By Robin Chapman
Book Review by C. MacDonald
California native Robin Chapman was known as a first-rate journalist at KRON-TV
in San Francisco, WJLA-TV in Washington, D.C., and several other places over
her 30-year career in front of a camera. But she may be an even better
Like her passion of solving crossword puzzles, the Los Altos native focuses her curiosity, investigative skills and ability to place the right word in the right place at the right time in the two books I've reviewed—California Apricots: The Lost Orchards of Silicon Valley and her latest, Historic Bay Area Visionaries.
Like she does when creating needlepoint, the UC Santa Barbara English Literature grad, who went on to earn a MA in Journalism at UCLA, has a skillful way of weaving her creative writing style with her historical insights. The reader will marvel at "the web she's able to spin," telling true stories in a fashion that makes it hard to put the book down.
The lady, who once reported stories about the President, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court, returned to her roots in 2009 and focused her considerable talents on researching fascinating Bay Area history that has been largely forgotten by most of the public living there today.
In her new book, you'll learn about such fascinating and diverse characters as Juana Briones, who was never taught to read or write but developed a relentless compassion to assist others and ended up owning a 4,439 acre property that became Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto.
Then there's the unknown Robert Louis Stevenson, who came from Scotland to California, chasing a woman. He finally caught her, ended up writing for the Monterey Californian and later became one of the top authors in the World. Sarah Winchester, like Stevenson, took a train across America before becoming an international woman of intrigue, who is still known today for her incredible Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. She planted apricots and prunes on her property as Santa Clara Valley's rangelands turned into some of the nation's finest orchards.
Lope Inigo, an alcalde at Mission Santa Clara, became one of the first Indians to receive a private land grant, some of which evolved into Moffett Field Naval Air Station. Thomas Foon Chew developed his Alviso business into the third largest cannery in the country. The Bayside Canning Co. canned apricots, peaches, tomatoes and more. The caring entrepreneur even invented ways of making canneries more efficient.
Charlie Chaplin came to Niles (Alameda County) to work for a motion picture company called Essanay. "The funny little fellow with the moustache and funny walk" made a stunning $1,250 a week, writing and directing his movies in NorCal. It was here that he made his first masterpiece—a 20-minute Silent Movie classic, "The Tramp."
One of the most interesting chapters in Chapman's book is "On the Trail of the California Visionaries," which shows readers where they can still see and feel the presence of the entrepreneurs, innovators and visionaries she has featured. Some of the tidbits, include: In what's now Fremont, you can visit the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, 37417 Niles Blvd. There are remnants of the once famous Bayside Cannery at 1290 Hope St., Alviso. Sarah Winchester's notable house is at 525 S. Winchester Blvd., San Jose. The Robert Louis Stevenson House at 530 Houston St., Monterey, is a State Historical Monument.
If you love historical characters, the Bay Area, reading books or just learning more about the gumption and guts it took to overcome obstacles and develop the can-do California spirit, this work is for you. May the author continue her marvelous research and remarkable writing, uncovering future stories on the evolution of "The Golden State."
(Pulitzer Prize nominee Craig MacDonald began his writing career in Santa Clara Valley.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robin Chapman, a native of the Santa Clara Valley, earned a masters degree at University of California-Los Angeles before setting out on a career in television news.