California and the West

The California and the West study group consists of Institute members with a particular interest in the history of our region. Often we find our areas of research overlap, leading to new insights and resources. Past presentations by members have covered such topics as the roles of different ethnic groups in San Francisco history, women’s religious orders, the history of the League of Women Voters in Berkeley, art and museums in San Francisco, the Grabhorn Press, and individuals of historical note.

Increasingly, we have been organizing day trips, open to all Institute members, to points of historical interest in the Bay Area. One recent excursion included a tour of Jack London State Historical Park in Sonoma County followed by a program put on by the Glen Ellen Historical Society. On another occasion, we visited the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum and the McCune Collection of the history of fine printing.

Excursion to Sacramento, Friday-Saturday September 27-28

The main purpose of this excursion is to learn firsthand about the trove of historical research venues that are clustered around the Capitol, as well as to have some time to visit a couple of historical spots and catch a special California-related art exhibition that is closing that weekend. All members and their guests are welcome.

If you plan to go, please let us know soon. If you have any questions, call Rose Marie Cleese at 415-702-9797 or e-mail her at

Tentative itinerary for the two-day event

PROPOSED ITINERARY FOR IHS SACRAMENTO TRIP ~ Friday, September 27, and Saturday, September 28
(All tours/visits are free unless otherwise noted.)

Friday, September 27:

8:45 AM: Gather at a pre-arranged location in the State Capitol building, 1315 10th Street

9:00 AM: Private tour of the Capitol, including the Capitol Museum

11:30 AM: Docent-led tour of the California State Library, 914 Capitol Mall

1:00 PM: Light lunch/snack independently

2:00 PM: Private tour of the California State Archives, 1020 “O” Street (we can schedule this for 3 PM if attendees prefer a less-packed schedule)

3:30 PM: Extra time to spend at the archives (closes at 4 PM), or return to the State Library (closes at 5 PM) or the Capitol building (closes at 6 PM)—all are in close proximity

7:00 PM: Gather at a restaurant in the Capitol area (locale TBD) for dinner

Stay overnight at a hotel or motel in the downtown area (lodging suggestions to come—there are many options in the central part of Sacramento, several under $100 a night)

Saturday, September 28:

7:30 AM: Check out of hotel or motel; breakfast independently

9:00 AM: Guided tour of Sutter’s Fort, 2701 “L” Street (admission fee: $5)

10:30 AM: Guided tour of California State Indian Museum adjacent to Sutter’s Fort (with update on the newly funded California Indian Heritage Center that will eventually replace this museum and be located on the city’s waterfront) (admission fee: $5)

12:00 PM: Group lunch at an eatery in the Old Sacramento Waterfront District (locale TBD)

*1:30 PM: Self-guided tours of the nearby California State Railroad Museum, the Sacramento History Museum and/or the Big Four House

*3:00 PM: Chiura Obata exhibition at the nearby Crocker Art Museum, 216 “O” Street; featuring 100-plus paintings by Chiura Obata (1885–1975), a Japanese immigrant famous for his California landscapes (admission fee: $8 for seniors, $12 for adults; suggest ordering tickets in advance)

*(Note: trip attendees can decide for themselves how they’d like to spend Saturday afternoon following lunch)

For more information or to offer a program or tour, contact Judith Offer or Ann Harlow.

Tour of San Rafael Civic Center and Bonnie Portnoy presentation, Friday October 4

10:30 a.m.: Docent-led tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Civic Center complex ($10 adult, $5 senior)
Meet at 10:15 in the history room of the Civic Center Café, Room 233.

Noon: Lunch break. Simplest plan would be to each bring a bag lunch and have a picnic by the lagoon. There are vending machines in the café. Or you can drive to a nearby restaurant.

1:30 p.m.: Institute member Bonnie Portnoy will give a talk, “The Man Beneath the Paint: Tilden Daken.”
County Board of Supervisors Chamber, Room 330. Free admission.

Please email Ann Harlow if you plan to come and note whether you’d prefer a BYO picnic or a restaurant lunch.

More details:
     • The Marin County Civic Center (1957) is one of the last major works of Wright’s career and his only realized project for a government entity. In this exclusive tour, you’ll get access to the Marin County Board of Supervisors Chambers and their private balcony, you’ll be eye level with the building’s iconic blue roof, you’ll see custom furniture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built by inmates from San Quentin’s wood shop, and you’ll learn the complicated and scandalous history of the creation of the building from specially trained docents.
     • Bonnie Portnoy will speak about her journey to uncover the mysteries of the grandfather she never knew, California Impressionist Tilden Daken (1876-1935). He is best known as a California plein air painter; his works include many scenes in Marin and Sonoma counties, the High Sierra, and the California Redwoods. Daken was considered one of the most adventurous and prominent artists of the era. According to the Berkeley Daily Gazette in 1927, “he sought to put true pictures of the world around him on canvas.”

California and the West Events

Coming Up Fall 2019: 

  • Sept. 27-28: An event-filled two-day excursion to Sacramento  See details
  • Oct. 4:  tour of San Rafael Civic Center & Bonnie Portnoy presentation  See details

Summer 2019: Reading of Judith Offer's play, Scenes from the Life of Julia Morgan

Fall 2018: Public Program, "South Asians in the South Bay: The Privileged Immigrants"

Spring 2018: Excursion to Niles area of Fremont with historic train ride and silent film museum

Spring 2018: The California and the West study group initiated the two public programs on "The Future of the Past in the Digital Age" and Benjamin Madley's talk on An American GenocideThe United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846–1873.

Fall 2017: Martinez Adobe Fandango; Public Program: “Siberia and California: Connections During the Russian Revolution and Civil War”

Fall 2016: Amador County

Summer 2016: San Francisco Presidio

Winter 2016: Berkeley History Center

Spring 2015: Sonoma Plaza

Winter 2015: San Francisco Public Library

Summer 2014:  Red Oak Victory and World War II Homefront National Historic Park, Richmond

Spring 2014:  Los Gatos History Museum, "American Bohemia: The Cats Estate in Los Gatos”

Winter 2014:  Tour of California Historical Society exhibition on Juana Briones, January 25

Summer 2013:  Green Gulch Farm Zen Center visit, August 15

Spring 2013: Visits to Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum and the McCune Collection at the Vallejo Public Library, April 13