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Monday, November 26, 2018

10 California shipwreck sites that can still be seen today!

Of the photos in our newly opened exhibition, Boomtowns: How Photography Shaped Los Angeles and San Francisco, one of the images I find most striking is a mammoth plate panorama by Carlton Watkins documenting the San Francisco Bay from Nob Hill. Beyond the growing neighborhood of clapboard homes stretching out from the photographer’s foreground, we are able to view the low lying intertidal area that is now San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Several wooden schooners are anchored just offshore, likely moored after voyages across the Pacific, up from Cape Horn, or south from Alaska.

Those anchored ships are what strike me most about the image; they serve as the most tangible indicator of how far technology and transportation have evolved since the photo was taken. However, through all of that evolution, seafaring has remained beholden to the whims of the ocean and its conditions. Throughout history, fog, large swells, storms, and navigational errors regularly contributed to vessels wrecking themselves on California’s beaches, cliffs, and unanticipated offshore rocks. While some of these wrecked ships were salvaged or stripped, many still remain in place. Below is a list of ships, many en route between California’s largest ports in San Francisco and Los Angeles, that can still be viewed along California’s coast. These sites are best visited at very low tides when the wreckage is most exposed, and, as always, please use caution when exploring unfamiliar marine environments.

1. SS Monte Carlo, Coronado Island, San Diego County:
The 1920s oil tanker was converted into a floating casino. In its heyday, the Monte Carlo floated off of Coronado Island, taking advantage of a legal loophole that allowed for gambling and prostitution so long as the ship was moored at least 3 miles off shore in international waters. A storm on New Year’s Day in 1937 ripped the ship from its mooring, depositing it on Coronado Island. Given the illicit nature of the ship, no one laid claim to it, and the Monte Carlo hasn’t moved since!

2. SS Dominator, Palos Verdes Peninsula, Los Angeles County:
The freighter was traveling to Los Angeles from Vancouver with a cargo of wheat and beef. Never making it to the port, Dominator ran aground on the Palos Verdes Peninsula on March 13, 1961. Due to large surf and challenging weather, the Coast Guard was unable to pull the ship off the rocks and the crew were forced to abandon the stranded vessel. Dominator can be viewed at the base of the Palos Verdes Estate’s cliffs at low tide.

3. La Jenelle, Silver Strand Beach, Ventura County:
Built in 1931, the 400-foot cruise liner was on the market to be sold when a storm buffeted the ship ashore at Silver Strand Beach in Oxnard in 1970. After leaving her to sit for several weeks, the US Navy decided to remove the top of the ship and fill La Jenelle with rocks to provide an extension to the end of the Port Hueneme breakwater.

4. SS Winfield Scott, Anacapa Island, Ventura County:
The steamship was owned by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, one of the two primary steamship companies connecting the East and West Coasts during the California Gold Rush. Winfield Scott left San Francisco bound for Panama on December 1, 1853 loaded with over 300 passengers and $1 million in gold. The captain, Simon Blunt, decided to travel through the Santa Barbara channel to save time. However, dense morning fog disoriented Blunt and lead him to prematurely steer the ship south east. Windfield Scott crashed into a rock lying off Anacapa Island at full speed and sustained 2 holes to the bow. Passengers and crew were forced to abandon ship and camp on Anacapa for a week before being rescued. The Winfield Scott now lies in shallow water off the island in the Channel Island National Marine Sanctuary, and over the years several sets of treasure seekers have searched the ship for gold and other valuable metals.

5. Barge, Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge, Monterey County:
A barge was blown ashore in a 1983 storm. After the owners were unable to remove the ship, it was left to rust on the beach. The barge is fully exposed on the beach, and it can be accessed by walking 1.5 miles north from the Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge.

6. The Sir John Franklin, Ano Nuevo State Reserve, San Mateo County:
The clipper ship was headed to San Francisco when it became emerged in heavy fog and crashed into rocks on January 17, 1965. The collision destroyed the ship and killed the captain and 11 crew members. The crew members were buried at the adjacent beach, which is now known as Franklin’s Point. In 1980, dune erosion led to the exposure of the buried sailors and archaeologists from San Jose State and Sonoma State Universities subsequently excavated the burials. The researchers discovered the remains of other burials, indicating the fatal history of ships grounding themselves at Franklin’s Point. Today, you can visit a platform located at the end of the point and take in the perilous rocks.

7. King Philip, Ocean Beach, San Francisco County:
The clipper ship was dragged into the surf line at Ocean Beach in January of 1878. The ship has remained in place since then, being battered by constant heavy surf. Surprisingly, it is still possible to view the wreck at a low tide and when storms have shifted sands off of the wreck. In order to view the wreck, plan to visit Ocean Beach at a minus tide and plot these coordinates into your phone or other GPS device: 37.751517, -122.509846. 

8. The Lyman A. Stewart, Ohian, and Frank H. Buck, Land’s End, San Francisco County:
The Lyman A. Stewart ran aground at Land’s End while rounding the bay entrance into the Golden Gate in 1922. The Ohian crashed nearby, north of Point Lobos and the Sutro Baths in 1936, and the Frank H. Buck befell the same fate, crashing into Land’s End in 1938. The Lyman A. Stewart and Frank H. Buck were subsequently blasted apart with dynamite, but pieces of all three ships can still be viewed from the Coastal Trail at Mile Rock Beach at Land’s End in San Francisco.

9. SS Tennessee, Mill Valley, Marin County:
The passenger ship was one of the earliest ships to run aground while trying to enter the Golden Gate, crashing into the Marin coastline in 1853. All of the ship’s passengers, and its cargo of 14 chests of gold were all saved, but the Tennessee could not be salvaged. The beach where the vessel landed subsequently became Tennessee Cove, and it is still possible to see parts of the rusting engine lying on the beach.

10. USS Milwaukee, Samoa, Humboldt County:
In January of 1917, the Navy cruiser USS Milwaukee was sent to Samoa beach, near Eureka, to rescue a Naval submarine that had run aground. Unfortunately, the Milwaukee couldn’t withstand an onslaught of wind and waves and became beached itself. The crew was all saved and the ship scrapped for parts, though some rusting parts of the ship still protrude from the water. The remnants can be found near the Milwaukee Memorial, at the intersection of New Navy Base Road and Samoa Pulp Lane.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Forty Years After Jonestown, Letting the Poisons Disperse

Archives are full of poisons. I used to work in the archives of a medical hospital where we kept a jar for making radium water, and where someone once casually sent my boss a bag of insulation pads dusty with old asbestos. But even without drugs and decaying industrial matter, many materials become dangerous as they age. Archivists can tell that old film is dangerously deteriorating by its distinctive smell of vinegar (actually corrosive acetic acid), and many plastics start to off-gas and turn brittle within a human lifetime.

The materials in the collection we’re processing right now—Peoples Temple photographs and documents—are no exception. Some photo negatives have turned acidic, and most of the rest are encased in fragile plastic which in the worst cases is permanently stuck to the images underneath.

We can avert this decay by putting the photos into new, safer plastic sleeves. This is how we will spend the first few weeks of our time with these twenty thousand images: carefully cutting apart brittle plastic to rescue the photos and give them safe homes.

In the context of the Peoples Temple, I see this as powerfully symbolic of what archivists do. We are removing the poison from the collection. We are making it safe for people to look at. Trauma is radioactive—it has a half-life—but by taking these slides from their rusted paperclips and decaying binders, we can clean up the damaged soil so that something can grow again.

Man and boy welding, Jonestown, circa 1977-1978], Photographs of Peoples Temple in the United States and Guyana, PC 010, California Historical Society.

What do I hope will grow? Personally, I hope that these images will present a broader image of the Temple than the usual tight focus on Jim Jones. These photographs were taken and compiled by the Temple’s Publications Department, so there’s quite a bit here that was intended to honor Jones, but they also show the rank upon rank of passionate, intelligent people who felt inspired by the Temple to be their best selves. Bus trips, ecstatic church services, the first joyous work on the utopian colony of Jonestown—these images show us Temple life outside of the rusty and jagged boundaries of Jones’ mind, even as he was already planning on some level for the ultimate act of control.

Many of the photos are of marginalized people, especially the African Americans who were inspired by the charged Temple atmosphere to build a new world in Guyana. The most familiar images of Jonestown are of corpses. In these images, we see living people, idealists who had stories to tell that weren’t about Jones, and who were able to empower themselves with the stories he told—about faith, about politics. 

Young Peoples Temple members resting on bus trip, possibly in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Photographs of Peoples Temple in the United States and Guyana, PC 010, California Historical Society 
He betrayed them, of course. He weaponized appropriation, he played on the despair of marginalized people but stole their hope for himself, and he talked without listening. What I hope to do, by rescuing these photos from their poisonous clothing, is to create an archive of images that reverses those sentences: “They were betrayed, of course. Their faith and their despair and their hope was stolen, was appropriated. They were spoken to and never listened to.” Reversing a sentence this way makes it less grammatical, but sometimes more honest. In the search for reparative justice, the object—the person who is made an object by another—is more important than the subject.

Let’s not forget Jones. We know what he thought about those who forget history; that was one of his late lucid moments. But let’s remember something bigger, something airier, something that lets the poison disperse into a more generous sky. Let’s remember Christine Miller, who passionately protested the killings at Jonestown, and who once faced down a gun-wielding Jones by saying, “You can shoot me, but you will respect me.” Let’s remember Ever Rejoicing, former follower of Father Divine, who lived for ninety-seven years before dying (not “only to die”) at Jonestown. Let’s remember the survivors—Monika Bagby, Christopher Keith O’Neal, Al and Jeannie Mills—who lived past 1978, but did not live long lives. And of course, let’s listen to the survivors who did, like Yulanda D.A. Williams, who electrified us on November 7th (when CHS hosted a panel discussion exploring the complex ways Peoples Temple was interconnected with and influenced by social, cultural, and political movements occurring at the time of its existence) with her testimony about cultism in America. Let’s listen to what the victims and the survivors have said. Let’s release the poison.
This blog was written by Isaac R. Fellman, CHS's Project Archivist to the Peoples Temple collection

The processing of this collection was made possible by funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)

Monday, November 12, 2018

Visual Prototyping Helps Guide a Team in Unlocking California’s History for Classrooms Across the State

Recently, the California Historical Society had the pleasure of bringing on Navigation North as the firm that will help develop the website for our new Teaching California initiative. This future website will serve as a portal that provides classroom-ready curriculum designed to engage students in inspiring investigations of the past. Navigation North's team of educators and developers work with technology to re-imagine and re-design:

  • How teachers can be better supported in their practice 
  • How student learning, in and out of class, can be improved 
  • How education systems can be more readily adopted to integrate innovation

The following blog is written by Brian Ausland, Navigation North's principal researcher and systems design lead. He has worked in the field of education for 19 years and serves as the intermediary between the technology and learning communities he supports. He brings his classroom experience and teaching perspectives central to all systems, projects, and approaches.


Navigation North traveled to San Francisco to do some early-stage visual prototyping with the California Historical Society team. In the heart of the CHS research center, amongst transitioning exhibitions, offices bustling with varied expertise and passion, and a blend of artwork and manuscripts that shape the history of the Golden State, a small room was set aside for a day of thinking and dreaming.

On the horizon for this team, is a new and vibrant site being prepared for California classroom teachers and students that will help provide key curriculum and resources tied to California’s new History – Social Science Framework.

With an audience of primary source specialists, curators, digital archivists and manuscript librarians, Navigation North led a reflective review of key findings around effective,research-based digital curriculum. Teams were then provided a chance to dream, design, and create. But first, we turned off the laptops, silenced our phones and broke out the crafts.
California Historical Society's Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian, Marie Silva, creating visual prototypes.
What was a respectable meeting room adorned with handsome, historical portraits from California’s past, became a free-for-all of poster paper, markers, yarn, crayons, sample artifacts, clothes pins, pipe cleaner, clay, common interface buttons, scissors, tape, and glue. With some guidance, discussions began on the topic of intentions, values, and calibration around common desired outcomes. Team members reviewed findings on teachers’ use of digital curriculum and reflected on the value of primary sources as keys to unlocking history, then engaged in creating prototype models that blended all of the above.

Once complete, participating team members posted their visual prototypes where their colleagues could make inquiries about their designs, discuss features, and proposed ways to help teachers and students, “analyze the primary source for its story”. Participants were asked to identify their favorite elements of each other’s designs. Navigation North staff recorded the data, captured pictures, and carefully collected all the resulting work items to bring back for further analysis and compilation of findings.

Staff from California Historical Society reviewing ideas for the Teaching California website.
As part of the Discovery Process, this was a simple first step towards helping diverse team members construct a more comprehensive and shared conceptual approach to a robust, digital, curricular resource. With additional steps pending, we were happy to see the team readily dig-in and engage the process. Stay tuned as this adept team crafts an incredible product to help bring more voices to the story of California’s past.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Sears and the Demise of Middle-Class San Francisco

Few retail industry experts were surprised by Sears’ bankruptcy filing last month. Once America’s leading retailer, the 125-year-old business has been in steep decline lately, taking on unsustainable debt and shuttering underperforming stores. In the main, Sears’ decline is a parable – a familiar one for a while now -- of the fate of brick-and-mortar stores in the age of Amazon. But, in San Francisco, the decline of Sears is also a window into the lost era of middle-class San Francisco.

Sears was a major institution in San Francisco since it opened its flagship store at Army (Cesar Chavez Street since 1995) and Mission in 1929. “We feel sure that our entry into San Francisco,” Sears boasted in a full-page advertisement in the San Francisco Call, “will be welcomed in the friendly spirit always manifested by one of the greatest cities in the world.” And, indeed, it was: Sears soon became the commercial hub of the Mission District, employing about 250 full time, unionized, workers. But in 1975, the Mission Sears closed its doors. The store had been roiled by an eight-month strike, but there was more going on beneath the surface, as a Sears spokesman told the New York Times: “We weren’t competitive here with the convenient suburban malls.” Indeed, the expansion of suburbs in the East and South Bay challenged San Francisco’s regional retail dominance, and the Mission Sears paid the price. Furthermore, the largescale movement of generally-low income Latin American immigrants into the Mission significantly diminished local purchasing power.

Sears, Roebuck & Company, Geary Boulevard and Masonic Avenue, August 1964. San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library. 
Meanwhile, San Francisco’s second Sears lumbered onward. Opened in 1951 at Geary and Masonic in the Anza Vista neighborhood, it quickly became Northern California’s biggest Sears. It outlived the Mission store by fifteen years but in 1990, it closed because of sluggish sales and the high cost of essential building maintenance. The closures of both stores resulted in the loss of about 500 blue collar jobs in San Francisco.

But more broadly, the closure of those stores represented the end of an era in San Francisco in which a significant proportion of San Franciscans still worked with their hands, and in which few product names commanded more respect than Craftsman, first launched by Sears in 1927. Known principally for its American-made ratchets, wrenches, and sockets, Craftsman became a household name in households where manual work prevailed. The American steel used by Craftsmen compared favorably to the “soft steel” used by many Chinese tool makers beginning in the late 1980s which was infamous for its weakness.

I was born in 1972, at the tail end of this era, and raised in a small rent-controlled apartment in the Sunset District, where my mother still lives. The Sears at Masonic was important to my family, and not just because of the Icee’s and popcorn that my father would occasionally buy me. It was important because that is where you bought the best tools to get the job done. In 1990, just as the Masonic store was closing, my father and I built a roof rack for our 1983 Toyota Tercel in order to cart my luggage off to freshman year at UC Davis. We used Craftsman sockets, 1 x 4 boards from the local lumber company (long since replaced by a condominium complex), and we changed the oil and filter ourselves with a Craftsman wrench. 

Sears, Roebuck & Company Store, Army and Mission Streets. San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library. 
Since 2010, most Craftsman tools have been manufactured in China and Taiwan. Happily, the brand has retained it famous durability as Chinese manufacturing has improved, and today Craftsman remains the official tool of NASCAR and the DIY Network. When my father died in 2016, I inherited his Craftsman tools and I am teaching my own son and daughter to use them properly, even though they will not likely need them to prosper. For as many services are now available at the touch of an app, there is still a virtue in knowing how to fix a thing yourself.

Written by Josh Sides, Editor of California History.