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Riding the Rails

Restoring the East Bay's Electric Rail History   At Wooden Window, we do a lot of restoration for architecturally historic structures, but the chance to work close to home, and to recreate the 18-foot tall doors for a landmark of East Bay transportation history was something special--the Interurban Electric Railway Bridge Yard Shop. If you've lived in the Bay Area for some time, you may know that public transportation needs in San Francisco and the East Bay, much like similar urban areas from Brooklyn to Denver, were once served by a robust and vibrant network of electric rail cars. The system maintained routes on both sides of the Bay, as well as commuter trains running across the Bay Bridge.   Electric cars passing over the Bay Bridge (c. 1940) Construction on the Oakland Bay Bridge began in 1933 and cost an estimated $77 million to complete. By then, electric interurban railroads had existed on both sides of the bay since the turn of the century.   “They were the backbone of our mass transit system for nearly 100 years, with dozens of routes and hundreds of cars, and when they were discontinued in the late 1950s, almost all evidence of their reign was swept away.” ("When Trains Ruled the East Bay - Oakland Magazine - January 2008 - Oakland, California", 2017)   Key System Map, C. 1911   For the whole story of the East Bay rail system and trains over the Bay Bridge click here. Shops were built in 1938 to maintain the cars, one for the Southern Pacific and IER Red Trains and one for the East Bay's Key System. They Key System shop, once located near the West Grand Avenue freeway overpass, was eventually torn down. The second, Southern Pacific shop, dedicated to the "Big Red Cars," still stands in what was once called "The Bridge Yard." A sister facility, the West Alameda Car Shop was eventually converted into a winery. The cars operated out of main facilities on either side of the bay. The Interurban Railway Shop in 1958 Over the years, the tracks were removed, the inspection pits were filled in and surfaced over, and the continuous original interior split up into 3 sections. Since the demise of Transbay electric train travel, the shops have been used for the equipment and supplies of the Bay Bridge painting crews. As part of the new EAST Span Project for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, the remaining shop was evaluated, included in The National Register of Historic Places and made eligible for rehabilitation to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.   The great bi-fold doors at either end of the bridgeyard shop had been repaired and modified multiple times over the years. At Wooden Window, our piece of the overall rehabilitation project was to restore and reuse components from the 1938 door sets to create 8 new doors, complete with hardware and steel window inserts, fabricating perfect-to-match new parts where necessary. The first step was to bring the original doors into our shop, strip and restore the original wood, and survey them for all the engineering data necessary to create new parts where needed. Of the historic 12 doors in the shop facade, 4 had been replaced by a roll-up door years ago. The existing doors were salvaged for their original components to create 8 restored units. Metal mullion inserts for the new doors were reclaimed from the 1938 sets and fitted with modern safety glass. Restored doors ready for glazing The massive strap hinges being installed Metal window inserts Setting the doors upright and bolting in the iron hardware Forged steel knuckle. The hinges and metal strapwork are forged steel with a hot dip galvanized finish. Hardware was purchased from Crown Industrial in San Francisco, the same company that provided the original pieces in 1938. Crown also supplied track parts of the original design.   But after the war, with the growing popularity and affordability of automobiles, along with the explosion in infrastructure growth, the days of electric Transbay travel were numbered. The cheery little cars hung on until 1958 when $49 million was allocated to re-configure the bridge for all-auto traffic. The last Key System train departed Oakland station in April of 1958. "The last train did not go quietly into the night. It was packed with more than 500 passengers, who managed to get into the control cabs and set off all the train bells and whistles. They also set off flares and trackside warning devices and made such a horrible racket the Oakland cops turned out in force to see what was the matter." (Nolte, 2017) By 1962, the railway system was gone and the bridge reconfigured to carry 5 lanes of auto traffic on each deck. Most of the train cars were scrapped, some were salvaged for rail collections, and a few "emigrated" to continue their life's work in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Depending on how long you've been in the East Bay, you've probably experienced your share of change to the Oakland Bay Bridge. You may have seen the Key System cars first cross the bay. You may have seen them go and be replaced by auto traffic in the 1960's. You may have seen the terrifying collapse of the span in the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989, and you may have been here to usher in the spectacular, if controversial, new East Span.    

Bring the Carriage Around

America's carriage houses are among the most charming remnants of our architectural history, some dating back to colonial times. Created to shelter horse-drawn carriages and tack, they often doubled as living quarters for grooms and coachmen. They could be simple and utilitarian, or as architecturally elaborate as the homes they supported. The historical sections of many cities boast a variety of examples.   Some city districts feature "mews," rows of carriage houses with living spaces above. New York's Brooklyn Heights, the City's first suburb and the nation's first designated historic district, has some of the most varied and beautiful.   Carriage houses dot New York's Love Lane, also in Brooklyn. A place for romantic promenades in pre-colonial days, legend has it that the street takes its name from its popularity as a place for young men to linger with their dates before returning them, at the end of an evening, to the Brooklyn Collegiate Institute for Young Ladies. Today, many of these structures have been repurposed as offices, workshops, guest houses, or as separate homes. Restaurants, tea rooms, galleries and other commercial concerns have also taken advantage of these ready-made mansions in miniature. Artist Jim Dine bought this carriage house when it was a garage and plumbing supply shop in the 1990's and restored it in 2009... In a more bucolic setting, this one served as a studio for Thomas Hart Benton The oversize entryways and open central spaces have made carriage houses a favorite for artist's studios. Although many of us may not have access to an actual carriage house, we can recreate much of their warmth and charm in our modern carriage houses—garages—through the addition of carriage doors. Typically a set of two outward-swinging matched doors; carriage doors can also operate as sliding or even bi-fold units. Since carriage doors don't roll upward like a standard garage door, it's much more straightforward to incorporate elegant details such as frame and panel construction, multi-lite glass and obscure or stained glass windows. Something personal An old-fashioned barn door Carriage doors can be as large as they need to--here, a sliding door installation with hand forged custom hardware   The final touches to a carriage door installation complete the effect   Hardware, primarily utilitarian and unseen on conventional garage doors, can be the centerpiece of a carriage door installation. Hand-forged strap hinges and other decorative accents can turn a neighborhood garage into a personal architectural statement, and a testament to times gone by.

Bye, Bye Betsy

Click to see Becky moving in It was a sad day, one recent Friday, as all of us at Wooden Window bid farewell to Betsy, one of our two CNC machines. Betsy had been with us for more than ten years, and is a veteran of thousands of window projects, but she’s being turned over to a nice family with a farm where she can run free in the pasture.   For heaven's sakes, don't drop her                 Taking her place is our new technical juggernaut, Becky. Becky is the most current, most sophisticated machine of her kind on the West Coast. With separate, independent cutting and machining heads, Becky can do more complex shapes and mill profiles faster than any other CNC.     Becky's milling head   She can accommodate a larger variety of construction and joinery methods, including multiple dowels and blind tenons. With Becky, wood parts are robotically positioned and held in place—to be machined by two independent heads, four motors and an arsenal of nearly 70 separate custom tools.   Independent saw                       But Becky is more than muscle. She’s a tremendous stride forward in software capability as well. Becky sees parts as more than a set of 2-dimensional tool paths. She handles them as 3-dimensional objects, allowing us to accurately predict assembly fit, part runtimes and to digitally simulate part runs before the wood ever hits the machine. She can do more complex wood engraving and carving, run millwork and more easily take a project from previsualized 3d model to prototype, or mockup.   Parts load into the perfect position automatically Becky is now a key player on our Wooden Window team, processing door and window designs, envisioning outcomes, performing tasks and consistently delivering on our promise to provide perfect projects — on time and on budget.   Are there supposed to be parts left over?

Spiritual Renewal-St. Mark’s

  St. Mark's entryway before replication As much as the parishioners of St. Mark's valued their church's history, it had taken its toll on the structure. The doors had expanded and warped over time to the point that one of the two door sets weren't being used because it was too much trouble to get them open. And locking the doors at night meant climbing onto a step and working to get the heavy tracks lined up.   Some glazing and they're ready to install The new doors, prior to final paint. What do you know? They actually open now. One of the nicest things about historical reproduction is that, however important it is to remain true to the original architecture, reproduction doors and windows don't have to live with the limitations and shortcomings of the original.   Besides providing new doors that actually open, Wooden Window installed modern flush bolts in the doors to keep the church secure.   When one of the church's flock saw the new installation for the first time, they asked, "where are the new doors?". For us, there is no higher compliment. A perfect match. "Everybody at the church is thrilled."

Spiritual Renewal-St. John’s

St. John's Episcopal Church was due for some ADA and code compliance upgrades, and it might seem they got a little intercession from above in the form of--wait for it--a flood. The original entryway Heavy rains and an outdated drainage system caused water to back up against the church exterior, damaging the entry. It seemed a good time to make some changes, and to take advantage of the opportunity to transform an institutional-looking entryway into a welcoming gateway to the churches interior. Fortunately, St. John's counted a few architects among its parishioners. John Seals, Steve Baronian and Bassel Samaha worked with contractors Oliver and Company, Wooden Window, Lenehan Architectural Glass and finishers Heather and French to transform the church's existing metal and glass doorway into something extraordinary.         The final new entrance St. John's interior sanctuary Solid wood, all-around Drawing on a palette African Mahogany and deeply textured obscure glass, the architects fashioned dramatic entrances to both the church proper and its interior sanctuary. Wooden Window even fashioned solid wood handles for the door sets and incorporated completely hidden hardware--marrying ADA compliance with the richness of natural materials. A great project, beautifully executed. We were fortunate to have been a part of it and we thank everyone involved.

Art and Obscure Glass

Sources: History of Stained Glass | Stained Glass Association of America. (2016). Stainedglass.org. Retrieved 1 July 2016, from http://stainedglass.org/?page_id=169                   Quick History: Window Glass — Retrospect. (2016). Apartment Therapy. Retrieved 1 July 2016, from http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/quick-history-windowsretrospect-165008

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Since 1980, Wooden Window has been restoring and constructing fine wooden doors and windows for residences and commercial buildings throughout California.

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Recent Blog Posts

Riding the Rails

Restoring the East Bay's Electric Rail History   At Wooden Window, we do a lot of restoration for architecturally historic […]

Bring the Carriage Around

America's carriage houses are among the most charming remnants of our architectural history, some dating back to colonial times. Created […]

Bye, Bye Betsy

Click to see Becky moving in It was a sad day, one recent Friday, as all of us at Wooden […]

Spiritual Renewal-St. Mark’s

  St. Mark's entryway before replication As much as the parishioners of St. Mark's valued their church's history, it had […]

Spiritual Renewal-St. John’s

St. John's Episcopal Church was due for some ADA and code compliance upgrades, and it might seem they got a […]

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