Sunday, January 15, 2017

Enter The Whacky World Of David Ives in "All In The Timing"--Now Showing At The James F. Dean Theatre

All in the Timing, written by David Ives, premiered at Primary Stages in 1993, moved to the larger John Houseman Theatre, and ran for 606 performances. In a review The New York Times said "there is indeed a real heart...There is sustenance as well as pure entertainment." It won the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award for Playwriting, was included in Best Plays of 1993-1994, and in 1995-1996 was the most performed play in the country after Shakespeare plays. It consists of six one-act plays called "enchanting and perplexing, incisively intelligent and side-splitting funny." Without further ado, this is what you can expect as you wander into the peculiar and disoriented world according to David Ives. Now showing at the James F. Dean Theatre January 13th to 22nd with energy and enthusiasm.

Directed by Larry Spinner, Sure Thing begins with the question, "Is that seat taken?" This piece chronicles the seemingly endless possible directions that exist when two people try to successfully link up over a cup of coffee for the first time. You will learn what ringing a bell can do for those awkward first moments of meeting. Starts off a little slow, but gets better--kinda like a first date.(Berry - Jeni Haman, Bill - Eli Hummer)

Directed by Elissa Horrell, Variations on the Death of Trotsky shows the 1940's Russian revolutionary with a mountain climber's axe buried into his skull by his communist gardener, Ramon, the day before, yet he remembers nothing. His wife comes in the room with an encyclopedia from the 1990s to inform him that the book says he is going to die today prompting him to make his final philosophical statements on human life several times over. Interestingly, the real Leon Trotsky was attacked by Ramón Mercader with an ice axe as the weapon. Trotsky did die a day later. This is an obvious parody of the actual events taken to the extreme. Daniel gets the David Ives Award for literally falling on his face. (Mrs. Trotsky - Phyllis Jackson, Trotsky - Daniel Rich, Ramon - Eli Hummer)

It's funny watching movies where monkeys dress up and imitate humans, but what would it look like if the tables are reversed? Directed by Kristen Kos, JC Conway(Swift), Phyllis Jackson(Milton), and Shua Jackson(Kafka) go bananas as they give a side-splitting glimpse into the little bit of monkey business called Words, Words, Words. It experiments with the philosophical precept that three monkeys typing into infinity will sooner or later produce Hamlet. What would the resulting conversation be in the chimpish collaboration? I give it a rating of five bananas.

Directed by Daniel Rich, The Philadelphia takes place in a coffee shop where the various inhabitants are stuck in different states of mind paralleled with cities in the United States. Mark finds himself in a Twilight Zone-like state in which he cannot get anything he asks for. Carefree Al, who is the Los Angeles, advises befuddled Mark to ask for the opposite of what he wants, the Philadelphia. The waitress, meanwhile, is in the Cleveland. This one has a twist at the end. (Al - Ernie Eliason, Mark - Cody Smith, Waitress - Michelle Smith)

Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread is a humorous musical exaggeration with the celebrated composer having a moment of existential crisis in a bakery. Philip Glass, an American composer, is considered one of the most influential music makers of the late 20th century. Glass has described himself as a composer of "music with repetitive structures," of which Ives has some fun with. In this metronomic snippet, he encounters an old girlfriend accompanied by a friend. The result reminds me of a scene from a Danny Kaye movie called "The Court Jester," which was also referenced in Words, Words, Words. (Jeni Haman, Eli Hummer, Phyllis Jackson, Shua Jackson)

Directed by Shua Jackson, The Universal Language is about Don, the creator and teacher of Unamunda--a made-up language purported to be "The Universal Language" based on words from the English language, as well as German and the Romance languages. His first pupil, Dawn, is a shy, stuttering girl with little money. She hopes that this new language will help her overcome her speech problems. Their lesson ends up in a dazzling display of frenzied verbal redundancies and a confession. Cody Smith(Don) and Michelle Smith(Dawn) do a phenomenal job delivering the tongue-tying dialogue of the scripts discombobulated syllables. I also give this one a rating of Five Bananas.

A pleasantly lighted stage, with wall to wall clocks dominated by a painted caricature of a man dressed in a black suit wearing a black top hat, served the six-act play well. Robert Venne, also dressed in black suit with black top hat and reminding me of comic Lou Costello, entertained between scene changes and also credited with the artistic creation of the painted likeness.

Knowing something about David Ives before you come to the play is helpful in understanding the mind set behind the six one-act plays or you just might go bananas. If you don't, you just may find yourself in Philadelphia instead of Los Angeles. Either way, it is All in the Timing. "Is that seat taken?" "Ding."

Purchase tickets now.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Summerville's Rich History--From Pine Trees To Sweet Tea

Unlike "New Summerville," which was laid out by the South Carolina Railroad like a checkerboard with straight, broad thoroughfares, "Old Summerville" was characterized by winding streets. When it came to laying out the roads, it's apparent the old town planners did not incorporate the idea "the shortest distance between two points is a straight line." For that matter, as to what a straight line meant, they had no clue. Summerville history implies the early road architects were of the four-legged variety, bovine to be more exact.

New Summerville plot map 1850
New Summerville plot map 1897
Richly graced with thick groves of tall pines and old oaks, the trees cooling touch and healing scent enticed early Ashley River planters to the sandy hilltop in the pines where they could escape the oppressive heat and voracious mosquitoes of their lowland plantations. During these marooning excursions, they brought their livestock with them. On arrival, the beasts were turned loose to wander in and around the tall pines and old oaks. Overtime, these creatures of habit carved out the thoroughfares that became the first named streets of the newly founded summer village.

From those very same trees, they constructed their simple homes. Beginning with Captain James Stewart, 14 families eventually marooned themselves every summer for nearly five months in structures scattered around the main cattle path called the Great Thoroughfare--W. Carolina Avenue today. Called "mosquito houses," these structures were built eight feet off the ground on stilts to protect against insects and to catch breezes. A wide center hall ran the full length with two rooms on each side for cross ventilation. Each room had a fireplace. If there was a second floor, it was identical to the first. The stables and carriage house were located away from the main home for obvious reasons--besides trampling out the roads, the livestock produced an odorous by-product unlike the pleasant pine scent.

Map of Old Summerville
Other notable cow paths of original Summerville connected to the Great Thoroughfare were Railroad Street; now Sumter Avenue, Pine Street; now Charleston Street, Centre Street; now Linwood Lane, Morgan Street; now Clifton Street, Gadsden Street, and the present Cuthbert Lane once referred to simply as "Street." A plat, drawn-up in 1831, showed the layout of the early streets and homes.

In 1841, there were 15 homes in "Old Summerville" when "New Summerville" was established by the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company. Seven years later in 1838, there were 29. The two Summervilles became an official town in 1847. The cherished pines were declared sacred and a law prohibiting the cutting of certain-sized trees without permission was passed. Now connected to Charleston and points west by the railroad, wealthy Charlestonians came to town and built homes to escape the yellow fever epidemics. At the end of the 19th century, it was declared one of the two best places in the world for the treatment and recovery of lung disorders launching the dawning of "The Golden Age of the Inns". Despite the longtime commitment to preserve and protect the sacred pine trees, the planners of Summerville deemed it necessary to sacrifice some of them to embrace its burgeoning fame as a health spot to the world and the illustrious Pine Forest Inn (1893 booklet) was built. While visitors flowed into town, other inns were established.

As a now famous story relates, one such individual, who came to town to avail upon the purported healing aspects of the pine tree's turpentine scent on the advice of his physician, was found sitting on the porch swing of a W. Richardson Street residence by its matriarch and became the first guest to stay at the newly established White Gables Inn. Other notable names included Carolina Inn, Halcyon Inn, Wisteria Inn, Holly Inn, The Postern, Squirrel Inn and Pine View Inn. Summerville flourished into the 1900's, but in time, it would lose its magical charm. Its icons one by one mercilessly succumbed to the wrecking ball and the tantalizing scent of its biggest asset faded into the changed landscape.

In 1991, 40% of the buildings in the downtown district were vacant. With a mission to revitalize the downtown area, DREAM was formed in 1992. Then, in 2010, inspired by an article in the Azalea Magazine, Summerville experienced an identity renaissance when it branded itself the "Birthplace of Sweet Tea." The "Sweet Tea Festival" was inaugurated and the Summerville Trolley Tours were established benefiting local businesses and captivating residents and visitors alike. Nexton exploded unto the scene and Summerville's first craft brewery on November 26, 2014 broke ground in the remaining space of the Coastal Coffee Roasters building with the laying of its cement floor. In 2014, a plan for a boutique hotel was proposed. In 2015, a conditional final approval for the project was given by the Board of Architectural Review, but one of Summerville's cherished pine trees overshadowed the proceedings and became a flashpoint for preservationists and opponents in what would become the Dorchester Hotel controversy.

Of the pine trees still around, longtime residents nurture fond memories and tell stories of playing below their broad branches. Located near the corner of W. Richardson and Central Ave, the proposed site of the hotel, stands one of those cherished pines. Considered the oldest tree in Summerville with a circumference of 13 feet and believed to predate 1847, the old pine was scheduled for an appointment with the axeman to make way for the highly contested Dorchester Hotel project.

Ragged from old age and brutal weather, the trees glory days were waning. The cutting down of the tree would have been a solemn day. It was a sad day when the Pine Forest Inn came crashing down. We could dignify the old tree the way the Hopelands Gardens in Aiken honored one of its prominent cedars when a portion of it came down. They carved benches out of the cherished wood and placed them on site for visitors to use. Inevitably, each pine in its time will succumb to the natural powers to be.

Truth be told, the tree was not the only concern raised by the hotel's opponents, but alas, it is no longer of any concern. The Dorchester Hotel Project itself has been axed. However, imagine where Summerville's history would be today if people in the late 1800's would have opposed the construction of the Pine Forest Inn because they wanted to preserve an old pine tree or the increase in traffic it may have caused or believed it did not reflect the flavor of the historic district, which by the way, could be legitimate concerns. From Hutchinson Square (Master Plan) to Middleton, you can smell the ongoing scent of change.

The cows no longer wander around the tall pines, the "mosquito houses" have disappeared into the shadows of the old trees, the trains of the old railroad no longer stop, and the great inns have gone quietly into the night. People no longer come to escape the oppressive heat and voracious mosquitoes of the coastal lowlands or for the cooling touch and healing scent of its sacred pines. Today, people come for its charm, its southern hospitality, its sense of community, and its rich history. A history as colorful as the town's famous azaleas and refreshed with the lifting of every flavorful glass of sweet tea. Wouldn't it be nice if the Town had a place for them to stay? A place that is as much an integral part of its identity similar to the way the Pine Forest Inn (1909 booklet) was in the heyday of the "Golden Age of the Inns." Maybe, a hundreds years from now people will look back on this era and call it Summerville's "Golden Age of Sweet Tea."

Things to see and do in Summerville.
Shop Summerville.
Dinning in Summerville.
Theater in Summerville.
Historic Sites in Summerville--Colonial Dorchester State Park, Middleton Place.
Summerville's B.I.R.D.S. Project.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Hauntingly Imposing--Sheldon Church Ruins of Prince William's Parish

The sky was blue and the air was crisp on this late December day. A slight breeze playfully shuffled the fallen leaves laying about the sacred grounds. The bright early afternoon light lazily trickled down through the twisted limbs of the numerous aged oaks scattered about. The shadows cast unto the old structure by the tree's were as distinct as its illumination from the sun. The combined setting embodied a sense of serenity and solitude overshadowed by an unmistakable aura of desolation. Denuded of anything flammable, the time-stressed bricks of the old church bore the erosion marks of passing time indelibly etched over some 265 years into their sandy red grains. Just beyond its four singular pillars and mounted at its gaping entrance, an engraved stone plaque identified the antiquated edifice as the Church of Prince William's Parish known as Sheldon.

The historical record etched unto the stone plaque was brief, yet concise. It stated the church was built between 1745-1755, burned by the British Army 1779, rebuilt 1826, and burned by the Federal Army 1865. On Old Sheldon Church Rd, located at its street entrance, the historic marker supplemented a few more details to the narrative. In addition, it related the church was Anglican, primarily paid for by Lieutenant Governor William Bull I, and named after the ancestral home of the Bull Family at Sheldon Hall and Parish of Warwickshire, England.

William Bull was a land owner and politician in early South Carolina. His father was Stephen Bull, who was also Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper's deputy and one of the leaders of the expedition which came from England in 1670 and settled Charles Town. In 1733, William assisted James Oglethorpe in the founding of the new Province of Georgia and assisted General Oglethorpe in establishing the physical layout of Savannah, Georgia by surveying the land to form the basic grid pattern of the streets and squares. As a land owner, his Newbury Plantation bordered the church grounds where he is buried along with other South Carolina leaders.

The South Carolina Department of Archives and History gives a detailed description of what the
original church looked liked. It is said to be the first conscious attempt in America to imitate a Greek temple. Completed by 1753, Sheldon Church's walls were three-and-one-half foot thick and built along a row of seven Tuscan columns (six engaged, one outstanding). The western facade had an elegant portico, crowned by a triangular pediment with bulls-eye window and cornice with dentils. The large front doorway had a fanlight above and two round-headed windows, symmetrically spaced, on either side. On the north, five bays between the engaged columns were filled with a single tier of tall, round-headed windows; the other bay was left open for a portico. At the eastern end, above the alter, was a Palladian window, with a round-headed window to each side.

The Archives also mention the two crucial events pertaining to its burning. Sheldon Church was burned by General Augustine Prevost's British troops in May of 1779. General Sherman's 15th Corps under General John Logan burned it on January 14, 1865. A recent discovery has presented an alternate view as to what happened at the end of the Civil War. In a letter dated February 3, 1866, Miton Leverett wrote that "Sheldon Church not burn't. Just torn up in the inside, but can be repaired." It is possible the inside of the church was gutted to reuse materials for the rebuilding of homes burnt by Sherman's army. Either way, it was never repaired and was abandoned to the merciless rigors of time, but not forgotten.

Visitors from all over the country come to the Sheldon Church ruins to photograph its majestic remains and solemnly stroll its sacred grounds. One visitor wrote these well chosen words describing his visit: "It's hard to find the right words to describe the feeling that washes over you as you walk up to this place. Even writing this review I can feel a flood of emotions rushing back as I remember the time I spent here just taking the life of this place in. The ruins carry their own self being the projects upon its visitors as they walk the grounds."

Wedding ceremonies have been held in the ruins of Sheldon Church, but since 2015 it was no longer available to the public for such ceremonies. The day I visited, which was on a Friday, there was a steady flow of visitors, but never more than ten people.

Photographs from 1940 shows Sheldon Church Ruins overgrown
People have inquired whether there are any ghost stories associated with the Sheldon Church Ruins. Like most historic southern ruins with long and tragic histories, one would presume it to be the perfect candidate. The most well-known tale tells of a woman being seen dressed in a Pilgrim style brown dress and other accounts of strange activities, such as heavy footsteps being heard, and unexplained flashing lights. Ensuing investigations have been made and nothing out of the ordinary has been found. It definitely is a place where ones imagination could run wild, especially on a hot, humid evening when the sun slips below the mossy old oaks and darkness wistfully creeps through their branches and slowly smothers the dampening grounds.

Take in the setting, contemplate the history, photograph the architecture, the feeling of reverence and awe inspired by the Sheldon Church Ruins is hauntingly imposing. It is worth your consideration as you travel the Lowcountry taking in its colorful and illustrious history dating back to the beginnings of the United States.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Nine Popular And Familiar January Events In Charleston To Start The New Year Of 2017

It is winter in Charleston. December 2016 is quickly coming to an end. There have already been cold days and there have been really warm days during this final month of the year. Are you ready to send 2016 on its way and plunge into January 2017? There will undoubtedly be more cold days in the coming first month of the year and it will have its share of warm days. That is the nature of a Charleston January. Despite its changeable weather, one unchangeable certitude is the party that is Charleston starts all over again with some popular and familiar festivals joined by some new experiences. I have picked nine events for your January.

New Year's Day Polar Plunge at Folly Beach--Would you be willing to jump into the 57.2 degree ocean waters off Folly Beach to greet 2017 or would you prefer being simply a spectator? The answer to those two questions is up to you. Either way, you will have a fantastic time, I guarantee it. Dress as your favorite Bill Murray character and Freeze Your Bills Off with several hundred others as you take a plunge into the not so waters of the Atlantic Ocean on the Edge of America. Awards will be given for best guy, best girl, best team, and best overall Bill Murray character. Registration – 11am, Bill Murray Look-a-Like Contest – 12pm, and Polar Plunge – 1pm. Article--A Chilling Beginning To The New Year On The "Edge of America"--Bill Murray Style.

Charleston Restaurant Week--Many restaurants are participating in the popular Charleston Restaurant Week from January 4 - 22, 2017. Charleston Restaurant Week is the ideal opportunity to sample the culinary creations of the finest chefs in the Holy City at a reasonable cost and the perfect occasion to critique a new restaurant. The City's downtown streets and alleys will be saturated with a bouquet of captivating aromas and ravenous restaurant patrons. The Greater Charleston Restaurant Association is continually updating their free app to include details from all the participating restaurants--Complete list of restaurants here. Article--19 Restaurant Facts For Charleston Restaurant Week Beginning September 9-20, 2015--Bon Appetit

Charleston Marathon--Hit the ground of 2017 running in the 7th Annual Charleston Marathon on January 14 starting at 8:00 am. The good news for runners is that the course is flat and features scenic water views, the Battery, and historic King Street. It's also an official qualifier for the Boston Marathon. And, a festival with live entertainment at the finish line. There is also a Shrimp and Grits 5k run through historic Park Circle in North Charleston also take place on Saturday, January 14 at 8 am and bike races are on Sunday, Jan. 15 starting at 8:30 am. You can register here and view race course maps here.

Taste of Folly--Come and celebrate Folly Beach's biggest food festival with its wonderful restaurants and bars. Taste of Folly 2017 is Jan. 20-21 on Folly Beach. Restaurant Competition, Bartender Challenge, Chili Cook-Off, Hotdog Eating Contest, Date Auction, Server Olympics, Art Vendors, Kids Activities, Live Music, Silent Auction and more.

James and the Giant Peach at the Dock Street Theater--It's the delightful, wild and crazy tale of poor James Henry Trotter, whose parents are eaten by a rhinoceros and to make matters worse, he’s sent off to live with his horrid hysterical aunts. Just as he is about to fall into despair, James discovers a magical peach that soon grows to an enormous size, finds a new family in six funny and fractious insects and begins a surreal journey from England all the way across the Atlantic to New York where James, his giant peach and his new friends find themselves landing atop the Empire State Building. Jan. 21 and 22, 2017 at 3:00 pm. Purchase tickets here.

Charleston Boat Show-- Bigger and better year after year, the indoor/outdoor Charleston Boat Show at the Charleston Area Convention Center is a coastal lifestyle event. For 37 years, it has attracted hundreds of vendors and thousands of visitors annually to browse everything boating and to attend expert talks and demos. Tickets are on sale for the expo being held on Jan. 27-29, 2017. Purchase tickets here.

The Beach Boys North Charleston Performing Arts Center --The Beach Boys are an American rock band formed in Hawthorne, California in 1961. The group's original lineup consisted of brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and their friend Al Jardine. They emerged at the vanguard of the "California Sound", initially performing original surf songs that gained international popularity for their distinct vocal harmonies and lyrics reflecting a southern California youth culture of surfing, cars, and romance. Friday, January 27, 2017 at 7:00 pm. Purchase tickets here.

Lowcountry Oyster Festival--The Lowcountry Oyster Festival is the world's largest oyster festival offering up 80,000 pounds of the mighty mollusk. It has been named one of the "top 20 events in the southeast" by Southeastern Tourism Society and takes place Sunday January 29, 2017 - 10:00 am-5 pm. Highlights include the legendary "Oyster Shucking" and "Oyster Eating". Contests, live music on the main stage, wine, a selection of domestic and imported beers, a Children's Area and a "Food Court" showcasing a variety of local favorite restaurants to satisfy everyone's taste. The place is the beautiful Boone Hall Plantation on 1235 Longpoint Road in Mt. Pleasant, SC--Purchase tickets here.

Food and Wine pairing with Anson Restaurant, Charleston--Wine Spectator Magazine - "The most romantic restaurant in Charleston ..." Anson Restaurant ... a favorite Charleston, SC restaurant with Southern architecture, elegant interior decor and gracious hospitality... Anson's cuisine and ambiance reflect worldly sophistication and Lowcountry lifestyle. Featuring - 3 dishes and 3 wines...$15/person. Accent on Wine located at 132 S Main St, Summerville, South Carolina. Join the decadence on Tuesday, January 31, 2017 at 5 pm - 7 pm.

Monday, November 14, 2016

California's Pigeon Point And Point Montara Lighthouses--Picturesque Places With Plenty To See And Do

From St. George Reef to Point Loma, California's 840 mile coast has been lighted by 33 lighthouses. I have visited four thus far, all near the multifaceted and diverse city of San Francisco. Often located on perilous points shrouded in fog, the only access to some of these historical wonders was either walking through a dark tunnel cut into a tall cliff, traversing a suspended bridge high above crashing surf or descending steep, narrow stairs hewed out of a jagged rock face. This was true for the lighthouses located at Point Reyes and Point Bonita. For Pigeon Point and Point Montara, it was just a matter of pulling off coastal Highway 1 and walking to the lighthouses.

It was January 28, 1853. The 175-foot clipper ship, with a gilded pigeon as its figurehead, just left the port of Boston. On its maiden voyage, the Carrier Pigeon's crew and cargo were bound for San Francisco. On the morning of June 6th, the vessel was spotted off Santa Cruz. As the day progressed, the ship became shrouded in a thick blanket of fog near the Point of the Whales. The captain, thinking he was a safe distance from land, steered his vessel shoreward, but before land was spotted, it struck rocks and began to sink. After the captain and crew made it safely to shore, efforts to salvage a good portion of its 1,300 tons of cargo was carried out, but the ship valued at $54,000, still stranded on the rocks, was a total loss. Since the time of the wreck, Point of the Whales was renamed Pigeon Point.

Three more ships were lost near Pigeon Point in the 1860's. Now considered the most fatal location on the Pacific coast to navigators, the editor of the San Mateo County Gazette wrote the following in 1868, "It behooves those most interested in maritime affairs on the coast as well as in the East to bring their influence to bear immediately upon the government officials, and never relax their efforts until a light-house is erected at Pigeon Point."

With a 35-foot cliff, Pigeon Point was an ideal spot to build a lighthouse. The fog signal and Victorian fourplex were completed first, and the twelve-inch steam whistle, with four-second blasts separated alternately by seven and forty-five seconds, was fired up for the first time on September 10, 1871. The 115-foot tower with a flash pattern of light every 10 seconds was exhibited for the first time on November 15, 1872.

Today, Pigeon Point Lighthouse is the second tallest on the West Coast and has a first-order Fresnel lens light visible for more than 20 miles. It is closed to the public and currently being renovated. The Coast Guard Family Quarters on sight, built in the 1960's, is used for a hostel.

Nearly 90 vessels had collided into the jagged rocks off Point Montara by the mid-1800s, but two of Point Montara's most notable shipwrecks occurred on November 9, 1868 and October 17, 1872 with the grounding of the Colorado, a large Pacific Mail steamship carrying hundreds of passengers and the U.S. mail, and the British sailing ship, Aculeo, colliding into its hidden rocks after being lost for more than three days in blinding fog. With these two incidents, Congress was forced into action.

Point Montara was originally established in 1875 as a fog signal station, which was updated in 1902 with a new fog signal building. The first light was established in 1900 and consisted of a red lens-lantern hung on a post. A fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed in 1912 on a skeleton tower. The light was electrified in 1919. Finally, in 1928, the current 30-foot cast-iron tower was installed to house the Fresnel lens.

While the two shipwrecks are striking events related to the Point Montara Lighthouse, its claim to fame was uncovered in 2008. It was discovered that the current Point Montara lighthouse had another life. It was built in 1881 and erected on Wellfleet Harbor in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where it stood until the light station was decommissioned in 1922. From Cape Cod, the lighthouse made a 3,000-mile journey to Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco Bay, where it waited in a depot until finally being installed at Point Montara in 1928. It is currently the only known lighthouse to have stood watch on two oceans.

Today, Point Montara Lighthouse is also a hostel. The views of the coastline and ocean are stunning. Ice plants bearing yellow blooms cover the cliffs. An old bridge with a waterfall below it empties onto a beautiful secluded beach.

Not far from Point Montara Lighthouse is the quaint little city of Half Moon Bay. Known as the World Pumpkin Capital, producing 3,000 tons of the orange gourd, every fall people from all over California and places beyond descend on this old city for its Pumpkin Festival. Its Main Street is a pleasant walk featuring old shops and old hotels. Painted on the side of one of its old buildings is a depiction of another famous event that takes place nearby at Pillar Point, the Mavericks Invitational Surf Contest. The world's best surfers come here in the winter to pit their skills against waves that can rise over 50 feet high known as the Mavericks. It is said, when the waves break, the resulting sound is thunderous.

Other points of interest are Half Moon Bay State Beach, Montara Mountain, Pillar Point Harbor, Devil's Slide, and the Ritz-Carlton, the oceanside hotel where American Wedding was filmed. For a complete list, go to Half Moon Bay.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

California's Point Bonita And Point Reyes Lighthouses--Both Stir The Imagination And Their Unmatched Scenery Stoke Your Inspiration

The vast Pacific Ocean is Earth's largest body of water. Its unrelenting waves are raw, powerful, and explosive. From north to south, they roll onto the shores of the longest stretch of state coastline in the United States. Framed by sheer cliffs, jagged rocks, and wind swept beaches, the intimidating California coast is both awe-inspiring and often deadly.

On recent visits to the Golden State, I have traveled its winding 656 mile Highway 1 from the Big Sur to Point Reyes hiking trails draped by ice plants to cliff-bound sandy beaches where I scaled water-soaked jagged rocks to engulf myself in the coast's natural mystique and document it with the most descriptive photographs, all the time weary of the possibility of being swept away by the Pacific's illusive sneaker wave. A vantage point that was also perfect for viewing the man-made structures built upon these picturesque sea cliffs for the distinct purpose of warning mariners of the hidden dangers characteristic to the California coast, the State's legendary lighthouses.

From St. George Reef to Point Loma, California's 840 mile coast has been lighted by 33 lighthouses. I have visited four thus far, all near the multifaceted and diverse city of San Francisco. Often located on perilous points shrouded in fog, the only access to some of these historical wonders was either walking through a dark tunnel cut into a tall cliff, traversing a suspended bridge high above crashing surf or descending steep, narrow stairs cemented into a jagged rock face. This was true for the lighthouses located at Point Reyes and Point Bonita. For Pigeon Point and Point Montara, it was just a matter of pulling off Highway 1 and walking to the lighthouses.

Both north of San Francisco Bay, Point Bonita and Point Reyes lighthouses are very similar in both design and placement, but each have features and a history unique to itself. Both lighthouses stir your imagination and their unmatched scenery stoke your inspiration.

The Golden Gate's rebellious currents, dangerous shoals, and persistent clinging fog had impeded the journey of many a vessel. 300 boats ran aground near the Golden Gate during the gold rush years. In the 1850's, mariners cried for a light to mark the entrance to the Golden Gate and the 300-foot Point Bonita was selected for a lighthouse site. A fifty-six-foot, conical brick tower with a second-order Fresnel lens went into operation on May 2, 1855. A one-and-a-half-story brick and stone cottage was built near the tower for the keeper of the light. When the light was cloaked in fog, an eight-foot long cannon was fired as a fog signal. In 1874, the first steam siren was installed.

Locating the lighthouse on top of the 300-foot Point Bonita proved to be a mistake. California fog is characteristically high, leaving lower areas clear. A site on the tip of Point Bonita 180-feet lower was selected for the new lighthouse. To reach the site, tunneling through a rock-cliff was required. The 118-foot hand-hewed tunnel and trail proved to be challenging due to the unstable rock. A new 3-room brick structure was built to support the upper half of the original lighthouse that was moved to the new site in 1877, including the Fresnel lens. The new lighthouse went into operation on February 1, 1877.

In time, part of the trail eroded and collapsed into the surf 124-feet below. A wooden causeway was built. Later, it was replaced by a suspension bridge, which appropriately mirrored the style of the Golden Gate Bridge. Again, in 2010, the lighthouse was closed to the public due to the rusting and unsafe condition of the bridge. It too was replaced and the lighthouse reopened in 2011.

Point Bonita is part of the Marin Headlands. From the parking area, it is a 0.5 mile walk on a trail with a stirring coastal view surrounded by grey rock cliffs. It is open for tours Saturday to Monday from 12:30 pm to 3:30 pm.

Looking down from the top of Lookout Point northward, the panoramic view on a fog-free day is breathtaking. Stretching for 11 miles are the brown sands and green-capped cliffs of South Beach and North Beach. Looking seaward, the vast ocean waters are a soulful deep blue and its waves thunderous.

The Point Reyes Headlands jut 10 miles out to sea making it a threat to each ship entering or leaving San Francisco Bay. Before the construction of the Point Reyes Lighthouse in 1870, over three-quarters of a million dollars in ships and cargoes were lost on the rocks. To date, the Point has taken more than fifty ships and the lives of numerous sailors and passengers. Rising 600-feet above the tumultuous surf of the Pacific Ocean, Point Reyes' jagged cliffs were the ideal location for a lighthouse, despite being the second foggiest place on the North American continent. Like Point Bonita, due to the characteristically high fog, an area 300-feet below the top of the cliff was blasted with dynamite to clear a level spot for its construction.

The lens and mechanism for the lighthouse were constructed in France in 1867. The clockwork mechanism, glass prisms and housing for the lighthouse were shipped on a steamer around Cape Horn of South America to San Francisco. The parts from France and the parts for the cast iron tower were transferred to a second ship, which then sailed to a landing on Drakes Bay. The parts were loaded onto ox-drawn carts and hauled three miles over the headlands to near the 600-foot high tip of Point Reyes where they were lowered to the leveled area. It took six months for the lighthouse and fog signal building to be completed. The Point Reyes Light first shone on December 1, 1870.

On April 18, 1906 the famous earthquake of San Francisco occurred, during which the Point Reyes Peninsula and the lighthouse moved 18 feet in less than one minute to the north. The lighthouse did not suffer any significant damage and was off-line only thirteen minutes. A testimony to the dedication and commitment of its hearty lighthouse keepers.

Point Reyes is the windiest place on the Pacific Coast. The highest wind speed recorded at Point Reyes was 133 mph, and 60 mph winds are common. At the end of each shift, the keeper trudged back up the long wooden staircase 300-feet to the keeper's quarters. Sometimes the winds were so strong that he had to crawl on his hands and knees to keep from being knocked down. The hard work, wind, fog, and isolation at Point Reyes made this an undesirable post. The lighthouse keeper at Point Reyes once wrote: "Better to dwell in the midst of alarms than reign in this horrible place."

The lighthouse was retired from service in 1975. It is now owned by the National Park Service and part of the Point Reyes National Seashore. It is open to the public on Friday through Monday. Tuesday to Thursday it can only be viewed from an observation deck. To reach the lighthouse, you will need to drive to the lighthouse parking lot, walk a scenic short 0.4 mile trail to the Visitor Center and then descend 308 stairs--map of Point Reyes National Seashore.

Visiting and photographing lighthouses has been a passion of mine. They conjure up a now extinct era when man dared to peer into the unknown with the hope of making peace with the natural order of the sea equipped with nothing more than his wits and raw fortitude. Sometimes he succeeded and sometimes he did not. The lighthouse remains a symbol of that era. Visiting the lighthouses close to San Francisco was fascinating and enriching. I will follow up this article with the lighthouses at Pigeon Point and Point Montara.