Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The California . . . Delta?

“Although not widely known outside California (count the two of us in that group), the 700,000-acre Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta . . .” so begins one of the resources we consulted after learning about the California Delta.

Located in the west-central part of the state immediately east of San Francisco Bay, the Delta’s transformation owes much to the 300,000 Chinese laborers who immigrated to California beginning with the Gold Rush, extending into construction of the western section of the transcontinental railroad, and ending with the construction of Delta levee system that eventually turned 500,000 acres of swamp into some of California's most valuable farm land.

With the creation of large farms and a shift from wheat to intensively cultivated fruits and vegetables, the predominantly male Chinese immigrant population proved an able work force.

In the last part of the 19th century, the Delta, known as the home of the Bartlett Pear, was ranked as the pear capital of the world. By the 1890s, when technological improvements in canning made it profitable to grow asparagus, even more hand labor was needed. The Delta eventually accounted for nearly 90% of the world's asparagus crop.

The Delta levees, initially dug with Chinese immigrant labor and then in the 1870s by steam-powered dredges, had transformed the Delta from a tidal marsh to a network of improved channels (now called sloughs) snaking between islands.

My experience with deltas has been the Mississippi Delta in Louisiana where boating is practicial—using a small motorboat to gather crawfish for food or for sale. On the other hand, the California Delta has over 1000 miles of waterways, described as some of the best boating waterways in this country, if not the world. It is a boater’s paradise, served by over 600 marinas and recreational areas.

In addition, a deep-water shipping channel connects San Francisco Bay with inland ports.

As we traveled the levee system with tour guide, cousin Barbara, we encountered other scenes not expected in our concept of “delta.” On Grand Island, we stopped for a brief walk around the Grand Island Mansion.

There was little around the roads leading past the Mansion that would lead us to expect this grandeur. But as we walked around the grounds, we were impressed by the well-groomed lawn and landscaping.

We did not have time to tour the rooms of the Mansion, but we could imagine what the furnishings would look like given the attention to detail that the exterior has received.

Continuing our drive on one of the levees, we came to the Ryde Hotel. Built in 1927 at the peak of the Prohibition Era, the lower level was a speakeasy, offering bootleg liquor and jazz.

Today, the lower level’s art deco booths line one wall of a banquet room. Even as we walked around the room on a self-directed tour, piped-in music was typical of the 1920’s.

After a series of uses that included years as a boarding house and name changes, including Rock ‘n’ Roll Mecca, the Hotel was renovated in the late 1990's to represent the integrity of its original design.

It was awarded the “Best Step Back in Time” by the Sacramento Magazine and now stands as an important piece of Art Deco history.

One more stop along the levees will be covered in tomorrow’s entry.

Lovely place that California Delta.

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