Thursday, June 11, 2009

Do YOU Have a Smokestack Story?

As I was coming home yesterday, I crested the hill just before the Crossings on Ygnacio Valley and saw the Smokestack as I rounded the corner. A wave of nostalgia came over me as I remember the first time I crested that hill when I moved here 10 years ago. I, like many of you, will miss this landmark.

It occurred to me that many of you may have your own stories to share about the Smokestack or the old Town of Cowell. At our community meeting back in May, Mayor Laura Hoffmeister told me about how she used to ride her bike to the area and play with her friends here. We'd like to hear YOUR stories.

Anyone can post a comment to this item by using the link below. Let us know your stories and we'll publish the best of them right here. There just might be a "brick" in it for you.

Mark Weinmann, Project Manager, CHOA


Anonymous said...

How sad to hear about the upcoming removal of the Cowell Tower, as we called it. As a child I grew up in Concord and we spent many hours during the weekend taking bike trips to Cowell. I remember many times going inside the tower as a child, before the door was cemented, and coming out a little bit dirty. To me as a young child it was a place to go and a monument that always left us speechless. What a tremendous site it would be each time we would come over the hill from the Clayton road side as the tower would get bigger and bigger the closer we got to it. I was around 13 years old at the time and I clearly recall planning my trips to Cowell with my brothers to see the Fire House, the tower itself and talk with the firemen as they burned down the houses one by one as practice. The town just slowly disappeared in front of our eyes and each day it became harder and harder to watch. You can take the tower down but it, and the town itself, will always be a big part of my childhood memories.

Frank Sabatini
Martinez, CA

Mr. Mayor said...

I remember one time in the 80's somebody had to be rescued off the smokestack after they tried to climb it, and were too scared to climb back down. They didn't make it far, but far enough that they didn't want to move anymore. I went to school with the kid, I think it was around 1989, he was about 13 at the time and lived in the crossings.

Then again, in 1995'ish, somebody climbed the stack and hung a banner from the top. He was a Clayton Valley High School student, and an expert climber (obviously). I don't remember what the banner said though, I just remember him telling everybody he climbed it and then I saw it later that day.

sum random dork said...

Having grown up in the Crossings (one of the 1st homes built I was 6 moths old) I always loved the Smokestack. Drives home you could always spot it ahead and know you were almost home. But, my favorite story comes from when I was coaching the swim team in the early 90's, someone climed the Smokestack overnight and hung a large sign. It was something about the President but nobody could make any sense of it. I guess whoever wrote it thought it made sense, but none of us had a clue. Because it referred to the President the Secret Service was called in and took pictures of it. The issue became they couldn't figure out a way to get the sign down, so we just had to wait for the wind to take care of it. We (coaches) were asked to monitor the sign and if it came down when we were around to gather it up so the Secret Service could get a hold of it. Sadly, we were not around when it was finally blown off and nobody could figure out where it went.

OrdAvgGuy said...

Great stories! Thanks for contributing!

Mark Weinmann, Project Manager

Stephen Bath said...

Remember when the smokestack used to chime twice a day? My father, Michael Bath, was asked by Margie Kenner (original association Manager) to see if he could make the chimes and amps work that someone else installed. Until someone left the stack door unlocked and the equipment was stolen, the chimes sounded off at 12:00 and 6:00 PM. During Christmas, holiday music played during the afternoon hours. I was one of the few that got to walk inside the stack. The echo was neat.

Anonymous said...

I read in the paper today with a bit of sadness that the Cowell Smokestack will soon be demolished. I lived in the small town of Cowell with my parents and four siblings from 1962 to 1969. We kids have a lot of fond memories of the wide-open spaces that were available to explore and play in each day. We'd grab out bikes, a few snacks, and be off until dinnertime. The most vivid memory I have of the smokestack is the day a couple of neighbor boys locked me in it! Yep, we had complete access to the smokestack and the door at the base was left unlocked. I remember it was very windy inside and looking up at the opening some 200 feet up made me dizzy as I watched the clouds roll by. I think they let me escape after about five minutes inside but it seemed much longer to a seven year old.

I now live in Martinez with my husband and two teenagers and can actually see the smokestack (albeit very small) from on top the hill in my backyard.

We lived in Cowell until the day they (the fire department) burned down the house we were renting--I remember watching it burn. I used to be able to locate the large pepper tree that stood in our front yard until a few years ago. I think the current homeowners decided it was too big and its gone now. I can, however, still locate some of the landmark oak trees that we climbed in as kids.

I'm making a point this weekend to venture out and get one last picture of the smokestack and will probably plan on taking several more during the demolition project.

When I read in the paper this morning that some of the bricks would be available for distribution, I couldn't resist writing Paul Thissen at the CC Times. He directed me to this blog. I would love to have a bricks as a keepsake. Please let me know if this is possible.

CHSgrad89 said...

I miss the old stack. When I first heard of this happening a couple years ago, I was so sad. That stack has been in my life since 1973 when my family moved to Concord. In 1978, we moved into Turtle Creek and my dad and I would venture into the Crossings on our bikes and always end up at the stack. I have vivid memories of counting our steps as we walked around the perimeter, trying to figure out how big around it was.

As an adult, I have always unconsciously scanned the horizon for the stack each time I crossed the Benicia Bridge on my way home.

So sad, another piece of our local history is disappearing. A brick to remember it would be very meaningful to me. said...

I remember there being a lot of stories about the smokestack. One thing is for sure, I will definitely miss the smoke stack, it definitely wasn't an eye sore to me. I liked the fact that I could describe the area that I grew up from birth in as the area surrounding the tall stack. People would laugh at how random it was, just standing there, but I knew the story of what it was before. I even remember having nightmares when the kids used to tell me some scary stories about it! I remember, one of my friends told me that it was a cement factory, and late at night, the workers came out and started to pour cement into the people living around it! That freaked me out, but looking back on it, it was hilarious. I used to hang out on the hill across the smoke stack, even had my first kiss over there!

It's crazy that they are knocking it down. I understand the situation from a safety as well as monetary standpoint, especially since my family still lives in the Crossings and has experienced a lot of damage from the current economic crisis. We just cannot afford the upkeep for the smokestack, and the responsibility is laid soundly on us, the residents, who have children, families, homies, and everything else to worry about. I would definitely love to know how I could receive a brick for this landmark in my life.

Please contact me at if you have any instructions on how we may get a brick. Thanks.

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