McNerney, Hosterman open Alviso Adobe Community Park

Site celebrates early Indian, Spanish, Calfornios settlements in Pleasanton foothills

More than 100 joined in special ceremonies Saturday marking the grand opening of the restored and rebuilt Alviso Adobe and the community park that surrounds it.

Kurt Kummer, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission, led the hour-long proceedings, that included a color guard posted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars' Pleasanton chapter, presentations of Congressional and state Legislature plaques and opening day speeches by 11th District Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton), 18th State District Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi (D-Castro Valley), Pleasanton Mayor Jennifer Hosterman and representatives of the city government and local organizations.

After the official ceremonies, visitors were able to enjoy talks and crafts at multiple booths staffed by docents to the new Alviso Adobe Community Park and the Museum On Main. Their tour started at a Spanish-style arch entryway, stepping over pavement marked "2008 Alviso Adobe Community Park Opens."

As if a portal to a different time, the path continues through other points of historical significance--such as the closing of the Meadowlark Dairy in 1969--and it leads through a grove of original and new trees and on a footbridge over the seasonal creek, ending atop the hill with "3240 B.C. Native American Occupation."

Nestled along Foothill Road, the interpretive park sits on 7 acres of land overlooking the city. The public will have the chance to see the city's newest park today during the grand opening. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. families can enjoy historically-inspired activities including a bird walk hosted by the Ohlone Audubon Society, authentic Calfornios music and dance, park tours, lectures, and games and crafts for children.

The land has played an important role for several groups, with Ohlone Indians being the first recorded population dating back to the time of the Egyptian pyramids. While historians know the property was used by them, they have no record of them actually living there. It was Francisco Alviso who built the adobe in 1854 and the original building is one of a few remaining in the Bay Area. It was renovated mostly by hand to ensure historical integrity as part of the project. The Briggs family purchased the land in 1919 and it later became the site of the dairy, the first in California to be certified.

City Naturalist Eric Nicholas works alongside the city and local historical groups to put together programs. The Young Explorers is a field trip for classes to visit and the first group will experience a hands-on history lesson Oct. 29.

"Almost every craft and skill that existed in rural communities, we will do it soon," he said.

Displaying artifacts and elements from the natural environment, everything from acorns to milk to wool dyeing can be used to educate. As the animals and plants revitalize after construction, so will the offerings.

Comprised of three buildings, the Alviso Adobe will look at different ways to bring the history to life. In the "milking barn," there is space for slideshows and other media, Nicholas' office, and a rotating display of artifacts and large photos teaching about the agriculture and dairy life. The adobe is set up like a traditional museum and depicts what the home would have been like in the 1920s. Over the years the adobe had an addition, although it is debated as to which was the original structure. It now has two bedrooms, a main room, a bathroom, a kitchen and a dining room. Lastly, the "bunkhouse" has a classroom, as well as a space for the docents and storage.

In building and renovating these structures, construction crews paid special attention to maintaining the historical elements. One company that specializes in adobe restoration made traditional mud bricks on site. Another company had its own mill to cut wood as it would have been available at the time and the rustic wood can be seen in the milking barn's beams and benches and the bunkhouse.

Project managers Mike Fulford and Andy Jorgensen worked along with PGA Design principal and history buff Chris Pattillo paid special attention to detail that is noticed throughout the park, from informative botanical placards around the landscaping to hoof prints and trough markings in the milking barn.

Near the entrance is a small amphitheater with a fire pit with boulders from Montana as seats. The footbridge was made with wood from Brazil, which is said to be denser than oak and won't need maintenance over its long lifespan. On the north side of the property is a small orchard of plum trees, the hard-to-find type that was originally grown there.

As seen in the elements from start to finish, maintaining respect and responsibility for the land is of top priority for its newest population.

"We're the new stewards," Nicholas said, "sharing the history of agricultural life. We're creating our own life and everyone is charged with stewardship."

The life of a naturalist has followed Nicholas, who was born in Livermore and raised on a small farm in Union City. A master gardener as a young boy, he went on his first backpacking trip without adults at age 13. A white water rafting guide at 18, he would spend off time with the elderly at Indian reservations where he learned about living off the land. He would test out the lessons by living in different regions and then come back to teach the children of the reservations. From then on, education has been a primary focus.

Stepping into the picture as the park was developing, Nicholas said he is excited to see it open to everyone.

"It's unbelievable," he said. "[The Alviso Adobe is like a naturalist dream come true, a Disney fairytale come to life."

As Civic Arts manager, Jorgensen also oversees programs at the park. Many of the offerings are for children and will feature hands-on activities like simulated archeological digs, ice cream making and summer sessions through the popular Ridge Runners camp.

There is also plenty for adults as well, he added, with both guided and self-guided tours as well as programs for groups that are interested in California history.

"The whole setup is so the casual visitor who wants to enjoy the park can go there," Jorgensen said, "with a series of visual interpretive pieces."

Having worked on the project for about a decade, he said it is gratifying to see the project come to fruition.

"I love it all," he said. "I love standing there with our Indian grinding rock element. I think what it must have been like to live in this valley 3,000 years ago. I love to stand at a viewing place as you look out over the valley as it exists now, you can look at a mural and see what it must have looked like years ago. It's fun to sit and imagine what those worlds were like."

emily west,jeb bing,alviso adobe,mcnerney,hosterman

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