Mechanical components of a massive dredge abandoned at the end of Cooley Landing in East Palo Alto -- the site of a future community and subregional park -- have been salvaged for inclusion in a future history display.
The dredge is of indeterminate age but is believed to date back into the 1920s or early 1930s, at least. It was set afire and badly damaged several years ago.
On Thursday, May 7, a group of firefighters from the Menlo Park Fire Protection District showed up at the landing with heavy equipment to salvage a massive winch, gears and other metal equipment from the ruins of the dredge.
They were enthusiastically supported by about two dozen citizens intrigued by the history of the dredge and landing, who were there to thank the firefighters for their help and watch the salvage operation.
The machinery is now being stored by the fire district for eventual return to the landing as part of a public history display, according to La Rue V. Ragan, an organizer of the salvage-day event which was videotaped by EPA.net, a community website and media-training program.
The drag-bucket dredge also is believed to be the dredge that for decades kept the former Palo Alto Yacht Harbor from silting up. There is an enduring story of a dredge operator who lived aboard the dredge with his family and each morning rowed his children ashore to catch a school bus, picking them up in the evening. It is not confirmed that it is the same dredge, however.
It was also rumored to have been used in the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in the 1920s, also unconfirmed.
The dredge eventually was retired to Cooley Landing after more efficient hydraulic dredging replaced it, depositing the "spoils" or mud on Yacht Harbor Point to dry, where the cracking mud resembled a moonscape as it dried.
The harbor was closed in the early 1970s for environmental reasons, but only after a long-running battle with boaters who berthed their boats there and members of the Palo Alto Yacht Club. A Sea Scout base also inhabited the building that resembles a ship's superstructure, designed by legendary Palo Alto architect Birge Clark. The former "Sea Scout Building" is being refurbished after being relocated a few feet to slightly higher ground, as it was sinking into the mud.
For years, the old dredge was occupied by the late Carl Schoof, who operated a boatworks on Cooley Landing. Schoof and his wife, a physical education teacher at Stanford University, owned a six-acre strip down the middle of the bulb of land and extending out to a channel for access to the main channel down at the end of the shallow bay. They lived aboard the dredge while Schoof did fine refinishing and repair work on classic wooden boats in a still-standing building on the northerly side of the landing.
The flanks of Cooley Landing were owned by Utah Mining Company, which once harvested oyster shells to use in making cement before the oyster colonies died from sewage discharge from cities around the South Bay. The firm since the 1800s claimed title to hundreds of acres of tide-flooded bay mud extending nearly to the central channel.
The title was purchased by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District in the early 1980s, along with a 145-acre Leslie Salt Co. salt pond just north of the narrow extension of Bay Road reaching out to the bulb at the end.
The Schoofs later sold their strip of land to a public agency.
Cooley Landing itself was created in the mid-1800s by Dennis Martin, an Irishman who purchased a Spanish land grant that extended from the bay up into the redwood canyons above Woodside and Portola Valley. It was then called Martin's Landing. It was used to ship lumber, redwood shingles, wheat and wool north to San Francisco and other cities, originally in flat-bottomed sailing barges, according to reports.
Martin also built a small town at the base of the foothills, including a church and store, but he eventually lost title to the land because an overlapping land grant was based on geographic features, which trumped grants based on compass readings in legal disputes.
Martin and his heirs fought for years to regain title to some or all of the land without success, according to historical accounts.
The future of Cooley Landing is being considered, with a site plan map showing a park, walkways and facilities on the bulb, a concept first made public in 2005.
The park is being created through a two-year grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation under the "EPA Can Do" program. The City of East Palo Alto working with Project Director Lilly Lee, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who is working with the open-space district and other officials to bring the park into reality.
Ragan is a member of a subcommittee of EPA Can Do, the Jane Leech Memorial Fund Advisory Committee. He is the founder and CEO of the Raven Works Field Sports Ministry.
He said Advisory Committee members have been volunteering time and energy "to assist in the recovery and future of Cooley Landing as a history landmark and community social-wellness asset."
For 2 1/2 years the committee "has worked to cultivate a spirit of regional collaboration, neighborly good will and shared investment in our community heritage as a guiding operational principle," he said.
"The history, beauty and complexity of Cooley Landing stands as a metaphor on the need for continuing in this mindset and approach to effectively address our local community needs as well as those of this particular project."
Capt. Tom Calvert is the fire district's Cooley Landing project manager.
Other recognized guests included R. Scott Baxter of Past Forward, Inc., a "historical archeologist" who studied Cooley Landing and the dredge some years ago.