Black Mountain

Sun, Feb 19, 2012
Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

Black Mtn is a fairly low hill in San Mateo County, lying along the northeast edge of the San Andreas Fault Zone, roughly halfway between San Francisco and San Jose. In the Bay Area's heyday following the Gold Rush more than 150 years ago, the city of San Francisco became built up and development moved east across the bay to Oakland and south along the peninsula. San Mateo, Belmont, Menlo Park, Stanford and other communities sprung up on what had been large ranchos in Spanish times, but became smaller estates for wealthy San Franciscans looking for vacation homes in the country. Eventually the estates sold off parcels, became less rural, and towns began to spring up to service the residents. The hills on the southwest side of the Bay became some of the first hilltops in California to become extensively developed starting more than a hundred years ago. As a result, there is very little public hillsides between the San Andreas Fault and SF Bay north of Stanford. The land west of the fault would likely also have been heavily developed if it had not been acquired at the outset by the city of SF for watershed rights. Over the years, the developed hillsides have undergone continuous redevelopment, wiping out most of the oldest homes, but leaving an often eclectic mix of residential architecture spanning more than a hundred years. The roads servicing the area are often narrow and very steep, difficult for biking or even walking. Navigation without a map is a matter of some guesswork and frustration as many roads do not go through where they might be expected to, a result of a haphazard development process.

I paid Black Mtn a visit while in San Mateo for my daughter's volleyball tournament at the Convention Center. I could only watch so much volleyball before becoming overwhelmed by the massive pre-teen estrogen levels and the hawking, over-achieving parents that follow after them - myself included. I took a break to ride through San Mateo and find my way to the top of Black Mtn. The highest point appears to be the middle of the cul-de-sac at the end of Miranda Ct, surrounded on all sides by a handful of homes that have incredible views overlooking the Bay, but unfortunately block out most of the same views to the public. I may have been the first non-resident tourist to visit the hilltop in many years. At one time it might have been a very nice perch to pause one's horse and take in the views stretching from San Francisco, across the bay with three bridges visible, the East Bay and South Bay areas also in view. Behind to the south are the redwood-covered slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains, showing very little development by contrast. There appears to be a great deal of money tied up in the thousands of homes about the area - not too many for sale and probably not much impact from the 2008 housing debacle.


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