Fremont: The Suburbs Are More Interesting Than You Think

Fremont, California (Michael Halberstadt)
Centerville Station-Fremont, California (Michael Halberstadt)

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.

Pioneer Cemetery, Fremont, California (Michael Halberstadt)
Pioneer Cemetery, Fremont, California (Michael Halberstadt)

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.

Fremont, California (Michael Halberstadt)
Fremont, California (Michael Halberstadt)

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.

Oh well.

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.

Fremont, California (Michael Halberstadt)
Fremont, California (Michael Halberstadt)

 

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.

Fremont, California (Michael Halberstadt)
Mission San Jose-Fremont, California (Michael Halberstadt)

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.

 

Fremont, California (Michael Halberstadt)
Wine on tap- The Vine – Fremont, California (Michael Halberstadt)

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.

Fremont, California (Michael Halberstadt)
Fremont, California (Michael Halberstadt)

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.

Fremont, California (Michael Halberstadt)
Fremont Gurdwara, Fremont California (Michael Halberstadt)

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.

California Nursery Historical Park, Fremont, California (Michael Halberstadt)
California Nursery Historical Park, Fremont, California (Michael Halberstadt)

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.)

Fremont, California (Michael Halberstadt)
Fremont, California (Michael Halberstadt)

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.

 

—– further reading: ——

Pioneer Cemetery
Centerville Station
Shinn Estate

—- silly lines I hoped to use but didn’t —-

I can see for Niles and Niles

Pole Dancing in Silicon Valley (or Good Fences Make Bad Neighbors)

A Look over the Fence at Apple Campus 2, Cupertino, Silicon Valley (Michael Halberstadt)
A Look over the Fence at Apple Campus 2, Cupertino, Silicon Valley (Michael Halberstadt)

Years ago I worked with this guy….. Anything you said that he could possibly find any sort of innuendo in he’d find it and shout it out loud making it sound dirty. Well telling this story is hard without all sorts of similar thoughts coming to mind.

I’m talking about pole photography. There again somehow it just sounds dirty! But all I’m referring to is a 15’ tall painting pole that I’ve adapted to raise my camera up above what people usually see. There’s already a novelty effect from looking down in photos – it’s just an angle that you don’t see too often of things you’ve seen you’re whole life.

Recent changes in technology has made for new possibilities. The quality of cameras is constantly improving. Cameras are getting smaller, lighter, and cheaper. And most importantly many now can be controlled over WIFI. This culmination of advances means I can raise up a tiny high quality camera. In this case I’m raising my mirrorless Sony NEX 6 with a small Korean made Rokinon superwide 12mm lens 15’ up. I can then view what the camera sees on my phone, and I can also trigger the shutter . Unfortunately there’s a second or two lag. Another issue is that the image on the phone is very hard to see in direct sunlight.

A Look over the Fence at Apple Campus 2, Cupertino, Silicon Valley (Michael Halberstadt)
A Look over the Fence at Apple Campus 2, Cupertino, Silicon Valley (Michael Halberstadt)

In any case, I’ve been going down a list of subjects that might benefit from a view 15’ above. And I could think of one appreciably different view one would get being elevated that high: over the wall at Apple Campus II worksite! They say good fences make good neighbors. But frankly I think Apple is just being a dick. If you’ve had your head in the sand for the last couple years you might have no idea what I’m talking about… but Apple Computer (the richest company on earth) is building a second campus also in Cupertino. Tech companies are particularly bad at playing nice with their community- and Apple is a poster child. They are building a huge building with a park in the center that no member of the community will ever see. At present the work site is surrounded on all sides by very high walls of slightly varying heights. On two sections I was able to relatively easily look over the fence with the pole. On a third section I could barely see over and tried raising the pole up slightly which wasn’t easy to hold steady as the pole danced in the wind and vibrated as I tried to hold it steady an extra foot above the ground.

Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, Silicon Valley (Michael Halberstadt)
Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, Silicon Valley (Michael Halberstadt)

I tried a few other subjects on my brief tour of Silicon Valley. For example, I’d previously lamented the way the once grand entrance and primary view of the Winchester Mystery House was shuttered with a chain link fence. But go up over 10 feet or so and there’s an unobstructed view. I had a lot of trouble composing in part because I’m using the wrong connector on the pole that is quite flush. But whatever, who else has photos from that angle? I tried a few photos of San Jose’s Municipal Rose Garden as it was in full bloom. The conditions there were pretty ideal, but I get self-conscious enough photographing in an area with a lot of people. You can imagine how I felt in a beautiful park full of people with a pole elevating a camera way up there.

 (Michael Halberstadt)
A view from above of the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden .(Michael Halberstadt)

On my return I made a few other stops “putting my pole to work.” The most successful was in Fremont. The Niles neighborhood has a handsome old train station that has been converted to a park and museum. The old station is pretty modest in height and looking down on it worked well. The park also proved a good place for stitched pianos.

 (Michael Halberstadt)
Two Trains in Fremont (Michael Halberstadt)
 (Michael Halberstadt)
Old Train Depot, Niles, Fremont, CA Photo By: Michael Halberstadt

So where else should I raise my pole?