Friday, October 30, 2009

Not just Patterson's Centennial

While pursuing my never ending quest to further understand the inner workings of this ever changing, always interesting Earth of ours, I stumbled across the small crumbling ghost town of Rhyolite Nevada. Gold was first discovered near this site in late 1904, which sparked a gold rush and attracted thousands of prospectors, developers and other such entrepreneurs that flocked to make their fortunes. By 1907 Rhyolite provided electric lights, water mains, telephones, newspapers, a hospital, a school, an opera house, a stock exchange and a population near 5,000.I was at one of the Patterson Library's bi annual book sales when I came across this book titled "Ghost Towns of the West" published by the editors of Sunset Magazine in the 1970's. Though it was kind of old, the thick hardcover book was full of really interesting images of ghost towns in every state west of the Rockies. That was the first time I had seen Rhyolite, and an image of the Cook Bank (above) was portrayed in a night photo that I was determined to photograph for myself. So I paid $1 for the book and made off like a bandit with new found loot to sift through. (Just a note, the library still has a copy of this book on their shelf)
The first destination of a week and a half long Eastern Sierras and Basin and Range road trip, led me over the Tioga pass, down hwy 395, into Nevada, and eventually into Rhyolite in the middle of the night. So I busted out with the camera gear, portable studio lights, tripod, shutter release cable, and began illuminating what was left of what used to be the fanciest, largest building in the booming gold mining community that boasted 10,000 residents by 1910. However, the nearby ore producing mines were already nearing depletion and folks began abandoning Rhyolite which was left at a population of less than 1,000 by 1911. Residents moved entire buildings to nearby Beatty Nevada, sold portions of the Cook Bank Building, and even demolished portions of the bank to extract the gold that lie in it's walls (hence it's missing sides).
Rhyolite circa 1908

Interesting Architecture
As I went to bed in the nearby desert that night, I couldn't help but think about the city of Patterson and how both were similarly founded around the same time at the turn of the last century. The desert sunlight doesn't let you stay in your tent too long, so after breaking camp I returned to Rhyolite to see what the daylight would bring.
Returning to the Cook Bank ruins (above left) revealed a very familiar architectural style visible off in the distance, and I instantly recognized it as turn of the century Mission Revival architecture, very similar to the style used in Patterson's Center Building and Del Puerto Hotel, built and designed in 1910 by famed Southern California architect Arthur Burnett Benton.
Could Benton have designed the Las Vegas and Tonopah railroad station at Rhyolite the year prior in 1909?
If you look past the large Joshua tree and other desert vegetation, it's easy to see the uncanny resemblances of the railroad station and Patterson's Center Building.

After a little research and a call to a historian in Beatty Nv, it was revealed that the two buildings were not designed by the same architect, but the two designers may have been colleagues at one point prior.

Either way, the abandoned railroad station kept me thinking about these two towns that were both founded around the same time in the early 1900's, and why one is still functioning, and the other is, well... a ghost town.

And the answer is quite simple. While both communities were built on working the earth, the gold mines in Rhyolite soon dried up about the time when the Patterson family was investing in agriculture and developing the world's first successful lift irrigation system, which is still in use today.

So whether today's residents/leaders of the city of Patterson want to admit it or not, we all owe our thanks to this thriving, ag producing, city of ours to the sound entrepreneurial decisions of T.W. Patterson and his investment in some of the best agricultural land around.

So for very good reason I've become very vocal (to the dismay of some) about any plans for the future of our city that don't involve preserving the agricultural heritage that the Patterson's worked so hard to create. Over the past 15 years here in Patterson, it's become quite apparent that our leaders wished to push the city in a new direction, a path that many other growing communities chose to go down. One that involved catering to a different economy... the Bay Area commuter economy. And while I appreciate the difference in overall homogeneity that the newcomers have brought to our community, I don't appreciate the poor planning that went into designing where they would reside.

Driving through a maze of row after row of single family dwelling units, many of which now sit empty and disheveled or vandalized, or sit on some of the best farmland in the world, isn't quite the way I envisioned preserving the city's agricultural longevity. T.W. probably would have been happier knowing his plan was preserved, than having his likeness placed on a plaque on City Hall.

If Rhyolite's economy was based on a more sustainable economy like Patterson's was, there still might be people around to celebrate Rhyolite's centennial.

Here's an interesting dwelling unit in Rhyolite that still remains. Built in 1906, a house made out of 30,000 beer and liquor bottles rightly named, the "Bottle House".

Another Farming Communities' Centennial

I spent alot of time growing up as the son of migrant farm workers, and although I was born in Patterson, a good portion of each year was spent living in Southern California's Imperial Valley. I recently went back there to visit my grandmother and some other family members there this last Summer.

Highs were around 107 degrees, remarkably quite cool for August. While driving through the city of Brawley at mid day with my windows down, I recognized a sign up on the marquee of the city's dilapidated Fox theater.
Brawley was also in the midst of celebrating their centennial.

Brawley Theater photos courtesy Esther Duarte

While the Imperial Valley cities that I spent so much time growing up in, like Brawley, hold a very special place in my heart, it's easy to see that their downtown has deteriorated since I last remembered. Many of their storefronts sit empty, their theater now sits boarded up, with only the silhouettes of those that may have once performed there to grace the balcony windows.

Many here in Patterson, Ca may complain about the lack of shopping opportunities or things to do, but after 100 years, I think we're still better off than many places. And while we may not quite have our downtown theater, at least it doesn't sit unused.

Some parting images from Rhyolite

Here's some more in case you didn't get enough of the deserted mining town of Rhyolite Nv. Those that still frequent the area have instilled a sort of open air installation artistry, called the Goldwell Open Air Museum. These art pieces, some towering as high as 25 ft, are quite striking as you come up to them... anyways I'll let you see and decide for yourself.


don said...

A very interesting historical series in pictures and your comment which makes a fine case for maintaining the agricultural heritage. Fine post!

Debi Henson said...

Thank you Elias, for your post and comments, all of them. Although I am in favor of growing Patterson's retail, commercial and industrial economy, I also agree with you that it must be carefully planned so as not to upset what agricultural economy we have. It would be great to expand our nearby crops to include more consumer products that can be promoted at our Farmer's Market, and perhaps a permanent, enclosed location for it would attract more growers to sell direct. I still want that Wal-Mart, but would love to see downtown reborn and centered around a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere, with plazas, food and music year-round. Met you briefly at the Veterans Memorial, and hope to run into you again soon!