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Local Notes: The Red Baron Controversy

And publisher, Jim Stevenson moves on to art.

I took a walk over to see the old boat, called the Red Baron and the yellow crane that artists want saved. When I moved here twelve years ago, I thought that whole area a junk yard. Now, it’s been cleaned up somewhat, and I would hope will be more.

Do these two items pollute the water? The boat is rusty, so I would think so, but I don’t know. The rest of the boat yard is, well eccentric is the nicest word I can put to it.

Also, apparently, these relics form sort of a sea wall, protecting the area from the incoming tide. A new sea wall is supposed to replace it, apparently.

At this point, I tend to support removal of these old, though charming antiquities, providing a replacement to the informal sea wall can be done in a timely fashion. I’ll keep learning and listening. Leave a comment if you feel strongly about it, or can make some important points.

I was talking to Jim Stevenson, who’s closing down his publishing business—but helping Benicia Literary Arts—with his expertise.

When he started taking an art class at Solano College, the teacher introduced him to an abstract expression approach, something which tapped into, “a right brain activator…I was so excited. I wish I’d found it forty years ago.”

That made me think of a quotation: “Art breaks the ice within us.” I needed to find who said this. A google search, found a quote by Franz Kafka, which is a translation: “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? ...we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.” You can find some other versions too.

Stevenson, a history buff, has taken the rest of the books he has on hand to Bookshop Benicia, where the few remaining copies are on sale at deep discounts. These include:

  • Great Expectations, The Story of Benicia by Richard Dillon
  • The Capital That Couldn’t Stay Put, The Complete Book of California Capitols, by June Oxford
  • The Pike County Ballads by John Hay
  • The Story of the Pony Express by Glenn Bradley
  • The Legend of Francisco Solano, Cultural Myths, Frontier Nostalgia, How Solano County Discovered the “Chief” by James M. Ramirez

The Art Walk is this Saturday on First Street. Poets will be reading at Gallery 621 at 6 p.m. and at 7 p.m. at Bookshop Benicia, where Bonnie Wiedel’s art will also be on display. 

Peter Bray December 05, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Great column, Lois! I side with the artists this time, Phil Joy has done a great job of cleaning up the majority of the old Garske boatyard debris, and if there's any toxics in the remaining stuff, they can be mitigated or selectively removed...art is where we make or FIND it, and history and nuance are always a part. When all the Surplus Storage Fleet is removed from the Suisun Bay side, then we will have accomplished wonders. Some bright Benicians spoke last night at City Council Chambers last night on the Boatyard issue. Thanks to all. Go artists! Peter Bray
Lois Requist December 06, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Another book on local history that Jim published is, "Portrait of an Early California Town, An Architectural History." The Camel Barn may still have copies for sale.
Susan Street December 07, 2012 at 02:38 AM
The Red Baron is more than an old boat that artists like to paint. Its existence there at Phil Joy's boatyard says that Benicia is unique, that we do not need everything to be sanitized, modernized and tidy. And, it is iconic to Benicia as part of our history. Could it have been similar to a boat that Jack London had? Probably not, but its a good story. It is representative of years gone by. Why replace it with an ugly sea wall? As Jerry Turner said, why tear down the Red Baron and then in ten or twenty years, pay someone to create a sculpture to go there that looks like an old boat to represent Benicia's maritime history? Susan Street
Robert Livesay December 07, 2012 at 04:03 PM
I also like the boat and crane. The thing that bothers me is folks that appear to be very enviromentally concerned are willing to turn a blind eye to this. I think it should stay but I also trust Phil Joy and his judgement on what should or could be done. Where does Constance and the Mayor stand on this. Very difficult position they are in. Lets just see how they react to all of this. It could be very interesting.
Irma Liberty December 07, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Too true, Susan. This old boat area is one of the few places left that remind me of the Benicia in the 70s and 80s. It has become so sanitized and upscale I don't even bother to come over and visit anymore. Irma Liberty
JB Davis (Editor) December 07, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Isn't there an saying about the only thing that's constant is change? I watched the Red Baron get towed into Garske's back in the early 90's. Over the years I've watched it sink. We've had our time with this fine old boat. I feel pretty certain the tourists who see a nice sea wall will think we look like a quaint European fishing hamlet. Let's celebrate what the future might bring.
T. Gunter December 07, 2012 at 06:29 PM
No doubt. There is at least a few tons of scrap metal out there. Waste not, want not. In the nearly ten years that I've lived here, I have never looked over at that pile and said to myself, "Oh! How nice.". If folks are interested in preserving the heritage of Benicia, move the flotsam and jetsam from there and to a museum. Keeping it in the water for cultural preservation sake, is akin to storing pre-Columbian art in wet cardboard boxes in some back alley.

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