The Cowell Smokestack
It wasn’t even a real smokestack!
The Smokestack was built because the Cowell Portland Cement Company lost a lawsuit due to their cement dust damaging crops and endangering the health of residents of the area. This 235′ stack replaced eight much smaller stacks and was 16′ in diameter at the base and 11′ in diameter at the top. It was high enough that the dust fell to the bottom of the stack for removal, without going into the atmosphere. It was designed to withstand 90 mph winds and a magnitude 10 earthquake.
When the plant and town of Cowell were destroyed, only the Smokestack and the Firehouse were retained. The Smokestack no longer served any purpose, other than as a landmark. But it was a great landmark! As a resident of the Crossings, I could tell someone that I lived where the Smokestack was, and they knew exactly where that was. Coming across the Benicia Bridge, seeing the Smokestack meant that we were almost home. And I have been told that pilots used the Smokestack as an aid to navigation.
When we heard that chunks of cement were falling off, we assumed that it would need some repairs, but it would be manageable. Then came the sticker shock. Repair estimates were up to $3 million, and that was before we were told that the base wouldn’t support the Smokestack in a quake. The only useful actions were the ones that weren’t done in 1969.
So, it came to demolition. It broke our hearts, and it wasn’t just those of us who lived in the Crossings. People from all over the Bay Area mourned the loss of the Smokestack. I miss it, but I got to go inside while it was still standing. And I got a brick.