Last week I visited Moffett Field and its Museum. Located in Mountain View beside the Bay, the airfield has served as a military presence in Silicon Valley since the 1930’s. Moffett Field began as a Naval Air Station in 1931, became an army base (1935-42), the headquarters for early space research (NACA in 1939 and NASA in 1958), and a site for the National Guard. The base was decommissioned in 1991 but continues to serve as a federal airfield, a NASA research center, and even a testing ground for the Google driverless car. Admiral Moffett, for whom this airfield was named, was a Naval officer who was an early director of Naval Aviation and the first chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics. He was killed in 1933 in the crash of the USS Akron, part of the early fleet of lighter- than-air dirigibles for the US Navy. Moffett Field is distinguished by the prominent structure known as Hanger One. This 8-acre storage facility was built in 1933 to shelter up to 3 large dirigibles for the Navy. Of the early dirigibles, only the USS Macon was housed in Hanger One. The Macon, built in 1933, was a sister ship to the USS Akron. It was designed for scouting and for training, and could store up to 5 Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk fighters in its hold. It would deploy those fighters from an lowered trapeze, hooking the planes until ready to fly. The Macon’s logo was a cartoon-like image of 2 trapeze artists. The Macon visited Moffett Field only once in 1934. By 1935 it too had crashed, taking with it plans to build more dirigibles and bring them to Moffett Field. In 1999 tests showed that the outer skin of Hanger One contained toxic PCBs and the Navy was charged with cleaning it up. Unsatisfied by attempts to coat the skin with impervious substances, the Navy decided to remove the toxic outer skin in 2011. Since then the structure has remained open and bare, a network of steel girders without an exterior. Recently Google signed a 60-year lease for Hanger One. Google plans to spend $200 million for re-skinning and improving the property. The Moffett Field Museum showcases the history of this airfield, displaying books, photographs, artifacts and aircraft from past decades.
The Museum features:
- The story of the original 1,700 acre Mexican land grant (Rancho Posolmi), given to an Ohlone named Lupe Ynigo, in 1844, and the subsequent sale of the land grant to settlers
- Efforts by San Francisco and other cities to encourage the Navy to build a Naval base along the South Bay. In 1931 the cities purchased 1000 acres for $476,000 and sold it to the Navy for only $1. Fortunately, this gamble paid off and the Navy chose to build an air base in Mountain View, investing $5 million in immediate improvements.
- Scale models of Hanger One and the dirigibles inside
- Aircraft of the 1930s-1960s
- Information about WWII, the army base and its famous soldier Jimmy Stewart
- An Electronic warfare exhibit
The museum is open 10-2 Thursday thru Saturday. Admission is $8.
On Saturday, November 15, I visited the Pigeon Point Lighthouse 50 miles south of San Francisco and 30 miles north of Santa Cruz. It was the 142nd anniversary of the lighthouse, one of the tallest in the United States.
Sea lions, whales and birds frequent this area. But the rocks are treacherous. In 1853 the clipper ship Carrier Pigeon ran aground here in a heavy fog. No lives were lost, but the ship was destroyed. When word of the wreck reached San Francisco, reports called the site, “Carrier Pigeon Point”. Later this was shortened to Pigeon Point.
From 1852 to 1910 the United States Lighthouse Board built and maintained all lighthouses in the US. It built the Pigeon Point Lighthouse in 1872 and installed a First Order Fresnel Lens in the tower. When lit, the beam reached as far as 24 miles out to sea. Both the beam and an accompanying fog signal were unique to the lighthouse so that ships could identify their location as Pigeon Point. In 1972 a fully automated rotating aero-beacon replaced the Fresnel Lens.
The lighthouse has been closed to the public since 2001, when a rusting section of cornice fell from the tower. In 2011 the Fresnel Lens was carefully disassembled, removed from the tower, and reassembled in the nearby Fog Signal house for safekeeping. State Park officials are now trying to raise $9 million to restore and repair the lighthouse. Once restored, the Fresnel Lens will return to its rightful place in the tower.
Every November the State Park Service hosts an anniversary celebration at Pigeon Point. The event includes an open house, docent-led tours, educational displays, and live music. The Fresnel Lens, on display, is a highlight–16 feet high, weighing 4 tons, its 1008 prisms and lenses casting rainbows through the room.
Looking down Clarion Alley from Mission Street I see colorful painted surfaces everywhere, even on the asphalt. Since 1992 artists and craftsmen have enlivened the space with social, political, and cultural messages that express their point of view or showcase the community. Cartoons, caricatures, portraits and written commentary fill the walls. Artists rework the surfaces in this alley continually. Every time I visit, I see new murals.
One stretch of wall stands out for its stark simplicity and its black and white palette. This mural, painted in 1994, was the last work of Jesus “Chuy” Campusano (died 1997). Called “La Raza” it is inspired by Picasso’s masterpiece “Guernica”. True to the community, it is about the Chicano struggle for civil rights and dignity, leading to the United Farmworkers movement and continuing today.
Campusano was an artist who studied at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City (where Diego Rivera studied) and learned the techniques of master muralists. He was greatly influenced by other Mexican muralists, especially the 3 known as “Los Muralistos Mexicanos”: Diego Rivera, David Siquieros and Jose Clemente Orozco.
In 1974 Campusano was invited to paint the interior of the Bank of America Building at 23rd and Mission along with Luis Cortazar and Michael Rios. The result is a 90 foot long mural depicting the challenges and progress in the local community. Other commissions included the Daly City Library, the exterior wall of the Lilli Ann Building at 17th and Harrison, and parts of the Horizons Unlimited mural (now lost). In 1970 he cofounded the Galeria de la Raza in the Mission.
“La Raza” is painted on a whitewashed fence. It reads from left to right, a jumble of forms, characters, and arms. Looking at one recurring image in particular, the arms, note the progression:
- a single arm holding lightning bolts (possibly indicating violence)
- a single arm without lightning bolts
- a pair of arms in handcuffs reaching for a bird (freedom)
- a pair of arms with clenched fists now freed from handcuffs
- a pair of arms pushing forward as if punching
The United Farmworkers flag featuring a Huelga Bird (Aztec and eagle symbolism) leads the procession. It’s solid blackness gives it prominence in the mural.
Other images add to the story:
- A face looking backwards features gang tattoos (dots, a tear, a hammer & sickle) and piercings. This is the only left-facing profile in the mural. (possible reference to the Norteno gang which uses symbols such as the Huelga bird and dots as a logo)
- A cross appears on a bishop’s mitre, but it is placed near the ground, and above it is a 3-pronged implement, perhaps a pitchfork (a devil’s symbol) or guns. An arrow points to the handcuffs
- A bent and wrinkled old man carries a heavy sack
- Condominiums, symbolizing the threat of development and displacement, appear in the mural
- Right-facing profiles are snakelike, open-mouthed, angry, or shouting
- Bombs or torpedos lead the procession
Like Guernica, this mural mixes imagery; forms attach to adjacent imagery implying multiple interpretations, depending on how one looks at the work. The stylistic elements (jagged edges, arrows, bomb imagery) and coloring resemble Picasso, but Campusano tells his own story, rooted in the Mission and Chicano Community.
A picture of Campusano is tacked up at the upper right corner of the mural. Nearby Jet Martinez’s surrealistic landscape offers a glimpse at an elongated La Raza in the body of an outlined figure.
For 4,000 years before Spanish explorers entered San Francisco Bay, Native Americans populated the San Francisco Peninsula and called it home. These natives lived in small villages, spoke a mixture of dialects, and used the natural materials around them for food, shelter, and clothing. They tended their land, shared or allocated property, and traded with nearby tribes. They spoke a language we call Ramaytush. Scholars named them the Yelamu Ohlone Indians.
In 1776 the Spanish claimed the San Francisco Bay for Spain, mapped it, built a mission and a fort, and named it Yerba Buena. They called the natives “Costanoan”, or people of the coast. Franciscan missionaries invited these natives to join the mission, convert to Christianity, study, learn, and work in the agricultural community. The natives who joined the mission received new “Christian” names.
In 1821 Spain granted Mexico control of these territories of Northern (“Alta”) California. Then in 1848 the United States took over, defeating Mexico in the Mexican-American War and winning Mexican lands west of the Mississippi. In 1849 the gold rush began and the San Francisco Bay developed as a major port on the Pacific Coast. By then the small settlement of Yerba Buena had been renamed “San Francisco” after the Bay and the saint.
Along the way, neighborhoods, hills, streets and waterways acquired Spanish, Mexican and English names. Conspicuously absent from these names was any reference to Native Americans, particularly the tribes of San Francisco.
- Among the prominent street names we find:
- Names honoring the De Anza party (Pacheco, Anza, Moraga)
- Names honoring the Spanish explorers (Balboa, Cabrillo, Portola)
- Descriptive names in Spanish (Yerba Buena, Divisadero, Rincon, Embarcadero)
- Names for Mexican landowners (Vallejo, Bernal, Guerrero)
- Names for Mexican military leaders (Castro, Kirkham, Noriega)
- Names for US military leaders (Winfield, Funston, Pershing, Lyon, Halleck)
- Name for San Francisco Politicians (Haight, Clayton, Stanyon, Kearny)
- Names of San Francisco Business leaders (Leidesdorff, Hearst)
- Names for early immigrants (Lick, Sutter, Flood, Fell, Brannan, Sutro)
- Names for US Presidents (Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Polk, Fillmore)
- Names for Filipino heroes (Lapu Lapu, Rizal, Bonifacio)
- Names for literary figures (Twain, Bierce, Hammett, Kerouac, Ferlinghetti)
- Names for prominent figures (JFK, MLK, Cesar Chavez, Muir)
- Descriptive names (Telegraph Hill, Nob Hill, Fisherman’s Wharf)
I looked for names in that relate directly to the early Native Americans in California. There are many native place names in counties and cities outside of San Francisco. Within San Francisco, there are very few:
Islais (the Creek, the Park, and the Neighborhood) in San Francisco is a Salinan Indian word for cherry trees (the Salinan tribe lived in Central California).
Taraval (Street) is named for a Native American guide, Sebastian Taraval (from Baja California), on the De Anza expedition of 1774-5. Sadly his story reflects some of the abuses and hardships that stemmed from Spanish mistreatment of the natives. Before joining De Anza, Taraval tried to escape the mission system by fleeing into the desert. He nearly died, and was saved by some friendly Yuma Indians who brought him to De Anza. De Anza nursed him to health and used him as a guide on the expedition to San Francisco Bay.
Wawona (Street) is a Miwok word meaning “big tree” or “hoot of the owl”. The Miwok Indians lived in the North Bay including what is now Marin County.
For a reminder of the nearly extinct language Ramaytush, visit a short stretch of sidewalk on South King Street near the ATT ballpark. There, embedded in the cement, are 104 plaques of Ramaytush words and their translations, reminding bystanders that this location was once a Native American settlement.