As we get older, the prophetic words of Joni Mitchell seem to become more relevent as we see important parts of our lives dissipate in the name of progress. For those of us living in the Diablo Valley, this seems to be especially true with the development of the old Concord Naval Weapons depot lands. Within the next 25 years, Concordians can expect approximately 25,000 new Concord residents.
Anticipating these changes, it is important that both the government, private sector, and social service organization do their best to determine which institutions and public works should be preserved, and what can be comfortably be bulldozed in the name of progress.
For example, the old Master Links miniature Golf Course which was located on Clayton Road. This complex was listed in National Publications as a classic example of the miniature golf craze that was in vogue during the 1950′s. I remember the good times holding an annual golf tournament there and taking my children to the Master Links for entertainment on hot summer nights to enjoy the castles, draw bridges and make-believe settings that made this place so special.
As the 1990′s came to a close, the Master Links fell into disrepair. The outdoor carpets which made up the putting surface started to crumble. The complex needed a paint job and facelift which never happened. Fewer families came to enjoy the facilities and eventually it was razed to make way for a new housing development.
For me tearing down the Master Links was similar to closing restaurants I fondly remembered growing up as a kid in San Francisco such as Blum’s, The Hippo, and the St, Francis Ice Cream Parlor on 24th Street. Once they are gone, all that is left are memories.
In discussing the closing of small businesses with Lind Higgins, director of the Concord Historical Society, said, “It’s hard if not impossible to tell people they should save things when they are not making money.” While this is a sad truth in closing businesses, it does not apply to all buildings in Concord.
With the assistance and guidance of the Historical Society, the City of Concord has special building code which applies to structures that have been designated to be part of the rich history of the area. The most notable examples of this would be the Old Masonic Temple and of course the Galindo House, which is now an underappreciated museum that merits a visit from all Concord residents.
It would appear that the most sensitive area of historical significance is the downtown area surrounding Todos Santos Plaza over to the Bart Station, to Park and Shop, and possibly the properties around Mt, Diablo High School and Queen of All Saints Church. This area, while being a beacon of pride for tasteful commercial development for Concord,is also sensitive to “Strip Mall Syndrome” and urban sprawl.
Do residents want Concord to turn into “hodge podge” of congested commercial development similar to Walnut Creek, or become a cohesive area of early California Mission Architecture that graces parts of Todos Santos? Will Concord remain a unique community, or one of the faceless urban centers advocated by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Cities (ABAG), that promote the placement of large masses of people living like sardines near transportation hubs?
Fortunately, the tasteful future development of Downtown Concord has not escaped the City Council. Recently, it appointed a special Downtown Specific Ad Hoc Steering Committee. This group, composed of representatives from the city government and the community, will meet once a month for the next year to formulate plans for the development of the downtown area during the next 25 to 30 years.
Aside from the area near and around Todos Santos, there are a number of other institutions and buildings that merit consideration for use by future generations of Concordians. Among the most important are:
1. The Solano Drive In. This is one of the few surviving drive ins from the large number that uprooted up after World War II. The Snack Shack Building at the Solano is, if anything, one of a kind. The current use of the facility both as a popular entertainment attraction for families, and as a weekend flea market seems to be working. The City needs to make sure this does not change and not let a developer’s wrecking ball take down this important part of Concord’s history.
2. The 4th of July Parade and Singing Flag Extravaganza’s. Both of these institutions have made Independence Day in Concord special for all ages to enjoy. In recent years, private funding has had to replace part of the costs for putting on these events that the cash strapped city government can no longer afford to do. It is important that these traditions continue if Concord is going to continue to take pride in being a place where “Families come first.”
3. Pixieland Amusement Park. This toddler paradise has it roots going back to the 1950′s when it began in the back of the Park & Shop. Pixieland has become an iconic tourist attraction not only for local area families, but for the whole Bay Area. While the City of Concord does not operate the facility, it owns the lands where Pixieland resides near the softball fields on Olivera Road across the street from the Naval Weapons Station property.
4. Concord Naval Weapons Station Redevelopment. After this land is officially turned over to the City, an effort should be made to preserve some of the buildings and history of the base dating back to WWII. At the very least, creating a museum on the grounds is essential to remind us of the Port Chicago ammunition explosion in 1944 that killed 520, predominately African-Americans and its effects on the civil rights movement which followed less than 20 years later.
Meanwhile, the tireless people who volunteer each week at the Concord Historical Society painstakingly sort thru old photos, file away mementos, and do their best with limited resources to preserve the history of a community that has evolved from a Spanish land grant settlement to become a major urban center on the 680 corridor.
Hopefully, as the years go by, a way can be found to meaningfully preserve the past to provide guidance for those who follow.