CA-HISTORY-L ArchivesArchiver > CA-HISTORY > 2006-11 > 1164645285
From: mt view <>
Subject: [CA-HISTORY] PORT COSTA: Landmark school building brings historylovers to the small town
Date: Mon, 27 Nov 2006 08:34:45 -0800 (PST)
I found this in Sunday's Contra Costa Times (Nov 26, 2006) felt some people might find it interesting. I have one question, who are the Santa Clara Pioneers?
Port Costa has long been a weekend venue ...
PORT COSTA: Landmark school building brings history lovers to the small town
By Tom Lochner
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
Port Costa has long been a weekend venue for bar-hopping motorcyclists -- a boisterous tourism base that some residents long to diversify.
Now the historic Port Costa School is emerging as a draw for a different type of visitor to this town of about 225 on the south shore of the Carquinez Strait.
Two busloads of California Pioneers came from San Jose one day earlier this month to view the Greek Revival-style school, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
"The building is so impressive. It shows that this was a very important community in its heyday," said Rose Crimi Muench, volunteer tour director for the California Pioneers of Santa Clara County, whose mission is "to uphold and cherish the memory of California's pioneers" through the preservation of their history.
The mostly middle-aged and elderly Santa Clara Pioneers sat at lift-top desks with inkwell holes in a classroom restored to what it must have looked like in the first half of the 20th century, with a slate chalkboard stretching the length of two walls. They listened attentively as longtime resident Lewis Stewart, drafted as docent for the occasion, lectured briefly on Port Costa's rich history.
From the 1880s to World War I, Port Costa was a busy grain-loading port for ships bound for Europe around Cape Horn. Railroad ferries plied the strait between Port Costa and Benicia. The town is still traversed by trains today, including Amtrak's San Joaquin, which no longer stop. Artists and free spirits rediscovered a semi-ghost town in the 1970s and fended off developers who coveted the hills for luxury housing.
In 1982, the Port Costa Conservation Society, to which Stewart belongs, acquired an 80-acre tract in the hills just outside town. The East Bay Regional Park District acquired adjacent tracts that became part of the Carquinez Regional Shoreline stretching from Crockett to Martinez.
The Pioneers' Santa Clara County chapter was founded in 1875. Today it counts about 700 members, including descendants of early settlers of the Santa Clara Valley.
The Pioneers do a historic tour every month; in March, they plan to go to Martinez. On this visit, they also toured the Port Costa waterfront and the Crockett Museum.
The Port Costa school, built in 1911, taught first through sixth grades until 1966, when the John Swett Unified School District closed it, Stewart said. For about 20 years, the district used the school as a warehouse for books, furniture and other surplus property.
"The building went to pot. The roof leaked," Stewart said.
The district sold the school to the Port Costa Conservation Society in 1989.
Much of the surplus property remained. Several pieces are in the restored classroom where Stewart entertained his visitors. A globe shows French Indochina in place of modern-day Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, dating it to pre-1954. On the teacher's desk are two 1940s Spanish-language books, including a fifth-grade text by Dr. F. Armando Muñoz, former provincial schools superintendent of Matanzas, Cuba.
For more than a decade and a half, society volunteers have repaired and restored the building, a painstaking process with many a setback -- the latest coming when a storm drain backed up during heavy rains last winter, filling the building with mud 3 feet deep.
"Sometimes we may get 40 (people) in a work party," said Stewart, a retired photographer for Pacific Gas & Electric Co.'s media arts division. "We do as much as we can with our limited skills. The rest is done professionally at prevailing-wage rates."
The society holds periodic fundraising events for the restoration of the building, which also serves as the town hall. It also rents out the building for meetings and other events. The East Bay Bicycle Coalition held its annual meeting at the school this year. A videographer rented it for a spell. An artists group staged a macabre art show at Halloween.
"To be able to preserve such a school is a wonderful asset to the community; I think it's fantastic that they're doing this," Crimi Muench said. "Places like this get torn down every day. It costs so much to restore them that they don't survive."
Reach Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760 or .
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