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History of Bay Area Landmarks

The following articles are from a series written for the West Valley Flying Club monthly newsletter.


Bay Area Landmarks: Cooley Landing (first in a series)
by Robert French, CFI

The Bay Area is full of places we learn to recognize from the air as reporting points: Leslie Salt, Cooley Landing, SLAC, the cement plant, the sunken ship, the antenna farm, the old yacht harbor. Have you ever wondered about the history of these landmarks? This new column will attempt to explain some of the more interesting aspects of our Bay Area aerial landmarks.

This month I will attempt to answer many pressing questions about Cooley Landing, such as: Who was Cooley? Why is there a land-locked ship sitting down there? And, of course, why are there cages full of biohazard chickens on the property?

East Palo Alto has a long and colorful history dating back more than 3,500 years. In fact, ancient Native American burial grounds have been found in the area within the past 50 years. Our story, though, starts in 1849 when Isaiah Woods and his partners created a town and wharf called Ravenswood at the end of Bay Road. The wharf, which is the site of the current Cooley Landing, was the only port between San Francisco and San Jose and was used for both passengers and cargo. No, Highway 101 hadn't been constructed yet. Unfortunately, a wide range of economic factors conspired to cause the failure of the Port of Ravenswood, and by the late 1860s only building foundations and the wharf remained, and Woods had been forced to flee the country after embezzling funds.

In 1868, Lester Cooley, a successful gold miner and dairyman, bought Ravenswood wharf and used it to ship grain and dairy products from his dairy. It was at this point the wharf and surrounding area was renamed Cooley's Landing. A nearby brick factory was built, and for years the Landing was a bustling port shipping bricks, including those used to build the San Francisco Palace Hotel. In 1874, Menlo Park incorporated and Ravenswood became part of it. Cooley was the second mayor of Menlo Park. He died in 1882 from cancer.

Once again economic factors conspired to make the wharf area fail. From 1932 to 1960, the area was the San Mateo County dump, and the peninsula that we see today was built from landfill at the dump. In 1960, the peninsula was purchased by Carl Schoof who started the Palo Alto Boat Works, which operated until the late 1990s. The land-locked ship is an old dredge that was used to remove mud and silt from places like the (now extinct) Palo Alto Yacht Harbor. In the winter it was surrounded by earthen berms to prevent storm damage, which is how it stands today.

In 1998, Schoof sold the peninsula to the Peninsula Open Space Trust, which maintains it as a nature conservation area. Cooley Landing is an important wildlife corridor, providing habitat for species such as the California Clapper Rail (a bird with a population of about 300 worldwide). It is not currently open to the public, although as recently as May there was discussion in the East Palo Alto city government about how to turn it into a public recreation area.

Oh, and the biohazard chickens? The San Mateo County Mosquito Abatement District maintains flocks of "sentinel chickens". These chickens are tested every two weeks for antibodies to various mosquito-borne diseases, especially encephalitis viruses. They assure us that no chickens are harmed during this process.


Bay Area Landmarks: Leslie Salt (second in a series)
by Robert French, CFI

Of all the Palo Alto Airport landmarks, Leslie Salt is probably the most commonly used. Pretty much everyone coming from the north or east uses Leslie Salt as a reporting point. Many of us also use the large rectangular ponds for ground reference maneuvers. However, few people realize the rich history of salt production in the Bay Area, and fewer still know why the salt ponds turn red, and how this odd color relates to a futuristic computer storage technology.

Salt production in the Bay Area dates back to prehistoric times, but it wasn't until 1854 that Captain John Johnson created the Bay Area's first modern salt works. Salt was in great demand during the mid to late 1800s after the discovery of the Mother Lode (a 100 mile long quartz vein in the Sierras containing gold and silver) because salt was used in the process to extract silver from the ore. By 1868, there were 18 salt companies in the area. The Leslie Salt Refining Company was formed in 1901.

Over the next 35 years, a rapid series of mergers occurred. The Leslie-California Salt Company was formed in 1924 after a merger with the large California Salt Company, which included Captain Johnson's original salt works. In 1931, the Oliver Salt Company (itself a merger of nine original salt companies) was merged in, followed by the final merger with the Arden Salt Company on November 2, 1936, forming the Leslie Salt Company. By the 1960s, Leslie Salt owned 50,000 acres of salt ponds around the Bay. In 1978, the Leslie Salt Company was purchased by Cargill Salt, a division of Cargill, the largest privately held corporation in the world.

The use of the Bay for salt evaporation has been a favorite hot button for environmentalists, who want to return the Bay to its original marshland state. The current salt evaporators are home to more than 70 bird species, including the endangered Snowy Plover and Least Tern. Since 1979, Cargill has sold nearly 30,000 acres to various government agencies, including more than 11,000 acres for the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Today Cargill focuses on its remaining 13,000 acre site near Newark, the landmark we all know so well.

The production of salt is a five year process. First, bay water is put in an intake pond where the evaporation process starts. Bay water is only 2.5% salt, compared with 3.5% salt for ocean water, so there is a long way to go to make pure salt. Brine (water with a high salt concentration) is circulated among multiple ponds, using electric pumps, as the salt concentration increases and is gradually moved towards crystallizer beds. The crystallizer beds are used once the water becomes completely saturated with salt. As more water evaporates, the salt crystallizes and floats to the bottom.

Bittern, a red solution of minerals other than salt, is drained off and used for other industrial purposes. The resulting salt bed is 5 to 8 inches deep and 99% pure. From September to December, 700,000 tons of salt are harvested from the Newark salt ponds. The resulting salt is cleaned in a wash house to remove any remaining clay or dust, and is then dumped onto the famous 90 foot tall salt piles. The salt in these piles is 99.5% pure. It is stored there until needed for packaging or shipment. More than 250 salt products are produced in the Bay Area, although only 3% of the salt goes to home use.

So what makes the ponds turn bright red? In low-to-mid-salinity ponds, green algae proliferate. As the salinity increases, an alga called Dunaliella thrives and the ponds turn an even lighter shade of green. Once the salinity increases sufficiently, the Dunaliella begins to produce a red pigment that eventually masks the green of its chlorophyll. Millions of tiny brine shrimp in mid-salinity ponds contribute an orange cast to the water. They are harvested as fish food.

Perhaps more interesting is the presence of a family of Archaea (ancient organisms that love extreme environments) called Halobacterium that love high salinity. Halobacteria are red because they contain a pigment, bacteriorhodopsin, which is strikingly similar to the rhodopsin pigment in the human retina. Bacteriorhodopsin provides energy for the organism from light through a process completely unrelated to chlorophyll-based photosynthesis. Its existence is interesting evidence that photosynthesis evolved two different times on the planet in different ways. Since its discovery in the 1970s, scientists have been trying to use bacteriorhodopsin to develop a new form of three dimensional computer memory. So far they have successfully created an 800MB memory from a 1x1x2 inch gel containing the pigment. Theoretically a density of 32GB per cm^3 could be created. This memory has properties that make it very desirable: it doesn't require power and will store its data up to five years sitting on a shelf, it works under extremes of heat and cold, it's resistant to motion, and a large amount of data can be read or written simultaneously because of the 3-D nature. The U.S. Army and Navy have been researching this type of memory for use in satellites and on the battlefield.

So, the next time you fly over Leslie Salt, you can not only appreciate the vast quantities of pure salt produced, and the time-honored way of creating it, but also look at a possible future for computer memory. Thirty years from now you may be handing tiny containers of red pigment to your friends to share videos and music. Maybe iSalt has a nice ring to it.


Bay Area Landmarks: SLAC (third in a series)
by Robert French, CFI

In past newsletters I've discussed a landmark in the pattern (Cooley Landing) and the primary reporting point for PAO from the northeast (Leslie Salt). This month I'm going to discuss the most common reporting point from the west - the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC).

Mankind has always been fascinated with the structure of things around us. Only in the past several centuries have we discovered what an incredibly rich and microscopic structure ordinary objects have. In order to explore the world at this small a scale, we need special tools. The particle accelerator, which produces narrow, focused, beams of particles that collide violently with materials, is the primary tool in use today. The higher the energy of the beam, the better the resulting picture. (The energy of a particle is measured in "electron volts", abbreviated eV). Yes, bigger really is better.

Many different methods have been used to accelerate particles to high energies. Stanford pioneered the use of the electron linear accelerator, which moves a stream of electrons through a long cavity, continually increasing its energy as it goes, until it exits at the far side with a tremendous amount of energy. Several Stanford professors began plotting a two-mile long linear accelerator in 1956. A proposal was submitted to the Atomic Energy Commission on April 18, 1957, and in May, 1959, President Eisenhower gave a speech in New York that included an endorsement of the accelerator and a recommendation that Congress fund the proposal, which they eventually did. Finally, after much negotiation and design work, the Stanford Linear Accelerator started construction in July 1962.

The accelerator consists of two main structures. The accelerator itself is a copper cylinder approximately four inches in diameter that is 10,000 feet long. That's almost as long as the runway at Castle. It is housed in a 10'x11' concrete tunnel buried 25 feet underground to provide a natural radiation shield. Electrons are injected in the west end of the cylinder and exit from the east end having been accelerated to as much as 20 GeV. Directly above this tunnel is another 10,000 foot long structure, a 17'x30' steel shed, which is the structure we can see from the air. It houses all of the devices required to perform the acceleration. Connections through the earth between the two structures occur approximately every 20 feet. At the east end of the accelerator are two large buildings that house experiments. A 1,000 foot long "beam switchyard" uses powerful electromagnets to bend the beam for delivery to the experimental targets in these buildings. The largest building occupies 25,000 square feet and has walls 70 feet tall.

The accelerator buildings were built to incredibly tight tolerances. No part of the underground tunnel is allowed to move more than 1/4 inch during the year as the seasons change. This probably makes SLAC the most accurate reporting point you will ever use. While it had been planned, I-280 had not yet been built when SLAC was finished. Stanford convinced Caltrans to build the SLAC overpass several years ahead of schedule so that the road construction would not upset the delicate alignment of the accelerator.

SLAC's official dedication occurred on September 9, 1967. It took $114,000,000 to design and build. In today's dollars that's $704,000,000. That may seem like a lot of money (well, OK, it IS a lot of money), but, for comparison, it's less than one day's worth of interest on the current national debt.

Researchers at SLAC have taken three Nobel prizes. For you physics buffs, the most famous accomplishments were the discovery of the J/psi particle in 1974, the charm quark and tau lepton in 1976, and the Z particle in 1989.

But SLAC's contributions are far from only theoretical. One major component, added in the 1970s, causes electrons taken from the linear accelerator to rotate around a giant ring and collide with positrons, producing new particles. As a side effect of causing the electron beam to follow a curved path, intense ultraviolet and X-ray radiation is emitted. Originally considered a nuisance, it was eventually realized that this, the most intense source of X-ray radiation in the world, had many practical applications in medicine and biology. Among many other discoveries, this radiation was used to discover the exact structure of RNA polymerase, the enzyme responsible for reading the genetic code and telling cells what proteins to synthesize.

SLAC had another contribution that is not widely recognized: it was the home of the first web site in the United States. Physicist Paul Kunz brought the World Wide Web to SLAC after a visit to the European accelerator CERN, where the web was founded, and with help from two other SLAC workers placed the first U.S. web server on-line on December 12, 1991.

Today SLAC employs 1,500 people and houses 2,000 visiting scientists from all over the world. The biggest project is the BaBar detector, which is trying to figure out why there is so much more matter than antimatter in the universe. SLAC has also become involved with astrophysics, and is a key contributor to GLAST, a space telescope being launched in 2006 to explore cosmic background radiation and supermassive black holes.

SLAC is open to the public for guided tours by reservation. See http://www.slac.stanford.edu for details.


Bay Area Landmarks: The Bridges of San Mateo County (fourth in a series)
by Robert French, CFI

So far we've learned about the chickens at Cooley Landing that help detect West Nile Virus, the five year process of extracting salt from the Bay, and the United States' first web site at SLAC. This month we're going to take a look at bridges. To be fair, while the bridges are mostly in San Mateo County, they all cross over into Alameda County partway across the Bay.

Moving from north to south, the first bridge you come to is the San Mateo bridge, well known by people flying into Hayward or transiting Oakland's airspace. The bridge used today is actually the second bridge built. The original San Mateo bridge was built in 1929, and included a drawbridge to allow boat traffic through. The bridge proved insufficient for modern traffic levels, and a new bridge was built in 1967. The bridge currently supports about 77,000 vehicles per day.

Moving south, the next bridge you come to is the well-known Dumbarton auto bridge. Once again, the current bridge is the second one built. The original bridge was built in 1927 and was the first automobile bridge crossing the Bay. The center included a drawbridge for boat traffic. A new, wider, bridge was built and opened in 1984. The old bridge had its drawbridge section removed and the rest was converted to fishing piers in 1985. The Dumbarton bridge currently handles about 60,000 vehicles per day. It also contains a 1.5 mile long section of the Bay Trail, providing an easy connection between the Ravenswood trails and Coyote Hills.

So where does the name Dumbarton come from? To answer this we need to briefly discuss the history of Newark. In 1872 several entrepreneurs were reclaiming swampland in the east bay. Requiring more capital, they advertised in Europe for investors. An English capitalist invested money and hired J. Barr Robertson, a Scotsman, to oversee his interests. Robertson chose the name Newark for the city founded on the swampland, naming it after the castle of the same name located on Dumbarton Point in Scotland. The land west of Newark adjoining the Bay eventually acquired the name Dumbarton Point as a result. The Dumbarton region in Scotland was originally called Dunbrittain by the Scots after the Romans left, and this mutated to Dunbartane and then Dumbarton over time.

If you've spent a long time flying into or out of Palo Alto, you've probably noticed two huge pipes that start in the middle of the Bay and run west into Menlo Park just south of the auto bridge. This is a portion of the Hetch Hetchy aqueduct, which carries water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite to the Crystal Springs Reservoir west of San Carlos. The pipes have a long journey, surfacing and going underground multiple times. There is a large pumping station in Fremont before the pipes submerge for the eastern portion of their Bay crossing. The first pipe was placed in service in 1925.

Just south of the auto bridge is the old railroad bridge, known officially as the Southern Pacific Railroad Dumbarton Cutoff Bridge. This bridge was actually the first bridge across the Bay, and was put into service in 1909. It consists of a single track and two swing sections to allow boat traffic through. The western swing section, which is commonly used as the 45-degree entry point for the PAO 31 pattern, as well as the eastern swing section in the Newark Slough, were welded in the open position when the bridge was closed in 1982. In 1996, and again in 1998, the bridge was subject to arson that caused many of the pilings to be destroyed. That's why the bridge no longer connects to the western shore, a fact very obvious from the air.

There is a project underway to resurrect the railroad bridge for commuter trains. The $300 million project is funded by Regional Measure 2 (which raised the bridge tolls from $2 to $3) and Measure A funds from San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Alameda counties. Currently a $5.7 million environmental and engineering study is underway. On the west side, a new station is planned on Willow Rd near the west end of the auto bridge. Plans call for six round-trip trains per day, departing Union City in the morning, splitting evenly for San Francisco and San Jose, and then returning in the evening. 4,800 passengers are expected daily. Officials claim that the railroad bridge may be open for service by 2010, but I take this with a large grain of Leslie salt.


Bay Area Landmarks: The Antenna Farm (fifth in a series)
by Robert French, CFI

Well, faithful readers, the landmarks are getting a little more obscure and harder to research, but that just makes them all the more interesting! This month I'm going to talk about the "antenna farm", which from the air looks like a bunch of toothpicks stuck in the middle of the marsh just southeast of the PAO 31 runway near Highway 101. From the ground (the facility is a very short walk from East Bayshore Rd) you realize just how many antennas there are and how tall they are.

On May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse, the inventor of the telegraph and the code bearing his name, sent the first message by telegraph. "What hath God wrought" (from Numbers 23:23) was sent along 35 miles of steel wire from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore. Since then Morse Code has been used extensively for long distance communication - first by wire, and then by radio. Even when HF and VHF radios became ubiquitous in the early 1900s, Morse Code retained its usefulness. Because the Morse Code signal is so much simpler than voice or data, it can be sent using very little bandwidth (using a technique called Continuous Wave, or "CW") and can be heard even through severe atmospheric interference. It can also be heard much further than voice using the same amount of power. These advantages together made Morse Code the standard for ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communication for nearly 100 years.

In 1910, the Federal Telegraph Company was formed in San Francisco to build a large radio station on the beach near what is now the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. That station, call sign KFS, initially consisted of a single spark wireless transmitter for communication in Morse Code, although additional transmitters were added rapidly. After the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, all ships were required to have Morse Code equipment on board and a radio operator on duty 24 hours a day. Thus started an 80-year long era of ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communication. Federal Telegraph was one of many companies that provided commercial communication service, charging companies by the message.

KFS was taken over by the U.S. Navy during World War I to allow communication with U.S. battleships. The station was moved in 1921 to the marsh just east of Palo Alto (the current "antenna farm"), and the San Francisco station was closed in 1927. Around this time the station was also sold to Mackay Cable & Wireless. In July, 1943, a new 50KW transmitter was activated at KFS under the callsign KROJ and provided a relay service for the Voice of America. This service was terminated in 1945 at the end of World War II.

The exact corporate history of the site after WWII is impossible to ascertain (at least by me), but during the next 30 years it was owned by ITT World Communications (which eventually called the site Palo Alto Radio) and then KFS World Communications. The site still contains an old, unused mailbox with the ITT name on it at the front gate.

For the engineers among us, the antennas include twelve full-wave dipoles, two inverted cones, and a loaded vertical. Seventeen transmitters were in use for CW. KFS built a separate receive site six miles south of Half Moon Bay. If you've ever been doing emergency landing practice in those fields south along the coast from HAF, and noticed a whole bunch of tall antennas near your favorite field, they are the KFS receive antennas. The receive antennas include three log-periodic dipole arrays, several wire V-beams, and several rhombics.

ITT had transferred much of the Palo Alto site to the city in 1977 and held an easement for their continued operation. In January 1994, Palo Alto bought the easement from KFS for $370,000, thus securing one of the last remaining large pieces of the baylands not under the city's control. There are currently no plans to renovate or demolish the site, although in 1994 there were some rumors about turning the large radio building into a youth hostel. Obviously this hasn't happened yet.

In 1995, the U.S. Coast Guard officially stopped listening for Morse Code distress calls. KFS sold the Half Moon Bay facility to Globe Wireless, a company specializing in maritime communications (including email and telefax) using satellite and HF communications. With the newly available communications technology, they decommissioned all Morse Code transmissions. The last commercial radiotelegraph transmission in North America was made from the Palo Alto site at 2359 UTC on July 12, 1999. The final words transmitted by KFS? "What hath God wrought".


Bay Area Landmarks: Byxbee Park (sixth in a series)
by Robert French, CFI

[This month I'd like to thank alert reader and WVFC member Michael Silverton for his suggestion for a topic. He even started my research for me!]

Did you ever look down while on final for Palo Alto's runway 31 and think "it was really nice of the city to put big concrete chevrons pointing to the runway?" Or perhaps "that field of odd telephone polls looks like great artwork!" If so, then you've begun to appreciate Byxbee Park.

John Fletcher Byxbee, Jr. was born in 1878. A graduate of Palo Alto High School and Stanford, he served as Palo Alto's City Engineer starting in 1906. He had a vision to turn the marsh area near the Bay into a recreation area, including an airport, duck pond, golf course, and yacht harbor - all of which eventually came to pass. In fact, the official name of the Baylands is the John Fletcher Byxbee Recreation Area. However, today his name is primarily associated with a small park adjacent to the Palo Alto landfill.

The entrance to Byxbee Park is at the end of Embarcadero Road towards the recycling center. The current $1.7 million, 30-acre park was dedicated in 1991. It was built on top of decades of garbage, which in some places is 60 feet deep. The garbage is covered by a one-footthick layer of clay and two feet of topsoil. The park is covered in grass and has no trees, because tree roots could break through the clay shield.

Wanting to add a little spice to the new park, Palo Alto decided to hire the famous landscape firm of Hargreaves Landscape Architects and Planners, as well as artists Peter Richards and Michael Oppenheimer, to design the park and its artwork. Hargreaves has designed many parks in the Bay area, including Crissy Field and the Candlestick Park State Recreation Area. The original goal was to create "a work of art which would enhance the beauty of the site and express the dichotomy of the man-made and the natural elements within and surrounding the park." You can be the judge of their success. Here are some of the more obvious elements of the park.

THE CONCRETE CHEVRONS: Anyone flying into Palo Alto has noticed the "concrete localizer," a bunch of grey concrete chevrons on the hillside pointing at runway 31. In addition to pointing the way for "man-made birds on their way home," they help reduce hillside erosion.

THE POLE FIELD: I had often wondered about the regular grid of poles on the hillside near the chevrons. Did they serve some practical purpose? Well...no, not really. The "Pole Field" consists of telephone poles of varying height with their tops in a uniform plane. They are supposed to be reminiscent of ruined pier pilings in the Bay, and represent "the contrast between man's control and nature's self-regulation."

THE KEYHOLE: Where's a good place to turn base? How about that big white exhaust stack? I've spent many a circuit in the pattern at night looking down into that exhaust stack and commenting on the bright orange glow. The exhaust stack itself is for burning off the methane gas that accumulates below the clay cap as the garbage decomposes. White gravel, in the shape of a keyhole, surrounds the stack and serves as a metaphor for the "locked" interior of the landfill.

THE HILLOCKS: At the top of landfill are small mounds inspired by the Ohlone Indians. The Ohlone are the original inhabitants of the Bay area, and created large mounds from discarded shellfish shells and soil. They lived upon the mounds and buried their dead in the area. The Byxbee mounds are shaped like teardrops and point southeast, towards Moffett.

Unfortunately, not everyone feels that the art is appropriate for the park. The Palo Alto Daily News called it "blatantly urban, obtrusively man-made." Emily Renzel, the former Palo Alto City council member for whom the Emily Renzel Wetlands is named, said "We did manage to get rid of a couple of the most offensive pieces, but some of the stuff out there--like the Keyhole--that looks like a big piece of flotsam. That definitely does not blend in with the natural environment."

The landfill is currently projected to close in 2011, at which point the acreage will be added to Byxbee park for a total of 150 acres. I'm sure we can look forward to continuing controversy about the art in the new park, as well as interesting things to see from the air.


Bay Area Landmarks: The Sunken Ship (seventh in a series)
by Robert French, CFI

Anyone who has flown to Oakland, or from Coyote Hills to San Carlos, has encountered the "sunken ship". It's a convenient reporting point for all neighboring airports that is outside of everyone's airspace (assuming you don't go too high). Today, the old ship in the middle of the Bay is hardly visible, but this was not always the case.

The USS Thompson (DD-305) was one of 156 Clemson-class destroyers created after World War I. The destroyers had a speed of 36 knots, a complement of 122 sailors, and five large guns with 12 torpedo tubes. They were 314 feet long and displaced 1,308 tons. The Thompson was named for Richard W. Thompson. Thompson, who was born on June 8, 1809 in Virginia, was a member of the Indiana legislature and eventually the U.S. House of Representatives. He then became a Circuit Court judge in Indiana, and was appointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes as Secretary of the Navy in 1877. He died in 1900.

The keel of the Thompson was laid down on September 25, 1918 in San Fracisco by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. She was launched on January 15, 1919, and commissioned at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo on August 16, 1920. The Thompson participated in many naval exercises, traveling off the coasts of Washington, California, San Diego, Mexico, Panama, Chile, and El Salvador through 1926.

On September 8, 1923, the Thompson was part of the worst navigational disaster in U.S. Navy history. Seven almost brand new Navy destroyers ran aground on Honda Point, a few miles north of the northern entrance to the Santa Barbara Channel. It was a dark and foggy night, and the navigators were relying on dead reckoning for navigation. Radio Direction Finding told the navigators that they were in a different location than they were expecting, but the technology was new and untrusted. Twenty-three lives were lost. However, the Thompson, along with six other destroyers, managed to turn away in time.

Continuing its tour of duty, the Thompson left San Francisco for Pearl Harbor on April 15, 1926 and continued onward for a good will tour to Australia and New Zealand, returning to San Diego on September 26. After a brief trip to the east coast, the Thompson was decommissioned on April 4, 1930 as part of the arms limitations of the 1930 London Naval Treaty. She was sold for scrap on June 10.

During the depression of the 1930s, the Thompson was used as a floating restaurant in the lower San Francisco Bay. She was repurchased by the Navy in February, 1944 and sunk in the mud flats south of the San Mateo bridge to be used as target practice for Army and Navy bombing runs.

The USS Thompson is still in the same location today, although the actual ship is hardly visible. The square box visible from the air is a sunken barge attached to the ship that was used to access the hull for work parties. Throughout the past few decades, there have been many accounts of recreational boaters investigating the ship or using it as a base for duck hunting. A few years ago, I was a passenger in a small helicopter when the pilot decided to explore the sunken ship a little more thoroughly. We actually touched a skid to the barge (without putting any weight on it) to get a good up-close view. There wasn't much of the ship left visible above the water at that point, and it has sunk even further down in the mud since then. It wouldn't surprise me if the ship disappears entirely from view within a few years, thus ending the nearly 90-year career of a distinguished Naval vessel.