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The View From John Muir's Window
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
"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
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
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
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.
by Helen Muir
[Editor's Note: One of the most interesting segments, as you'll see, is
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
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
collection so fascinating. Accession #02 in the John Muir museum
contains some of these stories.
The accession, containing 948 catalogued items, was acquired from Faire
Sax, the last private owners of the Muir House before National Park
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
rack. The story was that it was about to be hauled away when the Saxes
it for a "song". A visitor once commented that the marble seat was
Chocolate Marble. If one visits the State Capitol building in Nashville
see this same marble as a balustrade leading up the circular staircase to
The West Parlor is graced with a beautifully conserved black horsehair
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
Accession File suggest that perhaps Louie Strentzel studied with her and
in early recitals for Alice.
The hall telephone, patented 1894, was of the John Muir period, although
personal phone. The 1897 telephone directory listed "Professor John
at that time there were 77 telephones in Martinez. The first phone
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
notes into a legible form.
The above are just a few of the many items that were collected by Faire
Sax. There are many more stories residing in the old house. We thank the
National Park Service for preserving this collective memory.
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
on this association's fund development front, if you will.
First, thanks to all of you who came through for our first effort,
Stepping Stone. We were able to raise enough funds through you
members to "pave the way" to our patio improvement project at the Visitor
Depending on the time needed for the bidding process on the drainage,
have hopes to dedicate the new area by the end of the year. An
plaque will be placed in the patio acknowledging all of you who "answered
call" with your contribution of $100 or more. (In addition we will name
donors--no matter what amount was given--on a printed program on that
Next, we launched our first John Muir Week on April 15th, complete with
along Alhambra Avenue, (utilizing Steve Pauly's new LOGO), incorporated
week the John Muir in Historical Perspective three day academic
was co-hosted with the John Muir Center for Regional Studies at the
of the Pacific in Stockton, and culminated the week on Sunday, April 21st
our first ever March For Parks (a fundraising activity of the National
Conservation Association). That same weekend was the universal
Earth Day and it was no consequence that that celebration happened to
John Muir's birthday!
Betty Zarn headed up the local committee putting on this event, and with
flying we marched from the Site to the Martinez City Hall. (We even had a
Bagpiper to lead us!) The program included several conservationists,
tee-shirt's were given to all participants, and awards were presented to
The proceeds went toward providing Ranger-horticulturalist Herb Thurman
funds for planting some long-needed trees and other indigenous flora here
Proclamations by the City of Martinez for John Muir Week and by the
California for John Muir Day were read, and all in all, the activities
a rather neat combination of public relations marketing and fund-raising.
(You also might be interested in knowing that we are already laying plans
SECOND annual March for Parks in April of '97--and all local residents
be interested in being on this committee are invited to call our
Lastly, as part of the Board's first Retreat/Advance! Conference held in
Asilomar (covered elsewhere in the View) the last one third of our time
invested in learning more about financial development, and in
United Fund Campaign, with an eye toward creation of an Educational,
Now THIS area REALLY opens up Pandora's Box, and nothing more will be
this writing, except that in addition to the proposed new committee
emanating from our conference at Asilomar, your Board will be
concept MOST thoroughly, with the view in mind of extending the scope,
influence of our present activities here at the Site so that we can
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
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 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
Exerpted from The View From John Muir's Window, August 1996,
Newsletter of the John Muir Memorial Association.