First off, I’m no history buff.
I had to do some digging to put this post together. And it’s not all directly related to the brand. Truth is, Vallejo has a ton of history – and mixed with my experiences of growing up there, it’s become a little of both.
In my travels people have asked about Over Winter’s connection to Vallejo. After all, you can’t surf there – there’s no waves. So why then choose to include it as part of our story…as part of our DNA – other than me being from there?
By the way, the picture above is a dry dock crew from Mare Island taken on April 26, 1944 – made available from National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
Vallejo is bad ass
About 150 years ago, Vallejo became the location of the first west coast naval shipyard, Mare Island. They built ships and submarines, mostly for war.
Mare Island eventually employed over 50,000 people at the height of its operation around 1915 and holds the world speed record for shipbuilding. They could produce an entire ship in only 18 days. Imagine.
Mare Island’s thrust led to the development of a working class town – and eventually a city of over 100,000 people – a number that’s held steady since the 1990’s. But like any other American town, there were also the wealthy.
Vallejo has mansions
More modest but still similar to the Pacific Heights Gold Coast neighborhood in San Francisco, Vallejo is home to an array of mansions – mostly around downtown on the hill tops overlooking the bay. The most majestic homes are those along Walnut Avenue on Mare Island that housed people like the Shipyard Commander. Luckily they’ve been preserved, since Mare Island’s shutter in 1995.
Fun side note – I went to grade school with the Shipyard Commander’s daughter and used to play at her house – the Admiral’s Mansion, home to the highest ranking officer on Mare Island – Quarters ‘A’.
The same victorian architecture that San Francisco is famous for is prevalent in Vallejo’s downtown. Outward from downtown there’s also a good amount of mid-century modern architecture, which makes sense since the population nearly doubled during the 1950’s and 60’s (think baby boomers).
The Higgins were an affluent Vallejo family who owned a shoe store on Georgia Street in downtown Vallejo – once the predominant shopping area in Vallejo (think Florsheim shoes). The wife of the company owner was my second grade teacher. She and her husband lived in a mansion, right across the street from my grade school. It was huge, all brick and looked like something out of a storybook.
The five story Higgins Building built around 1920 that housed the family business in downtown Vallejo sits abandoned today. Economic recovery in downtown post-Mare Island has been slow.
Diversity is Vallejo
I’ve always been proud of the fact that Vallejo is diverse. Why? Because diversity is the cornerstone of California culture – it’s what makes it so interesting and layered, while at the same time fluid and humane.
I’m white and grew up in an all white family (until later on), but I went to school with people of all ethnicities. I grew up with the understanding that it takes all kinds of people to make the world go round. It also makes life more interesting to come in contact with different cultures, eat different foods, learn different languages.
A stones throw
There might not be waves to catch in Vallejo, but there is definitely a mindset there that seats itself at the center of the Over Winter brand – grit, determination and a ritual of excellence. Just like the people that built an entire ship in 18 days (some argue 17 ½ ), a surfer has a mentality of breaking through walls, falling and getting back up – succeeding at all costs – even through dangerous rip tides, giant wave breaks – and shark attacks.
Vallejo’s location on the San Pablo Bay makes the ocean an embedded part of the atmosphere – and there are multiple surfing beaches nearby, a few within 50 miles – the closest being Stinson, followed by Ocean Beach, Pacifica and then Santa Cruz.
What resonates for me is not the fact that you can’t actually surf in Vallejo – I mean heck, I grew up there and I still love the surf even if you have to drive a little – others in my family do too.
It’s that the energy and spirit that emanated from those 50,000 people who built that 2.5-million pound, 314-foot ship in 18 days is the same surf mindset that I grew up around and that permeates the town – even today.
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Leave Your Shore is a series of short stories, company news and inspiration written by the founder of Over Winter, Ryan Mathews. If you have comments or just want to say hey, you can use the form below or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.
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