Surrounded by Secrets – Here are the nationally recognized historic places in West County

rosies a bunch

By Matt Larson

We thought this would be something interesting to compile and share with the readership of the Contra Costa Marketplace Magazine. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.


Chung Mei Home Historic District – 1760 Elm St.

National Register #13000792 Built in 1935, the Chung Mei Home District (roughly translating to Chinese-American home district) provided institutional care for neglected or abandoned Chinese-American boys. Complete with a classroom, an art studio, a gymnasium, and a library, the District provided residential care, guidance, and structure for the boys.



Hercules Village – Kings, Railroad, Santa Fe, and Hercules Avenues. Talley Way, Bay and Pinole Streets.

National Register #80000799 Before it was incorporated in 1900, Hercules was a company town owned by Hercules Powder Works. From 1881 until 1901 it was the largest producer of dynamite in the world, supplying explosives to both sides of WW1 until America entered the war.


Bank of Pinole – 2361 San Pablo Ave.

National Register #96001175  Constructed in 1915, the Bank of Pinole is an example of the classical temple-form architecture which was a common small-town bank design in America during the 20th century.


Alvarado Park – Junction of Marin and Park avenues

National Register #92000313

Located in the mouth of Wildcat Canyon, Alvarado Park was originally a private park that was owned and operated by local residents from 1909-1923. It was then donated to the City of Richmond and later admitted into the East Bay Regional Park District.

Atchison Village Defense Housing Project – Roughly bounded by MacDonald Ave., Ohio St., First St., & Garrard Blvd.

National Register #03000473

Built in 1941 by the Richmond Housing Authority for housing defense workers from the Kaiser Shipyards, this is Richmond’s first of 20 public housing projects built before and during WW2. The village was sold by the government to its residents in 1957 and is now known as the Atchison Village Mutual Homes Corporation consisting of 450 apartments.

East Brother Island Light Station – On East Brother Island west of Point San Pablo

National Register #71000138

First lit in 1874, East Brother is the oldest wood-frame lighthouse on the West Coast that is still fully operational. Perched atop an island in the strait that separates San Francisco and San Pablo bays, it is now a very unique bed & breakfast inn (

Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant – 1414-1422 Harbour Way, S.

National Register #88000919

At the time the Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant was created in 1930 it was the largest of its kind on the west coast. It contributed to the U.S. war effort of WW2, and now currently houses the National Park Service visitor center, some private businesses, and the Craneway Pavilion.

New Hotel Carquinez – 410 Harbour Way

National Register #92000466

For decades after it was built in 1926, the New Hotel Carquinez (later deemed Hotel Don) was the only conference center in Richmond and thus was the center of decision making for the City of Richmond.

Point Richmond Historic District – Off CA 17

National Register #79000472

Of the 300+ buildings in the Point Richmond Historic District built between 1900 and 1920, you’ll find homes constructed in the most popular architectural styles in the Bay Area at that time, which includes Queen Anne, San Francisco stick, neoclassic, eastern shingle, brown shingle, craftsman, bungalow, and California bungalow—however, few were constructed professionally, as carpenters who had learned the trade would utilize prefabricated elements from the local mill.

Richmond Shipyard Number Three – Point Potrero

National Register #00000364

One of four of the shipyards built by Henry J. Kaiser during the WW2 effort, Richmond Shipyard Number Three is the one that still remains. Richmond produced 747 ships during the war, attracting shipbuilders from all over the country that led to an increase in Richmond’s population from 23,462 in 1940 to 123,000 by 1944.

Rosie the Riveter – WWII Home Front National Historical Park – Shipyards of Richmond

National Register #01000287

The Richmond shipyards attracted such a diverse group of individuals that regardless of race or gender, everyone had to work together and thus the workplace was transformed from that point on. If you go here today you’ll find the SS Red Oak Victory cargo ship, a Rosie the Riveter Memorial, trained docents to guide you on a tour, a 38-seat theater with historic films to watch, and more (

SS Red Oak Victory (victory ship) – 1500 Dornan Dr., Terminal One, Port of Richmond

National Register #00001674

Launched on November 9, 1944, the SS Red Oak Victory is the only remaining Victory ship that was built in Richmond’s Kaiser Shipyard. This ship was active during WW2, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

Winehaven – Point Molate

National Register #78000658

Once owning the title of “world’s largest winery” when it opened in 1907, it’s run was short-lived due to Prohibition and was shut down just over a decade later. After about 20 years of neglect the Navy took possession and it became the Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot; today it’s still under restoration, often referred to as “that ‘castle’ that can be seen from the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge”.


How one park has enriched the bones and raised the spirit of a Richmond community


By Jeannie Howard

From a walk-bike path to installing mass-produced play structures, throughout countless years many organizations and the city have attempted to improve Richmond’s most infamous neighborhood. Unfortunately, improvements either fell into disrepair or were vandalized; nothing seemed to take hold. That is, until Pogo Park adopted two forgotten small play-lots in Richmond’s Iron Triangle neighborhood, a community once ranked the 7th most violent neighborhood in America, according to Toody Maher, founder and executive director of Pogo Park. With the revitalization of the once notorious plots into what have become known as Elm Playlot and Harbor 8, the non-profit has created more than enriching playgrounds for children and families, but thriving centers for the whole community.

“Our parks are like a green oasis in the middle of chaos; a real watering hole for the whole community,” says Maher. “We staff the parks all day, they are lit up at night, and we are packed cause they are in the most densely populated neighborhood in Richmond and this is a place where everybody can go that is safe and clean.”

In addition to an enriching and dynamic play environment for children, Elm Playlot offers daily classes that are free and open to anyone in the community—all they have to do is show up. “Another thing that has been huge is the free haircuts for kids on Fridays,” she says. “Every Friday afternoon someone from the community sets up and all the kids come to get their haircut.” And, in a community that is revenged by poverty, the park also serves as a distribution point for the school district free meals program. “Right now we serve after school snack and supper,” Maher says. “Last year we were able to serve 12,000 meals to hungry children.” Many times Maher has been told that Pogo Park’s Elm Playlot is truly the heartbeat of the community.

Pogo Park has been going strong for more than a decade, but what is this organization doing differently than what so many others have attempted to do and failed in the past? Maher states that deep community engagement is the hallmark to the Pogo Park success. “Money has always just been put into fixing the bones—a new community center, a new house, or a new park,” she describes. “But there hasn’t been investment in the spirit, which is the people. You have to do both—spirit and bones.”

In 2007 Maher began her community outreach by asking the people in the neighborhood what it was that they wanted and why the park was not working. The Pogo team treated those in the neighborhood as the experts of their own community and brought them into the team as employees and advisors from the start. “What we have tried to do from day one is to listen to the community,” she says.

A root problem as to why the Elm Playlot, the first Pogo Park project, had continued to fail, even after the City of Richmond invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in new play structures only to have them destroyed within weeks, was because the problems in the neighborhood just outside the park’s boundaries were never addressed. “When we started, every house around the park was boarded up except for one, the drug house. The park was completely covered in glass and needles, it was just awful,” she recalls. Maher continues to describe how the park was also, “a big place to bring dogs to train them to fight.”

With a $3 million grant from HUD and with the help of the city, Pogo Park was able to purchase all of the homes around the Elm Playlot. After three years of work clearing out the drug house and restoring the homes around the park, the neighborhood is full of families living in each of the homes.

Once clearing the neighborhood around Elm of illicit activity, the Pogo community member team to set to work on bringing the park back to life. Through a partnership with Scientific Art Studio, a world renowned fabrication studio in the Iron Triangle neighborhood that is famous for “pushing the limits of that is possible at a park and play space,” says Maher, Pogo has been able to create a play space for children that is unique. “This partnership has been phenomenal. They have adopted us and we have our community resident team in their studio,” she says. “We actually have a shop in their shop where anything we want to build for the parks we build there.”

So, the community has done the outreach, the planning, the building, and “the community is actually managing the parks,” as Maher explains. “The community has learned so many skills along the way that many of them have found jobs working full time.” It is this active investment in the people of the community—the spirit—that has made Pogo Park a model for urban renewal throughout the state and even the nation, according to Maher.

Elm Playlot has served, and continues to do so, as a “model of what is possible to do in a city park,” says Maher. The organization is continuing the development of the Harbor 8 park as well as the planning and design of the Yellow Brick Road project. In partnering with the Conservation Fund, the largest land conservation nonprofit in the country, Pogo Park has been able to purchase the land adjacent to the Harbor 8 lot to be developed with the community as was the Elm Playlot.  “Harbor 8 is really going to be like a public square. There will be a café, laundry mat, bike shop, and housing surrounding this incredible park,” she describes. “And the two parks will be connected by our Yellow Brick Road projects, which will be a 1.7 mile connection so kids and families can walk from one park to the next.”

As anyone can imagine, this has been a long and difficult 10-year journey for Maher, Pogo Park, and the whole community. “It has been tough and we have worked though some complicated things, but the city has just been wonderful,” she says. “You can’t just build stuff in isolation; it has to be integrated into the community, which takes a lot of leg work and that is what we continue to do.”

White Chocolate Espresso Shortbread Cookies


This recipe comes from the food blog, is written by Dale McCoy, an experienced baker and resident of El Sobrante.

Makes about 15 cookies

What you’ll need:

1/2 tablespoon – espresso powder

1/2 tablespoon – hot water

1 stick (4 ounces) – unsalted butter

1/3 cup – powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon – vanilla extract

1 cup – all purpose flour

2 ounces – white chocolate, roughly chopped or mini chips

1 teaspoon – ground espresso beans


Dissolve the espresso powder in the hot water and set aside to cool.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 2-3 minutes.

Add the espresso and vanilla extract.

Turn the speed to low and add the flour. Mix just until the flour in fully incorporated. You don’t want to over-mix the batter at this point.

Fold in the white chocolate and ground espresso by hand.

Place dough in a plastic freezer bag or wrap it in plastic wrap. Let the dough sit in the refrigerator  for at least 2 hours. You can leave the dough in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degree. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.

Lightly sprinkle your counter with powdered sugar. Turn the dough out onto the counter and let warm up a bit for 5-10 minutes.

Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Using a small cookie cutter or just cutting with a knife, cut out the cookies and place onto those prepared baking sheets. Keep rolling out on the dough and cutting until you have used all of the dough.

Bake for 18-20 minutes rotating the pans halfway through baking.

Well Grounded Tea & Coffee Bar: Cozy Community Café in El Cerrito

WG-Turkey Pesto Sandwich on Focaccia

By Vickie Lewis

For those of you who like to support local small businesses, Well Grounded Tea & Coffee Bar is a great venue to add to your list! This small but mighty family-owned establishment has been serving the El Cerrito community for nearly twelve years, and has amassed a following of regulars who faithfully return to enjoy great coffee, food and snacks, as well as genuine personalized service.  The cafe is nestled among several other small businesses in the heart of a residential neighborhood on Stockton Avenue, not far from El Cerrito High School, and is a popular gathering place, particularly with locals and students.

Jen Komaromi, co-owner of Well-Grounded, also owns Jenny K Gift Shop, which is located two doors down from the café.  In fact, Jen’s business aspirations led to the establishment of Well Grounded Tea & Coffee Bar. She spent a number of years working in wholesale before deciding to branch out on her own and begin an internet retail sales business. When her business outgrew her home, Jen rented office space above the storefront that is now Well Grounded. She quickly tired of the lunch options available at the local 7-Eleven store across the street, the only business that sold food in the immediate area. Having worked at a coffee shop during her college years, she suggested to her husband, Kevin O’Neal, that they open a coffee shop to fill the void in that area of El Cerrito. Soon afterwards, the commercial space below Jen’s office became available, and Well Grounded became a reality.  Initially, the café primarily sold coffees, teas, pastries, and Bocadillos—sandwiches made on baguettes cut lengthwise.  Over the years, the menu has evolved and expanded significantly to include a variety of organic and locally sourced foods and beverages, including beers and wine. Jen’s internet sales business also expanded, and the nearby Jenny K gift shop now offers a variety of unique consumable and utilitarian gifts and greeting cards for all occasions.

The interior of Well Grounded Tea & Coffee Bar is divided into the entry area where orders are placed and food and beverages are prepared, and a separate dining/sitting area that has a long wooden bench along the wall, 3 small round tables, and one 2-person booth. The décor is simple and the ambience is comfortable, casual and friendly. Colorful framed photographs, taken by members of the El Cerrito High School Photography Club, adorn the earth-tone painted walls, and are available for purchase. A wooden table serves as a coffee/tea bar, stocked with honey, sugar, cream, straws, napkins, etc. A large bulletin board hangs in the entry area boasting local postings and advertisements.

Customers waiting to place their orders can salivate over the fresh daily Alameda-based Semifreddi’s handcrafted pastries, which are individually wrapped, and prominently displayed on glass shelves behind the counter. These include such favorites as apple turnovers, blueberry Danish, assorted muffins, croissants, and scones, as well as large, freshly-baked cookies. Fresh assorted bagels from Albany-based Boogie Woogie Bagel Boy, are also stacked in the glass counters to tempt hungry patrons.  Newcomers to Well Grounded will likely need at least several minutes to peruse the extensive menu boards suspended behind the counter, listing all of the various coffees, beverages, bagels, specialty sandwiches, and other offerings available at this small café.

Everything at Well Grounded is made to order, including individual cups of coffee. The coffee served here is procured from Lappert’s Coffee, located in Richmond. It is an organic blend of ten different medium and dark roast coffee beans, including Kona coffee beans from Hawaii.  (Decaffeinated coffee at Well-Grounded is made from Kona coffee beans only.)  They use a Swiss brewing method which extracts the oils from the coffee beans, removing the bitterness and creating a “crema” (lightly colored foam) on top of the cup of each individually brewed cup of coffee.  Jen demonstrated the brewing method for me and my guest during our visit, and we found it to be quite interesting.  She said that crema on top is considered the hallmark of a good cup of coffee by the Swiss and Italians. I added organic milk/cream to the sample cup of coffee Jen had brewed, and found it to be a very smooth and delicious cup of coffee!

All bagel creations, sandwiches, bocadillos, and salads are prepared when ordered, which is why sometimes service at Well Grounded may seem a bit slow. The smallish area behind the counter fits two to three workers comfortably, and sometimes is occupied by up to five workers on the busiest of days.  Most creations include only four or five ingredients, which allows them to be prepared and delivered to customers as quickly as possible. My guest and I visited Well Grounded Tea & Coffee Bar early on a Saturday afternoon.  Jen graciously spent time with us, mentioning that Saturday mornings are their busiest time of the week, and so the crew was in recovery mode. In spite of this, the workers still wore smiles and extended friendly greetings to each and every customer. To kick off our tasting experience, Jen offered us a choice of beverages from the menu. My guest noticed a poster advertising a seasonal beverage offering, and decided to try the hot Pumpkin Pie Spiced Latte. This was served in a large round cup, and was topped with a mound of luscious whipped cream and caramel drizzle. I chose an iced Mocha, which also was topped with whipped cream with powdered cocoa sprinkled on top. There were so many food items to choose from that we yielded to Jen’s recommendations for a couple of their best-selling sandwiches that we could sample.   

We managed to secure an open table in the seating area, where we enjoyed our beverages while awaiting our sandwiches. Pleasant music played in the background and we observed a customer who was taking advantage of Well Grounded’s free Wi-Fi. My iced mocha had a dark, rich chocolaty flavor, and thankfully was not overly sweet.  Across the table, my guest savored her Pumpkin Pie Spiced Latte down to the last drop!  Jen later informed us that they make their own Pumpkin Pie additive for the special fall beverages—it is made just like pumpkin pie but without the eggs. The whipped cream used for the coffee drinks is also made in-house by the staff.

Our sandwiches were delivered to our table by one of the workers, wrapped neatly as if “to go.” We unwrapped the first sandwich, a warm Turkey Pesto Sandwich served on Focaccia bread.  The sandwich ingredients included deli turkey, spinach, house-made pesto, and alfalfa sprouts. The Focaccia bread was fresh and soft, and although I might have liked a little more turkey and a little less pesto on my sandwich, my guest and I both agreed the flavor was excellent. The second sandwich we sampled was The Humboldt, a vegetarian creation served on a toasted baguette, made with cream cheese, tomato, fresh cucumber slices, and avocado. This cold sandwich was delicious and had a light, fresh flavor.  We both thought that we tasted balsamic vinegar on the sandwich giving the sandwich a bit of a “sweet” flavor. We later learned from Jen that the dressing on the sandwich was actually Larrupin sauce, a sweet mustard dill sauce made in Sacramento. This sauce originated at Larrupin Café in Trinidad, CA, located in Humboldt County. Gary and Jen previously lived and attended school in Humboldt county, so a number of their café creations (as well as some of the items in the Jenny K gift shop) are inspired by or are made by Humboldt artists. My guest and I loved the fresh flavor of the Humboldt sandwich—it was a definite hit with us!

Some other noteworthy Well Grounded menu items include the very popular Megga Bagel, made with eggs mixed with spinach, tomatoes, dill gherkin slices, cheese, and Larrupin sauce. Well Grounded didn’t always offer eggs as sandwich ingredients, primarily because the café does not have a full kitchen. However, customers repeatedly requested that eggs be added to their menu, so they now serve microwaved eggs–and the customers love them!  The Polynesian sandwich, another of Well Grounded’s specialty sandwiches, features an unlikely ingredient—SPAM! I’m not sure I’ve seen SPAM offered before in any café or restaurant, but you can get it here on the Polynesian, accompanied by cheddar cheese, grilled red onion, and Siracha sauce.  Finally, the Caputo, named after a local El Cerrito police officer, is made with Wild Alaskan Salmon Lox, cream cheese, fresh cucumber slices, red onions, capers, and Larrupin sauce. This sounds just unusual and interesting enough that I may want to order it upon a subsequent visit!

For a small café, Well-Grounded Tea and Coffee Bar has a lot to offer—literally! In addition to the specially brewed organic coffee and hot and cold espresso drinks, they offer a variety of Numi Organic Teas, which are locally sourced from Oakland. These teas have no added oils or flavorings and are made from all-natural ingredients, and there is a nice variety of flavors to choose from. Also available are over fifteen flavors of Italian sodas, which tend to be very popular with the local high school students. Seasonal favorites are offered periodically, and when we visited, Well Grounded was offering Hot Apple Cider to celebrate Autumn.  Beers and wines sold at Well Grounded are all produced in California, and there is quite a large selection from which to choose. They host Happy Hour every day from 3-6p.m., during which time beers and glasses of wine are offered for $1.00 off the usual price. If you’re a beer connoisseur, you may be interested in co-owner, Kevin’s, Beer Club starting soon!

In addition to the sandwiches, bagels, pastries, and salads, Well Grounded offers popular soups during the winter season. I also noticed that they offer oatmeal, and an assortment of prepared “grab and go” snacks, such as cups of trail mix, goldfish crackers, and animal cookies. As previously mentioned, all pastries, bagels, and breads sold by Well Grounded are delivered fresh daily, and many favorite items sell-out quickly, especially on busy days. Leftover items that no longer meet their freshness standards are delivered to a local shelter, and sometimes two-day old baguettes are offered to customers for free.

Jen and Kevin consider themselves fortunate to have become so successful within the community over the past twelve years.  Jen shared that when they started the business, they “learned on their feet.” The community embraced them and have patronized them faithfully over the years. Jen and Kevin, and sometimes even their two children, work at Well Grounded almost daily, assisted by fewer than a dozen faithful staff members who work hard, and know most of their customers by name.

There is something for everyone at Well Grounded Tea and Coffee Bar, and I think you’ll find it to be a warm and inviting venue, in spite of its intimacy.  If you’ve not ventured up Stockton Avenue to visit Well Grounded (or Jenny K Gift Shop), add this stop to your list while you’re out shopping this holiday season.  It will be a great place to get away from crowded shopping centers and restaurants, and partake of a warm coffee beverage and a fresh, affordable sandwich or snack to boost your energy during the hustle and bustle of the season.

6925 Stockton Avenue, El Cerrito  |   (510) 528-4709  |  Facebook @wellgroundedcafe

Hours:  Monday – Friday 6:00 AM – 6:00 PM  |  Saturday – Sunday   7:00 AM – 4:00 PM

It all began with a star.

Display 2016

By Michelle Fadelli | Photos courtesy of the Sundar Shadi Holiday Display collection

During the Christmas season in 1949, Mr. Sundar Shadi placed a star on the hillside next to his home on Arlington Boulevard in El Cerrito.

Over the years he added the “Three Wise Men,” village buildings and villagers, and dozens of sheep and camels, donkeys and dogs, and, of course, the angel.

What he built was a beautiful hand-crafted holiday scene; but what he actually created were invaluable Christmas memories for his neighbors and their children… and now their grandchildren.

The “Sundar Shadi Holiday Display” will return to its new home on Moeser Lane in El Cerrito this year on December 10th. Once again, the wise men will sit on their camels and make the long journey toward the “Town of Bethlehem” while the shepherd minds his sheep, the local villagers gather round the campfire, and the angel gazes serenely over all.  Above the village, the star Mr. Shadi made so many years ago will sparkle and shine to the delight of visitors young and old.

Despite Mr. Shadi’s passing in 2002, his holiday display continues thanks to numerous volunteers and generous donations from the community.  Former mayor Jane Bartke enlists friends and family to design new clothing for the villagers when needed, and local resident Matt Houser rebuilt the broken necks and legs of three large camels for his Eagle Scout project several years ago.

Again this year, dedicated Shadi volunteers will lovingly repair noses, repaint faces and get everything ready to be on display.  Hope you will come to enjoy it!

The Sundar Shadi Holiday Display will go up on Sunday, December 10th and will remain through December 26th, lit each evening from 5 to 10 pm, at 7501 Moeser Lane in El Cerrito.

For more information, including details on musical performances, volunteering this holiday season or donating for restoration work, please visit

For fun photos and stories, follow us on Facebook at: Holiday-Display.

El Cerrito Historical Society Quiz

People Hands Holding Red Word Did You Know

With our El Cerrito Round Up issue, we thought it would be fun to include a quiz provided by the El Cerrito Historical Society. How much do you know about El Cerrito?

Answers are at the conclusion of this quiz.

1. From its earliest days, El Cerrito had several neighborhoods named after people from Germany or of German ancestry. Which of the following neighborhoods did not exist in El Cerrito?

 a. Schmidtville, an area around Schmidt Lane, which was laid out by two gentlemen named Schmidt and Fink in 1893, one of the earliest subdivisions in the area. It was later followed by “Schmidt Village,” in the vicinity of today’s Schmidt Lane.

 b. Rust, named for an early settler William (or Wilhelm) Rust, who operated a hardware shop at the site of today’s Pastime Hardware store.

 c. Kaiserville, named for Henry Kaiser, who developed a small neighborhood of upscale homes in the El Cerrito hills for managers at Richmond’s nearby Kaiser Shipyards during World War II.

 d. Stege Junction, named after a German immigrant Richard Stege who’d been a fur trader, among other occupations, before marrying Minna Quilfelt, owner of a prosperousranch in Richmond. Stege added frog ponds whose denizens he sold to French restaurants.

2. From at least the mid-1910s through the mid-1950s El Cerrito was awash with gambling dens, prostitution, prize fighting rings, and even a greyhound racing track. Vice flourished in our town because? All, some or none of these may be true.

 a. Big time gamblers from out of the area brought their talents to El Cerrito.

 b. Few people lived in town so no one complained.

 c. The territory was lawless because it was unincorporated.

 d. Both lawmakers and law enforcers were on the take.

3. In the late 1990s when city officials contemplated a rebuild of El Cerrito Plaza, help arrived from a member of the royalty. The royal urban reformer was:

 a. Then-Prince Willem Alexander of Netherlands, today the King, whose strong interest in infrastructure and ties to leading Dutch architects produced a conceptual plan for solar-paneled buildings.

 b. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who became emir of Dubai in 2006, and proposed in 1997 four 10-story towers alongside an outdoor souk-like bazaar to be designed by architects in Dubai along with the American firm of SOM.

 c. Prince Charles of England who, working with students from the Wales Summer School of Architecture, proposed a neo-Urbanist plan for the center that was inspired by Old World models of village living.

 d. Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich, a pretender to the throne of Russia, who was living in San Francisco and teamed up with the family of Paul Hammarberg, the architect who first designed the center, to modernize and refurbish it.

4. In the early 2000s when the city of El Cerrito and the first operators of the Cerrito Theater began restoring the long-closed theater, the Art Deco murals and art glass were intact, but the neon marquee was long gone because:

 a. The city demanded that the prior owner remove it for aesthetic reasons.

 b. In the mid 1960s the marquee caught fire due to an electrical issue. It was the final straw leading to the theater’s closure for more than 40 years.

c. The city ordered it removed in the 1970s because structural problems were endangering pedestrians.

d. No one knows why it disappeared.



1. C. While it is often said that Kaiser built homes for his managers in the hills there is no evidence that this is so. In fact many of the fine, Period Revival homes that are sometimes cited as Kaiser homes, on such streets as Barrett Avenue, Edwards Avenue and Charles street, were built years before the 1940 opening of the shipyards.

2. All are true at least in part except for “B.” In fact, although El Cerrito only had a few thousand people in the 1920s, complaints about gambling were frequent – so much so that mayor Phil Lee had to defend the city and his administration often. “El Cerrito has been pictured as the home of vice and the center of a hideous vice ring,” he said in defense of the city. “The fact is that El Cerrito is a city of average Americans — responsible, home-loving people, who work in the industries of the East Bay section.”

“B” is only partially true. Many people say gambling flourished here because the land was unincorporated and thus lawless. But after El Cerrito incorporated in 1917 gambling continued to flourish. What makes the statementpartially true is – once El Cerrito cracked down on gambling and crime in 1946, both continued unabated in the Bayview district on the west side of  San Pablo Avenue near Central Avenue until that land was added to the city in 1956.

3. C. Prince Charles. The plan, more a student exercise than a serious proposal, nonetheless was well thought out and called for creating a town square, and in part for  returning the Plaza’s layout to a standard street grid for a more town-like atmosphere. For a time city officials did try for more of an “urbanist” rebuild of the Plaza but no developer would go along.

4. A. Harry Kiefer, who used the marquee sign to advertise sales for his store Kiefer’s Furniture, which used the theater for storage, was ordered to remove it in the mid-70s by what he called the city’s “taste board,” probably referring to the Design review Board or a predecessor agency.

Source:  The El Cerrito Historical Society is a non-political, non-profit organization and has only one agenda: to locate and preserve local history – of course focused on the history of El Cerrito.

A Man with a Plan – Looking into Roy Swearingen’s life of community service


By Matt Larson

If you’ve spent any time in the community of West Contra Costa County over the past few decades, especially in Pinole, then the name Roy Swearingen should be pretty familiar to you by now. He was born in Richmond, grew up in El Cerrito, and attended Richmond Union High School and Contra Costa College. He’s been president of the Pinole Jaycees, the Pinole Rotary Club, the Pinole Chamber of Commerce, and of the WCC Police Activities Board of Directors, and he’ll be serving his 4th term as Mayor of Pinole in 2019. Suffice it to say, he’s a man of West County.

He wasn’t always an organized, active member of his community, and he credits his involvement with the Pinole Jaycees—a young man’s service organization—that led him on this path. “The Jaycees would put on events for the community,” he said. “That’s how I got involved in community service—helping to make changes and trying to accomplish positive things—and I’ve been doing that ever since!”

Swearingen makes public service look easy, but the reality of it is that it’s something that a relative few of us ever actually end up doing. “There’s all sorts of reasons not to do it,” he said. “You have to have a desire, and you have to have the incentive to go after it. And, most importantly, you have to have a plan.”

During his very first term as a council member when he was elected in 1986, one his greatest accomplishments was building the Pinole Senior Center. “I didn’t do it all by myself, obviously, but I was part of that,” said Swearingen. “I find that you could do more with a team than you can as an individual. Sometimes you get it done and other times you don’t; there’s frustrations and there’s successes.”

When he was elected to the city council for the second time in 2008, nearly 20 years later, it was due to a recall. Pinole needed him, as it was time for a plan. “The city was in dire straights,” he said. “We were close to bankruptcy, and the group that went in at that time was dedicated to making the city whole again. And we did that! We spent about 6 years in office turning the city around.” Swearingen’s been re-elected every term since then, so that he’s now serving his 3rd consecutive term on the Pinole City Council; his 4th term overall.

Today the council’s focus is on the usual improvements: park issues, keeping community fields in good shape, and focusing on growing local business. A main priority right now is tearing down an old house by the senior center in order to use that property to expand and improve the facilities at the center. “That’s part of the plan,” said Swearingen, continuing improvements on the place he helped build decades ago.

Aside from volunteering to support his community, Swearingen still had to make a living over the years. He’s a retired sheet metal worker of SMWI Local 104, and owned and operated H.A. Swearingen Heating and Sheet Metal Company for 27 years. In his off hours Swearingen’s usually spending time with the family. He’s been married to Rosemary, his high school sweetheart, for the past 56 years. They have two children, three grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Swearingen is also a certified SCUBA rescue diver. He and his wife have dived together all over the world in places like the Great Barrier Reef, the Coral Sea, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Galapagos Islands.

It’s now been more than 48 years since Swearingen has been serving as a leader of Pinole’s many service organizations, and this year marks his 14th year of dedicated work as an elected city official. If you want to make a difference in your local community, “you really have to know the people that are involved,” he said. “It’s like any organization—from outside you can’t do much, but from inside you can do a lot.” So maybe reach out to your local city council or service organization, attend a meeting, make a plan, and start getting involved.

A Castle in Pinole?


By Stella Faria, Courtesy of the Pinole Historical Society

Since my childhood, I have always been fascinated by the building located at 2131 San Pablo Avenue in Pinole. It was directly across the street from the house I first lived in when I married in 1947.

I knew it as the Pythian Castle, which always seemed to have some sort of mystery associated with its name. Who would ever have dreamed of having a castle in the little town of Pinole?

It is a rather unique structure in the 2100 block of San Pablo Avenue, aside from the Curran family home a few doors down (formerly the Garden of Gems) and the relocated Faria farmhouse across the street.

It is a white with blue trim wood-framed building with a gabled roof and some stained glass windows, one of which survived a gas-line explosion next door on February 17, 1998. It suffered blown-out windows and other minor damage, but the building next door that housed the Second Fiddle thrift store,was completely leveled.

I have known it as the Pythian Castle since I went there during the 1930s for variety programs that were put on by our local churches or fraternal organizations who shared their auditorium.

Fraternal organizations such as Masons, Odd Fellows, Redmen, Elks, Eagles, Woodmen, Knights of Columbus, and Knights of Pythias,  were very popular in those days.

The Knights of Pythias has a very long and colorful history. It became a secret fraternal organization in Washington, D.C., on February 19, 1864, founded by Justus Rathbone. Its name came from a play, “Damon and Pythias,” written by Irish poet John Banim. Its legend illustrates the ideals of loyalty, honor, and friendship that are the center of the order.

When a man was inducted as a member, he received a ceremonial sword, presented as a token of esteem by family members or business associates. A local chapter was known as a “castle.” I was a bit disappointed to find that there was no fairytale connection to my Pythian Castle.

Pinole’s First Methodist Episcopal Church built this wooden structure in 1898 at 2131 San Pablo Avenue. When the church built its second home on Valley Avenue in 1924, the building was sold to the Order of the Knights of Pythias.

Local Methodist church records show that the first Protestant services in Pinole were held from 1889 until April 24, 1898, at the site of the Plaza School, where today’s post office stands.

Ministers from Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist churches in Richmond took turns preaching on Sunday evenings.

There was also a Martinez-Pinole connection when, from 1890 until the new church building was dedicated in 1898, Methodist ministers came to preach on Sunday evenings.

Little is recorded about the building once it became the Pythian Castle. It was an Assembly of God church later on and was occupied by Elaine Pond’s Insurance agency for a couple of years. The Scolari & Sons Tile Company ran its business out of that building. The present owner, Dennis Lorette, CPA, purchased the building in 1984. He shares his office there with several other businesses.  I am very grateful to Dennis for providing me with information he had on the early history of the building. He loves the architecture and history related to the building, and would be proud to show you around if you appreciate the building as much as he does.

Literally Changing Lives – A priceless college connection for West County juniors and seniors

ILC's School Board Presentation

By Matt Larson

As cliché as “changing lives” may sound, it’s nothing short of the truth when it comes to the Ivy League Connection (ILC). Founded in 2005, the ILC has awarded 335 scholarships to date. On average they spend about $12,000 per student, and have been the deciding factor for hundreds of students being able to afford to go to schools like Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Brown, Yale, Vanderbilt, University of Chicago, and many more. And the best part? This program is strictly for students that are enrolled right here in the West Contra Costa County Unified School District.

“It’s where we live. It’s our community!” said Don Gosney, who’s currently the one-man-show behind this amazing operation. “I see kids who really weren’t even thinking about college much, and next thing you know they’re graduating from Brown University debt free. We’re changing lives! And we do that because it’s the right thing to do.”

The ILC in no way influences whether or not a student gets accepted to any particular college, but what they can do is get these kids as prepared as can be. “We do have influence as far as mentoring them, training them, and introducing them to people that do have influence, whether it’s members of the alumni association, or members that are on the board of trustees for a school, even the admissions officers.”

That kind of one-on-one support is what makes an ILC scholarship especially beneficial as, according to Gosney, the local school district doesn’t really have enough guidance counselors to meet the needs of the population. “When you’ve got to make an appointment to see your college guidance counselor and it’s 3-4 weeks to be able to see that person, what’s that tell you about just how much help you’re going to get?” he said. The ILC takes the time with their students to find the school that’s right for them. “We help them with any school that they apply to,” he said. “Our push has never been to get them to apply to, or get into, Ivy League schools. It’s to open up their opportunity so they make an informed decision; to find that perfect fit.”

Every fall, Gosney goes to West County’s high schools to make a presentation about preparing for college and explains what the ILC can offer. The biggest surprise is usually when he tells the students just how many colleges are out there. “When I mention to them we’ve got 3,600 universities in the United States they’re just shocked,” he said. “They’re totally unaware that there are so many other opportunities out there for them.” And the ILC certainly qualifies as one of those great opportunities as well.

“With the exception of personal items (toothpaste, souvenirs and the like), the ILC pays for 100% of this experience,” said Gosney. “For students that are on the free and reduced lunch program (or should be), the ILC even gives the students a daily stipend so they have walking-around money in their pockets.” And to take it even further, Gosney personally has about $10,000 worth of loaner items to help these students making the move to college, including laptops, backpacks, bed sheets, blankets, ponchos, flash drives, and luggage—basically any need that the scholarship recipients can’t meet will be met by the ILC.

Eligibility requirements are pretty simple: you must have at least a 3.75 GPA, and be a junior or senior enrolled in the WCCUSD. The application process consists of writing a few brief essays, submitting transcripts and test scores, and then a carefully selected number of applicants will be interviewed by a panel of community volunteers. They still have to apply to college, but the Gosney, aka the ILC, will be there to help them with every step of the process.

For more information you can contact Don at (510) 233-2060 or visit Gosney truly believes that all of the ILC’s students could have figured out this college thing on their own, but of course, “we’re going to take as much credit as we can get away with.”

Tropical Smoothie Café: Your Local Source for Leading a Healthier Life!

TSC Smoothies 1

By Vickie Lewis

It’s a proven fact that when we eat healthy foods, we generally feel better. We typically have more energy, and healthier foods just seem to sustain us for longer periods of time.  Although most fast food establishments have attempted to integrate healthier options into their menus, very often the hamburgers, French fries, and milkshakes win out over the salads and healthier choices.  Well now, there’s a new local venue that offers exclusively fast, healthy options—Tropical Smoothie Café!  Located in the new commercial development on Pinole Valley Road, Tropical Smoothie Café specializes in smoothies and fresh, healthy food options such as sandwiches, wraps, bowls and flatbreads.  Although this restaurant opened in early April 2017, it’s possible that you like me, have driven down Pinole Valley Road numerous times and never noticed the café

Tropical Smoothie Café in Pinole is one of 610 such cafes across the United States.  Most of stores are located east of the Mississippi River, where they are extremely popular with their customers.  The Pinole location is one of only ten Tropical Smoothie Cafes in California, and its only northern counterpart is located in Rocklin.   The original business started in the early 1990’s as a beach shack on the southern Florida peninsula which sold only smoothies. The success and popularity of that small business eventually gained the attention of corporate investors, and the first Tropical Smoothie Café franchise location was opened in 1997 in Tallahassee, Florida.  In 1999, the menu was expanded to include food items, such as sandwiches and wraps.  Now, nearly 20 years later, Tropical Smoothie Café’s menu includes a full range of smoothies—including superfood smoothies, classic smoothies, indulgent smoothies—as well as smoothie supplements that can be added for a nominal cost; in addition to the healthy food items previously mentioned.  There is also a small (but mighty!) breakfast menu that is available all day, and a special kid’s menu.

Pinole franchise owner, Gary Wagner, explains that while TSC’s menu is not “health food”, it promotes a healthy lifestyle.  The focus is serving products made from organic fresh fruits and vegetables which are delivered several times weekly from their distributor and/or are hand selected by Gary from local sources.  This ensures that customers are served smoothies and food items made of only the highest quality and freshest ingredients.   Tropical Smoothie Cafes across the country promote the same menu and serve the same high quality food smoothies so customers will enjoy a consistent experience.  The nutritional values of all smoothies and food items are prominently posted near the checkout counter for easy customer reference.

As Gary educated me about Tropical Smoothie Café, I was especially intrigued with his story of becoming a TSC franchise owner.  Gary is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and has spent his career working on financials in the business industry, spending most of his time sitting behind a computer for hours each day.  As his career in the white-collar industry matured, Gary began to reflect about his past, contemplating about when he had been happiest in his work life. He recalled his experiences as a younger man when he worked in the fast food locations such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds, and realized that he enjoyed the energy that surrounds the food services industry—working with mostly young co-workers and providing good customer service experiences.  So he decided to set about looking for a suitable franchise opportunity where he could re-engage in that which made him happiest.  He researched many opportunities, and traveled throughout the United States to evaluate those which he found of interest.  When Gary visited a Tropical Smoothie Café location for the first time, he really enjoyed the food quality, and knew he’d found something special.  The next challenge was to find a suitable location for his new endeavor, which was a fairly lengthy process, especially since Tropical Smoothie Café is not widely franchised in California, and therefore is not well-known.  The Pinole location was ultimately determined to be a suitable location and Gary’s aspiration became a reality!  Gary considers owning and operating Tropical Smoothie Café his hobby, and spends most of his free time working there alongside his staff.  He still periodically works as a corporate accounting consultant.

The bright, clean, and modern interior of the Tropical Smoothie Café is inviting and provides a casual and comfortable atmosphere.   Plenty of table and counter seating is available, flanked by colorful metal chairs and high stools.  Three-dimensional, beach-themed artwork adorns the walls—I especially like the one with the long wooden pier extending into the beautiful blue sea that hangs on the back wall, adding a dimension of depth to the interior of the café.  Ample interior lighting supplements the natural lighting from the floor-to-ceiling glass walls at the front and on one side of the café.  Large, colorful menu boards, featuring pictures of some of the delicious smoothies and food items, are prominently displayed behind the counter.  Ceiling fans keep the air circulating and comfortable for guests who choose to dine in.  All Tropical Smoothie Cafes across the nation feature identical decor to promote a consistent and familiar dining experience for customers regardless of the location they visit.

Not surprisingly, Tropical Smoothie Café does a robust smoothie business.  All smoothies are one size (BIG) measuring a full 24 ounces.  The prices range from $6.29 for Classic Smoothies to $6.99 for Specialty and Superfood Smoothies. For an additional $1.00, customers can request the addition of supplements, such as vitamin C-immune complex or vitamin B-12, various proteins, or a fat burner.  Also available for an additional $1.00 are fresh add-ins such as a spinach and kale super pack, peanut butter, chia sees, and several other options.  The menu boards (and the available paper menus) list the individual ingredients for each smoothie.  Modifications to remove selected ingredients or to substitute others are allowable for no additional charge.  All smoothies are made with turbinado sugar (i.e., made from sugar cane extract) unless otherwise noted or requested (Splenda substitute is available).  TSC’s signature smoothie (and the most popular) is the Island Green, which is made with spinach, kale, mango, pineapple and banana.  Another very popular choice is the Avcoloda, which is made with avocado, pineapple, spinach, kale, coconut and lime.  Gary described the flavor of this smoothie as a Pina Colada without the alcohol!

During my visit, I was treated to one of TSC’s Limited Time Offerings (LTO)—a Green Apple Matcha smoothie.  LTO’s are offered several times a year featuring specialties and seasonal options.  Gary made my smoothie, which included kale, spinach, basil, apples, lime and banana. I must admit that I was a little dubious about this combination of ingredients, but was open to trying something new. It was delicious!  I did not taste the spinach or kale at all, and the fruit flavors blended together were very tasty. I could detect just the slightest hint of the basil, but it enhanced the flavor of the smoothie, which was a pleasant combination of sweetness and tartness.  I enjoyed this smoothie so much that on a subsequent visit, I ordered it again.  I also had the opportunity to try another of the superfood smoothies during my visit—the Orange Ginger Glow.  This healthy concoction is made of mango, fresh ginger, green apple, pineapple, carrot and orange juice.  Based on reviews, this is a favorite of many customers; however, this blend of flavors was not as pleasing to me. I enjoy the taste of ginger, which was evident but not overpowering.  It was less sweet than the Green Apple Matcha, and so not quite as appealing; but I will admit that the flavor of it grew on me as I continued to drink it.  Gary’s personal favorite is the Chia Banana Boost, made with roasted bananas, chia seeds, almonds, whole grain oats, cinnamon, dates and coconut, with a choice of either peanut butter or strawberries. Gary explained that the roasted bananas enhance the flavor of this smoothie because when roasted, the sugars of the fruit bubble up providing a more intense taste.  A guest and I returned soon after this review, and I tried this smoothie with the strawberries and found it to be quite delicious, boasting a lovely fruity flavor with a hint of cinnamon. During that visit, my guest opted for a specialty smoothie, the Peanut Butter Cup, made with peanut butter, banana and chocolate.  This smoothie was thick and decadent, and had a luscious and delicious flavor—a perfect treat! When my daughter visited TSC, she ordered the Bahama Mama, a specialty smoothie made with strawberries, pineapple, white chocolate and coconut. She loved the taste of this smoothie, and said that the fruits were a perfect combination of flavors that together blended together to taste like a virgin Pina Colada.  She liked the Bahama Mama so much the first time that she ordered it again on her second visit!

There are many good things to say about the Tropical Smoothie Café food menu, not the least of which is that with the purchase of any food item, you can add any smoothie for $3.99!  I haven’t tried as many of the TSC food items as smoothies, but the items I have tried were really delicious.  Every flatbread, sandwich, wrap or bowl comes with your choice of chips, whole fruit, a portion of kale/apple slaw or a cookie.  You’ll find the chips and whole fruits displayed in baskets near the checkout counter.  Fruits include oranges, apples, and bananas, and the chip selections appear to be the more healthy options—including such items as baked Lays or Sun Chips.  Cookies are individually wrapped in cellophane bags and displayed on the counter, with several choices available, such as chocolate chip and snickerdoodles.  The kale/apple slaw is a popular choice with customers who have tried it; Gary said that many have asked that it be available as a fresh entrée-sized salad.  TSC currently offers two fresh salads in addition to the other items—Chicken Apple Spinach and Supergreen Caesar Chicken.  The last section of the menu features three all-day breakfast options—the Southwest Wrap, Bacon, Egg & Cheese Wrap, and a Peanut Butter Banana Crunch Flatbread which also includes granola and honey.   I am looking forward to trying this flatbread, as it sounds delicious, although it doesn’t look quite as appetizing as it sounds!  The hearty combination of a TSC breakfast item and a healthy smoothie is sure to sustain you for most of the day for a total cost of under $10.

Among the customer favorites from the TSC food menu are the Baja Chicken Wrap and the Chipotle Chicken Club Flatbread.  I had the opportunity to try the Chipotle Chicken Flatbread during my initial visit, and my daughter and I have eaten it again on two subsequent occasions.It is an excellent choice with a great flavor, made with fresh chicken, bacon, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, pepper jack cheese and chipotle mayo.  Initially I expected the flatbread to actually be served “flat”; however, TSC’s flatbreads are served folded over, similar to a taco, which actually makes it easy to eat and/or share.  The bread was soft and perfectly toasted, and was filled a generous serving of chicken and the other ingredients.  The TSC Flatbreads are an excellent value, priced at $5.99.  The only other item from the menu that I’ve tried is the Thai Chicken Wrap, which also had an excellent flavor, although it was slightly smaller than I anticipated it would be. But the combination of ingredients made for a delicious meal.  Noteworthy is that TSC makes their own Thai peanut sauce which adds a bit of spiciness to this wrap/bowl.  In fact, they make all of the sauces and salsas used in the various food items, including the roasted pineapple salsa used in the Caribbean Jerk Chicken Wrap or Bowl.  TSC also has a unique option for vegetarians called “Beyond Meat”, which is a mix of various kinds of protein that looks and tastes like chicken!   This option is available upon request at no extra charge.  All food items are made fresh when ordered and may be eaten in or prepared “to go”.  Orders may also be phoned in or placed using the Tropical Smoothie Café online app.  TSC also has a Tropical Rewards app that awards frequent purchasers with $5 for every $55 spend-just another great reason to visit TSC and try their smoothies and food items.

At Tropical Smoothie Café in Pinole, Gary considers his customers to be family.  He loves seeing the smiles on their faces when they take their first sip of a smoothie or take a bite of one of the savory food items offered.  The café staff are like Gary’s “kids” as he hires a lot of young people to give them job experience and opportunities to develop skills that will benefit them in the future.  Business is steadily growing at TSC, and on the day of my visit, I watched customers steadily stream in starting around 11:00 to purchase both food and smoothies.  TSC opens every day at 7:00 AM, and while business usually doesn’t pick up until later in the day, Gary is hoping to build the early morning business, believing that customers will benefit from a healthy start to their day.  Closing hours are currently 9:00 PM during the week, and 10:00 on weekends; however, winter closing hours may be reduced slightly.

I highly recommend adding Tropical Smoothie Café to you list of favorite places to stop in for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or simply to try one of their scrumptious smoothies.  First responders and military personnel always get 15% off their purchases, and local schools can also work with Gary and his team to run TSC fundraisers.  Gary will work with school representatives to provide artwork and produce flyers to send home with students, and 20% of all sales on a designated day will go back to the school organization.  Spring, summer, winter or fall, and whether it is night or day, there’s always a reason to visit the Tropical Smoothie Café!


1424 Pinole Valley Road, Pinole  |   (510) 417-2245  |

Hours:  Sunday – Thursday 7:00 AM – 9:00 PM  |  Friday & Saturday 7:00 AM – 10:00 PM