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[masthead for The View]

The View From John Muir's Window

August 1996

Newsletter of the John Muir Memorial Association

The Muir House Seismic Retrofit Project

by David Blackburn

There is a letter in the park's files to Faire and Henry Sax, dated January 16, 1964, from Helen Muir. Helen described several features of the house and recalled damage to the structure from the 1906 earthquake:

"Then in 1906 when the earthquake hit, this room [east parlor] was the most damaged in the entire house. Plaster fell from the walls and the ceiling and fireplace was badly cracked."

83 years latter, the Muir house was shaken yet again. The temblor is now identified as the Loma Prieta earthquake. Chunks of plaster did not fall from the ceiling, but new cracks appeared throughout the house.

Although the house has survived two great seismic episodes, it does not meet modern seismic building code. These deficiencies will be corrected with a multi-faceted project that begins latter this year.

One component of the project is complete: the strengthening of the Conservatory. The house was built in such a way that the three porches were not integrated into the structure, they are literally "tacked on" the exterior. The work just completed provides proper support to the floor and ties the Conservatory into the structural members of the house.

Imagine this: the Muir house without a roof. This scenario is possible due to the method the roof was constructed: it is not mechanically attached to the walls. There is a potential for the roof to shift off of the walls during an earthquake. Pockets were carved out of the rafters during construction. The joists of the four exterior walls sit in the pockets, thus the weight of the roof keeps it in place. To solve this problem, metal brackets will be used to secure the rafters to the studs in the walls.

Here is another scenario: imagine the Muir house shaken off its foundation during a strong earthquake. This is possible, for the house is not bolted to the foundation. It was quite normal for houses that were built in the late 19th and early 20th century to simply sit on their foundation. As part of the seismic upgrade, bolts will be inserted into the brick foundation, thus providing a secure anchor for the walls of the Muir house.

If you have ever seen a house constructed, once the frame is complete, the structure is sheathed in plywood. The continuous envelope of plywood provides tremendous shear strength for houses here in earthquake country. Plywood is a modern invention; it was not available to builders of the Victorian era! There are several interior walls of the Muir house that will be strengthened through the use of plywood.

There is one more component to this project. By modern standards, second and third floors are not properly tied into the frame. Nails are all that were used. The clapboards will be removed from the exterior to gain access to the house's frame. metal plates will be inserted to increase the strength of the connection between the floor and the frame.

When each segment is completed, ideally before the fall of 1997, the connections that hold the Muir house together will have the strength needed to carry us through the next seismic event._

Eyewitness to a Rock Slide

by David Blackburn

At approximately 7:00 in the evening, on July 11, 1996, campers in the eastern end of Yosemite Valley heard what sounded like an explosion. In truth, it was the largest rock slide anyone had seen in years. Tons of granite slid 3,200 feet down the cliff from just below Washburn Point. The impact caused a great wall of wind to blow down the trees from the base of the cliff to the Merced River. The Happy Isles Nature Center was damaged and the snack bar was completely destroyed.

A rock slide of these proportions is something that few of us will ever get to see, but it is part of the continuing geologic evolution of Yosemite Valley. In March of 1872, following an earthquake, Muir witnessed a similar event that he recounted in both Our National Parks and Steep Trails .

...In particular, I feared that the sheer-fronted Sentinel Rock, which rises to a height of three thousand feet, would be shaken down, and I took shelter back of a big pine, hoping I would be protected from outbounding boulders, should any come so far. I was now convinced that an earthquake had been the maker of the taluses, and positive proof soon came. It was a calm moonlight night, and now sound was heard for the first minute or two save a low muffled underground rumbling and a slight rustling of agitated trees, as if, in wrestling with the mountains, Nature were holding her breath. Then, suddenly, out of the strange silence and strange motion came a roar. The Eagle Rock, a short distance up the valley, had given away, and I saw it falling in thousands of the great boulders I had been studying so long, pouring to the valley floor in a free curve luminous in friction, making a terribly sublime and beautiful spectacle,-an arc of fire fifteen hundred feet span, as true in form and as steady as a rainbow, in the midst of the stupendous roaring rock storm. The sound was inconceivably deep and broad and earnest, as if the whole earth, like a living creature, had at last found a voice and were calling to her sister planets. It seemed to me that if all the thunder I ever heard were condensed into one roar it would not equal this rock roar at the birth of a mountain talus...A cloud of dust particles, the smallest of the boulders, floated out across the whole breadth of the valley and formed a ceiling that lasted until after sunrise; and the air was loaded with the odor of crushed Douglas spruces, from a grove that had been mowed down and mashed like weeds.

As of this printing, the Happy Isles Nature Center, bridge and trail head remain closed.

Helen's Diary

by Helen Muir

[ Editor's Note: One of the most interesting segments, as you'll see, is when Helen describes her bedroom. Her interest in trains played an important role in her teenage years. ]

Jan. 9 Although this morning it was cold and dark, it is a beautiful clear afternoon. Within a very few minutes I am going up to get Papa to go out to walk. This morning a card came to me which said I had a paper addressed to me in the Berkeley post office held there because of lack of proper postage, so I must send two cents tomorrow and have it forwarded. I wrote a little note to Wanda this morning and enclosed her report, two schedules, a letter from Mrs. Merrium, and four stamped and addressed envelopes, telling her that if she didn't write real often, Mama would telephone to her and charge the bills to her. I over slept again this morning so don't know whether or not the 35 was on No. 5. Then it was so foggy when 6 passed that I couldn't get one single car number. Will and Hal Coleman are plowing in the tokay patch this afternoon, all the week is going on finely, the pruning on that side of the valley is almost finished now.

Jan. 10 Isn't it funny? Here only a week or so ago 1902 seemed awfully strange, and now to me it seems perfectly natural, but '03 is funny, that's always the way. Papa is going down to the Grand Canyon on 41 Monday, stay over night, and take No.4 next morning. I don't know just how long he intends to stay, he received a pass this morning good for sixty days. Wasn't it lovely of them to give him one, but I was amused when in his letter Capt. Payson said "he was sending it with great pleasure". Aunt Margaret was over here a few minutes along about two o'clock, next Uncle Dave came. Then Aunt Sarah on her way to town. Great Gems of the American Navy! 9:30 already and me not yet in bed. I am ashamed at the time I got up this morning and don't wish it to happen again.

Jan. 11 Another foggy morning, so foggy I fear I won't be able to catch more than a glimpse of No.4 "alas and alack" etc. About fifteen minutes ago a special went through here with the 35 on, but alas and alack, I think it was a soldier train but owing to the fog can't be sure. Papa's pass is "Not good on limited trains," so he will have to take No.8 Now what I am thinking of mostly just now is this. I am wild to flag No.8, but at present see no way of doing so, for who would come home with me? As to flagging that would be easy for the Agent does not go up there except when he has to flag, or the like, so I could have the pleasure of "swinging her down" My how I do want to. I haven't done a thing this morning but sit by the fire with my dressing sack on, and read lazily, etc, this is a great time to be wearing such a garment, nearly ten thirty, and I am whistling into the bargain as I idly write here, but as long as I'm happy, where's the odds? The locomotive pictures are all up but one, but I hung them on the wall instead of the door and I am greatly delighted with the effect, My room is a dream, over twenty locomotive pictures adorn the walls, nearly 30 posters and the like, railroad maps, besides Miss. No.4 has just gone by, but it hasn't cleared off enough for me to get the names and No. By and by when I feel less lazy, I shall finish up this page, but at present I shall stop.

Artifacts and Antiques at John Muir National Historic Site

by Pat Thomas

Every artifact has its own story. That is what makes working with a museum collection so fascinating. Accession #02 in the John Muir museum collection contains some of these stories.

The accession, containing 948 catalogued items, was acquired from Faire and Henry Sax, the last private owners of the Muir House before National Park Service acquisition. It includes household items, Victorian clothing, pictures, furniture and many other things.

The first thing a visitor sees on entering the Muir House front hall is the hat rack. The story was that it was about to be hauled away when the Saxes bought it for a "song". A visitor once commented that the marble seat was Tennessee Chocolate Marble. If one visits the State Capitol building in Nashville he will see this same marble as a balustrade leading up the circular staircase to the second floor.

The West Parlor is graced with a beautifully conserved black horsehair parlor set and a Rosewood Square Grand Piano. The piano originally belonged to Alice Buckley Rogers, a music teacher in Martinez in the late 1088's. Notes in the Accession File suggest that perhaps Louie Strentzel studied with her and appeared in early recitals for Alice.

The hall telephone, patented 1894, was of the John Muir period, although not his personal phone. The 1897 telephone directory listed "Professor John Muir" and at that time there were 77 telephones in Martinez. The first phone service in Martinez began in 1881.

Helen Muir's typewriter and stand occupy a spot beside Muir's desk in the upstairs study. She worked with her father typing all his lengthy handwritten notes into a legible form.

The above are just a few of the many items that were collected by Faire and Henry Sax. There are many more stories residing in the old house. We thank the National Park Service for preserving this collective memory.

Money Matters

by Don Denton
Chair, Fund Development

"You're NOT going to ask us for money this time?!"

Right! -- This issue's comments will be more of a "report card"--a retrospective on this association's fund development front, if you will.

First, thanks to all of you who came through for our first effort, Operation Stepping Stone. We were able to raise enough funds through you association members to "pave the way" to our patio improvement project at the Visitor Center.

Depending on the time needed for the bidding process on the drainage, etc., we have hopes to dedicate the new area by the end of the year. An appropriate plaque will be placed in the patio acknowledging all of you who "answered the call" with your contribution of $100 or more. (In addition we will name ALL donors--no matter what amount was given--on a printed program on that day).

Next, we launched our first John Muir Week on April 15th, complete with banners along Alhambra Avenue, (utilizing Steve Pauly's new LOGO), incorporated into the week the John Muir in Historical Perspective three day academic conference, which was co-hosted with the John Muir Center for Regional Studies at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, and culminated the week on Sunday, April 21st with our first ever March For Parks (a fundraising activity of the National Parks and Conservation Association). That same weekend was the universal observation of Earth Day and it was no consequence that that celebration happened to fall on John Muir's birthday!

Betty Zarn headed up the local committee putting on this event, and with banners flying we marched from the Site to the Martinez City Hall. (We even had a Bagpiper to lead us!) The program included several conservationists, John Muir tee-shirt's were given to all participants, and awards were presented to the top fund-raiser marchers.

The proceeds went toward providing Ranger-horticulturalist Herb Thurman with funds for planting some long-needed trees and other indigenous flora here at the Site.

Proclamations by the City of Martinez for John Muir Week and by the Government California for John Muir Day were read, and all in all, the activities added to a rather neat combination of public relations marketing and fund-raising.

(You also might be interested in knowing that we are already laying plans for our SECOND annual March for Parks in April of '97--and all local residents who would be interested in being on this committee are invited to call our Chairperson, Betty Zarn).

Lastly, as part of the Board's first Retreat/Advance! Conference held in June in Asilomar (covered elsewhere in the View) the last one third of our time was invested in learning more about financial development, and in about a United Fund Campaign, with an eye toward creation of an Educational, Research and Visitor Center.

Now THIS area REALLY opens up Pandora's Box, and nothing more will be said at this writing, except that in addition to the proposed new committee structure emanating from our conference at Asilomar, your Board will be investigating this concept MOST thoroughly, with the view in mind of extending the scope, reach and influence of our present activities here at the Site so that we can better share with others the writings and teachings of our mentor, John Muir.

As Dale Sees It

by Dale J. Cook, President

At the end of July, it was my pleasure to again drive down to Yosemite. It was a hot day, some 103-105 in the Valley and foothills in the shade, but I was on the roadway where it was "hot." What an ever-welcoming sight are the towering pines, cedars and redwood trees as one enters the Park; the temperature is but a few degrees cooler, but psychologically it seems much more. We are so blessed to have it so near.

It was an interesting trip. The real reward came as I was dropping down into the Valley just below Cascade Creek when Half Dome first became visible. My passengers were awe struck- speechless, actually, by the grandeur unfolded. I was escorting a visiting duo from Scotland. Alan Blackie and his wife, Noreen. Blackie is the new Director of Education and Community Services for the East Lothian Council-- and since April 1st, a key director in one of that nation's 32 county-like administrative bodies. (The Council covers the area east of Edinburgh and includes Dunbar, John Muir's birthplace). His responsibilities span a wide-range of programs including among the many, schools, parks, and museums. Blackie came to Martinez to see the John Muir Manor and to talk to he JMNHS staff, city and school officials. He brought with him several motivating interests such as reinstituting the student exchange between Martinez and Dunbar, development of Muir scholastic guides, ranger swap, plus strengthening the bridge between Martinez (the Site) and Dunbar. At Yosemite, they had several scheduled meetings with the Park and concessionaire's staffs, but had packed their hiking shoes and togs to squeeze in some hiking, too.

Blackie told Mayor Mike Menesini plans are going forward with the Council and Muir organizations in Dunbar to erect a statue of John at the end of the street where the houses of his birth and boyhood stand.

The long-awaited work to upgrade the paved (patio) area immediately behind the Site's Visitor Center is about to start. The NPS' San Francisco office has the construction bid package ready. In simple terms, the project entails removing the present surface, installation of a drainage system, back-filling and the resurfacing of the area with a "brick cap" patio. The Association requested the upgrade brick work surfacing, allocating $8,000 from its recently successfully concluded "Operation Stepping Stones" fund drive to cover that piece of the cost.

The Association also is making available to the Site's Maintenance staff about $2,000 for trees, shrubs and like landscape items. the money came from funds raised during the Martinez March for Parks Event. We're a few dollars short of the $2,000 in that specific restricted account at the moment, but expect to be fluid when all pledges are honored.

As official Friends of the John Muir Historic Site, we are very pleased the Association is able to make these contributions to the Park.

The Association has been admitted to the 1996-97 Federal employee health and welfare community campaigns in the Bay Area, Santa Clara Valley, Vallejo-Napa and the Stockton-San Joaquin areas. Last year, in out initial CFC participation, we netted $750.

It now appears the Association may present one additional program in it's "Evening in the Park" series this season. the internationally-known Scottish singer, songwriter and guitarist, Bruce Davies. The date is Sunday, October 13. Davies has produced several CD's and tapes, the latest on the charts is "Will Ye No Come Back Again."

A draft strategic plan for the John Muir Memorial Association was formulated at a Board two-day retreat in late June at Asilomar. The plan proposes an updating of the Association's formal "Mission" and drew up a "Vision" for the future (Year 2002). Working as an Ad Hoc Committee, the proposed vision breaks out into nine major goals that would be developed through a committee structure each having achievable and measurable objectives.

The Strategic Plan will be presented for adoption to the full Board at this next scheduled meeting: 5:30-8 P.M. Monday, September 16, at the Site. Board meetings are open to all interested members.

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