Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Niles – What is Historic? How Should Niles Evolve Into the Future?

The weather was perfect and I had wanted to capture some of the beautiful gardens found in Niles, so off I went. This is very much my very subjective viewpoint of my neighborhood. I loved the fact that the bikes were sitting and waiting for their owners to get out of school, as was the family cat!
This is my front porch with Bailey (my 95-pound dog) following Saguaro (my 8-pound cat) up the stairs. Anytime I take off with Bailey, Saguaro is always waiting for us to come back home.

Clearly this person LOVES light blue as a color! And I just love that old pickup truck.....

One of the typical small turn-of-the-century homes complete with stained glass windows.

Beth and Laurie's very modern home, a makeover from a stucco house that had already undergone one previous update. The use of vernacular materials reminiscent of the barns still found in the area can be seen in the corrugated iron roof, the metal smokestack and a chain link fence lining part of the backyard and one of the upper floor balconies. They added on the front porch, another common feature seen thoughout the neighborhood.

The backyard of the previous house with citrus trees that came from the California Nursery Company.

Looking through the backyard chain link fence of the previous house to a pond sitting close to Alameda Creek, which is on the opposite side of the rise.

This old rocking horse was sitting in the front yard of an old home currently undergoing renovation.

One of the tiniest of the tiny cottages found throughout the neighborhood.

One of my favorite houses and gardens, two blocks over from where I live.

No garden but you sure can't argue with the sentiment!

This blue gate was almost hidden underneath a huge huge rose bush.

One of the stucco styles so commonly found in California.

The next few photos are from my front garden.

Another house just around the corner from me.

Lots of picket fences still in Niles.

And plenty of roses.

Clearly, there can never be too many roses!

Today I happened to be home from work; a fluke due to attending a workshop all day Saturday and Sunday. Taking advantage of the sunny weather, I hit the streets at about 10:00, wanting to photograph some of the great local architecture and gardens. A woman hailed me over on Third Street, asking me what I was up to. When I told her I was working on a local history project, she said I had to meet her partner, Laurie. Laurie had grown up in Niles, and had a BA in history from UC-Berkeley. Laurie herself then came outside, planning to take a morning run. Beth called her over and Laurie and I ended up talking for a good 90 minutes about Niles, historic preservation, city planning and all manner of interesting and potentially controversial subjects relating to the area.

Unlike myself and her brother (also a lifelong resident of Niles and 12 years her senior, so he grew up in the 1950s, compared to her more radical 1960s youth), Laurie is not impressed with the direction Niles has taken with its strong linkage to the past. She spent 11 years on the Fremont Planning Committee, and thinks much more emphasis needs to be made on Niles as a vital community and how it needs to evolve towards a sustainable future. She finds much of what I love about Niles “too Disneyish,” and feels that the identity of Niles as a community has become lost since it was incorporated into Fremont as a neighborhood back in the 1970s. She describes her relationship with Niles as one of love and hate; she respects the past but also feels Niles needs to move forward. Sure, she agrees that the trains and nurseries were part of the past, but she does not see that past providing a sustainable future. I would respectfully disagree with that viewpoint, so am very much looking forward to talking to her at greater length, exploring her different opinions and where she thinks the past fits into Niles’s future.

I will say this; Laurie puts her money where her mouth is. She and her partner live in a totally remodeled modern home that sits between much more traditional houses. The front of her house is a total reflection of vernacular materials--a corrugated tin roof, a tall iron smokestack, chain link fencing on a balcony, etc. I walked right past it before Beth called out to me, focusing instead on my beloved Victorians and Prairie Styles and bungalows. After our spirited and stimulating conversation, I went back and took a good look at Laurie’s house. It is definitely modern and super interesting and, to her way of thinking, belongs in Niles as much as any 19th-century house. In fact, she still owns both her parents’ home and her grandparents’ home in Niles, both of which she rents out.

As if meeting Beth and Laurie was not fated enough in terms of this project, Jill Singleton drove past as we were talking. It turns out she rents one of Laurie’s inherited houses. Jill is one of the authors of the Arcadia book about Niles. She was on her way to Washington for a couple of weeks, but said she would be glad to meet with me once she gets back. I think talking with her will be more like talking with Barbara and Al and the train guys I spoke to three weeks ago, which is great, but I am so glad I also met Laurie. Her very different take on Niles’s past and future are providing me with many new things to think about beyond the traditional (and tending on the lyrical side) historical interpretation typically held by locals. Definitely more about this later!

Meeting with Laurie just reminds me as a historian of the value of not just acknowledging contradictory interpretations or arguments, but actively seeking them out. It is the complexity and nuance and different ways of looking at things that we love to pursue as historians; this is part of what makes history vital and alive and very much connected to the present!


  1. Wow, those homes are gorgeous. I have been through Niles before, but only on the main street where the museum and all the shops are. I never got the chance to go through the residential area though and I can clearly see I missed out on some more of the history. I always prefer historic homes to historic landmarks because you can get a feel of what average life was like back in that time period. Those houses are really awesome Julie


  2. Julie, I enjoyed reading your blog. In an earlier post you mentioned your love of reading, which I could relate to. I had a similar experience when I realized my love of reading could take me to a whole different universe.

    The garden pictures are absolutely breath-taking and I had no idea places like this still existed in the bay area. The gorgeous scenery is so captivatingly beautiful that I wanted to stare at it all night. I liked that you told us about your talk with Laurie. She holds such a different opinion from the one that you hold, and you did not disregard it. That in itself is wonderful. I am glad to see that you are looking at both sides of the story, and seeking to learn more about an opinion that holds onto the present more than the future.