Fighting Fire in San Francisco

The San Francisco earthquake of April 18, 1906 claimed over 3,000 lives. Even the fire chief, Dennis T. Sullivan, was fatally wounded that day when the chimney of a neighboring building collapsed on him.

 

The earthquake and subsequent fires, though devastating, shaped the city for future safety and fire prevention.

 

That day, 90% of the destruction occurred after the initial 7.8 earthquake, in fires. There were over 30 fires, destroying approximately 25,000 buildings on 490 city blocks.  Complicated by ruptured water mains and quaking disasters all over the Bay Area, the city’s conflagration lasted three days, levelled 80% of the city.

 

Wikipedia 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

 

The hydrant that saved a neighborhood in 1906

Over a century has passed since then, and residents are often assured there will never be anything so catastrophic again. An annual celebration of the survival of the city occurs every April 18 at 5:12 a.m., the time the 1906 earthquake hit.

 

A post I wrote last year about the celebration: Celebrating Survival. 

 

Protective laws and regulations, neighborhood preparedness, and numerous preventative systems are in place.

 

If you drive around San Francisco, for example, every once in awhile you will find an intersection with a large circle made of bricks. There are 177 of them. Measuring 32 feet (9.75M) in diameter, the circle indicates there is a huge underground concrete vault filled with 75,000 gallons (284,000 L) of water; reserved for any emergency.  (Photo at end.)

 

 

San Francisco Painted Ladies

With neighborhood houses typically built abutting each other, in a region that only gets rainfall during half the year (if that), this city relies heavily on their fire department.

 

San Francisco is only 47 square miles in size, yet it has 51 neighborhood fire stations. SFFD Wikipedia info. 

Fireboat

 

I researched residential fires in San Francisco for my recently published mystery novel. I learned a lot about the devastation of fire. I visited fire stations, peered in, took notes, talked to firefighters.

First fire engine built in Calif., from 1855. Courtesy SFFD.

One day I visited San Francisco’s Fire Museum. It is a small add-on section to a busy fire station, located in the Pacific Hts. neighborhood. Museum info here.

 

That day they were getting ready for a public event, and the station was lively with firefighters moving fire trucks, preparing the space for visitors.

 

 

The glass case displays were loaded with memorabilia, old equipment and hoses, and old photos. There were numerous old trucks, shiny and in mint condition.

 

About a dozen people were moving a big old truck, and as they did, they proudly reminisced about using that truck to help in “the Loma Prieta” (large 1989 earthquake) when all the newer trucks were out fighting fires.

 

I stood on the sideline, intrigued by it all, staying out of the way. They talked in a language that was filled with codes and details of which I was unfamiliar. They moved with swiftness and strength, and worked together in comradery and unity.

 

I have more respect than ever for firefighters. They carry a heavy responsibility, these warriors of fire; and they do so with grace and pride.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified

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This intersection has an underground water vault. Photo: Travis Grathwell, localwiki.org

 

Earth Day Success Story

Bodega Bay

When you look at this photo, and then the next one, you can see what Bodega Bay is in 2017 (color photo), compared to what it was about to become in 1963 (B/W photo)–a nuclear power plant.

 

HOLE IN THE HEAD: BEFORE

PGandE Nuclear Reactor Plant Project, Bodega Bay, CA. 1963. Photo by Karl Kortum, Courtesy Sonoma Co. Museum

If it hadn’t been for a determined group of ruffled citizens, outraged residents, and concerned scientists, this sparkling northern California bay would be filled today with backwater from a nuclear reactor site…or worse.

 

Great Egret fishing at Bodega Bay

 

It was the perfect location for a nuclear reactor plant, slated to be the biggest nuclear generator in history. Requiring abundant water to moderate the internal heat of fission, the nuclear plant was positioned to tower over the Pacific Ocean where it could use the ocean waters as a convenient coolant.

Western Gull, Bodega Bay

California’s powerful utility company, PG and E, had already applied for the permit, dug the pit, installed rebar, and set up for construction. Having begun the project in 1958, the power company was gaining momentum by the early 1960s.

Bodega Bay oceanside

Then came the heroes. There were many of them–they changed the course of history in Bodega Bay. Harold Gilliam, Karl and Bill Kortum, Joel Hedgpeth, David Pesonen, Doris Sloan, Hazel Mitchell, and Rose Gaffney — to name a few.

 

There was also a geophysicist, Pierre Saint-Amand, who did seismology tests and concluded that building a nuclear plant atop the active San Andreas Fault was a terrible idea.

 

These people didn’t know it then, but they were early environmentalists.

 

They spread the word. Hearings, protests, surveys, investigations, and lobbying ensued.

 

In 1964 the power company withdrew its application and left the site.  Read the full story here.

 

Bodega Bay Harbor Marina

Killdeer and seaweed at Bodega Bay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Originally it was called Campbell Cove, at Bodega Head; then it was touted as Atomic Park. When the utility company dug the 70-foot hole, the new name became Hole in the Head. And it’s still called that today.

 

Bodega Bay Hole in the Head

Soon the hole filled up with rainwater, and native shrubs and plants began to grow. Today, over half a century later, it is a tranquil little pond.

 

One day I stood there and counted five different species of raptors overhead at one time. The raptors like the updraft from the hillside.

 

Bodega Bay clamming

Bodega Bay and the Pacific Ocean host a vast wealth of marine mammals year-round, including harbor seal pups and migrating gray whales. Clean and cool waters are lively with invertebrates, crustaceans, salmon and steelhead; Dungeness crab are the holiday draw.

 

Marbled Godwit

Over 200 bird species come to Bodega Bay, including migrating shorebirds like the marbled godwit; they spend the winter months here on the Pacific Flyway.

 

Before there even was an Earth Day, or anything called environmentalists, here lived a courageous community who fought to keep the earth intact.  Fortunately for us, they won.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise noted.

For more Bay Area history, check out my latest mystery novel.

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bodega head

Bodega Bay, Pacific Ocean. Photo: Richard James, coastodian.org, courtesy Bay Nature Mag.

 

Answering Your Questions

Golden Gate GraveyardI have happily received emails and questions lately about the process of my novel writing. In response, I have written a brief page addressing how I determine aspects like the setting, plot, characters, and researching.

 

Visit the “Writing Novels” tab above to learn more about how I write mystery novels. You’re welcome to leave a comment if you want. If you have an additional question that didn’t get answered here, you can also contact me at my email address, via the “Contact” tab.

 

Keep the questions coming, and thank you for your interest.  Tell a friend!

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Jet in Australian rainforest with Golden Bowerbird bower, research for Wicked Walkabout.

Jet in Australian rainforest with Golden Bowerbird bower, research for Wicked Walkabout.

 

Visiting Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island is the most visited attraction in San Francisco, entertaining over 1.3 million visitors every year. The Los Angeles Times declared it the seventh most popular landmark in the world (06.16.15).

 

Every day one boat after another leaves Pier 33 loaded with Alcatraz-bound tourists who are curious to visit the famous prison, learn the notorious history. As a San Francisco resident I had already visited here, then returned one day in 2014 to study the setting for a scene in my novel.

 

How Alcatraz began. After gold was discovered in California in 1848, prospectors, businessmen, and families arrived here in droves. It was determined then that the increased value–millions of dollars worth of mined gold–created a need for defense and protection.

Alcatraz dock

Alcatraz dock

Thereafter it became a:

  1. Fortress and military installation (1853-1933) ;
  2. Federal Penitentiary (1933-1963)
  3. Native American protest occupation (1964, 1969-1971)
  4. U.S. National Park (1972-present)
Alcatraz cell block

Alcatraz cell block

Read more history, overview here.

 

Touring “The Rock” requires  reservations and involves a fun ten-minute boat ride on the San Francisco Bay.

 

More about touring here.

 

 

Visitors take a self-guided tour with audio tapes narrated by prison guards. You can stay at the island all day until the last boat departure, but most people stay a few hours.

 

Alcatraz cell

Alcatraz cell

In addition to being a tourist prison island, Alcatraz (the Spanish word for “pelican”) is also a prominent site for nesting birds; and has tide pools, sea mammals and other wildlife, even glowing millipedes.

 

The day we were there we saw Anna’s hummingbirds, a variety of sparrows, plenty of gulls and cormorants.

 

National Park Service nature info here.

Glowing millipedes on Alcatraz here.

 

The boat drops you off at the dock, a ranger gives you an overview of the facility and the rules. There’s a steep walk up to the prison, passing by old military gunnery, the water tower and guard towers, other old buildings, and gardens.

 

Alcatraz scaled model at Pier 33, Jet (in pink)scoping it out

Alcatraz scaled model at Pier 33. Jet (in sunglasses) scoping it out.

All the photos here are from that October day when I went to observe and take notes. Golden Gate Graveyard readers will recognize some of these sights from the Alcatraz scene.

 

Once you get up to the cell blocks, you can walk around inside the prison, see where prisoners showered, slept, and ate. Outside you view the warden’s half-burned house, the lighthouse, beautiful views of San Francisco and other sites.

 

Angel Island from Alcatraz

Angel Island from Alcatraz

Having written and researched a lot of history about San Francisco for this novel, I find two things especially fascinating:  over the years once-serious facilities, like Alcatraz, have turned into frolicking tourist attractions. And how curious it is to witness visitors’ intrigue and animation at this decrepit and defunct old prison.

 

The prison has been extensively featured in books (ahem), films, video games, TV series, and more. A popular new Alcatraz-related attraction is the Escape Alcatraz Drop Ride at the San Francisco Dungeon. It is a stomach-dropping ride simulating an attempted escape.

 

Alcatraz Control Room

Alcatraz Control Room

All modern-day Alcatraz folklore stems from the inescapability of this maximum security prison. It was long touted as the place from which no man ever left alive.

 

But is that true? Over 50 years after three prisoners escaped and their bodies were never found, there is still speculation and “Search for the Truth” documentaries. I recently watched a 1979 film starring Clint Eastwood called “Escape from Alcatraz.” It’s pretty good, shows life on The Rock and is based on the actual escape.

 

For an old prison that hasn’t seen a prisoner in over half a century, Alcatraz sure is a lively place. I’m happy it makes for good fiction.

 

Alcatraz view of San Francisco

Alcatraz view of San Francisco

 

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

 

Golden Gate GraveyardIf you haven’t bought Golden Gate Graveyard yet, it is available in paperback ($20) or digital format ($6.99). Buy a copy for yourself or a friend…but whatever you do:  stay legal.

Purchase from publisher

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Outdoor Ice Skating in California

Embarcadero ice rink, San Francisco, Ferry bldg. on right

Embarcadero ice rink, San Francisco, Ferry Bldg. on right

Outdoor skating in sunny California — how does that work?

 

I went to San Francisco’s Embarcadero rink last week, to check it out. For years I had heard friends talk about it, but I was skeptical, having grown up in Wisconsin where freezing temperatures were always part of the package.

 

Ice skating in San Francisco includes mild temperatures, sunshine, and palm trees. The rink is portable, installed every November for the holiday season. Aluminum segments measuring 3×30 feet are assembled, accompanied by tents offering skate rentals and storage lockers.

 

There is a company who specializes in temporary outdoor skating rinks, they service cities around the world. Then sometime after New Years Day it all comes down until next November.

 

San Francisco

San Francisco in winter – hats, scarves, and gloves optional

For $11 per person, it offers excitement, exercise, and a few wobbles and tumbles at no extra charge.

 

San Francisco Embarcadero Ice Rink photos and info.

 

It so popular that skaters have to make reservations, are committed to a timed session. Music is pumped in and a Zamboni smoothes the ice in between sessions.

 

In Wisconsin, we skated on huge expanses of frozen lakes and ponds; and quickly figured out where the smoothest ice was. Every winter my father also rolled out plastic sheets and transformed our dormant vegetable garden into the neighborhood ice rink.

 

So to me the outdoor rinks in California seem odd; but the Zamboni, after all, was invented in California.

 

The Model A Zamboni

The first Zamboni. Courtesy Zamboni Ice Resurfacers.

The ice-smoothing machine was invented in the Los Angeles area by two brothers and their cousin, the Zambonis, in 1940. They used the Ford Model A as a prototype.

 

Ice melts in warm weather, but the magical Zamboni comes along and scrapes the chips and fills in the gaps. It’s a real science, making ice, read about it here.

 

Personally, I had enough of cold weather to last me a lifetime. It was fun as a kid, but then I grew up; drove my first car across an ice patch into a concrete wall, lost a million mittens, and was always freezing. So when I got old enough, I moved to California.

 

Still, the snow is pristine and hushing, and creates some of the most lovely vistas. I still find it beautiful to look at.

 

I like to watch the ice skaters circling the rink, I like to look at beautiful photos of snow, and I like traveling to the tropics. It’s a wonderful world, having these options.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified

 

Here are a few places I go for beautiful snow adventures:

adventure69degreesnorth.com – Inger and Tor ski Banff, Canada

alittlebitoutoffocus.comMike lives in the Alps

madlyinlovewithlife.com – Jeannie delights in Alberta, Canada

oldplaidcamper.com – Plaidcamper often hikes in wintry Canada wilderness

port4u.net – Sherry captures the beauty in NYC

traveltalesoflife.com – Sue cross-country skis in Canada

 

Golden Gate GraveyardIn case you want more of San Francisco, I know a good book written by someone I know. Oh yeah, me.

Purchase the paperback here

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ebook here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mission Dolores Cemetery, San Francisco

Mission Dolores, San Francisco

Mission Dolores, San Francisco

The oldest building in San Francisco, the Mission San Francisco de Asis, more commonly known as Mission Dolores, was built in San Francisco in 1776.

 

In the back, behind a white adobe wall, is the old cemetery. It is one of the quietest spots in this urban sprawl.

 

Between 1769 and 1833, 21 Spanish missions  were established by Franciscan priests throughout what was later to become the state of California. The sixth mission to be founded was the San Francisco one. The missions were the origins of the state’s communities.

 

Mission San Francisco De Asís

Old Mission on left, Basilica on right. Photo: Robert A. Estremo, courtesy Wikipedia.

More information about the missions.

 

The old San Francisco Mission has a small chapel, museum, cemetery, and tiny gift shop; the basilica next door hosts regular Catholic church services. As a city, state, and national historical landmark, it is also a popular destination for tour buses.

 

Original adobe walls, inside the Mission Dolores

Original adobe walls, inside the Mission Dolores

History of Mission Dolores here.

 

Mission Dolores, 1856. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

The chapel is popular and interesting, decorated and devoted. But it is busy with tourists and sounds echo.

 

Chapel interior. Courtesy Wikipedia

The cemetery, however, is hushed–with old rose bushes, palm trees, birds, and vibrant sunshine. This is where I like to be.

 

There are only two cemeteries in San Francisco, this tiny plot is one of them. It was originally much bigger.

 

Mission Dolores Cemetery

Mission Dolores Cemetery

Today the earthquake-rippled sidewalks still lead you down a path of centuries-old gravestones. It holds the markers of San Francisco’s pioneers, leaders, old residents. There is also a revered sculpture of Father Junipero Serra.

 

I like to linger here among the broken graves with worn-off names, quietly listening to the sound of the chickadee singing overhead, feeling the penetrating warmth of the sun.

 

Mission Dolores Cemetery

Mission Dolores Cemetery

Sometimes I think about the people who shaped this city, sometimes I think about Alfred Hitchcock who filmed a scene from “Vertigo” right here, and sometimes I wonder how long it will be before my parking time runs out.

 

Photo credit: Jet Eliot unless otherwise specified

 

Golden Gate GraveyardYou can read more about Mission Dolores in my newly released mystery novel. Purchase here or at Amazon or any other major book retailer.

 

 

The Best Store in San Francisco

Rainbow Grocery, squashWith many of us strolling the grocery stores during Thanksgiving week, I am happy to introduce what I consider the best store in San Francisco.

 

Rainbow Grocery, a cooperative-owned grocery store.

 

With 17,500 square feet of retail space, they have 14 different departments. It’s classified as a vegetarian health food store, but it also has books, gifts, bath and body products, and much more.

 

Rainbow, apples

Rainbow, apples

There are bulk bins with cereals and grains, unusual flours, beans, pastas, olives, nut butters, and more.

 

The produce department has a dozen kinds of mushrooms; it is brimming with seasonal fruits and vegetables in every season. Look at all the apples, and they’re organic.

 

Rainbow, front check-out counters

Rainbow, front check-out counters

Nutritional supplements abound, as well as medicinal tinctures, herbs, and oils; and the most knowledgeable supplement sales people you could ever ask for.

 

Rainbow grocery logo.pngAnd don’t get me started on their bulk herbs and spices…so fantastic.

 

Moreover, it is not just great, fresh food to take home with you. It’s a culture.

 

A worker-owned cooperative since 1975, the store is owned by its 243 workers. Without corporate influence, the business is run democratically, including investment in the local community and environment.

 

Rainbow, Herbs & Spices

Rainbow, Herbs & Spices

Click here for Rainbow’s website.

 

Customers and workers here are colorful people of all ages, social classes, and ethnicities.

 

I’ve been walking through Rainbow’s doors for decades. And can say with conviction, that if you want to see the true heart of San Francisco, check out Rainbow.

 

Golden Gate GraveyardMy new mystery novel has a scene that takes place in Rainbow.

You can buy the book here.

 

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends. To all my readers, may your days be filled with fresh food, health, and lots of love.

 

Rainbow, pinatas

Rainbow, pinatas

Photo credit: Athena Alexander