a chance to visit Falling Waters, his fantastic design in Pennsylvania. I did stop by the Marin County Courthouse once, but when I asked someone in the parking lot about touring the building, they told me (incorrectly) that it was only open to the public for tours on Wednesdays. They only give tours on Wednesdays at 10:30 AM, but it is open to the public all week.

At any event, today at 10:30 I took the tour. Marin County had purchased a former dairy farm for the purpose of building a new county facility and interviewed several architects. There were several small hills on the site and all of the other architects recommended bulldozing the hills flat. Frank Lloyd Wright proposed instead to incorporate the hills into the design. At first, he didn't have a plan for the building, but they signed a contract with him anyway (he was already quite famous at this time of course). The county commissioners gave him carte blanche, and the 90 year old architect went to work. Reading some of the newspaper clippings on display, it wasn't all that rosy. People complained about signing a contract with an architect without a clue about what sort of design he'd deliver. Later after construction had already started, it was actually halted as a new board of commissioners voted to stop the work as the new building would cost the taxpayers too much money. Public support for the project finally swayed the commission however and the building was completed (on schedule and on budget by the way).

FLW never got to see the building, he died at 92 before it was completed. However, many, many people have enjoyed it ever since. It has also been used in several movies, including Gattaca and Star Wars (scenes from the planat Naboo).

While it was hard to get a bad picture of the building, it is hard to get a good overview from up close so I'm including a shot of one of the models that shows how it straddles the small hills. Wright's concept was a sort of Roman Aquaduct.


This shows the longer wing which is the Hall of Justice. It is 880' feet long and ranges from two to four stories depending on where you are (relative to the hills and the arches). There is a jail buried in the hill under the octagional roof, so prisoners can be transported to court through tunnels. To the left is an 80' dome, under which is the county commission chambers and also a library. The left wing houses the county administrative offices and is a little shorter then the right, 580' long.

The entry to the buildings is through the arch in the center.


There are a couple of art decco doors leading to an escalator.


FLW's original plan was for the building to have gold anondized paint for the roofs, but the paint products available at the time would not have stood up to the damp weather in Marin county, so his widow later suggested blue such as he'd used in other projects.


Another famous part of the structure is the 172' gold spire which originally held a radio transmitter and exhaust vent.


The spire is at the edge of a patio off the cafeteria (Room 233, where the tour begins), with a lovely pool and gardens. This is also near the center complex (under the dome) where the two wings meet.


Here's another view of the patio from above.


Another feature that isn't visible from the freeway is all the anondized aluminum 'balls' along the roof line. These extend the full length of the building, both inside and outside. FLW used these to break up the flat roof line. This view is from the patio on the hill at the end of the Admin wing.


There are two separate roofs/sides to each of the two wings. Originally, they were open to the sky - however it rains in Marin County more than FLW realized, so were covered over fairly quickly.


Inside, between the two sides, are atriums with offices, courtrooms, etc. along both sides. The top openings are wider and get narrower in each floor to allow as much light as possible to reach the bottom. This also results in very dramatic views throughout the interior of the building.


I also found the views through the round window openings very cool.


There was a meeting (celebration) starting shortly in the commissioners room, but we were allowed in briefly. This is under the dome in the center of the complex, which FLW left as a round room (quite unique at the time). Artistic details in a FLW building are never in short supply, even the recessed sections of the ceiling for the light fixtures.


The top room under the dome was the library. A cardboard cutout of Frank Lloyd Wright was supposedly full size, hmm,


So after the tour, I hung around a little longer taking pictures (trust me, I only uploaded a small portion of lot!). Then I bought some lunch in the cafe and ate out on that lovely patio, then headed back to Calistoga.

Again, we'd seen so many beautiful roses in this area I had to include another rose picture?


It was still relatively early, so I decided to take Mom down to the Robert Louis Stevenson museum we'd seen in St. Helena. I tried taking some pictures inside, but they didn't come out very good (probably should have used a flash), but this one of a statue outside is nice. It was inspired by a "Childs Garden of Verses", a book of poems he wrote.


Stevenson wasn't from this area, but honeymooned in Calastoga and liked the area so much that he wrote a book about it (Silverado Squatters), so they figured they have as much a right to have a museum about him as any place. It's small (just a large room really), but nice and has a lot of information.

We killed a little time here and at the adjacent library, then headed to the CIA. No, not that CIA, but the Culinary Institute of America - a cooking school housed in the former Christian Brothers Winery.


I'd never heard of this before, but I guess those into culinary arts are quite familiar with it. We didn't take a tour (I think they give tours), but were a little early for dinner, so visited the main building briefly and went through the kitchen store - which included a chocolate tasting...


My pictures of the restaraunt didn't come out too good either, but if you can see it - a table near us had a centerpiece of a tree!


And my shot of the Gazpacho came out pretty good, the gazpacho was pretty good too.


The rest of the dinner was mixed, some dishes were excellant - others not so much so. Overall, it was a very pricey meal for mixed quality. Maybe why there weren't very many customers? Anyway, it was an interesting experience and we both had fun talking with our student waitress, Sara.

Posted by jl98584 09:16 Archived in USA Comments (0)


Visited a couple of places, then one of the towns where Mom grew up & graduated from HS

sunny 85 °F

Ever since I was a kid, I'd heard Mom's stories about growing up in various places, but especially Petaluma. She graduated from High School there and probably spent more time there then other towns, although her family moved a lot when she was a kid. Anyway, I could recall having ever visited Petaluma myself, so thought it might be fun to give it a look.

Calistoga, where the RV Park is, is at the north end of the Napa Valley. To the west, one mountain range over, is the Sonoma Valley, then after another mountain range is the Santa Rosa/Petaluma area. There are several routes through the mountains (all fairly low, but the roads are quite winding and fairly steep - as in 12% grade in some places!). I decided to take the route that leaves from Calistoga and joins Hwy 101 just north of Santa Rosa. On the way, we decided to stop at the California equivalent of "Old Faithful". I've seen the real "Old Faithful", this one isn't even a distant cousin, but it is quite regular so I guess the name is OK. While we were there it went off about every 5 minutes or so.


When we started to head back to the parking lot, I spotted a red wing blackbird fairly close by in the grass. Usually they take off as soon as I get my camera out, so although I'd seen them several times on the trip, I hadn't been able to get a picture of one until now.


We did get into the car however and headed west over the pass towards Santa Rosa. There are a couple of tourist attractions along the way that I managed to skip, a petrified redwood forest and a 'safari west', might be interesting someday but I've already overscheduled the sightseeing this week so we kept driving. As we got nearer to Santa Rosa however, I did stop at an old (1850's?) place called "Mark West Lodge". It was closed, so we couldn't do much there, but there is a giant grape arbor that covers the road - very historic. (The place is also for sale if anybody has about $2M to invest in a labor of love, not sure it could be made to turn a profit these days.)


Petaluma was an interesting little town. They've done a pretty good job of preserving the historic downtown and many old, victorian buildings. It was used for some of the scenes in "American Graffitti" for that reason. Back in teh 1930's & 1940's when Mom lived there, they specialized in Eggs (they called themselves the Worlds Egg Basket). The Petaluma River was called the Petaluma Slough (the name was changed to "River" in 1959 so they could qualify for gov't funding to dredge it.)

I didn't take too much time to make sure I got good pic's of downtown, this one doesn't show it very well but it's what I got.


The Museum was once the library which was built using Carnegie funds in 1904. The Rotunda is the largest free standing leaded glass dome in northern California.


We were able to use the research library to find a picture of the old Petaluma HS (which is no longer standing) and the 1945 HS yearbook with Mom's Senior Photo. She seemed to enjoy going through the pictures and telling me stories.

(Mom's pic is on the bottom left corner)

We also found pictures of a couple of the grammer schools she attended, which I'll include in the family history I've been working on. (Probably no point to include them in the blog at this point?)

The library was on "B" street, which Mom said was one of the streets they lived on. Since so many of the old homes have been restored & preserved, I drove out a few blocks and sure enough Mom said this was either the house they lived in or one a lot like it.


Also, while driving around looking for the museum, I'd noticed an interesting spot for lunch. This was in the McNear's building, which was built in 1886 using an "iron front" that was painted to look like wood. According to a nice lady also eating lunch here, you could order these from a Sears catalog back then, have them shipped to your location, and voila - build a building!


So again, we're eating too much but having a great time!

Posted by jl98584 22:35 Archived in USA Tagged petaluma Comments (0)

Arrive at Napa Valley

Short entry, travel day and setting up camp (RV style)

sunny 86 °F

Strange Day, Saturday. Mom wasn't feeling up to attending church so I decided to head north a day early. Probably would have been wiser to stay until Sunday afterall, but it's too late now (the 1000Trails had a laundry, I since spent 1/2 day and about $10 bucks to do the laundry!)

Anyway, I decided to take I880 up on the east side of the San Francisco Bay as it appeared to be less traffic and maybe a better road than Hwy 101 through the SF Bay area I grew up in. Maybe in a car it would have been OK, but I was driving an RV and towing a car, so east side we went.

The drive wasn't bad, road surface generally OK and not too much traffic. We made good time all day, and through Oakland had some views of the bay. I followed I80 east towards Sacramento, but planning to turn North once we'd passed San Pablo Bay. Before we crossed the Carquinez Bridge, I pulled over at a scenic overlook of both the bridge and Mare Island, which used to be a big naval base. We had lunch here and relaxed a bit before driving further north.


The bridge toll was outrageous (by my standards), $20, CA must base tolls on number of axels, the RV has two and the tow behind car has two, so four axels = $20. Hmm, wonder if RV'ers are really welcome in CA? However we got across the bridge and headed north.

We stopped along the way for the manditory vineyard pic of course:


Anyway, the drive up through the Napa Valley was lovely, but very crowded. Don't know what was going on this weekend but it seems like a lot of people headed north for the weekend. I had decided to stay at the "Calistoga RV Park", which was really the Napa County Fairgrounds being used as an RV park during the non-fairgrounds times (a lot of fairgrounds do this now). The rates are quite reasonable and it seemed somewhat conveniently located to both the Napa and Sonoma Valleys that I wanted to visit. I had called ahead, which was good since there were only about two spots open when we got there. We set up camp and actually had a little shade in our spot. They have also planted roses along the fence line here, which Mom thought was really nice.


Saturday evening we took it easy. Then Sunday we drove down to St. Helena. Mom is NOT a wine drinker and get's kind of wierd about other people having fun (wine tasting) when she's around, so I stopped at a place that advertised olive oil tasteing (as well as wine tasting). It probably used to be just a farmstead, but I think every single corner of Napa Valley that can be turned into a vineyard or wine tasting spot that can be, has been, so now is also wine tasting. It did have a demo farm garden however, and the restaraunt sign said they used their own garden vegitables.


They also have very beautiful roses here, as has everywhere we've been from Monterey north, the roses are just spectacular. Don't know if I can capture that with my poor camera skills, but will try to throw in an occasional rose pic.


My Uncle Bob had been attending an alumni function at Pacific Union College in Anguin, which is not far from here. He lives in Michigan, so we don't get to see him very often. So after their activities were over, Uncle Bob and Aunt Madeline met us in St. Helena for lunch. We met at Pizzeria Tra Vigne and had a pretty good lunch and reconnected a bit.


Uncle Bob recommended a trip up to PUC to see the Azela's in bloom (and I was curious since I'd heard about the campus many times growing up, but had never seen it.) So after we parted ways (Bob & Madeline were headed south to Pasadena to visit my cousin's family), Mom and I took a Sunday drive up to PUC (east of St. Helena, up a bit of a mountain).


I was a bit too lazy to check the Visitors Center or get out of the car to walk around and find the Azela's (OK, it was quite hot and the car was air-conditioned), so after snooping around a bit, we headed back to the RV.

So all in all, not too much going on today on the trip.

Posted by jl98584 21:09 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

Architecture and Artifacts

sunny 87 °F

Today we drove up to San Jose to visit the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum. I am a little ashamed to admit that the last few days I'd been wondering why on earth I had wanted to see this. I'd visited it as a kid growing up in San Jose, but of course don't remember many details. However, as soon we drove by the main entrance I was hooked. We found a good spot in the parking area out back and first checked out the gardens. I hadn't remembered those, but they were very nice!

The statement on an information card says "The Rosicrucian Order is a worldwide philosophical and initiatic tradition that offers time-tested techniques for strength, and inner peace that already reside within each of us."


The Rosicrucian Order has been collecting artifacts for an Egyptian Museum since the early 1900's, but the fantistic building it is housed in was built in the 1960's. It now houses the largest collection of artifacts on exhibit in western North America. It is the only collection housed in a building authentic to the ancient Egypt in style. It has over 4,000 artifacts, as well as a collection of replicas and scale models used in the educational programs.

We spent some time in the Peace Garden, but my pictures were overexposed since again, I haven't bothered to read the manual for my camera. Next to the Peace Garden was a beautiful but small, open air temple.


We walked along the side of the museum where there were impressive columns and a lovely fountain. There are also a number of stylistic statues around the buildings, just as there were in ancient Egypt.


There was also a large scale game for Senet, a game very popular in ancient Egypt, plus a sign with rules for how to play it.


Then you get to the main entrance!


The entry rates are quite reasonable. In addition they have lifts at each stairway for Mom (Caution: You can take as many pictures as you like inside the Museum, but no Flash Photography, so while my camera is pretty good, some of my shots are less clear than I'd like - not using a tripod as I should have...)


Inside, in addition to 4,000 ancient Egyptian Artifacts, are a number of paintings, dioramas, and reproductions of artifacts since one of the missions of the museum is education. The reproductions are very clearly identified (they have green information cards, actual artifacts have white cards). This painting is a little dark, but illustrates the quality of the exhibits (this painting was about 6' across).


The museum exhibits are divided into different sections. The first room covers the afterlife. In addition to lots of other artifacts and coffins are a couple of real mummies.

This coffin belonged to Disure, an 18th Dynasty Priest and Scribe. The mummy is missing however.

This is an actual mummy of an upper class egyptian male, probably from the new kingdom (1549-1064 BCE). It's hard to tell from a picture, but the person was fairly short compared to modern people (with all our nutrition, excess food, etc.) He also had naturally red hair, which I find interesting.

This is a reproduction of King Tutankhamun's inner coffin, one of the excellant reproductions at the museum. Since they are clearly marked and very accurate, it didn't bother me that the Museum includes reproductions. Otherwise one would have to travel far and wide to get as comprehensive a view of ancient Egypt.

These are a very poor pic's (no flash photography), but as this is the only full size reproduction of a rock cut tomb that I know of, it is worth including. This is the entrance, a view from inside the first tunnel, (then there is a narrow staircase I don't have a pic of) and the burial chamber below. The wall paintings in the burial chamber are accurate reproductions as well.


Another room/exhibit hall illustrated day to day life, then there was one of kings & royalty. I thought this was an interesting take on how the famous bust of Nefertiti was created by the artist, Thutmosis. They also have a very nice reproduction of the bust itself, which should suffice unless you can also afford the trip to Berlin where the actual artifact resides.


There were also a few scale models of places in Egypt (and artists renditions of how a few ancient places may have looked).


And a few small dioramas, showing day to day life.

April_19_-.._of_Scribes.jpg April_19_-..for_a_Party.jpg

We probably could have spent several days here, but a couple of hours is about all Mom could handle (and all the time we'd allocated), so I bought a book detailing the catalogue of artifacts (and informative descriptions...) and we moved on. We had a 4 PM meeting scheduled with some relatives in Cupertino, so had some time to kill. Mom wasn't particularly interested in driving around where we used to live in San Jose and her old haunts, but she had seen an interesting looking diner as we were leaving Gilroy so I decided to drive back down there for lunch. (The story is worse then this, I thought I'd have time to drive all the way to Salinas to visit the John Steinbeck Center, but didn't take into account how long we'd spend at the restaurant and misjudged how far it was to Salinas), so we wasted a lot of time driving, then turning around and driving back.) In the meantime, we ate at the Black Bear Diner - which was cute and had pretty good food (way too much).


We eventually did head back up to Cupertino to my father's cousin's house and had a lovely visit with Larry and Joan and some of their family. Mom had never really known them so may have gotten some bad information from Granddad, and was glad to actually meet them and find out what nice people they are! So we had a great visit, came back with some lovely lemon's from their tree, and got ready for the next leg of our trip.


Posted by jl98584 19:40 Archived in USA Tagged museum egyptian rosicrucian Comments (0)

Monterey Area

Really Watsonville & Pacific Grove

sunny 70 °F

My plan for today was to visit Monterrey & Carmel, however what good would a travel plan be without a little flexibility?

So we headed west from the campground over Hwy 152, also known as "Hecker Pass" road, and soon found why they don't allow trucks over 45' long on this road! It was a fun & beautiful drive in a Kia Rio however. The road surface is good, but there are a lot of twists and turns and a fairly steep grade. The tightest turn has a 15 mph speed limit, a few had 20 or 25 mph speed limits. The pass is only about 1300 feet, but of course this is from sea level and over total distance of about 13 miles, so is a nice little jaunt in a small car.

At the summit is an old, closed "Mt. Madonna Inn". Lovely spot and view, but this is not the same place as the beautiful Madonna Inn, also in Watsonville. This one is closed.

I'm still having trouble learning to use my camera correctly (maybe because I haven't bothered to look up the directions, which don't come with the camera any more, you have to google them). Anyway, most of my shots from the pass aren't worth posting, so this is the best available.


As we continued on and approached downtown Watsonville, we passed a very cool looking old house. I couldn't tell from the sign whether it was a museum or a commercial building so decided to pull over and check it out.


This is the Tuttle Mansion. It isn't really a museum, but is a very historic home (for Watsonville at least) and the main office inside had an information sheet and encouraged me to look around a bit. It was built in 1899 by Morris B. Tuttle, who had grown rich ranching and farming in the area and wanted a home to show off his success. The cost was a staggering sum for that time, $20,000 including $5,000 for the carpentry alone, which included very expensive Hungarian ash, oak, cedar, birds eye maple and mahogany.


Ralph Oliver bought the home in 1974 and has restored it as commercial real estate, including offices for his property management company.

We continued on through downtown Watsonville towards Hwy 101, which would take us to Monterey. However I saw signs for Pajaro Dunes. That sounded interesting so I decided to check it out first. This took us through an old business section of town (mostly agricultural plants and warehouses). This one looked like a bunch of small markets until we looked closer! Most of the windows, doors, awnings and people are just painted onto a regular, bland old warehouse. Very Cool!


We continued driving west towards the dunes and again passed lots of fields. It seems even farming has gone mass production these days, these folks were planting (lettuce I think), then harvesting (strawberries again):


On the way out to the dunes, we also passed several of these very strange, large, concrete structures. We tried and tried to figure out what they were or why they were just plopped by the side of the road along the fields. See if you can guess (I'll put the answer at the end of the blog entry).


Eventually we did make it to Pajaro Dunes. It turns out most of the area is a vacation resort, "Pajaro Dunes", however there is also a small state park with lots of Eucalyptas trees and also some nice, but small sand dunes and a beach. The hike to the top of the dunes is a bit difficult (soft sand), but Mom decided to try it and did make it to the top. The beach is fairly steep and has a clearly visible undertow, so I just took pictures and we both enjoyed the lovely day and view, then headed back to Hwy 101.


So we drove on into Monterey and tried to decide how to spend our limited time. Here is where you get lucky (or not, depending on they type of reader you are - I suppose if you're following this blog at all, you probably aren't too turned off by travel blogs!) - Anyway, for the first time this trip I forgot to plug in my camera last night! The battery died just as we got to cannery row, so no more pictures! Not entirely, my cell phone also has a camera of course, but for some reason I was reluctant to use it until we got to Ocean View Drive - where it worked just fine. So in any event, will just have to describe what we did inbetween.

It had been a long time since I'd spent any considerable time in Monterey and I didn't have a detailed map of the area, so I decided to stop by the information center first. This is in a building that had been the French Consolete during the Mexican period and is also right by a lake, which was quite lovely. The ladies were very helpful and recommended we take the "Ocean View Drive" through Pacific Grove on our way to Carmel.

We decided to skip the Wharf and Aquarium this trip, having done both previously and having allocated limited time for this area. I drove through Cannery row slowly and we decided to eat lunch there. We stopped at a Mexican restaraunt over the water, where Mom really enjoyed watching the Comerants fishing and the waves breaking over the rocks and old concrete foundations next to us. We enjoyed the scenery, but didn't really stop a whole lot but instead made our way up to the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. Boy what a find! Not only was it an interesting little museum, but it was free! (Donations accepted of course). They have displays of most of the species found in Monterey County including one of the largest collections of mounted birds in the county - if not the largest. They also have a nice garden area in the back with different 'region's (types of plants located in the different regions of the county). After enjoying the museum, we purchased a few small items in the gift shop and moved on.

So we headed back downt he hill to Ocean View Drive and turned left. It was a clear, sunny spring day and the views were fantastic, so good in fact that I finally overcame my reluctance to use the cell phone camera. There was plenty of (free) parking along the drive so I stopped several times to enjoy the view and take pictures. One had some very pretty pink flowers (a species of ice plant I think). I got out to take pic's and to my surprise, when I turned around Mom had also gotten out and headed down the path a bit! (I figured she was pretty tired from the museum and had encouraged her to just enjoy the rest of the trip from the comfort of the car.)


Anyway, we took the slow route around Ocean View Drive (e.g., many stops) and felt we'd had a good enough time we really didn't need to pay for the 17 mile drive to Carmel. It was getting a bit later and Mom was tired so we decided to head back to the RV campground. This time I didn't go so slow, just got back on Hwy 101 to Watsonville, and exited on 152 East back towards the pass. Just before we got to the uphill section however, I saw a sign for "Apricot Pies". How could I pass that up? So one minor detour to Gizdich Ranch, a couple of slices of pie, apple cider and a jar of the best apple butter I've ever had, and we zipped back and enjoyed a quiet evening in camp)


Mom was pretty tired out from the drive (it was about 50 miles from the campground to Pacific Grove), so I decided to take the next day (Thursday) off and not go anywhere. We did our laundry, dishes, etc. and started a jigsaw puzzle in the clubhouse. The weather was fantastic, warm but pleasant and I had as much fun relaxing as mom did! Friday we'll head up to San Jose.

Quiz Answer: The concrete objects are bases for water tanks! We finally saw one with a tank still on top. I guess technology has progressed so they have plenty of irrigation jto support the fields without the tanks, but the concrete bases are much too massive to bother to remove.

Posted by jl98584 10:40 Archived in USA Tagged watsonville Comments (0)

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