A friend of mine was moving from Culver City up to Portland. He’s a well known photographer, best known for his night photography and I was lucky enough to be there when he was cleaning house. I scored a car full of misc. camera crap and some nice meals with him and his wife.
Unfortunately this wasn’t really a trip for photography and I only got out to shoot a couple times.
Right around the corner from my friends place is the new location of the Wende Museum. It’s a museum about the cold war, a special interest of mine. Wende is German for turn about or so…. My interest was as a young man having visited divided Berlin first in 1987. I ended up with a serious interest (and unusual sympathy, especially as an American) for the former German Democratic Republic*. In German one might say I suffer from “Ostalgie”**.
The new museum was kind of short on GDR paraphanalia for my interest. But they had walls of old Soviet books that you could thumb through, busts of Stalin, and a lovely orange Wartburg (the other non-Trabant GDR car.)
The other subject I did have a chance to photograph that’s also a favorite of mine is cemeteries. I took my pole to Hollywood Forever cemetery for a few unusual angles in addition to shooting from eye level.
I have no idea what was being filmed- but there was a film crew repeating a scene with an old Rolls Royce hearse, a beautiful young actress with roses, and a handsome man. There was a sign on the mosoleum reading the 74th Valentino Memorial- and with further research I found that when I was there it was the 92 anniversary of Valentino’s death. So I guess they were doing some sort of historical reinactment? In any case it was fun to watch despite the heat.
I also visited a childhood friend and his family at Echo Park. Not that I have any photos to show for it yet, but I got a box full of old camera stuff. Some of it was mine that I loaned him a decade or two ago. But they also gave me a cherry Nikon F2 that I look forward to both photographing with and photographing (it’s that pretty!)
To quote Randy Newman: “I Love L.A.”
* German Democratic Republic (shortened to GDR in English, or in German DDR or Deutsche Demokratische Republik- but known to most English speaking people as “East Germany”)
** Ostalgie is two German words mashed together: Ost (East) and Nostalgie (Nostalgia)
One of the most beautiful and unique places in the Bay Area is the Mountain View cemetery in the Oakland Hills. The sprawling historical cemetery is home to a handful of well known figures. Looking at “Millionaire’s Row” there are lots of names Bay Area residents will recognize- if not for the person entombed, then for the institutions, products, street signs that bear their names.
For example Chabot, for whom the Chabot Science Center in Oakland, J. A. Folger, founder of Folgers Coffee, Domingo Ghirardelli, namesake of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, Henry J. Kaiser, father of modern American shipbuilding (and I think somehow related to the Kaiser Building and insurance?), Charles Crocker of Crocker Bank fame, etc.
One lesser known fact casual visitors won’t likely know, is that the landscape architect of the cemetery has a few other projects you may have heard of. Mountain View cemetery was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, if you haven’t heard of this cemetery, you likely are familiar with New York City’s Central Park, another one of his projects. He’s also responsible for two more Bay Area gems: Stanford and UC Berkeley campuses.
From the outside, Fremont is a sleepy suburban city in Silicon Valley. Well, honestly from the inside that’s more or less true too. Though with a few quirks that make Fremont a fun place to explore if you live in the area.
Dotted between the stucco homes and strip malls is a quirky views of America’s past and future.
My journies to the past this time included my first stop: the Pioneer Cemetery of Centerville. Centerville is a neighborhood in Fremont now, but I assume it was a town at one point judging by some of the headstone inscriptions listing place of death as Centerville. Frankly the place was a bit rundown- and there was a major construction site nextdoor preventing too much rest in that final resting spot. One headstone listed a guy who’s year of birth was in the 1700’s- something rarely seen on headstones here in the west.
From the cemetery I noticed what appeared to be an old train station behind me. Finishing up with the cemetery, I dragged my kit along to explore and low-and-behold it was a handsome little station that was converted to a cafe. The platform is still in use for Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor. On the other side of the tracks there’s a lovely little park with a covered historic railway waiting area.
All was good, well except for one thing. I was thinking about this- there has to be a series of Murphy’s Laws for photography. The rule in play here was the attraction of dirty, ugly or aesthetically unpleasant stuff to the most interesting landmark. It could be the workers in fluorescent orange jackets cleaning up, traffic cones, the strategically placed utility pole blocking the best view of a facade. However in this case, it was a pile of garbage in a shopping cart underneath the Centerville train shelter. Presumably left by a homeless person, who either abandoned it or was coming back at some point, the cart had a undersized adult bike (popular with the druggies) and most unfortunately a filthy large *RED* sleeping bag partially unfurled.
This really was a beautifully done park however aside from the crap and few druggies hanging out there. Wisteria draped off to the left and right of the shelter, and the old station was just across the way with a handful of waiting passengers. The sign atop the station and shelter reads: “Centerville – to San Francisco 40 1/10 m. – to Ogden 799 4/10 m. – Elevation 57 feet.“*
Otherwise the space was beautiful. I stopped in the cafe and got coffee and a snack. The lady inside said she recently bought the business. It was really cute inside as well, though empty- perhaps because the time of day- it was about noon on a workday. The coffee was really good, I’d definitely go back.
Next stop was the Shinn Park & Arboretum. My timing was off, this would have been much better had I arrived earlier when the sun was less harsh. This looks like a grand old farmhouse that lost its farm to suburban sprawl, but gained some gorgeous gardens. I was presented with the Murphy’s Law of Photography again when a city of Fremont truck drove up and the dude in the fluorescent orange jacket ran around cleaning up. I’m keeping the Shinn park in the back of my mind for a place to photograph again and maybe get a picnic in on one of the pleasantly shaded tables.
I headed back to familiar territory- Mission San Jose. Though I already have plenty in my photo library, I wanted to apply a few new techniques.
I headed back to Niles- more familiar territory and after a few snaps managed to find a happy hour sign. The restaurant- The Vine had a $2 off drinks on tap, and they had not just beer but wine on tap. I couldn’t resist. I walked in only to find a surprisingly empty restaurant. However continuing to the back I found a bustling patio and enjoyed a chat with a couple of locals with a glass.
My next journey was only a couple miles in distance but a huge cultural shift. If Fremont is known for anything it’s its South Asian population. There’s a substantial number of Afghanis and lots of Indians, Pakistanis and other nationalities and those with roots in the Subcontinent. I’d visited San Jose’s Gurdwara a number of times. In addition to being really interesting to look at and a pleasant variation from the middle American ‘burbs- the Sikh places of worship are great to visit. One major reason is that people are super-duper nice! And they are not camera phobic. Guys with turbans typically come up and say hi and tell me to feel free to photograph.
But in this case in the Fremont Gurdwara in addition to all this- a gentleman introduced me as Sing came up and asked me if I wanted to see inside and have a meal? Well why not? He put a head covering on and handed me a dollar bill to drop into the offering inside. We chatted while sitting on the floor while I asked all the dumb questions about Sikhism and he did his best to answer. He then took me to the cafeteria and we drank chai and he gave me a few Indian sweets balls of sweetened ground chickpeas. I was a bit shy about taking any photos inside and don’t have a lot to show for this photographically, but it was an experience I really enjoyed.
Next stop I stumbled upon the California Nursery Historical Park- I believe this is a city park still in progress. On the site was a rose garden, not in the best of shape with an old faux windmill themed storage closet at the center. A bunch of fenced off delipidated greenhouses were off in another corner. There was also the a Vallejo Adobe off in the corner. The adobe building was fenced off and locked (as was the restroom next door unfortunately as I would have liked to have visited both.)
I’d hoped to get some of the neon Niles signs but they weren’t on- so last stop was the big Niles gate sign and I packed up and went home. But I’ll be back – no question!
*This just reminded me, the presumably old train station sign gives the elevation- relevant to my previous post. The centerville sign reads 57 feet- and I checked with the tool from my previous post: 57.126 feet. Not a whole lot of sinking below sea level.