Growing by the Bay

Category: east.bay

Photo Wednesday: Mount Diablo

mount diablo

This photo of a view from Mt. Diablo in the East Bay comes from zevek’s photostream.


San Francisco skyline from Kensington hills

unitarian universalist church of berkeley

Here’s a view of the SF skyline as seen from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley (which despite its name is located in Kensington), where I attended a family wedding on Saturday.


Great Blue Heron at Lafayette Reservoir

The Lafayette Reservoir is a pretty little lake of 115 acres. It’s a tame spot, much used by joggers, families, and dog walkers. An easy 4.7-mile trail loops around the lake from the parking area. The reservoir itself is not drained seasonally as many are, so it retains a natural-looking, reedy shoreline.

There is a book launch on the lake, but it’s restricted to boats that can be hand launched, and gas motors aren’t allowed. All-day parking is $6 and there is a $4 boat use fee. There are many picnic tables — 135, according to park literature — some of which can be accessed by boat. Last Friday we canoed over to this float and had a little picnic. The float was also accessible by trail, but most of the joggers and dog walkers are so focused on their circuit of the lake they rarely come down to the water.

floating picnic area, lafayette reservoir

It’s quiet on the water, and by boat you have access to things the joggers don’t see, like the great blue heron in the upper right of this photo.

canoe and heron on lafayette reservoir

Because canoes are the most maneuverable and quietest of water craft, it is possible for canoeists to get very close to wildlife.

great blue heron at lafayette reservoir

Lafayette Reservoir at Bay Area Hiker

Martinez beavers under seige

The struggling town of Martinez at last has a bona fide tourist attraction — the delightful beavers who have built a dam downtown on the Alhambra Creek. Some of the videos featuring these YouTube stars can be seen above and below.

So, if you’re Martinez, how do you capitalize on this attraction? Do you go all out and set up elaborate viewing stations or do you play it low-key and let people wander around town until they find the beavers on the own. Already the beavers have been drawing crowds.

Well, again if you’re Martinez the answer is: neither of the above. Instead, city officials have called for the beavers to be killed — or, as they put it, “humanely depredated.” It seems the beaver dam could cause flooding. But in that case why kill the beavers instead of relocating them?

Martinez, by the way, in the home town of John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club.

Mount Diablo tarantula

Each fall the tarantulas come out on Mount Diablo to mate. We saw a couple this year and read about a couple of cyclists — Mt. Diablo is popular with high-endurance mountain bikers — who got so distracted by a pair of mating tarantulas that they crashed into each other and had to be hospitalized.

It looks like this fellow might have been captured and taken home by someone. But what do you do with your tarantula after you get him home?

Sobrante Ridge

Most guides will have you enter the Sobrante Ridge Regional Preserve from Coach Drive in Carriage Hills, but if you enter from the El Sobrante side — the trail head is at the end of Heavenly Ridge Lane — a short hike past the endangered Alameda Manzanita will take you to the top of the ridge, where a selection of pictnic tables awaits you. A view of Mt. Tamalpais lies to the west.

sobrante ridge view to west: mt. tam and marin county

To the east is Mount Diablo, and to the south Wildcat Canyon.

sobrante ridge view to south: wildcat canyon

You can descend to Carriage Hills to the north, if you wish.

carriage hills from sobrante ridge

The Belgum Sanitarium

Hikers in the Wildcat Canyon hills above the city of Richmond may be surprised to come upon a glade full of palms and other exotic trees amid the chaparral and oak woodlands.

palms at the belgum sanitarium, richmond

These are the vestiges of a sanitarium that overlooked the bay, with views of San Francisco to the south southwest

san francisco view from east bay hills

and Richmond to the west.

view of richmond from tilden park hills

This was the location of the Grande Vista Sanitarium, founded by Dr. Hendrik Belgum in 1914. Residents of the sanitarium included drug addicts and alcoholics as well as the mentally or emotionally disordered — neighbors called it “the crazy house.” The sanitarium, advantageously located, catered to an up-scale clientele who wished to keep embarrassing members of their families out of view.

The centerpiece of the property was a large stucco mansion originally built by Jacob M. Tewksbury, a wealthy pioneer. Guests entered through a high-ceilinged foyer decorated with Tiffany chandeliers. Other features included a day room, library, kitchen, living room, and formal dining room. A curving staircase led to bedrooms and offices — nearly all with magnificent views — on a second floor.

One of these rooms served as Dr. Belgum’s office. As years went by, the doctor himself grew more and more eccentric and reclusive, preferring the company of his patients to that of the people he met on his expeditions into town. Neighbor children brave enough to sneak up to the mansion reported being spellbound by strains of enchanting music cascading down the hillside. It was said that the doctor and his ethereal sisters enjoyed dancing with the patients as the setting sun would cast its golden glow across the bay below them.

According to one of the doctor’s brochures, “To insure our guests an abundance of fresh, wholesome, nourishing food, so essential to the restoration of health, a select purebred dairy is maintained, also a poultry plan, an apiary, a fruit orchard, vegetable gardens, conservatories, private spring water system, etc.” Remains of some of the foundations can still be seen on the site.

In 1948 a grass fire suddenly flared up and threatened the idyllic estate. Dr. Belgum fought desperately to put out the blaze, and in that struggle he gave up his life. Then the mansion passed to his brother, Bernard N. Belgum, and sisters, Ida Ruth Belgum and Christine Heiman. A few patients remained with them as those melancholy years dragged on, though the surviving Belgums had no medical qualifications. As the turmoil of the fifties and early sixties raged in the cities ringing the bay, the sanitarium, in its remote setting, seemed frozen in time.

After Bernard’s death in 1963 at the age of 82, no heirs remained to inherit the estate. The grounds were simply abandoned, and all of the buildings had been burnt down by vandals by 1977. The following year, the East Bay Regional Park District acquired the land, which is now part of Wildcat Canyon Regional Park.

This part of the park is used for grazing cattle, who tramp down the hills above the sanitarium.

hils above the sanitarium

The sanitarium’s palms can be glimpsed beyond the thistles that grow where the cattle graze.

thistles and palms

To reach the site, take the Belgum trail from the Alvarado staging area in the Richmond hills.

alvarado staging area, wildcat canyon, richmond hills

A nearby display gives the history of the site. There is little material readily available about the Belgum sanitarium. (I have put up a few more pictures in my Belgum flickr set, which also contains larger versions of the images here.) Chad Dickerson of Yahoo posted some information about it, and consequently has been termed an “authority,” but really he just reprinted the material that is available at the site and does not appear to have done any original research. Still, he did post the materials from the site in their entirety, whereas I have been selective and have also added some narrative touches in order to tell the story of the sanitarium in a way that appealed to my imagination.

A more promising source of information is the El Cerrito Historical Society, which cites a publication called Richmond: Windows to the Past by Susan D. Cole (Contra Costa County Library, 1980). It includes “pictures and vignettes about early Richmond, including perhaps the best information available on the Belgum family’s Grande Vista Sanitarium, which was located near the mouth of today’s Wildcat Canyon Regional Park.” The Richmond Public Library probably has a copy, but I have not consulted it.

Testing the limits

alameda manzanita

Bravo to Contra Costa supervisors who unanimously voted down an attempt to expand the East Bay urban limit line — a line overwhelmingly approved by area voters less than a year ago.

The proposal would have created a 75-home development in El Sobrante. El Sobrante (home to an endangered species of manzanita) is already suffering from severe traffic congestion and a scandalous shortage of services. The last thing it needs is more housing, the purpose of which would simply be to line some developer’s pocket. I wonder why such a propect has traditionally appealed to City of Richmond politicians. That is just so baffling. What could the explanation possibly be?

Ominously, according to the Contra Costa Times, “Architect Paul Wang said he will continue to meet with El Sobrante residents in an attempt to fix any flaws they see with the Golden Oaks proposal.” Wait, I see a flaw! This guy enjoys a sweet view from his bucolic home office in the Berkeley Hills. Meanwhile, on the other side of that hill — just far enough away that it doesn’t pollute his tranquil existence — construction crews would be cutting down “golden oaks” and putting up houses where they’re not wanted
and don’t belong.

Hey, City of Richmond and Contra Costa County (El Sobrante spans the two jurisdictions), did you ever think of creating a downtown park or two for this community that is home to many young families? And what about that pedestrian mall along San Pablo Dam Road that we’re not hearing much about anymore?

Shown: Endangered alameda manzanita (and friends). 

Tamarindo Antojeria

tamarindo, oakland

I had a chance to eat at Tamarindo Antojeria the other day. It’s located 468 8th Street in downtown Oakland. (The nicely restored brick-walled restaurant is in the city’s Old Town district.) Their website is, and the phone is 510.444.1944.

Although it was a Wednesday the restaurant was very crowded. We arrived early because we were heading for a 7:30 event, so we got a table right away (the one on the left in the picture above), but people who arrived just after us had to wait.

Tamarindo was voted “Best Mexican Restaurant 2006” by the East Bay Express. But it’s not much like most Mexican restaurants. You won’t find massive burritos here. Instead you get alta cocina, a sort of nouvelle cuisine take on creative Mexican cooking. Small, exquisite dishes, reasonably priced. We had the green salad, which was fresh and tasy, and the mole de tamarindo, which was excellent. Our other dish, a chile relleno was fine, if a tad odd with sour cream and cheese and bits of tortillas that were prepared just to the point of beginning to get crisp.

The food is accompanied by a good wine list, although they ding you a bit on the prices, which are a little out of scale with the food. We had beer, and it accompanied the food perfectly.

Outdoors in the Bay Area

So far the winter of 2006-207 has been a cool one in the Bay Area. But we got out for a short hike yesterday on Sobrante Ridge, and it was quite pleasant. The trail wasn’t muddy, and the manzanita was in bloom. I’m starting to post some pages on outdoor activities in the Bay Area.

Some rights reserved 2022 Tom’s Garden. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (attribution, noncommercial, no derivs: 3.0) License (US), although some of the work this blog incorporates may be separately licensed. Text and images by Thomas Christensen unless otherwise noted. For print permissions or other inquiries please request via