Henderson responds to Fish letter

Response to Hamilton Fish (see the Dec. 25, 2015, edition of the Martinez Tribune):

Your outlook that includes a historic Martinez is refreshing. As one who remembers and fought three present members of council a decade ago who were bent on an RDA and destroying the current built environment, and as one who fought for the $50,000 Kelley/VerPlank historic context, and then got the history of Martinez accepted to the National Register, and oh yes, one who lobbied the USPS for two years for the $170,000 current or just finished rehab of the Downtown Post Office, I just want to finesse some of the historic factors you have so magnanimously presented in your letter to the editor:

1. “Pre Anglo” contains many ethnic groups with different contributions. Although there are few remaining tangible resources of these groups, their existences created the environment for the next periods of significance – including the pre-abolition contributions of a black man named Jones who built a hotel and the extant Prosser house at the head of Ferry Street during the “frontier” period between the Mexican and the Victorian/Economic Development periods. Native Americans were allegedly teaching Sicilian Fishermen how to spear fish after the 1900s, and this correlates with a late 1800s report from the U.S. Fish and Game on the effects of Italian Fishermen on the Native American fishers.

2. Semple built a ferry a year before anyone knew of a Gold Rush and agriculture was a major force in the region and Martinez. Some of which you have mentioned, but “Gold Rush” is a misnomer.

3. Industrialism (aka Victorian or Economic Development era) came after the Frontier period and came with the arrival of the railroad in 1876. The arrival of the railroad was influenced by agricultural production in the area. However, there were other industrial developments in Martinez prior to 1876, and 1900 is not accurate to begin the industrial period and nor is 1960 to end it and call it all one period. Because of Shell, it actually continues today. The 1890 Borland Home is Queen Anne Eastlake Style, rarer on the west coast, but representative of the industrial ability for mass produced and shipped house parts.

4. Small or medium industries would arise and decline in and around Martinez from late mid 1800s onward. They even buoyed the local economy during the Great Depression. But no other industry would be as large or as lasting as Shell. Shell would cause a massive population growth and housing boom that usurped the large agricultural estates in the area. The Shell (1915 start) period of significance is likely the most influential force, and it is stand alone, ever to effect the development of Martinez, although the County seat was begun in 1850 and has continued to grow. The County seat, the downtown commercial and residential areas, and the Italian neighborhood all grew on their own time-frames and reasons, although complimenting each others’ growth and abandonment. (I think you got the abandonment period down right – mostly because of 680, end of the fishing era, and the malls). But it was Shell that caused the residential growth, NOT summer homes for San Franciscans.

5. You have completely left out the Great Depression whose influence on the current built environment is undeniable, as well as the New Deal programs that also buoyed the local economy and therefore demand for goods, services, and housing. Many of our sidewalks, Court Street buildings, the fact our Marina is on solid ground, Rankin Park, sewer systems, our first Marina docks, and much more, were built with New Deal funds. FDR’s programs are still providing economic stimulus via Social Security, FDIC, and other federal aid programs.

Let me put it this way. “Industrialism” is not a historic period per se, it is a change in the existence of mankind from agriculture which replaced hunter gatherer which replaced primitive man. In other words, we are in a new millennia, not a new period of historic significance of local development.

6. Lastly, 630 Court (brick) is *NOT* Streamline Moderne. As its nominator I know the CA State Architects would and did agree. 630 is a simple, two story, brick commercial building with Italian Renaissance Revival Features. 610 is an amalgam of three constructions over a 40 year period. It is a Frankenstein Building. I researched its history for its owner. Yes, I guess it is still Streamline Moderne – a design from the late ‘40s to ‘50s. 630 was built in 1926, without knowledge of Art Deco.

So, Hamilton, you did mention that you might get the details wrong and the larger story right. I agree on both and encourage you to get involved with the General Plan update. But the historic part of the General Plan Update needs to be accurate and you seem to be aware of periods of significance, but are inventing the criteria for them. If you have not already, Google “The Historic Resources of Martinez, CA: A multiple property submission” available on the OHP website, among other places. With the help of other professional historians, that document is predicated on the $50,000 Kelley/VerPlank historic context available at the City. It seems like you are reinventing these periods of significance. Can you respond in this paper why? I am very curious.

– Kristin Henderson

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